By George S. Khoryama
Glory to God in His highest for steering the ship of state of Sierra Leone peacefully throughout the year 2013 in an atmosphere of trying times among and between the people. Some of the social, economic and political challenges that the people faced in the course of 2013 may have cut to their raw nerves but nevertheless, they were surmountable. The people remained firm in their conviction in the continuity and sanctity of their country; but by no means for anyone to take them for granted.
I am back but by no means in my usual robust and enthusiastic form compatible with the demanding tasks of the journalism profession particularly in this age of technology. A thief sneaked into my home over the Christmas season and made away with my Lap Top (Notebook) along with all the accessories including a memory stick and a brand new modem that I did not even use. The thief has rendered me incapable of effectively fulfilling my weekly contributions under this column; he has robbed me of a priceless asset that places all the knowledge one may seek, on one’s lap; he has indeed deprived me of the convenience that I need to do my work, leaving me high and dry. May the thief not be lucky enough to get away free in his next thieving enterprise. AMEN. And may someone out there be generous enough to help me with one lap top. AMEN, AMEN.
THANKS TO PRESIDENT KOROMA
Like the year 2013, the year 2014 kicked off on the same note generally – state of repressed fear, restless silence, forced tolerance for the system and worse still, hidden hatred among and between the citizenry. Lawlessness, indiscipline, institutionalized ethno-regionalism, tribalism, nepotism, rampant corruption, selective justice, unbridled police brutality, grinding hardship and a systematic clamp down on the media all together conspired to constitute the sad state of affairs from the beginning to the end of the year 2013.
But a singular effort continues to stand majestically among all of President Ernest Bai Koroma’s government’s development strides – road construction. I cannot help being overwhelmed by the new outlook of the road network running through Congo Cross, Wilkinson Road, Hill Station, Godrich, Freetown Peninsula Road, Kenema/Pendembu Road, Hill Side Road/ Regent/Jui road, Hill Station road, etc. Thanks to President Ernest Bai Koroma who never departed from his party – the All People’s Congress (APC) party’s – pedigree of infrastructural development. Politics or not, the roads remain the President’s greatest legacy that he will be leaving after his tenure. The roads have opened up those communities that were once considered as dead beats to many.
But like Moses in the bible whose haste to satisfy his people Israelites cost him the blessing to enter the Promised Land, President Koroma’s commitment to his regional/tribal people equally remains a blot on his leadership. Six years into his leadership of the Republic, the President never wavered from the path of isolating the south-easterners from his government; never mind some of the cosmetic appointments that he doles out to a few in order to satisfy the gullible ones and the international community. Onwards to the year 2014, every important appointment in government – cabinet, civil service, military, police, Operational Support Division (OSD), foreign service, contracts, awards, scholarship, etc., etc., – fall under the remit of his northern tribal people. For the first time in the history of Sierra Leone politics have government officials made bold to say with pride, impunity, and arrant arrogance that they cannot work with a particular tribe.
In his 2013 New Year message to the nation, the President raised the hopes and aspirations of his people sky-high, vis-à-vis those forces that had rendered his first five years of presidency nearly moribund. He declared war on those forces promising that in his government’s thrust to instill decency in the country, there were going to be no sacred cows. The result was a seven days wonder as no sooner the people started to breathe a sigh of relief over crises like corruption, indiscipline, lawlessness, unbridled street trading and the indecent and disorderly presence of bike riders in the streets than the whole arrangement boomeranged on the altar of political considerations. The rest is history.
NETWORK OF GOODWILL
Then entered the New Year 2014: In a rather different approach the President’s New Year message which was a mirror-image of the 2013’s though, was prudently followed by consultative meetings/ working lunches with pressure groups including political parties, civil society organisations, and the media. In those meetings His Excellency the President sought the cooperation of those various organizations in order to come by a process for resolving national issues through political inclusiveness and engagement. “We will build upon networks of goodwill but we will dismantle networks of indiscipline and lawlessness. Those who will be proven to have committed acts of violence will be brought to justice irrespective of their real or alleged political affiliation. Nobody is above the law, and the law should treat everybody equally. Meeting with members of the civil society and the press is part of my promise to constructively engage them in order to find solution to the country’s problems. Stakeholders should collectively engage in addressing the country’s problems; moving the country is no longer about me and my party – APC party – but is the concern of every Sierra Leonean,” President Koroma told the pressure groups.
I have always given high marks to his Excellency the President for his clarity of thoughts that inevitably results in his clarity of expression; but equally so I have problem with his ability or commitment to make good what he professes in public. In essence the President’s lack of political will to deliver what he preaches is abysmally counter-productive. The President in his discussion with the political parties for instance, sought the cooperation of all in resolving national issues through political inclusiveness and engagement. Barely a month before that meeting however, the President had reshuffled the parastatals and foreign missions with nearly 99 percent of new appointees from his home region north alone. Worst of all he appointed the people’s Enemy No. 1 – Omerie Golley – to represent Sierra Leone in South Korea as ambassador. Omrie Golley was Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) propaganda chief who does not only have innocent Sierra Leoneans’ blood on his hand, but also struck filthily rich from the spoils of the war especially from our diamonds.
Strikingly memorable in the course of 2013 with all the attendant repugnance of tribalism/regionalism was the rejection by the Makeni Diocese of Father Bishop Henry Aruna because the Bishop is from the south/eastern province, and the diocese preferred their own kind. Surprisingly, with all the dust that the controversy gathered, President Koroma as Father of the nation, Fountain of Wisdom and Commander-In –Chief could not say a word of advice or of guidance, obviously because the action taken by his people matched the course of his leadership. And yet he preaches the need to resolve national issues through political inclusiveness and engagement.
HOOK AND CROOK
Six years into Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma’s presidency, the only people fit for the prisons and for pressure-cooker justice before the courts are those belonging to the main opposition party – the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and members of the press. These people by the beck-and-call of politicians to the police, could be picked up at no notice, detained, charged to court and slammed with outrageous bail requirements never before contemplated in the history of the country’s judiciary.
By hook and crook and with all the forces and resources at their command to gain foot-hold in the strongholds of the SLPP in the south-east, the ruling APC seized two parliamentary seats in Constituencies 005 and 015 respectively in the Kailahun and Kenema districts. The so-called APC parliamentarian from the 005 Constituency for instance, got 1,000 votes against the SLPP candidate’s 11,500 votes; and there he seats in parliament and calls himself a parliamentarian. Representing who? And yet our President is calling for the building of networks of goodwill.
To consolidate his power, the APC -dominated majority in parliament rushed with a controversial bill for the position of Speaker of the House. The time-tested constitutional provision that a speaker of the House must be a legal-minded person was thrown out of the window if only for the APC government to make way for one of their own members to take over the seat. The public’s clarion outcry against the bill and appeal to the president not to sign it, all fell in deaf ears. The then Speaker Justice Nathaniel Abel Stronge was therefore forced to resign. How the President could be making decisions at variance with the popular will of the people and at the same time talk about resolving national issues through political inclusiveness and engagement?
President Koroma could be portrayed to that of a giant who rolled a huge boulder to the peak of a mountain and for fear that it would roll out of control, the giant found himself in a quandary. The President during the 2007 election campaign threatened that if he was not declared the winner there would be violence of considerable magnitude in the country. With the eleven years of war experience still fresh in the minds of the people and of our donor partners, he was by default declared the winner. And no sooner he was declared than his supporters descended upon the headquarters of the opposition SLPP, vandalized the facility comprehensively and raped the women supporters that were found there. The President’s first port of call after his election was in Burkina Faso; a country that served as a conduit for the supply of arms and ammunition for the RUF. Since then violence, indiscipline and lawlessness have continued to be the lot of our society.
One may appreciate the meetings/lunches that the President has undertaken with the pressure groups in the country with the view to working together to solve the country’s myriad of problems. But is the President ready to make good those public pronouncements? Is he prepared to sacrifice the tribal and regional interests on account of national peace, unity, political inclusiveness and love for one another? Has he the political will to stand by his declaration of war on street trading at Abacha Street and other areas of the city? Has he the political will to contain the notorious Okada riders? What about the rampant corruption, lawlessness and indiscipline?
President Koroma’s friend former Nigerian President Olusugon Obasanjo with whom he shared his 2012 campaign platform at Kabala, had this to tell President Jonathan Goodluck of Nigeria in a letter: “In a democracy leaders are elected to lighten the burdens of the people, give them freedom, choice and equity and ensure good governance, and not to deceive them, oppress them, render them hopeless and helpless. Nothing should be done to undermine the tenets, and values of democratic principles. Tyranny in all its manifestations may be appealing to leaders in trying times of political feud and disagreement. Democracy must however, prevail and be held sacrosanct.”
“I beg you to have the courage and the will with patriotism to use the power for the good of the country. Please uphold some of the core national values,” Obasanjo concluded.
Could President Koroma take a cue from his friend’s letter as he embarks on the course of political inclusiveness, and engagement? The whole idea of meetings/working lunches with the various groups will only find meaning by examples and not precepts. We are watching again, like in 2013.