Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sierra Leone Political Updates: APC Parliamentary Vocabulary

President and 1st Lady Bio
Politics in Sierra Leone is now in full swing. Both of the major parties, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party and the All Peoples Congress, have taken turns at being in opposition and government over the past two decades. 

Currently, SLPP, the party that brought Independence to Sierra Leone is back in power after ten years in opposition and APC, the party that brought the one party system that led to the civil war in Sierra Leone is back in opposition, this time through the power of the ballot. 
APC Top Men

Due to a lot of political shenanigans of the last regime,  involving the creation of new districts and constituencies under the immediate past president Ernest Bai Koroma, APC has more seats in Parliament than any other party.  This being the case, many in the country have been expecting a very formidable opposition to the new government, as two new parties, the National Grand Coalition, led by political newcomer Dr. Kandeh K. Yumkella and the coalition for change, led by erstwhile APC Vice President Sam Sumana whose removal is reminiscent of a three hour episode of the Game of Thrones, also has some seats. 

So the hope for many in the opposition was that President Julius Maada Bio would for the first time in the history of Sierra Leone, face a very formidable opposition in Parliament, opposition in both numbers and quality. 

Alas, currently, three things seem to be working in President Bio's favor which effectively dilute the effectiveness of the opposition, particularly opposition from the APC parliamentarians.  

One of the advantages the Sierra Leone Peoples Party is currently benefiting from, which many of us criticized at the time, was the decision, just before the allocation of symbols, by the new SLPP Leader and Chairman Dr. Prince Harding for the party executive to have a large role in deciding who should get parliamentary symbols for the party. Dr. Harding's reasoning was that there had been parliamentarians in the past whose loyalty to the party,  once they entered parliament became questionable, as some became more interested in pursuing parochial personal agendas at the expense of the interest of the party. So Dr. Prince Harding and his team were able to screen the SLPP candidates at the constituency level both for loyalty and excellence. It was not a very popular decision at the time.

The second thing that seems to be working in the favor of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party is the decision by many APC top politicians not to run for Parliament, with the mistaken belief that they were going to win the election anyway and would be considered to be in top position for ministerial, ambassadorial and other top political appointments. So, many of the APC top brass were involved in campaigning and declimed to run for political office. The few that ran were given symbols and won. With the top people deciding to wait for lucrative appointments, President Ernest Bai Koroma decided to award symbols to second level political operatives and fanatical supporters of his chairman for life agenda. These were considered to party political stalwarts and agitators who would just rubber stamp the party agenda without even bothering to read or understand what they were signing in Parliament. However, that decision is proving to be a bad miscalculation, as I will elaborate later.

APC's third mistake was to suddenly decide to enforce the dual citizenship clause in the Sierra Leone constitution which barred Sierra Leoneans with dual citizenship from running for Parliament. The unexpected and sinister move was a strategy to handicap the candidacy of Dr. Kandeh Kandeh Yumkella who was making a lot of political noise at the time and was seen as someone with the capacity to erode support for APC  in the party's strongholds. APC members were convinced that Dr. Yumkella still held US citizenship.

However, Kandeh Yumkella, it was revealed, had renounced his US citizenship prior to the election-maybe he had gotten wind of the plan. Unfortunately, the decision to ban dual citizens boomeranged on many APC parliamentary aspirants in the diaspora who would have been vocal opponents in parliament, as they were automatically disqualified from contention. Dr. Yumkella did not turn out to be the giant killer that many supposed he would be, but the handicap was done.

So, a combination of the decision by Prince Harding to have loyal parliamentarians, the decision by strong APC members not to run for parliament, the decision to stop dual citizens from participating in the process and the propensity of Ernest Koroma to award those who would suppo
Mr. Speaker!
rt his chairman for life agenda rather than those who would become formidable parliamentarians have led to a situation in which the new breed of APC Parliamentarians are quickly becoming the new butt of jokes in Sierra Leone. 

Now that Parliamentarians have started to debate issues of national significance, the poor quality of many of the candidates Ernest Koroma pinned the APC symbol on is quickly becoming apparent and many APC members are not happy. 

A few days ago, a two term APC member of Parliament, spent almost seven minutes trying to simply explain that oil explorations became unattractive in the country after the fall in oil prices. Unfortunately, he spent the whole time shouting "Mr. Speaker," and bumbling so badly that he was told to stop and promised to be given another day and opportunity to explain himself, to a chorus of laughter from other parliamentarians and spectators. It was a national embarrassment. 

Unfortunately for APC, this does not seem to be an isolated case, as the audio recordings of other parliamentarians struggling to articulate their views is now the becoming the trending joke on social media. Parliamentary debates are slowly becoming more of a dictation and comprehension class than the exchange of ideas on crucial issues affecting the lives of so many people. 

People with nothing to do are now starting to go to parliament with the cellphones on record to partake of the country's new national comedy show, parliamentary debates.

What is the real travesty is that there were many young, well educated and highly articulate aspirants for the APC symbol who were refused the party symbol because the former president, a man with a known weakness for sycophancy, wanted to use the party symbol as a goodbye gift to his close admirers. From the Presidential candidate of the APC to the last parliamentary symbol, the process was almost entirely a one man show, with loyalty to President Koroma seen as more important than any other criteria. The effect is that old fellows like IB Kargbo spend their days sleeping in parliament while people like Mohamed Bangura think it is secondary school on a lunch break, while others think it is a place for adult education. 

The effect is that APC opposition is fast becoming a primary school dictation contest and the newest popular attraction in town.