Monday, April 28, 2014

Sierra Leoneans Come out Against Term Extension Moves for the Sierra Leone President

Campaign for Term Extension
At a Sierra Leone Embassy event held yesterday Sunday May 27th, 2014 to commemorate the country's Independence Anniversary in Silver Spring, Maryland in USA, a cross section of Sierra Leoneans of different political persuasions turned out to protest the moves being made by agents of the ruling All People's Congress (APC) operatives close to the President to seek an extension of his current term using the current constitutional review going on in the country. The current presidential term of office in Sierra Leone is two five year terms.

Sierra Leone, like many African countries that underwent political reform in the lates 80s and 90s decided to impose Presidential term limits to curb the proliferation of dictatorships and bad governance around the continent. Such political reforms became an aid conditionality imposed by international agencies that were fed up with the rampant corruption, diversion of aid and economic mismanagement that characterized a continent saddled by the presence of Presidents or leaders who had been in office for so long that they had either run out of new ideas or became so concerned with the preservation of their rule that the economic interests of their countries became secondary. Most of state resources were diverted towards the boosting of state security agents at the expense of economic progress, with many Sub-Saharan countries sliding deep into dire poverty.

Unemployed Youths

In Sierra Leone for example, former President Siaka Stevens was elected as a very progressive leader who brought a lot of infrastructural reforms in the first twelve years of his rule. A national stadiums was built, banks were built and the capital city modernized. However, after making his country a one party state and outlawing political opposition, he turned from a visionary leader to basically a tyrant overnight, concerned mostly with his ego and his ambition to stay in power. After that the fortunes of the country took a downhill slide as he spent millions to host an OAU convention the country could not afford, jailed and exiled political dissidents, and presided over the systematic degeneration of state institutions. Sierra Leoneans finally had to go to war before multiparty rule was restored with the help of the international community. In order to not have a repeat of the bad lessons of the past, the drafters of the country's post one-party rule constitution decided that the only way this was to be prevented in the future was to have a two term presidential limit, like other progressive countries in the sub-region.

President Koroma also came to power with big ambitions. In his first term he completed a lot of projects that he had met in the country. He has encouraged the influx of foreign investors with huge tax concessions and pursued grants for infrastructural developments around the country. The airport has been rehabilitated and roads around the country are being made. The country's GDP is growing at a fast rate propelled mainly by increased mineral exploitation. However these economic gains has not managed to trickle down to the common people, as the average rural Sierra Leonean still subsists on less than $1.50.00 a day, domestic crime is on the increase, the level of unemployment remains high, wage increases are compromised by rampant inflation and the country has now attained the status of having the highest incidence of reported bribery on the face of the earth. His second term has also been characterized by attacks on journalists and politicization of state institutions. Even the majority of state awards now read like a roster of Who is Who in APC. Huge tax concessions to foreign investors also mean that millions of dollars in needed tax revenue are being lost to international business concerns.

Cross Section of Protesters

Over the past year, there has been some rumors that party operatives close to the President are working in clandestine fashion to use the constitutional review process going on in the country to prolong the Presidency of Ernest Bai Koroma or even seek additional terms for him. When the current Aviation Minister Leonard Balogun Koroma took to airwaves a year ago stating that the President is doing a good job and his term needed to be extended, the reaction by civil society was swift and negative, causing State House, the office of the Presidency to issue a press release stating that the President was a true democrat who had no intention in continuing in power after his current mandate and that those who were making such statements were misguided.
Sierra Leone

However, over the past few weeks, a now prominent APC member who had a year or so defected from the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), Robin Farley, went again on radio stating that the President deserved another term. He is now co-chairman of the ruling party's campaigns. Concurrently the Special Assistant to the President, Sylvia Blyden, took to social media claiming that if the German chancellor had more than two terms, Sierra Leone also could do the same. Just in tune, Reverend Kabs Kanu who doubles as the President's primary propaganda agent in the diaspora and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United Nations stated on Social media that President Koroma deserved an extension of his mandate if it was the will of the people, knowing fully well that more than 60% of the people in the country had no working knowledge of the constitution.

In the past weeks, T-Shirts, posters, banners and groups of youths wearing and carrying them stating "After U nar U," some of them expensively manufactured with the pictures of the President has been surfacing all around the country. It has been reported that youths are being paid to wear these T-shirts, to appear to the international community who are still concerned about the political fragility in the country that the call to extend the President;s mandate is popular. To counter these other groups are now going around the country saying, "After U nar Gbagbo," in direct reference to the last Ivorian leader who made such moves causing his country to descend into conflict and is now languishing in a prison in the Hague.

Concerned Sierra Leoneans in USA worried at this negative trend and concerned about peace and securiy in their country therefore decided to descend on the American Embassy event yesterday in Maryland to tell their country's Ambassador Bockari Stevens that the President and his men should not tamper with the constitution to extend his mandate.

 Most of the demonstrators were concerned that the government in Sierra Leone would even contemplate such a desperate move barely ten years after the country's brutal civil war. They expressed concern at the turn of events and said they are planning similar events around the world and in Sierra Leone and would continue to alert the United Nations, the State Department, ECOWAS, the AU and other international agencies.

The group are urging the President of Sierra Leone to come out in his own words and tell the people that he has no intention of extending his term, as his current silence on the matter, combined with the public moves by those close to him are in direct opposition to the contents of his earlier press releases. These press releases are now seen as a ploy to placate the people while concrete moves are being made to use the constitutional process to reintroduce one man rule in the country once more.

One of the protest organizers interviewed by this writer said that in addition to the series of planned protest around the world and Sierra Leone, they would call for civil disobedience in the country if President Koroma and his agents continue down this path to dictatorship. They are therefore urging the president in the interest of peace and security to come out against these moves that will only succeed in reintroducing insecurity into the country once again. They are also calling on all patriotic Sierra Leoneans to appeal the President to leave a loving legacy rather than leave with the legacy of the tyrant that those around him want him to be.

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