Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Light of Democracy Dimming in Sierra Leone

Just four years ago, the small  nation of Sierra Leone, an exotic and pristine beauty on Western Coast of continental Africa,  became a rare symbol of democracy on the continent. On a continent renowned for dictators and tyrants, this small country that had emerged from a tumultuous period of civil conflict had successfully conducted free and fair elections that had seen the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party gracefully conceding power to the main opposition All People Congress party, an opposition party that had previously ruled the country for 23 years and had managed its decline from a once prosperous country to one of the poorest and most destitute nations on the face of the earth.
Kabbah-Symbol of Democracy

The old All People Congress Party, led by ex-presidents Siaka Probyn Steven and Joseph Saidu Momoh had presided over the systematic decline of Sierra Leone from 1967 to 1992, a period during which the country was virtually brought to its knees through decades of misgovernment. Siaka Stevens who had attained power through democratic means from the ruling SLPP (deja vu) converted the diamond rich country into a one party dictatorship, banning legal opposition parties and presiding over the systematic pillaging of the resources of the country for personal gain. In 1980, in a bid to satisfy his monumental ego, Siaka Steven hosted the Organization of African Unity (OAU) conference in Sierra Leone. The financial cost of hosting this conference was so astronomical that the then Governor of the bank of Sierra Leone, Samuel Bangura, voiced his opposition to its implementation. The governor was murdered at his residence in an infamous act of political intrigue and the conference was given the go ahead.

Joseph Momoh
Most Corrupt President
After the OAU, the economic  fortunes of Sierra  Leone went into an irreversible decline. National output and productivity declined, national debt increased, and the standard of living of citizens decreased with an acceleration of the rate of inflation in the face of stagnant wages. The Leone, a currency that had once held its own weight against the dollar went into free fall. In 1980 one Leone was more valuable than one dollar. By 1992 when the then president Joseph Saidu Momoh was chased butt naked from Freetown by young soldiers asking for their pay, the value of one Leone was practically worthless, unable to buy even a cup of groundnuts.

President Koroma
No hope for the hopeless
So when the New APC, under the leadership of then opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma, once again took the mantle of leadership for the once decadent APC, some of us welcomed the news with apprehension and misgivings, but were ready to give him chance as we were of the opinion that having been through all the problems of Sierra Leone, he would try to give the people a chance to once again regain some element of their once lost glory. Some people argued that given the misdeeds and excesses of 23 years  of APC misrule characterized by misgovernment, corruption, tribalism and nepotism, Ernest Koroma would try to redeem the name of the party and try to build on the economic stability that he had inherited from President Ahmed Tejan Kabba whose government had managed to stabilize the economy, even though he had faced violent periods of armed insurrection.

When President Ahmed Tejan Kabba handed over power to Ernest Koroma, Sierra Leone's democratic institutions were solid both relative to other countries on the African continent and in absolute terms. Under Kabba, the opposition was given free rein to organize and campaign without fear of intimidation or violence. Once violent military and rebel leaders were given the opportunity to participate in governance, opposition radio stations and newspapers were free to operate and citizens were able to form civil groups with say in how the country's democratic future would be determined.

Though the APC party would want the world to believe that Tejan Kabba was an ineffectual leader under whose leadship there was not much progress, nothing could be further from the truth. In 1996 the NPRC military government handed over power to Tejan Kabbah with the RUF rebels still armed and terrorizing parts of the country. Tejan Kabba through diplomatic and other means broke the back of the Revolutionary United Front and had most its main leaders brought to trial and eventually convicted for crimes against humanity. Kabbah undermined and brought Charges against vicious Liberian Warlord turned president Charles Taylor who is languishing today in the Hague, in legal limbo. Foday Sankoh the mysterious and despised leader of the RUF was caught and prosecuted, he died before he could see justice, but reports from hell say he is not having a good time there at all.

Under Tejan Kabba the special court was established with the support of the international community that eventally indicted Charles Taylor. Tejan Kabbah worked with the United Nations to establish  the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), which was established with the Economic Community for West African States Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG)'s military support. UNAMSIL was eventually able to bring security to all parts of the country. The United Nations secretary general's representative to Sierra
Leone Victor Angelo was actively involved in political machinations in the country, but Tejan Kabbah never raised any vocal objection and allowed the UN representative free rein to meddle in the country's political affairs.

In 2007 Tejan Kabbah presided over elections that was generally assumed to be free and fair, even though thousands of ballots from ruling party support bases were thrown out by the National Electoral Commission citing irregularities. The opposition was declared the winners and Tejan Kabba graciously conceded without fuss, fighting or violence.

Forward to 2012, presidential and legislative elections are due to be held in November 2012, a date that is suspicious, as most people around the world will be paying attention to the American presidential contest. Today in Sierra Leone;
Minister Tarawally
Thuggish
VP Sumana Al-Jazeera

  •  opposition radio stations are banned, the country's currency has reach the 430000 mark against the dollar, unemployment is at an all time high and hope and prosperity is at an all time low.
  •  musicians that used to once challenge Tejan Kabbah through political songs now do so at risk of loss of limb  or life.
  •  political violence is rife, the main opposition leader and former leader Brigadier Julius Bio was attacked by ruling party loyalists in his hometown, the second capital city Bo, an incident that was clearly incendiary, given the love for him in the region.
  •  infighting among APC members for the vice presidency has seen gangster like shootings by government party agents in the main diamond district of Kono. The interior Minister Musa Tarawally is accused of thuggishly sending people to intimidate supporters of VP Sam Sumana.
  • the vice president and some of his henchmen were filmed soliciting bribes in an undercover investigative journalism sting by Al-Jazeera, 
  • the united nations representative to Sierra Leone, Michael von der Schulenburg has had his character viciously attacked by pseudo journalistic agents of the government and finally hounded out of the country.
  • there are claims that the government is busy ferrying people from Liberia and Guinea and registering them to obscure the results of the November elections.
  • there are reports that the UDM party is a creation of the APC to muddy the political waters and sow confusion in November with an agent of Koroma posing as opposition leader.
  • the national government is actively involving itself in student government elections at the countries universities to ensure the election of student governments that are pliable and malleable.
  • several government ministers have been indicted for corruption.
  • tribalism, nepotism, official corruption is at an all time high, with the government paying journalists to write glowing stories to fool the world in a process described as rebranding.
  • several government functionaries have been implicated in drug smuggling with plane and container load of cocaine appearing in the country in mysterious circumstances
In summary the democratic institutions put in place by Kabba, the people  of Sierra Leone, UN, and ECOMOG and years of hard worn peace seem to be in jeopardy due to an inept government  seeking to hang on to power by all means in the face of popular dissatisfaction and disaffection. Sierra Leonean fed up with years of endless promises, political gimmicks, and sheer incompetence are demanding change, but the government is seeking to deploy all the arsenal at its disposal to thwart the popular will of the people for personal gain. All eyes are on Sierra Leone and we can only pray that things do not totally fall apart, as the light of democracy seems to be failing in Sierra leone

1 comment:

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