Friday, December 4, 2015

Towards a Better Country: The Constitutional Review Process in Sierra Leone

The Future of Sierra Leone
A very important thing is happening in Sierra Leone that will determine the course the country is going to take for the next two decades or so. The Sierra Leone Constitution is being reviewed. So far, many interest groups, from civil society organizations to pro-democracy organizations to even the Rastafarians, have all made presentations to the Constitutional Review Committee. The Rastafarian movement is agitating for the decriminalization of marijuana, the hypnotic plant commonly called in local parlance "djamba." Rasta just wants to get high without harassment.

The importance of a country's Constitution is hard to state in words. It is not only the country's moral compass, but provides the guidelines for social, economic and cultural transformation. Constitutions indirectly control the destinies of people and dictate their way of life. A country's constitution must reflect the character and values of its citizens. A country's Constitution must be designed to have a government that fits its people, just like a well tailored suit fits a smart gentleman or lady.

Diamonds in Sierra Leone
Let us take for example the American constitution. The American Constitution was crafted on the tenets expressed in the country's Declaration of Independence stating that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The American Constitution was therefore written to create a society where quality human life, human freedoms and human happiness where the aspirations of the society.

Now that the Ebola crisis is over in Sierra Leone and the pandemonium over the replacement of the Vice President has been decided by the Supreme Court, attention has now turned to the Constitutional review process in the country.  Hence the daily representations to the review committee by interest groups all around the country.

Yet there is something sinister and discouraging about the views that are being expressed by certain groups as representing what they think will be best for the future of the country.

Let there be no illusion about this process, the constitutional review process is as important to Sierra Leone as any of the peace treaties that helped bring a semblance of order once again to the country following years of armed conflict. I will venture to say that this process is even more important, as it will be the major catalyst that will consolidate a peaceful existence for decades to come. However, certain proposals that I am hearing and reading just make me wonder if after all the years of instability, the Sierra Leonean is just too tough headed to learn anything from history.
Where Do We Go?

In my opinion the process going on in the country should have very simple goals. The process should help the country develop a true national character rather than have a society divided along partisan or regional lines. The Constitution should ensure that the country's civil service becomes professional, nonpartisan, meritorious, free of political influence and truly representative of the country's national diversity. The Constitution should cement the sanctity of life and enhance individual freedoms. The Constitution should ensure the accountability of the police to the public and create a symbiotic relationship between law enforcement and the masses. Most importantly the Constitution should gradually help to transition Sierra Leone away from a society where the people have to obey the government, to a society where the government has to obey the people. The Constitution should create a system of ordered liberties.

The Sierra Leone Constitution should ensure basic education for all by making primary education mandatory for all children born within national borders. Until Sierra Leone has a population that is educated and fully equipped with the requisite skills to cope with the technological changes of today and the future, our future will be left to providence rather than being shaped by its citizens. The Constitution should strengthen public institutions and help create an environment that will help private businesses to thrive and prosper. Our population should also include land tenure reforms and stop the land discrimination against our Krio brethren.

So far all these talks about term limit extensions and so on, as much as they are contentious, just represent the foundations on which future instability will be designed into the Constitution. The argument that term limits prevent leaders from carrying out their work does not stand up to hard scrutiny. You can point to the example of  a few leaders who have been in power for a long time and have done good things for their countries. But what you will fail to point out is the even greater number of African leaders who have been in power for so long and have practically dragged their countries down the drain. You will also fail to point out that the most prosperous country on earth has Presidential term limits and this has in no way affected that society's remarkable developmental strides.

My appeal to the Constitutional Review Committee is for them to take this review with the integrity that was the hallmark of the 1991 Constitution, even with all its faults. CRC,  the future of Sierra Leone is in your hands. You can either try to build a society with free citizens, social progress and economic prosperity, or you can continue to strengthen the vices that are slowly choking that country and nearly make it bankrupt. The ball is in your court and history will judge you.

No comments: