Why Sierra Leoneans Must Reject Any Notion Of Presidential Term Extension
President Koroma; like many African presidents is he beginning to love the position too much?
Making a mistake is human; but not learning from it is idiocy. The people of Sierra Leone should learn from the mistakes of the past.
We cannot be going off the same cliff again and expect that somehow we will land safely this time without injury. The scars of the 11 year old civil war still remain vivid in the minds of many. The socio-economic inequalities that led to the war still lingers. The price of our staple food, rice and other basic necessities have doubled over the last seven or so years. We still live in a society of the haves and the have nots. There is no real middle class. As if we do not have enough problems already to deal with, certain reckless individuals in the ruling party are busy pushing the silent majority to the wall once more.
Any extension of presidential term beyond the constitutionally mandated period, for which the current president was elected, is a recipe for disaster. Likewise, any attempt by President Ernest Koroma, whether directly or indirectly, to unduly influence and/or compromise the current constitutional review process in ways that will give him any role beyond the end of his current and final term is tantamount to an attempt to undermine our democracy, cause unnecessary instability, and threaten our fragile peace. Such an attempt includes condoning, aiding, abetting, or financing any efforts designed to pursue such an agenda at a time when Sierra Leone is being proclaimed by the international community as a postal child for countries attempting to move from war to peace and multi-party democracy.
Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora have taken a lead in opposing this move. Yesterday’s Independence Day Diaspora Symposium in greater Washington, D.C was hit by an anti-extension/third-term fever, as more than fifty (50) concerned Sierra Leoneans stormed the auditorium in anti-extension/third-term t-shirts. The non-partisan group comprises of members of the All People’s Congress (APC), the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), the People’s Movement for Democratic Change, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and independent Sierra Leoneans with no political party affiliation. Reportedly, the group came together a couple of weeks ago and has since been meeting to plan a formidable opposition to term-limit extensions of any sort. According to the group, their membership is growing and several other ant-extension/third-term protests are under way including alerting the international community.
At the event, the one question that was on the minds of the protesters remained unanswered. During question and answer session of the five-hour program with the main agenda—the Diaspora involvement in Sierra Leone; one of the members of the group raised a questions about whether President Koroma is planning to extend his term or run for a third term. This important question was ignored by the moderator and panel, the keynote speaker and current Deputy Minister of Finance, Hon. Mabinty Daramy, and the Sierra Leonean Ambassador to the United States, Bockarie Stevens. However, during private side-bar discussions with both Ambassador Stevens and Hon. Daramy, both officials of government stated that the president does not have such a plan. However, when asked why has the president remained silent while key members of his administration promote the idea, no convincing responses were received other than a reference to the same old press release which fails to address the issue of extension. At the end of the formal event, the group managed to take a few photos with both Ambassador Stevens and Hon. Daramy, although the latter was reluctant.
A couple of weeks ago when I first wrote about the subject in an article titled, “Is Sierra Leone Parliament poised to pass a 2-year extension of term limit for themselves and by extension President Koroma”; many dismissed it as a mere rumor. Today, it’s obvious beyond the reasonable doubt that such an enterprise is underway or at least being widely promoted by key individuals in the Koroma administration. Given recent calls by several government and ruling party officials including the Minister of Transportation, Logus Koroma; the Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the United Nations, Wilfred Kabs Kanu; and the Deputy Publicity Officer of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC), Robin Falley; many Sierra Leoneans both at home and abroad have responded in strong opposition to such a move. While an old press release is making its way on social media, in which President Koroma indicates having no interest in running for a third term, the release is silent on the issue of current term extension. This, coupled with the fact that the president has failed to make a statement in support of, or opposing the calls made by his close confidants, leaves many with the conclusion that the president is condoning the idea and harboring the ambition being shared.
Make no mistake, as we move along the calls and counter calls are expected to grow louder; and having gotten away with changing the rules in his favor a couple of times over the last year or so, many believe that there is no evidence to suggest that President Koroma and his men will avoid this predicament. What remains unpredictable is the ultimate response by the general public; which many believe has been recklessly underestimated by the Koroma regime in recent times. And judging by the general reaction on social media and on the ground in Sierra Leone, the general sentiment is that there is no basis whatsoever for an extension of President Koroma’s term or granting him an opportunity to run for a third term. This sentiment is shared by people from across the country including members of the APC, the opposition, and as well as other non-partisan independents.
What is not helping the situation is the secrecy of the constitutional review process. According to records, the last public disclosure of minutes of the deliberations of the committee was in December, 2013. The subject of the review over the last three months is any body’s guess. So, the timing of the calls by officials of the ruling government and party begs the question as to whether such is part of a well calculated plan to preempt public reaction regarding what is about to be made public. To carry out their plan legally, the section in the constitution dealing with term limit will have to be amended. Given, that the section on term limit is an “entrenched clause”, the change will have to be enacted by parliament as well as ratified by the people by way of a referendum. Parliament will then approve the new constitution. President Koroma will serve under the new constitution. And if the change of term limit includes a change from five to seven year terms, President Koroma may have two years added to his current term before the next election. This is how it will go down under a normal and perfect scenario. And of course, being a novice on the Sierra Leone constitutional law, I stand to be corrected on the procedural aspect of this.
What this means is that there may not be any general elections in 2017/18 and the internal party struggles for flag bearer is irrelevant; be it in the APC, SLPP or any other party for that matter. It also means that President Koroma will serve as president until 2020; two years into the oil drilling. Ultimately, President Koroma will have enough oil money to run again for president in 2020 and beyond; as many times as he sees it fit. This means that there is a chance that the opposition will be in the wilderness for a longer period of time; making it vulnerable for extinction altogether. When that happens, Sierra Leone will become once more a one-party state either by default or by design through another future constitutional amendment and/or referendum. This ultimately means that President Koroma will become so powerful that he will give any dictator in Africa a run for their money.
But with popular rejection of the idea, there are all reasons to believe that the move will be defeated at a referendum, if in fact the voting is conducted under a free, fair, and transparent atmosphere. But given experience of the last elections, no one should expect a smooth sail here. There are reasons to believe that plans are already underway to compromise the referendum process, restrict voters’ movement, stuff the ballot boxes, manipulate the tallying, and intimidate violently anyone who stands in the way of the masterminds of this enterprise. This is where violence and commotion is imminent. And if the people fails to stop the masterminds at the ballot; there is no reason to believe that they will accept the results of a referendum that is rigged and marred by violence and intimidation. I foresee the African model of the Arab Spring underway. When the people ultimately lose confidence in the democratic process that leaves absolute power vested in one man they will seek other alternatives for regime change. The wider population will be looking alternatives including embracing radical ways to change things. Coups, uprisings, or even another civil war will all be back on the table. This will all be happening on President Koroma’s watch.
The last time we went down this route, not even folks in the APC administration of the dictator Siaka Stevens were spared. Many well-meaning APC members such as Ibrahim Bash-Taqi, former APC minister of information; Hon. Sorie Forna, minister of finance; Brig. John Bangura, the man who handed power to Siaka Stevens; Paramount Chief Makarie N’silk, all became victims of trumped-up treason charges for their uncompromising stand against the direction the country was headed. At the end of the day, absolute power became vested in one man and we ended with a reckless dictator.
Siaka Stevens became so powerful that he single handedly hand-picked his successor, Joseph Momoh, ahead of the vice presidents and without consultation with parliament. So, as history is about to repeat itself, it’s incumbent on all peace-loving Sierra Leoneans to stand up against any movement to take our country back to the dark days. There can never be a perfect time for that but now. Posterity will judge us when if we fail to act now and we will have to explain to our children the reason for our inaction. Just remember that “evil thrives when good men do nothing”.
Mustapha Wai, M.Sc., CPA, CGMA
is Managing Partner at Washington, D.C.-based Wai & Associates
He is a former Deputy Director for Quality Assurance/Internal Audit
at the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).