Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Tale of Two Elections: Obama and Koroma

President Barack Hussein Obama
President Ernest Bai Koroma
In November, Sierra Leoneans living in USA will be feverish with anticipation and excitement. Well this will at  least be true for those who follow politics. On November 6, 2012,  Americans will be asked to decide between incumbent President Barack Obama and his Republican Challenger Mitt Willard Romney. Just a week and some days after the American election the people of the beautiful West African country of Sierra Leone, just north of the equator will also be asked to choose between incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma and a bevy of opposition candidates, even though the only one with any realistic chance of upsetting the president is the main opposition challenger Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra leone Peoples
party, the man who transitioned the country to multiparty democracy after a quarter century of one-party and military rule.

Julius Maada Bio
President Obama and Koroma have some real similarities. They were both elected on an agenda of hope and change, one economic and the other attitudinal, whatever attitudinal change means. Both were good looking and vibrant and both rode massive waves of popularity. Both also promised their respective citizens a lot. As they head into their respective  elections, both men still regain some element of popularity and are both predicted to be contesting very close elections.

At the end of both President Obama and Koroma's tenures, the two men have had widely divergent socioeconomic achievements in their respective countries.

When President Obama was elected to lead America, the country was in a very severe recession, with the economy shedding over 700,000 jobs a month, which is basically an underestimate. The three big American automakers were on the verge of bankruptcy, barely playing second fiddle to the Japanese auto firms Toyota, Honda and Mazda. The housing market in most of the major urban areas was in a real mess. Real estate prices were in free fall and foreclosures were becoming an everyday and common occurrence.  Foreclosures almost became accepted as the order of the day. The major American banks and major housing lenders were also in a state short of catastrophe  With the collapse of Lehman brothers, AIG and some of the institutional foundations of the American economy, President Barack Obama was inaugurated with two ongoing wars and an economic disaster of historic proportions, second only to the great depression of the 1930s.
A Day of Hope

When President Ernest Bai Koroma became president of Sierra Leone, the country was just on the verge of recovery from the devastating effects of a decade long civil war that had plunged the country into medieval barbarianism from the early 1990 to the early 2000s. The civil war brought on by a multitude of factors among which included; the corruption of the APC government of Joseph Momoh, the unreasonable over ambition of a semi-literate former corporal Foday Saybanah Sankoh, the deviousness of Sierra Leone rebel neighbor Charles Ghankay Taylor, the high Sierra Leone youth employment and high youth disaffection, the attraction of Sierra Leone's gem diamonds to unscrupulous international business individuals and entities, amongst many others, had laid waste the country and its economy. Many towns were torched by rebels and  rural population areas like Koidu, Masiaka, Mobai, and scores of others were left smoldering, buried under ashes of misery and despair  Against all odds the leadership of Ahmed Tejan Kabba managed to stabilize the situation while surviving two coups and a considerable period in exile. Tejan Kabbah  left the country with functional democratic institutions including; an independent electoral commission, a vibrant private banking sector, a currency that had been relatively stable for well over a year, a vibrant electoral commission, a reformed the police force and a smaller military that was benefiting from frequent training aimed at securing its modernization.
Rising Up To The Challenge

In essence, when Ernest Koroma took over as president, the hard work  of stabilizing the war torn economy had already been achieved by President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, albeit with considerable international goodwill and assistance.  Contracts for the construction of the country's road networks had already been approved and infrastructral development had commenced in many areas around the country. The country's decades old Bumbuna Hydroelectric project had also been a Kabbah priority and was near completion. The country had reserves of foreign currency for the first time in many years and most of the perpetrators of the near genocide of the 90s were either dead, in prison or hiding.

In America, president Obama took immediate steps to halt the economic free fall by bailing out the major banks on the edge of bankruptcy and infusing an injection of funds into the auto industry that permitted them to rapidly reform and transform their production methods, churning out more environmentally friendly and low fuel consuming high quality vehicles, enabling  more effective competition against foreign rivals. The "cash for clunkers program" also encouraged those with old cars to trade it in for new ones and receive a government credit for doing so. and in a relatively short time, Detroit was back on its feet, with General Motors achieving its market leader status once again. Major housing lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also received serious cash infusion to help finance and restore to health the very sick housing market. The Affordable Care Act was passed enabling millions of American to get access to health care coverage through insurance exchanges. The Act also prevented the discriminatory practice of refusing health care coverage to those with preexisting conditions and kept children on their parent's insurance until they were 26. In less than 3 years the economic free fall had been halted and the American economy was generating millions of jobs again.

In Sierra Leone President Koroma initially made some noises about fighting corruption and even set up an attitudinal and behavioral change secretariat that was charged with somehow changing the people's behavior,  staffed with the president's close political allies and lackeys. The president undertook a rebranding exercise that was meant to portray a positive image of the country and put the exercise in the hands of a new Minister Plenipotentiary Kabbs Kanu who saw this role as the foundation for the institutionalization of sycophancy and embarked on telling the international community about what the president had for lunch and what his wife had for dinner. The country's troublesome journalists were sent as press attaches to obscure countries and charged with painting rosy pictures of the country and counteracting any negative news emanating from the country even if it meant them propagating falsities. With journalism being a low paying position in Sierra Leone, many of the fierce, but broke journalist threw their professional ethics under their beds and joined the bandwagon of praise singing and Koroma deification. The president who had perceived the Tejan Kabbah led ex-government of being southeastern dominated proceeded to purge the civil service of southeastern elements, replacing them with  northern APC allies and kinsmen. In less than a year the great Koroma southeastern civil service purge was well underway starting with the establishment of a cabinet that was 80% northern based and then institutionalizing and entrenching regionalization and tribalism as a government policy. 
APC's Creation Sankoh

In a span of four years the Leone, the Sierra Leone currency was in free fall, with devaluation over the period exceeding 200%. Ministers and heads of parastatals were being dragged by the ACC to court for corruption and drug smuggling. The vice president was caught by journalists in an embarrassing bribery scandal and the president's siblings were international business magnates importing goods into the country while benefiting from custom waivers while other business people were paying increased custom duties through their noses, with many  forced to abandon their goods at customs and duties.

After 4 years in America and five years in Sierra Leone Barack Obama and Ernest Koroma, whose sharing of a table at the United Nations became a stuff of legend for the nations pro government journalists, are both up for reelection and both face tough competition and both are still drawing huge crowds, which ironically demonstrates how hard it is to rule in the West and how easy it is to rule in Subsaharan Africa.

Barack Obama's crowds are those who appreciate all that he has done in the short period. The rescue of the economy and the ending of the Iraq war and the setting of a time table for withdrawal from Afghanistan. He is resisted by the Republicans who see his rule as an expansion of big government and a period of increased deficits and big spending, even though the spending was necessary to dig the country out of the whole it had been buried in by the bush administration. His support is not due to demagoguery nether is his resistance wholly due to poor performance, but sometimes merely on the diametrically opposite view of the world as seen by liberals and democrats.

In Sierra Leone President Koroma's crowds are an epitome and a benefit of leadership on a continent of high illiteracy, ethnic divisions and low expectations. No American president that has presided over a 200% devaluation in the value of the dollar or a tripling of food prices will even hope of reelection, let alone boast of doing so with a landslide. But the benefits of tribalism, demagoguery, illiteracy and low expectations means that people will dance on the streets for the election of the Sierra Leone president, go home, collapse and die from hunger, only because he is from their tribe, full stop. Cholera patients will leave their IV drips hanging in dilapidated hospitals, jump onto the streets and dance for a government whose poor sanitation policies has put them at the door of an early grave, just because they do not want to be ruled by their perceived rivals, even where those rivals have a better agenda. 
The Face of Change

Sierra Leone has been the poorest country on the face of the earth for a long time and it is definitely not because of a shortage of resources or human capital, but because of the magnification of the trivial and the minimization of the important. This trip though it is hoped that will all the wrath of God that he has brought down on the country over the past decade or two, the people will wake up from their slumber, shed their cloaks of primitive loyalty and do the best they can to better their lot. If they decide to vote in the current government again, then they should remember that God gave them a chance to answer their own prayer of redemption, but they decided they decided to take their destiny once again and hand it to the agents of deceit.

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