May 26, 2015 By Franklyn Bai Joseph
It is pathetic to waste a lot of time on an issue and in the end achieving nothing. Ditto the anger expressed at the removal from office of vice president Samuel Sam-Sumana. So much time wasted on the act, rather than the root and cause, and so, begs the question, what’s achieved?
This doesn’t mean that the public outrage was without merit, but it was certainly misdirected. Constitutional issues are always emotive, especially in a society where there is a neat divide in loyalties between the two main parties, the All Peoples Congress (APC) and the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). It must be noted, however, that on this occasion, it would be wrong to assume that only opposition supporters or sympathisers are unhappy.
Of equal importance also is the fact that, determining the rights and wrongs of Sam-Sumana’s removal is subject to interpretation of the law. Because in the end, the challenge for those involved is determining the limits within the constitution of the term ‘supreme executive authority’, which is unclear, opaque and unambiguous.
Perhaps what the Sam-Sumana issue highlighted most vividly is the need to overhaul an evidently outdated governance structure. It’s time politics and people work to move away from an antiquated document that is unfit for purpose in the 21st century.
The bigger and far more important issue is in fact the enormous power the Presidency wields. A constitutional arrangement that gives the office of the president the power to make every important appointment in the country, including those of the Supreme Court Judges on whose decision this crisis rests, is bound to be problematic.
Without an even, and distinctly, separate powers between the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, the independence of democratic institutions are massively compromised. Concentrating all powers in one arm of the whole raises issues of conflicts of interest and stunts democratic growth.
As far back as June 2014, New Africa Analysis (NAA) commended the APC government of President Ernest Bai Koroma for setting up a Constitutional Review Commission (CRC). The argument was made then that whatever imbalances there were in the current state of the constitution, Sierra Leoneans must seize the opportunity of the review to make themselves drivers of the change they want. It is the belief then, and even more so now. There has to be a proper and honest conversation and debate over the 1991 constitution in a view to making governance better in a democratic context for consideration by the CRC.
Whatever the position, the smartest thing to do is agitate less on Sam-Sumana’s sacking and replacement, and coalesce around a change in the governance structure to not only reduce the powers of the presidency, but strengthen other institutions to achieve balanced governance.
Unless the noises are based on false optimism, reinstating Samuel Sam-Sumana as Vice President is, as it has always been, hopeless, out of the question and inconceivable. If indeed the final judicial process goes against him, without a spirited call for necessary changes in the system, a replay of the drama remains a possibility in another setting, sometime. For instance, if the main opposition SLPP were to have similar powers in government, who is to say, they will not use those powers in a comparable manner.
The view here is that people must galvanise themselves for a change that would prevent such constitutional crisis in the future. Lessons must be learnt.
The President’s stated position, on record, is that the CRC was commissioned ‘to make politics better’. Sierra Leoneans must adopt a positive outlook until proven otherwise by interpreting that statement to be well-intentioned.
Change does not emerge in a vacuum, but produced by agency. It is not, and has never been taboo to change a constitution when it is done to improve on existing weaknesses. President Obama has allied American support to constitutional changes that are made for the overall good of a country. Constitutional changes, he has said, can only be frowned upon when geared to benefiting individuals.
However unkind one might judge him, President Joseph Saidu Momoh’s best achievement was introducing the constitutional amendments of 1991 that removed Sierra Leone from his predecessor’s much maligned One Party State. There can be no reason why President Koroma cannot be made to see a desired conviction for returning the country to post-independence parliamentary system of governance. That argument is by far the most promising all-round, and must be given prominence above all other political and constitutional considerations.
Surely, it cannot be lost on the president that with his achievements elsewhere, he has a chance of making himself one of Africa’s transformative leaders by changing the constitution ‘for the better’. There is no more valuable legacy.
In Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan may have lost the elections but his legacy is guaranteed. As the incumbent, he demonstrated rare selflessness in African politics by putting the country’s best interest ahead of any personal ambitions.
On another note, Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora have been more than usually vocal for, and against the replacement of Sam-Sumana. That level of participation must be a positive and should continue to other pressing issues of progress. For example, is it not peculiar that a group so unassumingly vital in subsidising the economy through remittances have been denied the right to vote by successive governments? Perhaps, one more reason to demand a change in the status quo.
It’s the worst kept secret that African governments pay close attention to disgruntled voices in the diaspora. Sierra Leone is no exception, especially since the potent addition of social media to the political discourse.
Addressing supporters in the United States recently, President Koroma said, ‘social media is not my constituency’. That was a mistake. His constituency as president is every Sierra Leonean, whether abroad or at home.
Social media, politicians are fully aware, is the socio-political arena for citizens in the diaspora. The inescapable reality is, regardless of platform or medium, a sustained campaign for change by overseas citizens can be a lot more difficult to dismiss than politicians care to acknowledge sometimes. Their views, when argued well, have the capacity to positively influence, complement, and possibly shape opinion at home.
Therefore, instead of wasting energies on cosmetic and compensatory measures that only serve to keep things the way they are, at home or abroad, make your voices heard for the change that is more likely to accomplish a better tomorrow.
New Africa Analysis (NAA) – www.newafricaanalysis.co.uk