PONDER MY THOUGHTS: SLPP-NGC ALLIANCE: MARRIAGE MADE IN HEAVEN?

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BY Andrew Keili

Ever since President Bio invited NGC’s Dr. Kandeh Yumkella in Kambia to “come back home”, to which he received the retort, “a hole word”, the pursuit of the “bride” has been relentless. Publicized appearances of both gentlemen together have set tongues wagging. Emboldened by mandates from the National Executive Councils of both parties to explore a strategic alliance, the parties embarked on a dalliance that has resulted in the announcement last week that they were now “engaged”. The real “marriage” has been slated for April 23, 2023 at a big “wedding ceremony”.

The public has had some glimpses of the purpose of the proposed marriage. They propose to “pool resources to ensure victory in the election of June 24, 2023 through collaboration at all levels of the political/electoral landscape”. They will also develop a joint manifesto. The goal is to promote an inclusive government that will “bring transformative development to Sierra Leone”. Undoubtedly, the “marriage vows” will be read at the April 23rd “wedding ceremony”.

To assess how this Alliance is viewed, one needs to delve into who exactly the stakeholders are on the NGC side who will be affected by this marriage. There are those who are idealistic and believe the NGC should “stay pure” as a third force party to continue playing its role as an effective opposition. They reckon that even with the impossibility of a third party winning now, the NGC project should be a long term project-say over 10 years, to break the dominance of our two major parties that have “wreaked so much havoc on this country”. If this means NGC goes down fighting valiantly, so be it! Any alliance in their view will spell the death knell of NGC. There are others who believe that NGC should be realistic and practical and should form an alliance with one of the existing major political parties to participate in inclusive governance. It would seem the “purist go-it-alone people” and others who may be dissatisfied with the process leading to the formation of the Alliance have got their voices drowned out. These include well-meaning people who have either joined the party and given active support over time and others, who are on the sidelines but nevertheless want change. The “Alliance proponents” who supported moving towards APC lost out mainly because APC gave tepid support to the Coalition of Progressive Parties (COPP) idea which had a still birth.

SLPP’s motivation has been simple. Politics is a numbers’ game and “NGC renegades”, many of whom were as green as grass should come back home and swell up their numbers to defeat the “APC devil incarnate”. The real question then for them seems to be what sort of alliance should they have with these “renegades”- a merger in which NGC would be swallowed up or a loose alliance of sorts in which NGC maintains its identity?

Whatever the case, the “wedding” is on and it has left in its wake some disenchanted members and well-wishers, some of whom accuse the NGC and especially its Parliamentary Leader, Kandeh Yumkella of selling out. Some key officials had already bolted from the NGC, accusing the party of pursuing actions “incompatible with the party’s ethos”. However, the number of people favouring the alliance within the ranks of the NGC seems to have swelled and this includes National Executive members and key patrons of the party. There have been no notable dissenting views from the party’s rank and file members. The real issue at this stage seems to be better defining the stake of the party in the Alliance.

In the final analysis, the most important person in the inclusive government debate would seem to be President Bio during a second term the Alliance deems inevitable. He will to a large extent determine the nature and membership of the next government. Though he will depend on advice from top players of the Alliance, including in particular his own trusted advisers, he will have to decide whether he wants a transformational leadership with an eye on leaving behind a commendable legacy, even if this means ditching non performers, who are politically and socially close or to preserve the status quo. The success of the “marriage” to a large extent will also depend on whether the leaders of both parties will work together with their advisers to chart out the transformative leadership that they now tout. Only time will tell.

For now, there is talk that this is a “marriage made in heaven”. The success depends on a 5-letter word-TRUST. The serene silence of the APC on this issue for now is worthy of note. An APC pundit however observed wryly- “Yes, marriages may be made in Heaven – but then again, so are thunder and lightning”.

Ponder my thoughts.

POLITICAL FOOT-IN-MOUTH DISEASE: ET TU GENTO?

The presumed SLPP Mayoral candidate’s now infamous speech in a Mosque is not a unique or even rare event. Gento Kamara has joined a long list of distinguished politicians whose unguarded utterances have widely been viewed as bigoted or divisive. This list includes Solomon Berewa, Samura Kamara, Kandeh Yumkella, Yvonne Aki-Sawyer (YAS), Maada Bio, Fatima Bio, Abu Abu Koroma and others. Even though politicians now realize that negative statements on tribe, religion and gender are no-go areas, they still stumble into these areas, often in their unguarded moments.

They often do so with no realization there may be moles in their midst or trigger-happy phone cameras capturing the proceedings. In the case of Gento, one political commentator’s view was that Gento wanted to demonize his presumed opponent Yvonne Aki-Sawyer who had chosen a Christian Krio as her Running Mate in an “unbalanced ticket”. Since Gento could not muster the courage to say so, he went on a long and tortured speech about discrimination against Muslims in employment that defied simple logic.

When he got criticized by SLAJ and other groups, he went on the defensive. Opposition detractors joined the fray and he has been “roasted” on social media.

This episode should however not necessarily put paid to Gento’s ambition. A rich populist, with enough cash to fund community projects (SLPP’s Jagaban), a likeable northerner with strong roots in Freetown, and a candidate backed by the SLPP hierarchy are good credentials for going into the Mayoral race. Throw in the fact that he is married to Tuma Jabbie, a Christian, and Mende (daughter of Dr. Bubuakei (Injuction) Jabbie – as Mende as they come!) and a mother who is a Christian Pentecostal pastor should earn him more stripes.

Why then did he walk into a “religion minefield?” The same reason why all of those I have listed at the start of this article did- “Foot-in-mouth disease”. My CKC mentor, Solomon Ekuma Berewa, a devout Catholic, Church organist and father of a Catholic Priest in an unguarded moment is said to have made an unfortunate slip in a remark about Jesus Christ. Samura Kamara, married to a Pujehun woman and schooled in Bo is said to have made negative remarks about South Easterners. Yvonne Aki-Sawyer with a father of Mende heritage made unfortunate “Buwa Biswe” remarks. President Bio and his wife in speeches to ardent supporters have been accused of making remarks that have been deemed by some to border on the tribal. Abu Abu gave a hardline speech about decapitating opponents that got him temporarily “decapitated” from his Ministerial position. Kandeh Yumkella made a blunder with his famous “one hundred dollar supporters” statement.

Normally, politicians have a lot to say and not much time to say it, and in their haste the message often gets lost on its way from the brain to the mouth resulting in them making funny, embarrassing, and memorable statements.  There are very few politicians who do not stumble in this way. That’s why Minister R—K never stumbled when called upon to deliver a speech at our CKC sports event-and that was often. His speech was always the same and he would start with—-“It is gratifying…..”

Part of the problem is that leaders’ remarks do not fade away after they are given. Rhetoric from national leaders also serves as a cue for local figures.Not all utterances are benign however. There are those from people who actually set out to cause trouble. Some politicians and their supporters shamelessly and actively legitimize all sorts of hateful rhetoric. Their violent rhetoric often demonizes their political opponents. More recently, this has been on the upsurge especially on social media. Hateful rhetoric can stir dangerous emotions amongst the populace.

There is a deceptively simple answer to the problem of incendiary rhetoric. Politicians should exercise restraint themselves and condemn their fellow leaders when they cross the line. There is a simple way however of avoiding political slips of the tongue. The handlers and advisers of politicians should advise them to stay clear of tribe, religion, and gender in their speeches, unless these are well thought through. When they make such mistakes, the last thing they should try to do is go on a “Bob Marley” type explanation as Gento did. There is however no better advice than that given by the Apostle James about the tongue in the Bible-James 3-verses 6 through 10.

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing

It is good though to see that Gento has done some recanting of sorts. It is also good to see that Gento’s handlers have come out with his manifesto which espouses what he will do, were he to climb that steep hill called “Mount YAS” and become Mayor.

I cannot however end without commending groups like SLAJ and the Inter Religious Council who have come out with guns blazing, condemning the incendiary speech and warning other politicians who may be so inclined. I particularly like Rev. Dr. Jesse Forna’s warning as Secretary General of the Inter Religious Council to places of worship not to allow politicians to use their venues for propagating any kind of divisive speech in this country.

Let us all learn during this tense election period to watch our tongues and preserve the unity of this country.

Ponder my thoughts

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