By Prof Sankara Kamara..
Sierra Leone under President Ernest Bai Koroma is a country in disarray. The country is chaotic because it is controlled by a political class that is opposed to the strengthening of democratic institutions. Ignorant and ultimately short-sighted, Ernest Koroma sees the presidency as a business enterprise that can break the law without fear of prosecution.
Rather than enhance the newly-created institutions which facilitated his march to the presidency, Ernest Koroma is actually destroying the country’s new-born democracy, thanks to his proclivity for acting like the president of a one-party dictatorship. There is a plaintive explanation for President Koroma’s abnormal behaviour. With a lifeless opposition party that exists only in theory, Ernest Koroma can loot the treasury, put incompetent relatives and friends in high places, and even attempt to change the country’s democratic constitution, without being challenged. A democracy without opposition will inexorably lead to the political abnormalities seen in Ernest Koroma’s Sierra Leone. After eleven years of civil strife, the expectation was that post-war Sierra Leone would gravitate towards ethical politics, as a prerequisite for instituting the rule of law. The civil war in Sierra Leone, which proved to be one of the cruelest in post-colonial Africa, taught an inalterable lesson. After spilling appalling amounts of blood, during the civil war, Sierra Leoneans, without hesitance, embraced democracy as the best safeguard against anarchy. Despite its stridence, that message has been ignored by Ernest Koroma, a democratically elected executive with a preference for undemocratic behaviour.
Ernest Koroma’s proneness to unethical behaviour was recently seen when the president performed an act of indecency that is particularly unacceptable in democratic societies. On Wednesday, January 8, 2014, an odious felony was committed when President Koroma invited some members of the opposition to his office and gave them twenty thousand dollars, as a ‘gift.’ Even as a stunned Sierra Leonean public shuddered with dismay, President Koroma remained unashamed, citing his so-called inclination for ‘generosity,’ as reason behind the ‘gift.’ That incident reminded Sierra Leoneans, rather vulgarly, that if democracy is to thrive in that country, political institutions must be established to promote accountability and punish criminality in high places. Bribery corrodes democracy, and when blessed by the president–who is the highest citizen in the land–bribery can turn democracy into a criminal enterprise. A real democracy would have responded to Ernest Koroma’s crudeness with impeachment and threats of criminal prosecution.
By the time the Ebola virus crossed the Guinean border and registered its baleful presence in Sierra Leone, the country was already drooping with vulnerabilities of various descriptions. Robbed of all the institutional abilities to manage or avert a national crisis, Sierra Leone, under Ernest Koroma, came under an Ebola attack that could have been prevented or at least held in check, by any responsible government. As if to prove its uselessness, Ernest Koroma’s government actually refused to acknowledge the deadliness or existence, of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone. The country’s Minister of Information, Alhaji Alpha Kanu, issued a thoughtless statement to ridicule and dismiss the fears of alarmed Sierra Leoneans. By the time President Koroma lazily woke up to Ebola’s mortal threat, the virus was already running amok, destabilizing rural communities and killing Sierra Leoneans in appallingly unacceptable numbers.
Although the Ebola disaster demands a competent government and a reliable opposition party, Ebola-plagued Sierra Leone has not lost its disposition for treachery. While President Koroma is dishonestly trying to tamper with the constitution and contest a third presidential term, the country’s politically impotent opposition party, the SLPP, has suddenly become useful to presidential duellists. A new presidential aspirant has emerged, and his name is Dr. Kandeh Yumkella. Yumkella is a senior United Nations employee, and, as usual, the prospective aspirant is being hailed by some uncritical Sierra Leoneans as a redeemer. Dr. Yumkella appears to be level-headed. Sierra Leone, however, has seen so many false-starts, political pretenders and tragedies, that common sense behoves every Sierra Leonean to be very critical of power-hunters and their promises. Put on a collision course with Maada Bio, a previous SLPP presidential aspirant, Kandeh Yumkella has generated a fair amount of fixation, at least within the Sierra Leonean Internet community.
Sierra Leone is a country with a depressingly short memory. By repositioning its focus from Ebola to the 2017 presidential elections, Sierra Leone is, once again, hurting itself with suicidal intent. The war against Ebola, not the posturing of presidential aspirants, is what should be the current national priority in Sierra Leone. In 1991, the then President of Sierra Leone, Joseph Saidu Momoh, similarly misplaced his priorities, leading to a ghastly drama that almost extinguished the nation. Faced with a national security threat, in the form of a rebel invasion from neighbouring Liberia, President Momoh neglected his national security duties and moved on to invest in multiparty elections, believing that the holding of elections—which he intended to rig—could score a propaganda coup against the rebels. Rather than prepare Sierra Leone for national defence against the rebel menace, President Momoh chose petty politics over the country’s national existence. A small-minded man, Momoh thought the rebels were ‘far’ away in the provinces and, therefore, posed only a minimal threat to his regime. He was wrong! Unmotivated, poorly-armed and undermined by the variables of failed statehood, the Sierra Leone army suffered humiliating reverses on the battlefield, while its political masters jostled for supremacy in the capital, Freetown. Momoh’s political stupidities soon backfired, when the Sierra Leone Army mutinied, leading to a military coup in April, 1992. Without necessarily ignoring the need for multipartyism, President Momoh should have invested a lot of time, resources and political perspicacity, in the defence of Sierra Leone against the destructive rebels.
Ernest Koroma and the presidential aspirants in the opposition SLPP, are about to repeat the mistake which Joseph Saidu Momoh made, during the civil war. With a rampageous Ebola virus poisoning every part of the country, Sierra Leone desperately needs an effective government, responsive political institutions and a dependable opposition party that can work with government when necessary, expose political criminality when it occurs, and stand with the PEOPLE when they need support against President Koroma’s perfidy. The main actors within the opposition—Maada Bio and Kandeh Yumkella—can patriotically serve Ebola-plagued Sierra Leone by cohering to revive the SLPP, a practically paralyzed opposition party. Maada and Yumkella can do that by using their influence, sense of patriotism and organizational skills, to revive the SLPP, well before the 2017 elections. President Koroma’s incompetence and the Ebola-generated graveyards that have become a feature of his presidency should be seen as a tragedy that must be reversed. It is therefore essential for Maada Bio and Kandeh Yumkella to resuscitate the country’s main opposition party, before commencing their presidential campaigns in earnest. The pursuit of presidential ambitions within a nearly-dead political party is a mockery of democracy. Such an electoral process will also be unpatriotic. A contest in which the opposition has only a slight chance of winning, will only serve to legitimize the repulsively incompetent party that is in power. As if to expose the shallowness that drives Sierra Leonean politics, presidential candidates in that country, tend to be mentally lazy. In Sierra Leone, political parties generally disconnect themselves from the people, after elections. Simplistic in outlook, presidential candidates in Sierra Leone tend to compensate for their political bankruptcy, by distributing bags of rice to voters, during political campaigns. While bags of rice are essential in a nearly-famished country, they cannot be expected to solve the socio-political problems that led to starvation. This is why Maada Bio and Kandeh Yumkella should temporarily submerge their respective ambitions to transform the SLPP, from a political laggard, to an opposition party that can talk to, and maintain a rapport with the people.
Ever since the outbreak of the Ebola virus, Sierra Leoneans have been longing for an opposition party that can work with the government when necessary, embarrass the president when he blunders, and sensitize the people against the dangers of having a repellently incompetent government. If Maada Bio and Kandeh Yumkella want to avoid accusations of opportunism from more critical Sierra Leoneans, the two men should temporarily unite to equip the SLPP with the political infrastructure to hold President Koroma responsible for the criminal negligence which turned a containable Ebola crisis, to a paralyzing nightmare. Ernest Koroma has so pitifully mismanaged the Ebola crisis that an elaborate dissertation can be written on, ‘How to Unpatriotically Rule a Country.’
* Sankara Kamara is a Sierra Leonean academic and freelance writer.