Friday, August 2, 2013

The Constitutional Review Process in Sierra Leone: A Segbwema Blog Analysis

Sierra Leone
I believe in the power of social media and its value as a tool of democracy. The Arab spring of the previous year in the Middle East amply demonstrates how contemporary social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, mobile text messaging and VoIP technologies such as Skype, Viber and Tango, to name but just a few, were harnessed by the long oppressed peoples of the Middle East to overthrow the coercive power of the dictatorial regimes in this region and give legitimate authority, albeit briefly, to the demonstrating masses on the streets of Arabia, or more truly to the real agents who were overtly and covertly controlling the surging anger of the teeming masses in the streets.
Hosni Mubarak

Powerful regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya, who had coercive power by the nature of their tight control over the organs of state power; the police, the courts, military and executive power soon found that real legitimate authority stemmed from the willingness of the people to be governed by the leaders of their country and where this authority does not exists, regimes are inherently unstable. When the masses rose up to exercise their legitimate authority, regimes of powerful men like  Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya crumpled like empires built on the foundation of a deck of card. If only these men had read the Biblical story of the wise and the foolish builders in the Book of Matthew 7: 24-27, which told of the folly of building a house on a foundation of sand rather than rock, they would have listened to the voice of Jesus the esteemed Galilean and saved themselves much grief in the process.
Late Muammar al-Gaddafi

While growing up in Segbwema, Sierra Leone, I was able to see first hand, having had a keen mind as a child, how legitimate authority differed from the constitutional trappings of power. When we were born, the Paramount Chief at the time was David Kekura Jimmy Jajua, a soft spoken, persuasive and charismatic leader and a former driver who understood the cultural norms of the people of Njaluahun Chiefdom in extricate detail and was skillful at getting the loyalty of his people through his magnanimity, charisma, his love and devotion to his people, his love of tradition and his sense of fairness. In short, here was a chief with the political power to control the destiny of his chiefdom within the limitations of the power of paramount chiefs, who also had legitimate authority due to the willingness of the people to be led by him.

Paramout Chief Candidate
Vandy "Gbos Gbos" Moijueh
When Paramount Chief D. K. Jimmy Jajua died, many of us who grew up around the chief's compound thought that the paramount chieftaincy would be given to his cousin the section chief Momoh Jajua, but the people, including Chief Momoh opted instead for the highly educated son of the Paramount Chief, Momoh Bobor Jimmy Jajua, who held a masters degree in agriculture and was an agricultural officer in the Northern Region of Sierra Leone. 

Bobor Jimmy Jajua was unwilling to take up the mantle of the chieftaincy, but he bore such a striking physical resemblance to his father, that the people who had adored his father would not take no for an answer. After much coercion, Bobor Jimmy contested for the chieftaincy on behalf of one faction of the Jajua family and won in a landslide with his nearest rival Dr. Francis Gbow, a German trained medical doctor getting just 70 votes. 

In spite of his education, Paramount Chief Momoh Bobor Jimmy Jajua never had the legitimate authority of his father for several reasons, the main reason being that he was not a traditionalist. He did not believe in having many wives and turned down many marriage offers from powerful people in the chiefdom which left them feeling offended. He also did not take active part in the cultural activities of the chiefdom like his late father and unfortunately preferred to eat alone, while at any one time, his father always ate with at least 5 people, all hands on deck in very large European trays. Up till his death during the period of the civil war in Sierra Leone from natural causes, many people found Chief Jimmy to be cold and distant. Members of my family who had been traditional religious advisers to many paramount chiefs in the chiefdom, grew more closer to the Gbows than the Jajuas, the traditional chieftaincy rivals in our chiefdom.
President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma

My country Sierra Leone which is never short of action and could be a budding journalist's dream is currently going through the process of constitutional review, a process that was launched recently with much fanfare by the country's President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, a complex political figure who commands immense loyalty among members of his All Peoples Congress party, but is viewed as a deeply polarizing figure among the opposition, due to his tendency to mostly appoint those close or loyal to him to positions of authority both within the country and on diplomatic assignments. A President who is a champion of including members of the Sierra Leone diaspora in his government, over 95% of the people from the diaspora that he has appointed to positions in Sierra Leone were from just one region of the country, with the remaining members people from other regions with close allegiance to the APC. Eminent Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora with no interest in party politics have largely been ignored, even though universities and private firms in Europe, Canada and USA are full of apolitical Sierra Leoneans in top academic and managerial positions.
Perenially Disgruntled Sherman

The marginalization of large sections of the country from governance has increased a lot of ethnic tensions in the country, among people who had traditionally learned to get along. There had always been vestiges of tribalism in Sierra Leone, but that was largely confined to periodical flare ups during political seasons with tensions dying down after elections. Under President Koroma however, tribalism and regionalism seem to be on steroids. Just recently a garrulous supporter of the President, one perpetually disgruntled Joseph Sherman, in a fit of tribal vigilance openly on the president to recall the Sierra Leone Ambassador to America iBockarie Stevens on the insane accusation that the ambassador was cavorting with his "Mende Brothers."

Dr. Abdulai Conteh
A lot of prominent Sierra Leoneans, notably Sierra Leone legal luminary Abdulai Conteh, a former Cabinet Minister and Attorney General of the country, Dr. Yusuf Bangura, an eminent political scientist and Dr. Omodele Jones, an accomplished scholar have asked for and advocated ways in which the current constitutional review process could be used to reduce the resurgence of ethnic tensions in the country. Recently, opposition activist and engineer Andrew Keili gave a synopsis of the main arguments of these three scholars in his weekly column "Ponder My Thoughts" that must be read by anybody who cares about the future social stability of Sierra Leone.

Young Sierra Leoneans on social media have also set up discussions forums encouraging citizens in the country and the diaspora to join in the debate about the constitutional review in the country, as there are genuine fears that not only will a flawed review further stoke the flames of tribalism in the country, but the process could be used to once again impose leaders on the country who have immense coercive power but lack broad legitimate authority.

Currently there are fears that many people close to the president who owe their exalted existence to plum appointments he has rewarded them with want to tinker with the review process to extend his mandate beyond two terms in order to protect their own parochial interests. This fear is not unfounded, as Balogun Koroma, one of the advocates of a third term agenda who talked openly on radio about tinkering with the constitution to extend the president's mandate, has suddenly been catapulted to the post of a cabinet minister and also recently reappointed by the president to be in charge of political campaigns for the ruling All Peoples Congress Party.
Balogun Koroma

What is really troubling is that in recent times, all the problems of the past that had systematically disassembled constitutional order in the country have started to resurface once again under the polarizing rule of President Koroma. Police brutality has been on the increase, tribalism is on steroids, bribery is so rampant that Sierra Leone was recently tagged by international corruption watchdog Transparency International as the country with the highest rate of reported bribery in the world.

President Koroma has done a lot in his five years in power to develop roads in the country, renovate the country's airport and attempt to bring light to the country. However, his propensity to award contracts to people close to him has revealed massive corruption in the award of contracts, shoddy road construction that has increased flooding in the capital, an Income Electrix fiasco that resulted in the firing of a close ally who was energy minister, and land leases to foreign commercial interests that is creating short term problems for local farmers in the country.

As a sign of the growing corruption in the country, the country's main commercial banks, namely the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, the Nigerian headquartered First International Bank and the Rokel Bank are recently embroiled in some recent banking fraud scandals that could form the main plot of a Mafia gangster movie, as billions of Leones have been siphoned from these institutions through shady back room deals involving the top management of the banks and some shady characters from Nigeria that has led to the current incarceration of some prominent banking figures in the country.
Andrew Keili
"Ponder My Thoughts"

Meanwhile the main protagonists in the country's massive timber gate scandal caught on Arab Network Al Jazeera have been let go scot free while the journalist who was trying to dig the issue is now languishing in jail, refused even the simple human right of bail before trial, for bogus charges of contempt of court.

If Sierra Leone continues like this, the situation in Zimbabwe may soon apply to the country, with a leader larger than the country. Therefore citizens should be educated about the constitutional review process, so that it does not encourage the consolidation of political dominance by the few, it attacks the evil of tribalism by demanding compulsory cross regional participation in political party activity and in governance, stopping any attempt to modify the mandate of the president beyond two terms even if the president was the messiah, holding members of the security forces accountable for the dignity of human life and tackling the growing rampant corruption that is once again plaguing the country.

Sheku Sheriff
Segbwema Blogger

1 comment:

Halman Freud said...

I didn’t knew something about it, very useful information here, I mean, the facts exposition and to be honest I didn’t know where Sierra Leone was before this post. I was looking for a viber review and I got to this post by a casualty, but I am happy, you know. I really don’t believe in casualties, I think everything happens for a reason. Well, you tell me.