By Joseph Sesay (Josestar)
“The thing about non-violence is that it spreads. When you get people to participate in nonviolent actions-whether it’s a march, a fast, a boycott, or a picket-line people hear you, people see you. People are learning from that action” The boycotting of governance is not new in Sierra Leone; however, the country’s speaker of parliament Dr. Chernor Abass Bundu Said during a parliamentary session that, “The boycotting of governance by the opposition All Peoples Congress is a political tool of yesteryears.”
But, just how far are yesteryears? In the wake of the November 17, 2012 elections, opposition party leader John Oponjo Benjamin said he was urging their representatives in parliament and local government to boycott all proceedings until “further notice”. ‘’We are really challenging the conduct of the elections because we have brought to the attention the fact that several malpractices have happened. We had printed ballot papers that were used, we had areas that voted without even a final voter register, without proper documentation”, he said (Deen Rashid, Morocco World News Dec.16, 2012 11: 51a.m)
The planned boycott was however rescinded on Thursday December 6, following a meeting earlier in the week at State House between then President Koroma and the leaders of the SLPP, including Retired Brigadier Julius Madaa Bio, the party’s presidential candidate for the 2012 elections.
An umbrella of different denominations of the Christian faith in Sierra Leone, the Body of Christ, had facilitated the meeting between the two groups in an effort to bring to an end what was becoming a political stalemate, (Deen Rashid., Morocco World News Dec.16,2012-11:15 a.m.).
Like countries and people throughout history, boycotts have been used to further political and social agendas. Klein, Smith and John (2004, p.93) defines boycotting as the act of ceasing social or commercial ties with a person, group or nation as a form of retribution or political protest. Boycotts reflect a boycotter’s desire to effectively communicate a specific message and to pressure the belligerent to change their policy or behavior.
In the interim several interventions have been tried to end the current political statement in the country, yet a break through appears far-fetched in the estimate of many of our compatriots following the June 2023 General and Presidential Elections of Sierra Leone. The APC still maintains their stance ever since. But, just “what’s getting the opposition going as the going gets tough” with their “saful” kind of strategy largely being criticized by the ruling SLPP Government and some other political pundits.
The backing of the United States of America, European Union, United Kingdom and several other local Civil Society Organization that the elections were marred by massive irregularities and flaws in the electoral procedures appear to be approving the perseverance of the opposition. Although, paradoxically, the U.S government encourages the opposition not to boycott. governance.
This apparent condemnation of the conduct of the June 2023 election was prominent from a U.S perspective, especially when former U.S Ambassador David Dale Reimer, during a radio discussion program at Radio Democracy 98.1FM categorically stated the position of the United States Government and the United States Policy when it comes to elections transparency and governance issues. This was followed by a statement restricting unnamed personalities within Sierra Leone by the U S Government. The statement reads” Today I’m announcing a new visa restriction policy under section 212(a)(3)(C) of the immigration and Nationality act for undermining the democratic process in the June 2023 Sierra Leone elections” These actions demonstrated by the united states government and its partners served as a beacon of hope for the opposition APC Party’s lifeline in their pursuit towards achieving anything worthwhile from the ongoing boycotts a peculiar contrast to all other boycotts.
Nonetheless, trust is another factor that appears to derail glimpses of a breakthrough in the ongoing efforts to get our fledgling democracy on track following the fiercely contested June 2023 elections. The institutions charged with the responsibilities of upholding the rule of law and democratic best tenets in the country appear a misrepresentation of themselves. And this has eroded our governance architecture to an extent of deepening the division and animosity within the political class of the country to a worrisome level. The genuineness by all institutions and stakeholders to openly discuss such issues in the interest of national cohesion remains to be seen. But whether the opposition will continue hibernating considering and hoping that such a menace would have a quick fix remains to be seen.
Polarisation and Political hegemony
The nation is succinctly polarised in every facet such that every party attempts to not only sabotage the works or successes of their counterparts but to make them look bad in every sense.Whether it’s through the obnoxious methods of protest or through the silent pattern of boycotts the sad reality today in our nation. As such, whether or not the opposition achieves anything in the short run may not be the only motive but the boycotts are tailored towards sending a strong message. Better put they are trying to set a precedent as is always the situation in the country. In terms of political hegemony, it’s obvious with the use of state institutions from either side of the political divide albeit, the situation is getting worse with time. It is however worthy to note that boycotts will even remain a strong weapon in politics.