PONDER MY THOUGHTS: OPPOSITION APC IN DISARRAY: SIERRA LEONE’S NEW NORMAL?

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BY Andrew Keili

Many may be excused for wondering whether the main opposition APC party will amicably settle its current imbroglio in time to field a potent Presidential candidate to contest in the June, 2023 elections.

Some keen watchers of the political scene however opine that the situation now may just be reflective of what has transpired in the recent past. Opposition parties have often been torn apart by internecine warfare. The spate of violence, intimidation, inflammatory statements over the media, court cases, discordant views on important national issues in parliament and other schisms have often led to a lack of confidence in the main opposition party by many independent people, who may not necessarily be keen on the government in power. If they end up in court, as they often do, court orders never seem to be clear and often result is setting one group against another.

Let’s walk down memory lane to make the case. APC was so enmeshed in problems before the 2007 elections that many thought they would be unable to participate in the elections. Ernest Bai Koroma was accused of changing the APC Constitution by dissidents including Lawyer Serry Kamal, Mohamed Bangura and others who contested the legality of his leadership in court.

After nearly four years of bickering, the APC finally made peace in April, 2007. The Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) led by its Chair, Justice Sydney Warne, the Elders of the APC party and UNAMSIL, in diverse ways helped in this endeavour. Within 4 months of this, the party achieved electoral victory.

The SLPP had its own share of schisms before the 2012 elections. Nineteen aspirants fought for the position of Presidential flagbearer. Violence between supporters of rival candidates  was rife especially between supporters of the two leading contenders, Julius Maada Bio and Osman Boie Kamara. The keenly contested flagbearer election was won by Bio with only 38% of the vote and Boie Kamara coming a close second. Boie Kamara could not be however be appeased after the elections and left the party which could not present a united front against an APC President seeking re-election. SLPP ended up losing the election to Ernest Koroma who got a second term.

Bio continued in his quest to be flagbearer for the 2018 elections. Newer candidates however joined the race including a vibrant Kandeh Yumkella and others in a wide field of candidates. The flagbearer race was accompanied by considerable violence and a spate of court cases. There violence resulted in loss of life. The killing of Daddy George, a supporter of John Oponjo Benjamin, erstwhile Chairman of the SLPP and an intending aspirant for the SLPP flagbearer position in Kenema in the aftermath of a series of peace meetings by the party was scary. The PPRC was so incensed by SLPP’s internecine warfare that it put out a press release supporting the ban on political activities in the Kenema District, expressing disdain at the use of political vigilantes.

The flagbearer fight in 2018 was basically between Bio and an array of aspirants who formed the Alliance of All Aspirants (AAA). Two major court cases which were the source of so much division within the party were allowed to fester in the courts for two years. The split within the SLPP produced some laughable outcomes. The suspension of the Chairman and Leader of the Party, Chief Somano Kapen and the National Secretary General, Sulaiman Tejan Sie was instigated by the four regional Chairmen, a group of National Officials and a so-called “Grassroots” group aided and abetted by the Deputy Chairman, Dr. Prince Harding and the National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Musa Tamba Sam. In a strange twist, Chief Karpen also suspended Dr. Prince Harding, Hon. Musa Tamba Sam and the Western Area Chairman, Hon. Manso Dumbuya for “undermining the constitution”!

SLPP was in such a mess that Politico described the situation thus:

 “The Green Movement is sinking deeper and deeper into the unnecessary mess it created for itself. What we call the main opposition party is an intoxicating mix of opportunists, anarchists, people with an exaggerated opinion of their self-worth and badly-led able-bodied young people. Nobody should take them seriously. They are stuck in their past while the rest of us are moving on.”

Amidst all of this, there were accusations by anti-Bio factions within the party of interference into SLPP affairs by the government and judiciary to give President Bio an unfair advantage in the flagbearer race. The AAA later split to Bio’s advantage. The NGC was born out of all this melee. Bio eventually won the flagbearer election and the General Election and became President.

Fast forward to now. The APC after Ernest Koroma seems to be torn at the seams. Some of their senior members seem to have defected. Several senior members have had properties seized as a result of Commissions of Inquiry. The party’s 2018 Presidential aspirant, who is a leading flagbearer aspirant has been under investigation for what many consider an unduly long time. The flagbearer fight which probably helped thwart the party’s Presidential chances in 2018 threatens to rear its ugly head again. Several factions were at odds with each other and a court case ensued which has resulted in a court order by Justice Fisher which essentially involves setting up an Interim Transitional Governance Committee (ITGC)  comprising various stakeholders to steer the party towards setting up structures for elections. The group itself is torn asunder and there are suspicions of a proxy fight related to the flagbearer issue. It remains to be seen whether Justice Fisher’s latest intervention this week will yield dividends.

The question now is whether history will repeat itself for APC to achieve peace and fight the elections as a united front. Indeed, we have seen that movie before. But is this the new normal?

Whatever the case with the split in the opposition APC, it is necessary for the main opposition party to fully participate in elections as there could be a danger that non participation may for whatever reason translate into perceived marginalization and violence with grave consequences for the country.

It was Qunitin Hogg who said, “Countries cannot be fully free until they have an organised opposition. It is not a long step from the absence of an organized opposition to a complete dictatorship.” Opposition parties however have to respect their own constitution, however flawed this may be, allow a level playing field in the flagbearer and other elections and adopt and practise time-tested mediation mechanisms in resolving conflicts. “Those in authority” should desist from being complicit in the affairs of the opposition as this will not bode well for peace and tranquillity in the nation.

Ponder my thoughts

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