IN PURSUIT OF PEACE AND NATIONAL COHESION
December 5, 2018
By: Winstanley. R. Bankole . Johnson
With assistance from media houses, I had planned to begin compilation of a dossier of hate speeches and statements across our political divide dating back to 2007 for onward transmission to the UN Special Court in the Hague, just in case we happen to degenerate into open warfare, so that those bearing the greatest responsibility could be easily identified and eventually prosecuted. The reason for that is because most of the fratricidal political wars and genocide evidenced in Africa in the past half a century all had their humble beginnings in such crass, reckless and unchecked political statements of intolerance. I happen to have been working in next door Kenya during the Rwanda pogrom and witnessed those gory images almost live. So you can imagine my forebodings as the past eight months in this country would seem to have heralded wider schisms, divisions and polarization within our political fabric on account of persistent hate statements and actions.
And I assume by extension that conversely, you can also imagine my kind of relief felt upon hearing news of the proposed establishment of an Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion, the primary objective of which is to (1) Enhance national cohesion (2) Strengthen peace consolidation and (3) promote inclusive governance, and that is anchored on our President and Fountain of Honour’s conviction that our development gains cannot be sustained without national peaceful co-existence. I am 100% with President Maada Bio on that albeit with some serious reservations as you will read later. But as we did to his precursor former President Ernest Bai Koroma, President Bio needs to be publicly congratulated for continuing with prioritizing national cohesion, peace and stability as the engine for sustainable development.
So the dossier I had planned to compile is placed in abeyance, not because I have much reliance on the proposed Commission for Peace and National Cohesion, but more because I know that even without my input, the UN and Western Government systems, adept at manipulating African leaders into and out of power at their whim are incessantly working on such documents for every African country. They have been doing that since the days of Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkruma, through Mobutu Sese-Seko, Milton Obote, Idi Amin, Bedel Bokasa, Kabila, Ghaddafi and Laurent Gbagbo even up to Ernest Bai Koroma to name a few. And President Julius Maada Bio will certainly not be that last. In fact in his own case the very creation of such a Commission under his watch indicates a prima-facie acceptance of his awareness, nay culpability if he hadn’t warmed up to the chance to correct the inherent malaise.
All along our concerns that serious ethno-political divisions exist amongst us have continued to be rebuffed dismissively as “sour grapes”, or that we were just crying “Wolf!!” because we lost Fort Thornton. But our insistence that if it felt like polarization, if it smelt like polarization and tasted like polarization then it must be polarization has finally paid off. As the Americans would ask: “Why fix it if it ain’t broken?” In fact our divisions had become so serious that of recent, parents and spouses with Northern names obtained through inter-tribal relationships have had to criss-cross the corridors of power to publicly declare their SLPP genealogy to secure their jobs. And it has worked, just like it worked in the APC era when those with South-Eastern names also had to declare their APC genealogy to retain theirs.
Accepting funding from the UNDP for purposes of rebuilding our peace and national cohesion is an implicit acceptance nay, acknowledgement by this government that indeed our peace is broken; our national ethos – the kind of which engenders patriotism rather than tribalism and regionalism – is broken and requires to be fixed. Whether by doing so only now after so much retributive sackings is not tantamount to locking the stables after all the horses have bolted remains to be seen. The fact remains that unlike dating back to nearly twenty years ago, our society is now reflecting the kinds of divisions and hatred that has transcended boundaries and influenced rude demonstrations against our political leaders in the diaspora, especially as avenues for expressing resentments and accessing judicial redresses become restricted or non-existent on the home turf. Thankfully they were not broken into smithereens, but into shards that can be pieced firmly together again. And we should be thankful to God for that.
The proposed Commission which will be funded by the UNDP will embedded within the office of the Chief Minister (Faux pas No. 1) who will develop a “GREEN” Paper (another evidence of government’s initial non-commitment to a “Colour-less” national development trajectory) by the end of this year defining the terms of reference and scope of the Commission, to be followed by nationwide consultations that will finally lead to yet another National Conference (possibly a “Bintumani-3”) on Peace and National Cohesion. After that National Conference, the GREEN Paper recommendations will then mutate into a “WHITE Paper” that will make the Commission fully operational by June 2019.
But even before they settle down to business proper there are a few questions to be asked such as:
WHY EMBED THE PROJECT IN THE OFFICE OF THE CHIEF MINISTER?
Well, the justification for not involving the Chief Minister in such a delicate and precarious national enterprise cannot be dissimilar to those for which he was pruned away from the government delegation to FIFA. From my personal perspective he is not a Team Builder and is seeing everyone else belonging to the APC as “kleptocrats” – including me. I am making this assertion because placed on a national grid of priorities, my interest in peace, stability and national cohesion for Sierra Leone – the bedrock of the proposed project – will always take a pre-eminence over any relationship I might wish to have with the Chief Minister.
Truth be told, – and whether belatedly or not – the Chief Minister has been most reticent of late, probably now appreciative of the fact that he has more complex challenges in the “Universe” he now finds himself (and with more steep learning curves to negotiate), in contrast with the restricted “University” environment he is said to have spent the better part of his working life in. All of that notwithstanding, his earlier egregious statements devoid of any primary consideration for Team Work has widened the gulf separating us in the political divide to the extent that he has inadvertently rendered himself unsuitable for the task. There is a Mende parable which says and I quote-: “Ee- ghehni-sia buwovagoh-la; geeba-ha ba dunie lolor sia foningi” – meaning “No matter how you old you are, when you die you will still leave the world young (- literally undeveloped)” – Unquote. So no one man or group of persons can pretend to have all the knowledge to solutions for all our country’s problems. This is one of many Mende parables a former boss at the Stanchart, the late M J K Ansumana (RIP) taught me (and incidentally I have the address of my Mende translator in case of need)
My fervent recommendation to H.E. the President therefore, is that whoever is ultimately selected to drive such a serious national project on which our national cohesion, peace and stability will be hinged should be more approachable, tolerant and be consensually chosen with inputs from all registered political parties recognized by the PPRC – in the same way Electoral Commissioners are consensually appointed. That role is bigger by far than the interest of any single political party and that guideline is also as fundamental in recruiting staff for the project, as it will be for those who will be working in the proposed Commissions of Inquiries. To discard my humble recommendation and insist on the Chief Minister only as the driver of this project will be like the United Nations insisting in 1945 that only Adolf Hitler should have chaired the Project Committee for resettlement and reparations for his Auschwitz and Dachau victims.
WHY IS THE UNDP REACTING SO LATELY?
The project will be sponsored by the UNDP (as usual), under whose very watch the decadence preceding our worst carnage occurred. So you can be forgiven to ask (again) where they were when hordes of peaceful and loyal APC and SLPP party supporters residing in perceived opposition strongholds were being harangued, displaced, allegedly killed and their properties plundered in the hinterlands, before, during and immediately after the last multi-tier elections without them (UNDP) making a single statement of disapproval or remonstration against any of the major players? Yet the UNDP is working behind the scenes again, not to trace and punish offenders like it is happening in the civilized world they all came from, but are lavishing funds on yet another project, the outcome of which will only patch us up together, after which they will then take the accolades for shepherding us into another “Bintumani 3 Conference”, that could possibly lead to appointment of another Special Representative of the United Nation’s Secretary General (UN-SRSG).
For how long shall we be organizing Peace and Reconciliation Conferences fellow Sierra Leoneans? How many times shall we be shouting “Never Again!!”, only for us to be re-convened “Again” for the same purpose? For how long shall we be seen to be moving but not actually progressing? Those are two different things completely. And even as you read this – eight months after the elections – many can still not find the confidence to return to their villages for fear of reprisals.
But let’s now discuss my reservations-;
- As a nation we’ve had two previous conferences on peace, stability, reconciliation and national cohesion before – Re: “Bintumani – 1” (under Capt. Valentine Strasser) and “Bintumani -2” under Brigadier (now H.E.President) Julius Maada Bio. Now if the outcomes of both National Conferences couldn’t keep us together, what makes any one think yet another National Conference (Talk-Shop) for almost the same purpose will keep us firmly bonded together as a nation forever? You see another evidence of movement without progress?
- Between 1996 to date we have changed political dispensations three times (SLPP/APC/SLPP), but the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliations Committee (TRC) set up after our 11-year war have still not been seriously addressed. Would our situation have differed if those recommendations had been rigidly implemented? And if and when the Commission for Peace and National Cohesion would have completed its task, would their recommendations supersede those of the TRC and consign the latter to the dustbin of history? If not, would it not then be advisable instead for government to sincerely challenge the proposed Commission with full implementation of the TRC Recommendations rather than trying to re-invent the wheels of democracy, peace and national stability? I am not saying here that setting up the Commission is unnecessary; I am just saying that its Terms of Reference could be re-engineered to encapsulate and make the full implementation of the TRC obligatory, instead of mimicking an exercise we already have a blueprint for.
- Commencement of the processes for Peace and National Cohesion in order to preserve our development gains is an emergency. So I have some trepidations about the actual operational date of the Commission of June 2019. Or is it strategic that by then the purging would have been completed. Hmmmmmm!!!
- Whatever the government ultimately settles for, we ourselves across all political party lines and irrespective of sentiments must – even without government prompts – now begin to show some firm commitment to an improvement in our desires for peace, stability and national cohesion by demonstrating self-restraint through refraining from making such utterances as would inflame passions and undermine the proposed Commission’s work. In that regard, the need to control our tongues (referred to in the Book of James 3:8 as “an unruly evil…..full of deadly poison) cannot be overemphasized. And that applies to each one of us: from Dan up North right down to Bath-Sheba in the South.
- As a commitment to the entire processes, government should immediately discontinue retrenchments of citizens not perceived to share their political vision. In this life, dissenting views can be suppressed; but never be eradicated. Even the Almighty God is supportive that, hence his creation of the opposite sex. In pursuit of peaceful co-existence and national cohesion, no sacrifice can be too great to make. Accordingly the severance benefits of all tenured employees exited under the circumstances should be settled – all in the name of peace, reconciliation and national cohesion.God Bless Sierra Leone!!!