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Toxic political rivalry: The APC versus the SLPP

10 October 2021 at 23:42 | 765 views

Toxic political rivalry: The APC versus the SLPP

By Teddy Foday-Musa
PhD Student
University of Ghana - Legon
October, 2021

The political rivalry between the two main parties (the All Peoples Congress - APC and the Sierra Leone Peoples Party - SLPP) has degenerated into hate-filled and savage politics. The scenario has caused worry among Sierra Leoneans both at home and abroad, with some viewing it as a threat to the country’s governance process. Even after the country’s most recent general elections in 2018, political interaction between the two parties remains tense, threatening the country’s peace and security. The current challenge is how to address the mutual mistrust, suspicion, anger and hatred, spilling into significant national issues of development like attracting foreign investment to the country. This article examines the nature and dynamics of the political rivalry between the APC and SLPP, translating into an inter-conflict between them. This examination is based on Johan Galtung’s ABC conflict triangle model. The research method of this article is desk review in tandem with the analysis of documents including local newspapers, press releases and public opinion to provide fairness and preserve objectivity in presenting the issue.
Keywords: contradiction, attitude, behaviour, political rivalry, conflict, triangle

1. Introduction
Whereas Sierra Leone has made tremendous strides in its transition from the civil war to peace, the country continues to resurface into a renewed political division and other issues that have to deal with peace, security and national cohesion. The consolidation of peace and national unity continues to pose a severe threat to the peacebuilding process in the country. This threat is predicated on the potential for a relapse into structural violence should the political tension between the APC and SLPP not be addressed. Even after the 2018 elections, political engagement between the two major political parties – the opposition All Peoples Congress (APC) and the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) – remains tense and threatens the country’s peace and security. This threat, ingrained in the current APC-SLPP political rivalry, weakens the country’s national cohesiveness and continues to put Sierra Leone’s peacebuilding effort to the test. Furthermore, social media has become a platform for propagating disinformation, hate speeches, and violent messages.

Disunity among Sierra Leoneans, as triggered by the APC-SLPP divide, is no more a hidden secret. In explaining popular local responses to decades of disunity and how it undermines our national cohesion, it is widely argued that partisan affiliation to either the APC or SLPP is thought to have fueled the extent of disunity among Sierra Leoneans. Of particular concern is the hate-driven politics that exist between the APC and SLPP. It is critical to recognize that the current political tension between these parties is a breeding ground for potential violent conflict. As a result, the present scenario has produced disgruntled and disillusioned armed party vigilantes, most of whom are unemployed youngsters willing to confront the police and perpetrate violence. Instead of addressing this political and partisan conflict, party stakeholders preach hatred and divisive messages to their supporters, preparing their minds to engage in violence and reject the national government agenda.
The main goal of this article is to identify and emphasize the causes, nature, and dynamics of the APC-SLPP political rivalry, which has graduated into an inter-conflict between them. This conflict analysis conforms to the ABC conflict triangle model proposed by Johan Galtung which conceptualizes the causes of conflict. The article’s scope spans three years, from 2018 to 2021. The article is divided into three sections. The first section introduces the topic and the background of the conflicting parties (APC and SLPP). The second section examines the concept of conflict and how it should be perceived. The third part puts into perspective the contextual analysis and understanding of Johan Galtung’s conflict triangle in tandem with the toxic political rivalry between the APC and SLPP. The conclusion provides an insight into how Sierra Leoneans can manage the APC-SLPP political rivalry to promote unity and national cohesion.

2. Background and Formation (SLPP & APC)
The Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP): is the country’s longest-running political party. The SLPP dominated Sierra Leone’s politics from its foundation in 1951 through 1967, when it lost the 1967 parliamentary election to the APC led by Siaka Stevens. It identifies as a social democratic party. The SLPP regained power after its leader, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, won the presidential election in 1996. The party was in power from 1996 to 2007, when it was defeated in the 2007 presidential election by the APC, led by Ernest Bai Koroma. The SLPP regained power in 2018 when Julius Maada Bio was sworn in as Sierra Leone’s new President on the 4th of April, after winning the 2018 Presidential election2.

The All Peoples Congress (APC): Albert Margai and Siaka Stevens quit the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) to form the Peoples National Party (PNP), which aimed to increase African participation in the British colonial administration. The PNP sought the educated elite’s support to lead the country’s transition to independence. However, in 1960, Siaka Stevens left the PNP to form the All Peoples Congress (APC). The APC governed the country from 1968 until 1992 and returned to power in 2007 after its presidential candidate, Ernest Bai Koroma, won the 2007 and 2012 presidential elections. The APC lost power in 2018, with its flagbearer Dr Samura Mathew Wilson Kamara, losing the presidential election to Julius Maada Bio, the presidential candidate for the SLPP3.

Conflict: Conceptual Clarification
Conflict may occur everywhere. It can be in the church, mosque or the most sacred place on earth. Nobody is immune to conflict, and no one avoids conflict. Conflict is unavoidable in each encounter since it is a natural component of human existence. When we are in conflict, we are confronted and respond with every fibre and synergy in our being. Conflict is both a force that can tear relationships apart and a force that binds them together. In this vein, conflict is an inevitable element of life, as old as humanity, and a universal phenomenon in all human
1 Johan Galtung is the father of peace studies. He is a Norwegian and popularly known for his conflict triangle model proposed in 1969.

Conflict will always exist since it is an unavoidable element of human life.
However, conflict is not only a bad or negative phenomenon, as many people have long perceived. Conflict has a dual capacity in that it may be used constructively to provide opportunities for positive change. It may assist people in realizing their interests, beliefs, and goals and discover their actual identity. In this spirit, conflict may expose opportunities for growth and development, improving progress and connection with others, serving as a means of understanding each other and a tool for relationship building. These good effects have the potential to promote social cohesiveness and empower previously marginalized groups in society. Therefore, conflict may be a driving factor for healthy societal development and a unifying force. Thus, the Chinese consider conflict as an opportunity for change. So for them, they tap into conflict to enhance opportunities for positive change.
To summarize, conflict suggests that something in a relationship cannot continue, as if a missing component has to be replaced. Conflict brings to light problems that are important to individuals who are involved in them. Therefore, in most cases, attempting to prevent conflict would be futile since, depending on how the issues are dealt with, conflict will either be negative or positive.

4. Galtung’s Conflict Triangle Versus APC-SLPP Political Rivalry
The ABC conflict triangle proposed by Galtung in 1969 includes both symmetric and asymmetric conflicts. In his opinion, a conflict can be viewed as a triangle whose sides are represented by (A)-Attitude, (B) Behaviour and (C) Contradiction, where (C) is the tip of the angle, with A and B corresponding at the bottom of the triangle. In other words, Conflict = attitude (A) + behavior (B) + contradiction (C). This triangle is also referred to as the ABC Conflict Triangle.

4.1. Contradiction (C)
Galtung indicated that contradiction (C) is the root of the conflict. It is perceived as the “incompatibility of goals” between the conflicting parties. In symmetrical Conflict, the contradiction is defined by the parties, their interest and Conflict of interest. In asymmetric conflict, contradiction is defined by the parties, the relationship between them and the conflict within the relationship (Ramsbothan et al., 2011)4. According to Galtung (1969), a symmetric conflict is when A and B have a relatively similar or equal position, as indicated at the bottom of his triangle. They enter into a conflict due to diverging interests. In an asymmetric conflict, he noted that the relationship between A and B shows that one of the parties has a superior standing compared to the other. This superior standing demonstrates a situation of inequality between the two sides, the conflicting parties. An example of such a situation is an armed conflict between rebels and the government. In peace and conflict studies, conflict is regarded in a restricted ‘objective’ sense as meaning a different incompatible position over a specific topic or about a particular thing as the goal, that is, the object of the Conflict (Stalenoi, 2014)5. This can be physical, such as an orange fought over by two teenagers who desire it for themselves. However, it might also be a more abstract topic, filled with emotion and commitment to acquire a specific goal.
APC-SLPP Contradiction (C)

In the case of the APC and SLPP, the incompatible goal is to win elections and form a government in Sierra Leone. The incompatibility of this goal implies that the APC wants to win the election while the SLPP also wants to win. In essence, the contradiction is that both parties target a single goal of winning elections and forming a government, yet only one can fulfil this requirement. As a result, these two parties have a political relationship, evident throughout the country’s election period and in opposition governance. However, their relationship has developed into an inter-conflict between them. Both parties are of equal strength, so this type of conflict is referred to as symmetric, unlike the asymmetric kind of conflict in which there is inequality of status between the conflicting parties (Galtung, 1996). As a result, both parties might be on the A or B axis on the conflict triangle, indicating the competitive political relationship.

The SLPP won the 2018 elections because the two goals cannot be fulfilled simultaneously due to having mutually exclusive end conditions. The APC failed to fulfil their goal of winning and establishing a government, causing friction and tension in the country’s political landscape. The political relationship between the two parties has deteriorated over time. As we approach the 2023 elections, we may expect more significant conflict between these two parties. During the Koinadugu District bye-elections in October, we saw a manifestation of the 2023 early warning signs. This will continue as long as the APC and SLPP’s political goals are incompatible and can only be achieved by one party at a time.
4.2. Attitude (A)
Attitude includes the perception and non-perception of the parties about themselves and each other. It can be positive or negative, strongly negative, especially in violent conflicts when the parties can develop humiliating stereotypes about each other. Attitude consists of emotive and affective components (I like or dislike), cognitive components (favourable or unfavourable), which can be used as information about another person. Negative labels and stereotyping can also lead and contribute to conflict. When you negatively label others, you treat them with disdain and disrespect. Labelling is the process of attaching a descriptive word or phrase to someone or something. This act sometimes leads to unfair treatment of others and becomes a permanent stereotyping. The labelling theory posits that individuals’ self-identity and behaviour may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify people. Stereotyping occurs when a person ascribes the collective characteristics associated with a particular group to every member of that group, discounting individual characteristics.

APC-SLPP Attitude (A)
In our country’s political history, the expression of attitude by the APC and SLPP to one another has thrived chiefly on the negative label and stereotyping. Over the years, both parties have attributed negative labels with prejudice and stereotyping to one another that has damaged their public image and ignited conflict between them. In recent times, the APC labelled SLPP as “paopa”, associating the SLPP with the negative conduct of bulldozing their way to achieve political power at all costs disregarding democratic values. This was not a very good image for a party that prides its principles on the importance of democracy. This, however, was purposive on the side of the APC to negatively portray the SLPP to voters, Sierra Leoneans and by extension, the international community. At the end of the day, the SLPP had no choice but to accept the “paopa” label and translate it to their positive political intention for the country. Today, slogans like “paopa Salone go betteh” has formed part of the SLPP political diction. Accepting the “paopa” label by the SLPP stems from a conflict theory that suggests that deviant behaviour results from a social or political attack on a group or set of people. The SLPP became deviant by embracing the “Paopa” label due to the APC forcing the identity upon them. This is one of the attitudinal conflict scenarios hulled at the SLPP by the APC, based on negative labelling and stereotyping.

On the other hand, the SLPP has also labelled and stereotyped the APC as a “party of 99-tactics”. I am not sure if this label was initially given to the APC by the SLPP as in the case of “paopa” or whether it was captured by the SLPP from the bravado pronouncements made by the APC in self-appraisal. We can clarify this with historians of good standing. However, what I can say for sure is that the SLPP has constantly labelled the APC as a party with “99-tactics”. This stereotyped perception underscores that the APC is a party with dishonest credentials, especially when electioneering. This label has projected the APC as a party that cannot be trusted regarding electioneering. Such a label has dented the democratic image of the party and has labelled APC supporters and their leadership as dishonest and unreliable.
Undoubtedly, this mud-slinging of humiliating stereotyping of each other is associated with the concept of self-fulfilling ego. It is a dynamic and effective component of attitudinal conflict.

Both parties express their emotional dislike about themselves, the product of the current prevailing friction and tension.

APC supporters are also in their mood of attitude, expressing similar tension on the frontiers of various social media platforms. The use of hate speeches, invectives and messages of war against the country’s current ruling government and the wish for a military takeover (coup) are hallmarks of negative attitudinal conduct displayed by them. This is due to their emotional attachment with their political party, a passion they have promoted higher than their loyalty to their native country – Sierra Leone.

4.3. Behaviour (B)
The APC-SLPP accumulated contraction (C) and attitude (A) are openly played out in conflict. The violent behaviour of party supporters in elections is what scholars of peace and conflict studies refer to as an “overt” conflict. “Overt” is a borrowed word from French, which can be interpreted in English as “open”. Therefore, when we describe conflict as “overt”, we mean the conflicting parties are now acting out their conflict openly to the public view. This is the current state of happenings between the APC and SLPP.

APC-SLPP Behaviour (B)
These parties have engaged themselves in a Hollywood-style movie with episodes featuring bye-elections in Freetown and Koinadugu. During the bye-election in Freetown (Constituency-110), the SLPP was accused of damaging election materials. Conversely, the APC was also accused of damaging electoral materials in the Koinadugu bye-elections. These are allegations, and I am not here to say who did what. However, these are sad realities for the country and our democracy. Galtung’s conflict triangle’s B axis indicates the following behaviours: cooperation, violence, and reconciliation. Collaboration on the APC’s side has been absent since the 2018 elections. As the country’s leading opposition party, the APC is a part of the present governing structure. Sierra Leoneans were optimistic, expecting the APC to play a constructive opposition role devoid of party politics. However, the public opinion holds the APC accountable for failing to cooperate with the current government to ensure a smooth governing process that promotes growth and investment.

Credit is awarded to the SLPP through the President in his wisdom to call on few opposition members to help in the fight against COVID-19. In a public statement, one of the invited guests mentioned how this move by the President underscored inclusive governance. On another note, after the 2018 elections, the SLPP government saw the need to reunite the country badly divided along with party and regional lines. To this end, the government convened the Bintumani-3 meeting to foster reconciliation and to propose a commission for peace and national cohesion. The APC was invited as a party but did not show up. According to one school of thought, if the APC had participated in the Bintumani-3, the country’s current political friction and tension may have been deescalated, thereby enhancing our national cohesion.

In conclusion on the violent political behaviour, I will draw your attention to the objection made by Mahatma Gandhi against violence. He said: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent”.

The end of the 2018 elections has been characterized by the emergence of antagonistic political rivalry between the APC and SLPP, marred by threats, intimidation, assault, vandalization of electoral materials and hate speeches on various social media platforms. Political violence has become a threat in the country’s electoral cycle. This ongoing threat has implications for the country’s peace and stability, with the tendency to reverse Sierra Leone’s gains in consolidating its peace. The consolidation of these gains is predicated on the de-escalation or eradication of the hostile political rivalry between the opposition APC and the ruling SLPP. However, to deescalate or eradicate this friction and tension, Sierra Leoneans should display a high propensity of loyalty to their country over their political parties. To achieve this, Sierra Leoneans should pledge their love and loyalty to their native country Sierra Leone. They should vow to serve their country faithfully and at all times. Their promise to defend her good name will come as their commitment to work for their country’s unity, peace, freedom, and prosperity. I recommend that the fight against the antagonistic political rivalry between the APC and SLPP be embraced as a national agenda coated with collective responsibility for Sierra Leoneans and confronted with all hands on deck.

About the Author:
Teddy Foday-Musa is a Sierra Leonean and a Rotary Peace Fellow. He holds a Master’s Degree in International Studies in the area of peace and conflict resolution from the University of Queensland in Australia. He is a lecturer in the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies – Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. Teddy is currently a sponsored Gerda Henkel Fellow pursuing his PhD at the University of Ghana – Legon.