Who Destroyed the SLPP?

9 December 2012 at 05:41 | 2688 views

By James Fallah-Williams, USA.


The defeat of the SLPP at the polls in Sierra Leone’s presidential and parliamentary elections is a startling verdict by the people, and a significant revelation of the deficiencies and inadequacies of the party. Their premature celebrations that were witnessed in some quarters were a show of the grandiose and sanctimonious aplomb with which the party’s supporters revel without concern; celebrating ‘victory’ before defeat.

A highly educated colleague of mine was so bold and outright in his belief in SLPP victory that he told me before the elections; ‘if SLPP nor win make ar join police!’ He even had a pair of trainers in SLPP colours made in USA with his name written on it, and he was expecting to wear them in the ‘victory’ parade! Well, he will have to make do with Sierra Leone’s unfashionable and ridiculed police uniform for now because "SLPP nor win," and I intend to send the force’s application forms to him. The party was bound to fail, and I am tempted to say ‘I told you so’ even before you went to the polls in 2007.

Historically, the SLPP, as some national observers have always lamented, has an embedded and destructive mechanism that excludes many, and has almost always survived on the pretext of the support of the majority ethnic group. This is the party’s easily identifiable problems pinpointed by those who look for cheap shots. But let’s move away from this for a bit and see what else we can identify.

There is something deeper than this; it is the endless craving for political power by the old guards within the party who do not want to leave the scene for a forward-looking team of new politicians, and, someone said to me quietly, the apparent blindness with which they choose their leaders. This resistance to change, and the awful selection of their leaders, was shown several years back when Tejan Kabbah was chosen as its head. The selection of Tejan Kabbah, who was a colonial administrator at one time, as SLPP leader, and his eventual election as head of state was baffling and traumatic for a country that was about to emerge from a brutal civil war. At the time, Sierra Leone was like a drowning beast that could grab anything that was thrown at it in order to be pulled out of the deep waters of civil war, and the invisible dangers that lurked beneath it.

APC campaigners noted that in selecting Tejan Kabbah the SLPP have deliberately overlooked certain national issues. One of such issues, it was mentioned, was the man’s background, and his close relationship with the then dictatorial president of the Republic of Guinea Conakry, Lansana Conte. During the civil war Kabbah was Conte’s guest. As a result, leading opposition voices argued that Kabbah did not actually have Sierra Leone at heart, and he could use it to achieve his own economic and political ambitions at the expense of the very people who were destitute, and the country that was impoverished by war.

For others, the key factor that really damaged the SLPP both at home and abroad was Kabbah’s relationship with Iran, Pakistan and Gaddafi’s Libya. Kabbah was deeply sympathetic with the Shi’a branch of Islam, and he formed a very close relationship with the Iranians and the Pakistanis. At one point he even sold a large plot of farmland to Pakistan, and permitted the opening of discrete Pakistani-style Madrasas in the country. He also received a huge consignment of farming tools and other supports from Iran. In addition, Kabbah formed a very strong partnership with the then Libyan leader, Gaddafi, and made him an honorary MP in the Sierra Leone parliament with great fanfare on the streets of Freetown. These activities raised very serious eyebrows in the Western world, especially in the UK and the USA at the height of their fight to quell Islamic terrorism. Both the UK and the USA were the main aid donors to Kabbah’s government, and they were concerned that a country that had just emerged from a damaging civil war cannot afford to create a home for fanaticism that could further jeopardize the kind of relatively peaceful inter-ethnic cohabitation that it enjoyed even during the war.

The last step that Kabbah took before he relinquished political power was to mastermind the selection of Solomon Berewa, a hugely unpopular former attorney general who advised the executions of those accused of working with the junta, and those accused of plotting a coup, for SLPP leadership. This manipulation of SLPP leadership elections in preparation for the 2007 presidential battle, led to the formation of a breakaway party we now know as PMDC (People’s Movement for Democratic Change), with Margai as its head. Margai, who was the SLPP supporters’ favourite took his followers with him to the PMDC after he lost the contest to a fraudulent selection process. This disintegration of the SLPP party gave the winning ticket to the opposition APC, as PMDC sided with it in the presidential run. Even though the 2007 presidential election results were problematic, the international community did not come to the rescue, and that was that for the SLPP party.

SLPP, now effectively depleted and ineffectual, never learnt its mistakes, and it never managed to reintegrate disgruntled supporters or reach out to minority ethnic groups that gave President Koroma his second term. Maada Bio, who became the party’s presidential candidate for the 2012 election was more or less a blinkered party donkey with a palm frond tied to his tail. The party failed to acknowledge that a donkey with blinkers is still a donkey, not a horse.

The damage Tejan Kabbah inflicted on the SLPP party is so deep and engrained that it will take an extraordinary courage of party members to turn it round. That courage should begin with the selection of a team of new and exciting leadership that is completely detached from the old guards.

Dr Kadie Sesay could have turned it round for the SLPP party, but they ignored her. She could have bridged that ethnic gap and bring in overwhelming northern and metropolitan support to the SLPP. She could have been the first Temne and female head of state in the country.

In their next leadership contest I doubt if SLPP wouldn’t go for Sama Banya! ‘na echperiench man!’, they would tell you without hesitation. But I would rather swallow my vote than cast it for Sama Banya.