Janaury 14, 2016 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
This year, 2016, marks 20 years since democracy was chosen as a veritable governance preference in Sierra Leone. Prior to that, Sierra Leone’s promising democratic credential was truncated by a kleptocratic and selfish political class who cared more about their security than the masses. From 1967 to 1992, the All Peoples Congress (APC) entrenched themselves as the sole party through ‘legal’ constitutional means by installing a one-party dictatorship which manifested vestiges of unbridled corruption, violent means of instilling fear among the citizenry and characteristic ineptness in governance.
By 1991, the country was engulfed in a deadly civil war, the natural consequence of an oppressive and repressive system which did not tolerate dissent even from within, and which prided itself with illegitimate means of legitimizing its stay in power via dubious elections and referenda.
The symptoms of a failed country and a citizenry waiting for emancipation was made possible in 1992 when the junta overthrew the regime, as majority of Sierra Leoneans, including APC members, had become fed-up with the failed system and wanted change. Change they got, amidst wide jubilations for the new liberators who themselves became entrapped by the trappings of a corrupt and inefficient system that was unwilling to change.
However, history should be kind to the young soldiers who risked their lives to save the country from a despotic regime which was bent on clinging on to power. Indeed, prior to the military takeover the APC was orchestrating how to perpetrate its stay in power, with the 1991 Constitution hurriedly enacted, albeit with several “loopholes” and hallmarks of the 1978 One-Party Constitution, to deflect pressure from within and without then for a multi-party democracy.
Twenty years down the line, after a hard fought struggle by ordinary Sierra Leoneans to entrench the democracy, which left thousands dead and hundreds more amputated, the APC is back to its old ways – habits they say die hard!
After benefitting from the dividend of democracy, good governance and the rule of law, thanks to the late former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the forgiving electorate, the so-called New APC is hell bent on derailing our progress by propagating a More Time agenda, which by the way, to all intents and purposes, is a Third Term and Unlimited Term Agenda! Put simply: a constitutional coup d’tat!
Anneke Van Woudenberg and Ida Sawyer, writing in the Foreign Policy magazine, aptly titled their piece: “Africa’s Softer, Gentler Coups D’états”, noting that “Across the continent, military takeovers are out and nasty legal maneuvering is in.” Poignantly they observed that “there’s a new fashion among African presidents bent on clinging to power: the constitutional coup. Military coups are no longer de rigueur, in part because the African Union has said it won’t recognize governments that come to power by means of such blatant tactics. Instead, African leaders who are unwilling to abide by term limits, or unfavourable election results, prefer to simply change the laws and constitutions that stand in their way. All too often, their legal maneuvering is accompanied by human rights abuses and brutal crackdowns on those who object.”
It is the fear of “human rights abuses and brutal crackdowns” by the police and security forces who do the government’s bidding, against anti-More Timers, that should worry all of us, including the African Union, ECOWAS and United Nations, as few opportunists drum the More Time mantra.
For starters, a country of more than six million people should be able to produce thousands of Tejan Kabbahs and Ernest Koromas every ten years. So for apologists of the More Time agenda to drum home that we cannot have a clone of President Koroma in the next sixty years is at best sycophantic and at worst shows no faith in God!
In the 70s down to mid 80s, a similar hymn was sung by APC cadres that Siaka Stevens was the only one who could hold this country together. In the end he superintended over the disintegration of a cohesive polity with tragic ramifications for people and country. His successor, the pusillanimous but affable Joseph Saidu Momoh, was enthroned subsequently to complete the rot.
The very fact that the APC, through their current leader and president, begged for forgiveness from the people of Sierra Leone during the Truth and Reconciliation hearings sums up the terrible betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of a country and people in post-independence. If at all that show of remorse was genuine, and not just to win political capital at the time, the ‘new APC’ should rather do those things which consolidate our democracy than romance with a controversial agenda pushed by equally controversial men and women bent on derailing our democratic journey.
The APC has been the greatest beneficiaries of our democracy which they helped destroy for almost three decades. By returning to power after their ouster from government for almost fifteen years, operatives within the party should be grateful to Sierra Leoneans for accepting their apology and restoring faith in them to rule again, and the late Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who bequeathed to them a peaceful, democratic and rule respecting society. They should not be oblivious of the fact that had Kabbah decided to run again, despite calls for him to do so, the story might have been different.
For a man who got more than 70 percent of the national votes in 2002 and had his first term disrupted by the clueless and macabre forces of fugitive Johnny Paul Koroma, President Kabbah might have been justified to ask for “more time” to complete his building great institutions which today sustain government. But as a true democrat and patriot, he resisted sycophants who wanted to talk him into extending his stay. Even as an incumbent, he played a neutral role, much to the irk of his party members, but in the interest of the country.
More Timers are quick to point at ‘development’ spearheaded by President Koroma as reason for him to be given “more time” to do more. While I acknowledge that a lot more has been done to construct roads especially in Freetown and Makeni in the last eight years, development cannot be measured only by roads, but by tangible human development, according to renowned economist Amartya Sen. Sen says, and rightly so, that “Economic growth without investment in human development is unsustainable – and unethical.” With rampant youth unemployment, not to talk about a deplorable health sector and suspect education system, no one in their right senses can parrot that so much has been done for the bulk of the country’s youth. There is still more work to be done, which no individual can solve even in the next twenty years!
Thus, it is even more prudent for us to have a new leader with fresh ideas to tackle the challenges to human development after President Koroma’s term expires in early 2018. President Koroma has to emulate his predecessor’s great feat to write his name in the annals of history.
So far, pronouncement by senior members of the ruling party and his loud silence over it, and tacit approval for the More Time agenda leaves a lot to be desired as to his true credentials as a democrat. There are no two ways about it: President Koroma has the onus and responsibility to tell the whole nation that he is not interested in this More Time madness before the country becomes polarized on the issue.
By way of analogy, when the waste dump saga recently broke, State House was quick to dissociate itself and the president from any wrongdoing. Likewise, his continued silence over the issue and open frolic with More Timers will help fuel wide held suspicion that he is indeed interested in the matter and has given his tacit acquiescence to the controversial scheme.
Without any equivocation, a More Time agenda is dangerous for this country and could torpedo our democratic gains in the past 20 years. The reason being that if it succeeds (God forbid) it would serve as a springboard to launch a Third Term and an Unlimited Term for a president some think is irreplaceable.
A cursory look around Africa will substantiate my point: from Banjul to Harare, Bujumbura to Kampala to Kigali, our new African leaders are undoing successes in Africa’s democratic sojourn since 1990 when the wind of change blew across the continent. Some started by asking for extra time; decades down the years they are still in charge, with their supporters spewing the same reasons some of our compatriots are giving us in this more time nonsense.
The African Union may have a zero tolerance against military coups, but civilian heads of state are perfecting a new coup making strategy, which according to Anneke Van Woudenberg and Ida Sawyer is tantamount to “constitutional coups”, by changing the constitution willy-nilly, under the jaundiced view that it is democracy and the will of the people. What this new trend means though is that few politicians and their lackeys are hell bent on staging a “constitutional coup”. This, like its sibling, military coups, should not be countenanced in any way, shape and form in our nascent democracy!