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Democracy and the reality of our political culture

February 3, 2020

Ibrahim Jalloh (Jallomy) +232 768860 akempi@yahoo.com

Democracy has definitional variations. That said, the core elements of democracy are people centeredness in governance, the right to belong and be part of a political shade of opinion, loosely called political party and, of course, the right to aspire for a political position including but not limited to the presidency of a state as prescribed in a document intentionally called the constitution. Democracy is mostly a theoretical construct and its applicability varies from state to state; therefore its universal relevance cannot be consistent across states in the world. For some countries in the world, that which is called democracy is nothing but a hopeless political ideal. A beautiful example of such a country is North Korea, a country where some few years ago, the country’s Premier was executed under the expressed order of the country’s leader for sleeping during a meeting presided over by the leader. Back home in Sierra Leone, we approximate the practice of democracy not necessarily out of conviction but as a demonstration of being part of the global political order. The reality is that practicing democracy or pretending to practice democracy determines the level and depth of foreign aid that a country would receive from especially the rich western nations.

Sierra Leone has got its own political culture that is not necessarily modelled on democracy but obviously rooted in the over concentration of power in the political figure that epitomizes the leadership. All our traditional leadership structures ranging from town or village heads, section chiefs to paramount chiefs exist in a quadrangle of over concentration of power in the leadership. Leadership therefore is based largely on discretion rather than a prescribed set of laws, rules and regulations. This is the obvious disconnect between democratic tenets and the reality of the traditional understanding and practice of power and leadership in emerging African states. We can draw very clear parallel here between Sierra Leone as an African state and countries in Asia. The Chinese president and North Korea leader are the- be- all and end- all. Understandably, Sierra Leone and Africa by extension have a political culture modeled on the communist political ideology.

The presidency is the greatest political office in Sierra Leone. Occupancy of the office of the presidency therefore stands to be a serious engagement but not one that anchors on the periphery of mediocrity. The presidency is a serious business and therefore occupants of that office must be correspondingly serious and of sterner stuff. Occupying the presidency is not a mad political joke and it is not for political jokers. The theory of democracy dictates that every citizen of a defined age and with certain fulfilled criteria has the democratic right to become president. In Sierra Leone, this had opened to door to many compatriots to aspire for the presidency. Certainly, this is the insulting part of democracy. For some people, by merely aspiring to become president of the republic of Sierra Leone is in itself a calculated and unpardonable insult to the office of the presidency of Sierra Leone. When certain people that we know and know very well aspire to become president then we must think that the country is in trouble.

Like gender, there are prescribed roles for prescribed people in society. This order must be maintained for there to be peace and progress in society. Political leadership does not exist in a vacuum. Occupants of the office of the presidency must have a sense of the big picture and must broaden their outlook beyond the narrow boundaries of region and tribe. This is often difficult and challenging in a nation polarized along lines of tribe, political party and region. The polarization of the nation of Sierra Leone is historically conditioned by political elitist preservation of the status quo. To the extent that tribe and tribalism and not real but dramatized elements applied to secure and maintain clusters of interest groups in the corridors of power. The scary thing is that often they build threatening scenarios to politically subjugate the tribes’ men and women to a political agenda that compounds their misery and strengthen their chains of poverty.

The drift into the pool of economic woes started in the eighties with the hosting of the OAU by the late Siaka Stevens. Against the better part of the national judgment, Siaka Stevens proceeded to host the OAU in 1980. It was a glorious moment and one that heightens the egoistic character of a first generation member of post independent leaders of Black Africa. For unbroken seventeen years, Siaka Stevens largely misdirected the national cause of events and landed the fledging West African State into unpardonable economic catastrophe.

When he became thoroughly exhausted, Siaka Stevens for want of safe exit and political protection forced through the throats of unsuspecting Sierra Leoneans an army general, Joseph Saidu Momoh, who later proved to be more of a political tourist than president of a sovereign state. His reign can be best described as a lost political era. He threw and left the country in a hopeless and senseless war.

The overthrow of late President Momoh brought in a military regime characterized as the most popular and anticipated in the political history of Sierra Leone. On the eve of the military takeover of the National Provisional Ruling Council, the lives of Sierra Leoneans were a dismissible reality, a hopeless trifle and unpardonable joke. The overwhelming support for the military regime, however, did not translate to significant national reforms or righting the wrongs of the Sierra Leonean society then. When it became obvious that the Chairman of the National Provisional Ruling Council was not committed to the returning the country to civil and democratic governance, the number two man in that military arrangement, Julius Maada Bio, effected a much needed palace coup that saw Chairman Strasser packing his bags and rolling out of political history.

Julius Maada Bio became Chairman of the Provisional Ruling Council and true to his justification for the coup returned the country to democratic governance in record time of three months. More than anything, this was the finest and greatest demonstration of the abounding spirit of democracy in a military leader that had all it take to have entrenched himself in power for a prolonged period of time. This was when President Bio built a solid character of political attraction that saw him becoming president of the republic of Sierra Leone 23 years later.

Two political promises fulfilled by Julius Maada Bio: returning the country to democratic governance and upholding the call for elections before peace at the Bintumani two crowned his statesmanship character and democratic leadership style.

Sierra Leone has gone through horrific and horrible experiences from independence to date but our resilient national character and our abounding national connectors are the greatest hope for a national rebirth and a return to a cohesive state.

The unjustifiable political denial of the main opposition APC and the tendency to creating a parallel leadership by the former Chief Executive of the State are significant causes of the seeming national instability.  Change is permanent. Resisting the dynamics of change can be unpardonably regrettable.

The main opposition APC is a great party and a significant political force to reckon. Regrettably, the leadership of the APC deluded and has placed barriers to the membership understanding the call for reforms within the structures of the party. The political survival of the APC party is thinly slim if they refused to hearken to the sustained call for reforms.

The current government is progressing on national reforms with significant progress on the cardinal focus on developing the human resource capital, revamping the economy with significant control on leakages, fighting corruption and expanding on power supply. We must call on all to unite around these cardinal objectives. In the process, we must urge the current administration to expand the space on inclusive governance and distance from the temptation to political retribution. The political wrongs of yesterday cannot justify the political wrongs of today. The national is on Social Contract with President Bio and his almost inevitable next political inning will be contingent on his fulfillment of the terms and conditions of the Social Contract.

Raping the rain forests: the rains, the floods and the consequences of institutional failure.

Ibrahim Jalloh (Jallomy)

+232 76 865510/ akempi@yahoo.com

An old man growled “God and Nature are good to us but we are not good to ourselves” as he drenched under the ferocious torrents of the incessant and unceasing rains, helplessly watching with agony and resignation the drifting away of his only home he hadd lived in for decades. To him, it was not only hope diminished but the absolute end of all he had worked for in his cruel and uneventful life. Sierra Leone and her city are trapped in an endless chain of environmental catastrophe.

August 14, few days from today, will mark the second anniversary of the mudslide and accompanying floods in the mountainous terrace of Sugar Loaf and the marshy strip along the Kaningo small river. This was the horrendous tragedy of August 14, 2017 that woke up the city of Freetown in agony and utter despair. Incalculable loss of life and properties was recorded with a near zero opportunity for recovery.

The incident triggered a dramatized readiness for action through policy formulation to forestall a repeat of the horror of the moment. Regrettably, the momentum quickly vanished and we all relapsed to the historic tradition of disregarding lessons and consequences of our acts of commission and omission.

Two years on, another wave of floods swept through the city of Freetown and notable provincial areas with debilitating consequences. The same Institutions, the same players, the same speeches, the same promises were on display and in action. What went wrong and what is still wrong?

Failure to act decisively is unpardonable in State Governance! Or are we harboring institutions for state decoration? Those players and policy makers that witnessed and presided over the August 14, 2017 mudslide and floods have chronically failed to do their jobs and common sense dictates that they must abdicate.

The overall spirit of state governance can be punctured when certain institutions of state become chronically dysfunctional. We must laud the efforts and humanitarian response of some of our development partners but the brutal truth is that emergencies have industrial proportions for most of the players in the Humanitarian Industry.

The element of collective guilt abounds. Our actions and activities are inimical to the environment and naturally the environment will always fight back. So Sierra Leoneans are in conflict with nature and the natural environment. This is a war we cannot win but we can achieve a permanent ceasefire if we correct our attitudes and reconfigure our mindset as a people.

Hundreds of Millions of Leones are pumped into the local government structures on a monthly basis by central government and her development partners for cleaning and sound environmental management but it seems the only outcomes are disaster and destruction.

The Makeni City Council and her sister Councils in Bo and Kenema Cities have just concluded a four years well-resourced DFID funded program on Waste Management but with diminished impact. We have a compelling need to reengineer our established institutions of state otherwise our tomorrow is dying fast!