The Soothsayer

A trajectory into 2018

January 9, 2018 With Abu-bakarr Sheriff

2018 is finally here. Happy New Year to our esteemed and cherished readers! Together we traversed the previous year (2017) and shared its successes and failures – failed promises by a political class that cares only for themselves, family and lackeys; trials and tribulations, including economic austerity caused by mismanagement and unbridled corruption; the twin humanitarian disasters of flood and mudslide; a callous imposition of toll tax on vehicles plying the only road into and out of the capital, Freetown; and increased economic misery by the average Sierra Leonean. Put simply, the more things change, the more they have remained the same.

So what are the prospects for change in the New Year? Or how will things pan out?

A little over three million Sierra Leoneans will cast their ballot in multitier elections on March 7 2018. As the Ernest Bai Koroma-led administration ends their constitutional mandate after ten years at the helm, a new President, lawmakers, mayors/chairpersons and councilors would be elected to lead democratic Sierra Leone. Since 1996, this would be the fifth successive democratic election – indicating a long journey from a despotic one party rule and military junta to a semblance of democratic good governance, albeit with a long way yet to go!

Like in previous elections, a lot is expected to happen between now and March 7. The ruling APC, as expected, will mount a lavish campaign around the country in its desperate bid to retain power. President Koroma is on record to have vowed to ensure that his selected candidate, Dr. Samura Kamara, succeeds him as president. The main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party, whose standard bearer is Julius Maada Bio, sounds pretty confident that they will topple the APC hegemony via the ballot box. Bio, who is yet to appoint a running mate, believes the APC has squandered the good will bestowed on them by the electorates over ten years. The emerging parties, such as the National Grand Coalition, with former United Nations undersecretary Dr Kandeh Yumkellah as vanguard, run their campaign on the wheel of change. For them, after fifty-six years of post-independence self-rule, Sierra Leone needs a new driver to chart the route to ‘hope, opportunities and transformation.’ Dr. Yumkellah is that man, they posit.

No fewer than fourteen political parties will be contesting the elections, including the Alliance Democratic Party and their garrulous leader Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray, and sacked Vice President Alhaji Sam Sumana and his Coalition 4 Change. Others in the mix include veteran lawyer and politician Charles Francis Margai and his Peoples Democratic Party; they were the kingmakers in 2007 but no longer possess the panache or wherewithal to even wait on kings.     

While many will be pretenders, the APC, SLPP and NGC will be calling the shots. It’s a critical moment in Sierra Leone as the country again looks forward to a democratic change-of-guard from one elected president to another (late President Ahmah Tejan Kabbah superintended over the first in 2002), with President Koroma (still chairman and leader of his party) expected to rise above partisan pettiness and act like a statesman, in a similar fashion like his predecessor. But it is highly probably that Koroma, who has more than mere political interest in the outcome of the elections, would not do the ‘Kabbah’.

Whether a new party comes to power or not, the challenges ahead are daunting.  The economy is not in a good shape despite an optimistic projection of 6.5% increase this year. Education is in shambles, while energy and unemployment are still the Achilles Hill of government. Thus, anyone succeeding President Koroma would be inundated with addressing basic standard of living and energy issues for starters.

Also, he would have to contend with mega corruption. Although the current administration boasts of enacting a robust anti-graft law, corruption remains a bane to development and transformation. The Anti-Corruption Commission, under its current leadership, is more adept at sloganeering than going after the ‘tigers’. The ‘Pay No Bride Campaign’ would again be the mantra at the commission though ordinary people continue to pay bribes while their socio-economic conditions deteriorate as a result of graft.

So, depending on who wins the election and the political will at play, it could be business as usual: a commission so overzealous to show it is curbing corruption while in reality few people will be amassing unexplained wealth at the expense of the majority, no thanks to brazen corruption that even the blind can visualise.

This year would no doubt be dominated by litigation(s) brought by citizens and organisations in the Community Court of ECOWAS. Just before we drew the curtain down last year, Chief Alhaji Sam Sumana received a major boost when the ECOWAS Court adjudged that his sacking by President Koroma (without first exhausting the appeal process in the APC) was tantamount to gross violation of his fundamental human rights. The Court also granted the elected Vice President substantial damages and cost. The current government came out guns blazing to contend that the Court lacks locus to adjudicate the matter. What that means is that, they will not comply with the judgment orders should they continue post March 2018. Hence, Chief Sam Sumana will be interested in an outcome that would expedite payment of damages and cost the Court ordered in his favour – victory by any party other than the APC.   

Still in the scheme of litigation at the sub-regional level, the Centre for Accountability and the Rule of LAW (CARL) and two Ebola survivors, just before the Christmas break, filed an action against the government at the Court, seeking reliefs for violation of rights to life and health. Ibrahim Tommy, executive director of CARL, had hinted that the Court could be moved to Freetown to hear and determine reliefs they had prayed for. This action generated media frenzy in late 2017 and would no doubt make the headlines this year. President Koroma and his party will feel hard done that the Ebola saga continues to haunt them, even when the virus had been defeated in 2015.

Like the previous, this year could also spring surprises: a new party might win the elections, in which instance new actors would be at the helm of affairs for the first time in ten years. How that pans out, is a wait and see. Alternatively, the ruling party might just win, again, with Dr Samura Kamara continuing the ‘legacy of President Koroma.’  Should that happen, no one can foretell how things could play out: would Koroma continue to lead, being Chairman and Leader of the ruling party, or would Dr. Samura break away from the shadow of Koroma and act independently?

Whatever permutations one may make and in whose favour they go, this year is a significant one for Sierra Leone as the country continues to garner experience in democratic good governance and consolidation: National Electoral Commission boss, Nfa Ali Conteh, has a big task at hand – to conduct free, fair and credible elections – following unfortunate attempts by the ruling party to besmear his reputation and question his capability. In the absence of any solid evidence, he continues to earn the trust and support of Sierra Leoneans. BUT, it is hoped that he would live up to expectation and not play the game of folly that his critiques allegedly want him to, overtly showing bias against one party while exhibiting soft spot for another, much like his predecessor infamously did!

Best wishes Mama Sierra Leone.