World News

Us and Them: The Politics of Polarization

30 November 2010 at 00:38 | 381 views

Commentary

By Dr. Hassan Sisay, USA.

Job seekers and opportunists in both political parties in Sierra Leone (the APC and the SLPP) have used the above labels (Us and Them) to continue dividing the nation.

They fail to realize that absent the rhetoric, we are all the same people, and that our differences in language, culture, politics, and location may be due to accidents of birth. All human beings have comfort zones, and exercise favoritism even among their own children. This is why “many people surround themselves with people who agree with them, think like them, and support them.”

While, it is within our rights to question the actions of our president in his choice of employees, we should also realize that he alone is mandated by the constitution to assemble an administrative team that he perceives as best to govern the nation. We may disagree with his choices, but should remember that not all disagreements are resolved to our liking. We win some arguments, and we lose some. Further, while we cannot win all our disagreements with the government, at least, we can make our points known without being deliberately obnoxious. The nation is polarized and ill served when opponents and proponents of administration policies employ loaded terms such as “northernisation,” and “Southernisation,” or “enemy tribes,” to describe government actions be they APC or SLPP. Perhaps it is time to debate the matter.

At issue is the question, should presidents of Sierra Leone be required to include in their administrations members of the opposing political parties? The problem is compounded by the fact that our political parties are mostly divided along ethnic and regional lines. The ruling APC party generates most of its support from the Northern and western areas, while the Southeast is dominated by the current opposition SLPP. There are pros and cons to this matter, and each side is passionate about the validity of its viewpoint.

Proponents of regional distribution of government jobs accuse president Ernest Bai Koroma of giving top government positions to folks who like him were born and raised in the North, and belong to the ruling APC party. They argue that for the sake of UNITY, the president should also give high profile jobs to opposition members. The same group maintains that when the current opposition (SLPP) was in power, it too extended jobs to the then APC opposition members. Besides, it asserts that because there is a dearth of experts in our country, it is important to utilize the expertise of the few that we have without resorting to wholesale exclusion of individuals on the basis of ethnicity or political considerations. Proponents have also maintained that due to the considerable ethnic tensions emanating from our prolonged civil war, providing jobs to all ethnic groups regardless of political and ethnic affiliations would help bind the nation’s wounds, and advance the healing process.

Opponents disagree. They maintain that elections have consequences, and that worldwide, leaders of victorious political parties usually give the best government jobs to their supporters. They also claim that what proponents are advocating amounts to power sharing, which is bad for the country because it dilutes the effectiveness of the opposition parties, and may cause the government not to take responsibility for its actions. Besides, they also maintain that power sharing is often the sliding slope to the establishment of a one party government and eventually a dictatorship. On the claim by proponents that when the the SLPP was in power it extended jobs to APC members, opponents responded that such an action was purely voluntary, and must not be construed as a permanent power sharing formula for future governments. Further, opponents have argued that regional balance in job distribution is not mandated by our constitution. On the contrary, it has always been relegated to the president’s discretion. That the president alone decides whether or not to provide jobs to members of the opposition parties; and that no one has automatic rights to such employment possibilities. Accordingly, opponents have called upon the opposition parties, particularly SLPP members, to concentrate more on suggesting positive alternatives to government proposals, rather than spending valuable time trying to be part of the very government whose activities they are supposed to thoroughly scrutinize. Besides, power sharing has an inherent problem of logistics and confidentiality. Opponents cite the potential difficulties of keeping government secrets and formulating political party strategies if both the opposition and government supporters work in the same administration. They claim that this would be problematic to any government, and might pose major conflict of interests issues for employees.

Giving a president options in assembling his/her administrative team is a viable strategy. Of course, it might be helpful if a president on his own initiative decides to also broaden or diversify his administration by hiring some opposition members, but such actions would only be meaningful if the decision was reached without undue pressure. Of paramount concern is the prevailing observation that many of the current advocates for job distribution are the predator elites, who are notoriously corrupt, self-serving, and not necessarily seeking the best interests of the nation. An Administration should be judged not on the number of opposition members it has employed, but on the effectiveness of its policies and programs. Come 2012, if the electorate chooses to change course, so be it. Otherwise, giving the president options is good for multi-party development and the evolution of democracy.

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