Elections: Let Freedom and Democracy Reign in Sierra Leone

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Outgoing Sierra Leone President Koroma. Photo-Flickr

[African Election: Comment]

Over the tumultuous days and apprehensions leading up to the pomp and circumstances surrounding the dual party conventions held by the All Peoples Congress Party and the Sierra Leone Peoples Party on Saturday October 14, 2017, during which these two major parties in the Republic of Sierra Leone elected/selected their party Standard Bearers, in the persons of Dr. Julius Maada Bio for SLPP and Dr. Samura Kamara for the APC respectively, one very noteworthy development took place.

Many critics had predicted doomsday and Armageddon as if the conventions were going to be marred by violence and lawlessness. Contrary to these predictions, the conventions were relatively peaceful with little or no major reports of negative incidents occurring from either sector of the political divide. What was however noteworthy was the barring of MAMBA TV reporters from covering the second day of the APC convention. There were also reported discontent among the APC members that their process of candidate contest was not a competitive process but that of a “selection” by the Chairman for Life for the APC, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.

As an outsider and non- party member of either party but an interested Sierra Leone Diaspora observer, I wish to first thank both parties for demonstrating a sense of political maturity to the world that they love their country, the Republic of Sierra Leone in West Africa by choosing their candidates in manners that were consistent with their party bye-laws and constitution. Having said that, allow me to boldly raise and point out the following important issues that the electorate must contend with.

SLPP QUESTION AND CONCERNS FROM AN OUTSIDE OBSERVER: With all the hoopla leading up to the SLPP Convention, we in the diaspora were bombarded by reports of “infighting” within the SLPP leading up to their convention. During that same time, we saw failed attempts to unify the party to no avail.  We also experienced a number of SLPP operatives leaving the SLPP and joining the APC in a highly public and celebrity way. There was even the highly sensational bolting of the party by Dr. Kandeh Yumekela, the former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, who subsequently joined other people to form their own Party with him emerging as a potential standard bearer.

Following these highly publicized problems in the lack of unity among party leaders, one could not help but notice the sea of people converging on the City of Freetown to elect their party standard bearer, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio. Irrespective of the challenges they faced as a party going into the convention, no one can deny them the fact that the process did work. Here are the final tallies of the SLPP results of the contest as a powerful example of Democracy in the making as noted below:

        Julius Maada Bio -475 Votes tally
        John Oponjo Benjamin- 116 Votes tally
        Allie Kabba   - 11 Votes Tally
        Munda Rogers- 10 votes Tally
        Bond Wurie -6 Votes Tally Absentee Votes Tally- 39 votes.

From a political and election contest observer myself, I would like to draw the party standard bearer’s attention to the total of 181 votes that were not in his favor, although he prevailed in the end. The most urgent and first area of promoting party Unity must start with these leaders, who by their own performances in the contest whether large or small command a certain percentage of the voting electorate. The Party Standard Bearer must honestly court them with regard and respect as they could prove pivotal to a very close election, particularly if the contest does run into a run- off, which is also likely. By solidifying your natural base, these individuals could make a difference in a very close election by tipping the balance in the end. When you solidify your base firmly, any additional votes you could get become a bonus to your vote tally.

THE ALL PEOPLES CONGRESS PARTY (APC): No matter the outcome of the recent APC party contest that took place during their much anticipated convention, one cannot argue with the fact that they produced their standard bearer, Dr. Samura Kamara, in accordance with the rules governing their party. I am sure, the rules and regulations were not agreed to during the party convention. The leaders of the party agreed to a process of selecting their standard bearers and within that process, elected President Ernest Bai Koroma as the “Party Chairman for Life”. Whatever disagreement party operatives had with the process at the time could have been forcefully argued and defended during their deliberations not afterwards.

In other words, one cannot “change the rules in the middle of the game”. What had occurred during the evolution of selecting the APC standard bearer process was that each of the potential candidates were led to believe that they could be the ultimate choice of President Bai Koroma and therefore went along with the process without public dissent. Now that the process has resulted in the choice of Dr. Samura Kamara as the APC standard bearer, I would also prevail on party operatives to support their candidate which many have stated and complained of as the “selected APC standard bearer".

Unfortunately, I cannot list a vote tally as I did with the SLPP because the process ended up in a unanimous choice by as we are all led to believe of President Ernest Bai Koroma, the APC Party Chairman for Life. That was the process the APC party operatives signed onto and now they must live with the consequences if any. Now that a candidate has emerged, the Party must go out to the country to campaign as hard as they could to earn the people's trust for another term. I wish them the best of luck.

THE DANGER ZONES TO WATCH: Perhaps the most deadly and unpredictable wild cards in this 2018 Presidential contest in Sierra Leone are the emergence of a formidable “Third Party Operatives”. These operatives have appealed and attracted the most disgruntled elements and operatives of the two major dominant political parties in Sierra Leone since modern political contests began in our country. They have used social media to promote their platform and agenda, which is reasonably resonating in some quarters of the Sierra Leone Diaspora electorate, particularly those residing in the United States.

Watching their transatlantic travels across the globe, they continue to educate the fed-up breed of Sierra Leonean patriots in the Diaspora, while raising tons of money to fuel their messages, which are slowly resonating with some quarters of the Diaspora voting electorate. In a very close election as I predict the 2018 Presidential election in Sierra Leone is likely to produce, this new group is definitely going to be a force to reckon with. Some high level operatives from either political camp must begin having back channel communication with some of the operatives on that side also. I need not remind the major party operatives the role Charles Margai played in the election of EBK (APC) during the past elections. This word of caution applies to both major political parties in the Republic of Sierra Leone. Whether they heed to my advice is up to them. In the end, I am rooting and voting for a Sierra Leone, where freedom, democracy and the rule of law shall reign supreme through the bold and fearless contest of ideas amongst all the candidates seeking to become President in any part of Africa, beginning with the Republic of Sierra Leone, West Africa.

The second and perhaps the more potent factor to consider is "ethnic" politics within the APC camp. Take it or leave it, the choice of Mr. Chernor Maju Bah, a Fullah, as the APC standard bearer’s running mate brings an interesting dilemma for the competing parties. A first in Sierra Leone history, this bold and charismatic step by APC brings great excitement to a very sleepy voter base that has never been energized as a voting block in Sierra Leone. What this brilliant and more tactical strategic move means is that the Fullah are going to go all out to vote for the APC in huge numbers as a matter of "ethnic" pride. As one very influential Fullah friend joked with me when he found out about the selection of the running mate in the APC, he had this to say: “My friend, the APC has become the only party in this country to recognize our fulah community as part of Sierra Leone. In our tradition, we are loyal to those loyal to us. APC is loyal to us and therefore we are going to go all out to recruit our Fullah communities ....in Guinea, Liberia, Gambia, Mali and every region of Sierra Leone to raise tons of money and votes to return APC to power”.

Would you blame the Fulah’s voting for APC? I did politely remind him that the last time I checked, Fullahs in Liberia, Guinea, Mali, and the Gambia are not citizens of Sierra Leone and therefore ineligible to vote. While such a statement could be made in a jest, all political candidates of the major political parties in Sierra Leone must vet their voter rolls to prevent voter fraud in Sierra Leone during the most consequential election in Sierra Leone history.

THE AFRICAN DIASPORA CONTRIBUTION TO PROMOTING DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA: For far too long, the African Diaspora communities with the exception of few patriots have dared to get involved in the Presidential and electoral politics in their respective countries each time the electoral contest is underway. These brave souls even resigned their posts here in the United States and elsewhere to go home and contest in elections. Some have won but most have failed only to return to the United States and United Kingdom amidst a feeling of despair and hopelessness.

As one friend who once ran told me, “politics is not a spectator sport.You have got to be in it to win it”. The same as the New York Lotto slogan. You have got to “buy the lotto ticket to win it”. This analogy for engaged involvement of the African Diaspora and friends in the United States have propelled our coalition to consider engaging international news organizations such as the BBC, CNN, AL-JAZEERA, NBC and BLOOMBERG LLP to partner with us in hosting the first African Diaspora Presidential debate series in the host countries of the United Kingdom, in London, and the United States, in New York City. Wherever this proposed in-person debate by the standard bearers ultimately take place, we will make sure that there is a satellite link up broadcast to the other country, with a live audience, by invitation-only participating in the debate.

Let us be clear that the days when African Presidential contests are dictated by the party in power are over. As the African Diaspora and our friends in the United Sates in particular, we can no longer sit idly by and not find ways to engage our future leaders in our continent, Africa, to share their visions of our nations with those of us who equally care and love our countries, despite our now residing in foreign lands.

As Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, the CEO of the NEPAD Agency, puts it when it comes to African Development: “ …The main hurdle to African Development is not a lack of funding. The money is there, waiting to be invested in a continent offering profitability levels hardly seen elsewhere in the world. It is no secret that Africa is the last major emerging region. In 2014, the flow of funds into the continent of Africa exceeded $200 billion dollars for the first time ever“. These are no small numbers to a continent whose sons and daughters and their friends in the Diaspora have continued to make their remittances to their countries; by The World Bank's estimates, these funds now exceed foreign aid provided to Africa. For example, in 2010 the African Diaspora sent $51.8 billion; overseas assistance during the same period was $43 billion.

Therefore, it is the hope and belief of Pan Africanists to engage present and future leaders of the continent of Africa in public debates during which these candidates could be introduced to the world and confronted with tough questions through vigorous debate of ideas and policies. These debates can benefit their respective countries and also the international communities that have to this day continued to transform their own economies from Africa's resources.

The Sierra Leone election is upon us. I am a Sierra Leonean so I care about this at a deep level but speak for all the Sierra Leone Diaspora when I say that my proposal of such a debate needs to happen before the election in March of 2018. One of the candidates in Sierra Leone will emerge the winner of the country at the end of their contest. My goal on behalf of all—therefore is to introduce them to the world to provide them with equal opportunities to articulate their ideas and vision of their country during a live television debate aired globally.

When we succeed in hosting these Presidential debates in Africa starting with Sierra Leone, we will be setting a precedent that can be replicated for presidential contests in other African countries. International observers of means and stature have increasingly converged on African countries to monitor Presidential elections. Through this transparent and open process, we in the Diaspora will be making a meaningful contribution to promoting good governance practices, where, freedom and democracy will reign supreme on the continent of Africa.

We cordially invite you to write to BBC, CNN, AL-JAZEERA, NBC or any of the networks we are considering to enthusiastically embrace this unprecedented, groundbreaking initiative for the African Diaspora and their friends around the world to host the Africa Presidential debate series, starting with Sierra Leone. For further information, please contact us at www.unitedafricancongress.org

You can also write to United African Congress, 40 Exchange Place suite 3rd Floor. New York, New York 10038, United States of America.

 

Sidique Wai is President and National Spokesperson

United African Congress

 

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