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“I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians and since a politician never believes what he says, he is surprised when others believe them”
-Gen Charles De Gaulle-French General and Statesman
“A statesman is a politician who places himself at the service of the nation. A politician is a statesman who places the nation at his service”-George Pompidou-French Statesman
Having reflected the sea of eulogies and epitaphs that has been flowing since the graceful demise of Pa Kabbah on that fateful Thursday evening, I can’t agree more with the aphorisms that “History is past politics and politics present history” and that “It is not the neutrals or the lukewarm who make history”. If those spontaneous emotional outbursts were genuine, and anything to go by, then I must add that there are times in politics when one would be on the right side and lose any way; especially so in societies like ours where poverty and illiteracy are the norms for the greater majority of the populace. As severally underscored in the one thousand and one tributes and messages of condolence, Pa Kabbah, fought a good fight and therefore deserves a virtuous place in “AL JAHNAH”; Insha Allah! In Islam, “Uhibul watani minal IMAN” (Demonstrating love for one’s country is part of faith). Undoubtedly, Pa Kabbah’s enduring legacy is a library or sea of knowledge which all of us (but active politicians in particular) must drink from. Putting the various tributes into context vis-à-vis their authors is another huge academic and social exercise which yours truly will endeavour to participate in from time to time.
That said, with the euphoria of NATIONAL and PARTISAN UNITY engendered by the demise of this virtuous son of the soil, what greater opportunity does one need to explore the subject of this article (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS VERSUS POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY: THE TALE OF THE TWO TRADITIONAL/DORMINANT POLITICAL PARTIES IN SIERRA LEONE-SLPP AND APC)? In the sagely verses of the 18th Century English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge; “if men could learn from history, what a lesson it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes and the light which experience gives is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind us”. Similarly, the subject of this piece necessitates Karl Max’s argument that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”; one would be tempted to add “political class struggle”. Does it make any sense?
Come along with me on an excursion along the comparative history of the SLPP and APC and ponder for a moment which of the two parties is a “paragon” of POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY as opposed to POLITICAL CORRECTNESS? Loosely put, the former could mean taking political decisions that are generally right for the general good of the electorate or the nation with little or no resort to winning votes at the polls. Suffice to say that such decisions do not necessarily need to be popular with the electorate at the material period in time it is being taken. Such decisions are usually taken on the basis of an informed expert knowledge or patriotic leadership usually premising them on long term goals/benefits for its citizenry. A typical example in the recent past was the then hard decision of President Kabbah (RIP) to have had accommodated very hard compromises in order to woo (some say pamper) the then RUF leader Foday Sankoh to sign the Lome Peace accord in 1999. Considering the fresh wounds of the RUF carnage in the minds of most ordinary Sierra Leoneans at that time, that decision by the then Kabbah administration was politically CORRECT but not EXPEDIENT. Yours truly can still remember (and this has come out clearly in some of the tributes by those within the SLPP cycle at that time) the angry and defiant responses that dominated radio discussions and other discourses on the peace negotiations at that time. But fully conscious of the everlasting benefits of that decision to the majority of war-wearied Sierra Leoneans, he painstakingly went ahead; albeit with expert legal advice from his then Attorney-General and Minister of Justice; Slomon Berewa. The dividend of that painful decision is what we are all enjoying today. To re-echo a sagely saying, though peace is not everything, but without peace everything will mean nothing.
Another example of a politically CORRECT decision could be the seeming decision of late President Kabbah administration to have had solicited donor funding for critical development activities especially urban electrification, road rehabilitation, and water supply but decided to defer implementation until after Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 2007. While it was in the national interest, politically it was not expedient as it played right into the hands of the opposition then during and after the said elections which SLPP lost to APC.
A politically EXPEDIENT decision on the other hand is one taken by a political class or the powers-that-be with due diligence to its short term political advantage or benefits especially in terms of wooing the electorate for their votes.
If the revelations and admissions that engendered the tributes and messages of condolence (verbal, electronic, and print) during the last three weeks from all quarters (including President Koroma and members of his administration) are anything to go by, then the disingenuous opposition strategy to deliberately misinform the electorate that the then Kabbah-led government was ineffective and inefficient to provide essential services was a politically EXPEDIENT strategy that worked very well in favour of the opposition. Yes, the then opposition APC effectively harped the perennial blackout, poor water system, and poor road networks especially in the western area in the ears of the largely uninformed and disgruntled electorate and that greatly contributed to the 2007 APC victory. A similar drama was repeated with much vigour during the 2012 multi-tier elections when the cliché then was “ACTION PASS INTENTION”; meaning no concrete actions were taking in the development arena prior to the September 2007 APC victory. The mantra of transforming the entire country into a work’s yard was highly trumpeted and its again paid dividend; not least because of again another politically EXPEDIENT pre-election strategy to have had sent machines to all the 12 district headquarters to “undertake road works”. Truth be said, if the euphoria that accompanied that pre-November 17th 2012 multi-tier electioneering strategy was genuine and sustained, the Makeni-Kabala, Masiaka-Koidu, Kenema-Segbwema, Goderich-Turkey, in addition to the urban roads rehabilitation projects would have had been long completed. But unfortunately, the current states of the afore-mentioned roads and the sacking of Minister Petito Koroma is a clear testimony that that was a mere politically expedient strategy to woo voters in the 14 political districts of Sierra Leone. The question that the recent revelations and admissions therefore begs is, “will the electorate ever believe or trust the current political class”? Did you say AN EMPHATIC YES (ceteris paribus)? That is, in the midst of the prevailing high illiteracy, cronyism, and over-dependence, not much objective views and decisions should be expected. God have mercy on our souls!
Drawing from the above and many more, history and experience have it that more often than not, the SLPP has more feathers in its cap when it comes to POLITICAL CORRECTNESS while the APC is a paragon of POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY. First and foremost, it is recorded that the APC is an off-shoot of the SLPP. Apparently, the division was strongly linked with a leadership mêlée between the Margai brothers (Sir Milton & Sir Albert) and Siaka Stevens. Exploiting the situation to his advantage especially in the post Sir Milton era, Stevens galvanised support from disgruntled members and formed the APC. Accordingly, the first test of APC political correctness and expediency came during the 1967 elections when it is reported that Sir Albert refused to give symbols to two popular south-eastern Paramount Chiefs (Kaisamba and Mbriwa). After the declaration of the result, it is recorded that there was a tie between Sir Albert and Siaka Stevens and the only people to undo the tie were the two Chiefs who Sir Albert had earlier denied SLPP symbols. Disgruntled by that singular act, the duo tilted towards Siaka Stevens who eventually became Prime Minister despite some teething problems. The shrewdness of Siaka Stevens to weather that political storm in his favour in the neonate stage of the APC was apparently the genesis of subsequent politically expedient strategies by the APC. With that defeat and Siaka Stevens shrewd leadership style leading to one party state in 1978, the SLPP was sent to almost three decades of political wilderness. Another mark of APC political expediency was the very introduction of the One Party Rule in 1978. During his era, Sir Albert had wanted to introduce one party rule but Siaka Stevens cleverly and vigorously campaigned against it banking on his populist approach. Cleverly, he successfully re-introduced and expediently saw it through in 1978 thus hammering home the last nail in the pre-Kabbah SLLP coffin.
Another clear case of APC political expediency was the compromise decision in 2005 to withdraw the feud between the Ernest Bai Koroma and Serry-Kamal/Eddie Turay factions and the eventual award of the APC Presidential ticket to the former because of his comparative popularity and track record. That singular decision was the genesis of the APC electoral victory in 2007. Some argued that it was Pa Kabbah that appealed to both parties to settle the matter out of court. On the other hand, even though by random sampling of voters Charles Margai was the popular choice of the electorate, the mostly elderly SLPP electoral college took the self-destroying decision of giving the symbol to the then Vice President Solomon Berewa in the Makeni convention of 2005. Because of its subsequent effect that saw the SLPP out of office, that decision was politically correct (because of Berewa’s invaluable contributions towards the peace process and his experience as VP under Pa Kabbah) but not expedient. Interestingly, unlike the case of the APC, there is no indication that Pa Kabbah then made any attempt to bring the two (Berwa and Charles) together in the name of party unity; especially so when he was known to have tacitly imposed SOLO BEE on the SLPP as their candidate. Was Ernest’s victory predestined?
Another strategic political exactitude of the ruling APC is its culture of caring for its members and supporters no matter what. Rightly or wrongly, the APC is generally commended for standing by those who sacrifice for it in the period of difficulties. Thus because of this assertion, it has a stronger propensity to maintain its membership while working hard to gain new ones. On the reverse, the SLPP is arguably criticised for not only lacking the dexterity to amicably settle internal squabbles, but also for neglect and ungratefulness towards those who sacrifice to protect its interest and survival. This unwise perceived behaviour, it is argued does not endear the party in the minds of many a supporter. The cases of late Chief Hinga Norman, Charles Margai, and now Hon Bernadette Lahai quickly come to mind. It is also argued that while the APC is very conscious that every vote counts, the SLPP is misled by the wrong perception that some votes are more important than others. Thus, while the APC consolidates its membership, the SLPP always loses strategic members like Charles Margai, Fadika, Robin Fallay, Osman Boie, etc.
History being what it is and in the context of the current political milieu where the opposition SLPP is arguably at war with itself and in order to sustain a vibrant multi party democracy in Sierra Leone, this piece may serve as FOOD FOR THOUGHT. As Sierra Leoneans, we need to build the kind of nation Prime Minister Sir Milton hoped for, President Stevens worked for, and President Kabbah died for.