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Opinion

Smoking President Bio’s Peace Pipe

March 6, 2019

By Fayia Sellu

“We cannot overemphasise the importance of peace in this country. We have gone through a very difficult time during the 11 years’ civil war and never again should it happen in this country. There should be a collective effort in the eradication of corruption and all other elements that have the tendency to put us apart as a nation…We have to agree on where we want to go.”

 That is President Bio addressing a cross-section of mainly opposition politicians at State Lodge. The above statement may come across as shocking to many. Below is an attempt at getting into the WHY.

In the warp and woof of Salone politics, loaded with an almost regimental, perspectival, partisanship lenses for just about anything under the sun, who saw this coming? If that was, some would think, a schizophrenic turn of events (considering the goings-on in the political arena currently), the frenetic part came in the form of a presentation of a so-called Green Paper by Chief Minister, Dr. Francis, of a type blueprint for the Commission for Peace and National Cohesion. Remember, Bio mentioned it in his State Opening of Parliament. A trifle tardy as per the schedule initially envisaged; here it comes!

Just one of the many signs of the leviathan issue of partisan politics of our times. Reactions to this twist of events run the gamut from surprise to quizzical apprehension, through downright condemnation. I remember when President Kabbah, of blessed memory, was peddling his Government of National Unity idea, I was overly critical for the same reasons some are now apprehensive. The question one would ask right now is: Is the dysfunction and divided politics of the past almost one year an acceptable new normal?

Additionally, what is the real/material cost of this unsuspecting and sharp pivot toward a politics of cohering and peace?

Social Media is an inevitability (arguably, the most powerful man in the world, swears, literally, by it) these days. Of all the comments that flowed down my Facebook thread, it was a Dr Cecil Blake’s take that captures a lot of my thoughts on the matter. The former Information Minister’s post was quizzical in all the ways you would expect of an independent, critical mind. Summing  up of his concerns would go thus: Why now that the fight against corruption is in full throttle, with the Commissions of Inquiry, is the opposition been courted in a “weird” turn of events? Should it be seen as a statemanly move and an “opportunity” to usher a healthy political atmosphere the country badly needs, or just a move to woo the opposition in an, “if you can’t jail them, win them over” bid? Does this, he called it “Jamboree,” of “Purported Peace and Reconciliation” have anything to do with the recent State of Emergency declaration twirling currently in the bowels of Parliament. It was one helluva ponderous ride reading Blake, who instanced the analogy “A la Trump,” of the “Fire and fury” to “We fell in love” 360 degree policy on North Korea, trying to exact upon what’s happening at State Lodge. Another Blake bloke, commenting on the comment, expressed similar fears about “slowly neutralizing the opposition” but was quick to see opportunity in creating a peaceful governance atmosphere that may exhibit an African ontology, while not sacrificing the fundamentals: accountability, probity and good governance. Exactly.

Aside: Looking at the loud comments on social media claiming that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was settling cases out of court left, right and center, corroding its ability to render the required deterrent effect in the fight against corruption, I checked. It’s a LIE. A simple Google search got me to the Commissioner’s Twitter page to see that starting with ex-Veep, Victor Foh and others, the ACC has charged over 30 cases that are clogged up in the entrails of our dysfunctional, near-ineffectual judiciary. Social media could be damn foggy! Anyway, I see that the ACC Act of 2019 is headed to parliament. About time!

Now, where were we? Oh, this ‘disrupter’ of a peace overture…yeah. See? It is not like there are a penny-a-dozen exemplary duopolies out there in world right now ready to play model for us. Maybe, hence the somewhat schizophrenic creativity that got us blindsided. By far the greatest, America’s government, the current iteration of it, is a siren-blaring emergency case of what partisan, divisive politics can do to the best of us. So pardon my digression into American style partisanism as I make illustrative synapses. Starting with the honeymoon periods that are the norm for in-coming governments, in both duopolies (America and Sierra Leone) there is no recent occurrence of that courtesy. The last time Americans knew presidential honeymoon was with George W. Bush’s ascent, while Sierra Leone gave Ernest Bai Koroma the benefit of the doubt, especially early in his first term, to work on his Agenda for Change. Barack Obama rolled into D.C with a financial crisis, shaping up to be the greatest recession, real time in the making, thrown into his lap. Though the Democrats had both houses of Congress, he had to expend his remaining political capital on the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare to prepare for what, even he, called a “shellacking” in 2010 midterms. The rest of his political agenda was either funneled via Executive Orders or just never saw the light of day in a Republican run House. Not even Obama’s nomination for Supreme Court Justice to replace Justice Scalia could get on the House’ calendar. Trump won with both Houses of Congress, but not exactly a honeymoon; think of the Women’s March days after his inauguration. He passed his tax bill and has had many a wordfest (lavatory, anybody?) about immigration as he resorts to Executive Orders to effect his agenda and reverse Obama era legislation; some of them have, in part, been struck down by an evidently strong Judiciary. Does any of this seem familiar? By some standards, one might want to see the independence of the various branches of government as strength, but once poisoned by fanatic partisanship, the well, nay, even the wider river, of American politics hardly serves the progress of the Union.

Partisan politics is so inimical to Washington today and it colors (sound familiar too?) everything, from policy to paying for and running of government, as evident in the recent shutdown over paying for a Border Wall. For an advanced economy with strong public and private sector institutions, where things can run essentially on autopilot, America can afford and survive the Iron-Curtain-like politics between Republicans and Democrats; we don’t. The 1991 Constitution reposes leviathan powers in the Executive Presidency, and whatever is left for the hung and bifurcate parliament and thorough mess of a Judiciary, is pulverized by partisanship and rubber-stamping. All hands (Maybe I should say, all patriotic hands working for progress) must be on deck. Sierra Leone is a small country that could use all of its best minds, expertise and citizens with wealth of experience. When people talk about continuity in governance, it should be founded on the basis that administrations may come and go, yet the state remains. It policies, relations and partnerships may reflect the priorities of current government, but fundamentals: Sustainable development and maximal output of natural and human resources, MUST remain irrevocable. One reason, apart from our donor-driven or supported economy, we don’t have a so-called Deep State (the term may refer to beyond-political-party systems of governance professionals) is the frequent overhauling of government functionaries by successive administrations. In America, all department and agency heads, deputies are liable for replacement, not those further down the ladder. That career certainty is not only good for the workers, it also ensures policies and programs benefit from the experience of staffers who have worked on them for a while- there is continuity. That is in an almost perfect world where sabotage is not a threat, let alone rampant. However, whether one is a political appointee that comes one day and leaves the next, or have a rain check on working in governance as civil servant do till retirement, the ability to at any time be called to account for one’s stewardship should not be up for debate. Writing thus far, I have reached a submission: there is or should be nothing confusing, oxymoronic or schizophrenic about waging a war on corruption and fighting for national peace and cohesion, simultaneously. Excepting in the case(s) where the interest of the country is not fore and center of the project. Politicians and their supporters must check their scabrous anti-Sierra Leonean proclivities at the doorstep of patriotism, nationhood and cohering. I say “let the peace jamboree begin!” and “Ain’t no stopping the Commissions of Inquiry now, no way!” All in the same breath. Great pipe, also drink from the chalice too! Enjoy!