Titus Boye-Thompson, Strategic Media & Development Communications Unit
Discordance and discontent are breeding grounds for dissent and fertile soil for political mavericks to fester. The concerns of ordinary people in any sphere of life are better addressed when those from whom they ask for answers are prepared to give such answers. The test of sincerity from those who put themselves forward as a conscience of the people is when they recognize the line that demarcates the leeway they adopt for themselves as such custodians. In Western democracies, political parties of all persuasions are recognized as the main players in that realm of representing the conscience of the people. The same is expected in other societies but when, like in the case of Sierra Leone, the main political opposition is bedraggled by instability, then offshoots of anger and frustration tend to find domains within activists and dowagers. They themselves are not without their problems as they tend to walk the fine line between personal interests and those of the more lofty and higher ideals as consummate conscientious objectors.
The group who have now set themselves up as an entity known as Concerned Sierra Leoneans face a serious dilemma at this point in time because of a move from the Government of Sierra Leone that may have wrong footed them and have taken the game to their own backyard. They are flustered with the announcement that a Senior Government Official is due to address Sierra Leoneans in the USA at several public meetings and that he would field and deal with questions relating to some of the issues that have been topical in recent times. That the Government of Sierra Leone deem it fit to address the concerns of its citizens who live in the Diaspora is a true demonstration of maturity and a display of humility. What the Government has decided to address is the claim that they may have acted in a manner inconsistent with expectations, that they may have offended the sympathies of ordinary people and as such need to address the concerns of those who have felt so strongly about recent events, enough to have openly shown their frustrations by attending public demonstrations against the Executive.
In addition to the open demonstrations that were attended by a range of people, some admittedly with genuine concerns, are the new crop of agitated Sierra Leoneans who take to the social media and spew out false, malicious and misleading information in the name of political activism. They would of course deny that their actions are not politically motivated but it is very hard to understand how a overtly political action can be deemed o be neutral. To challenge the Head of State on any manner is a very grave act but to attempt to sustain such challenge in the face of a general call to restraint whilst the democratic institutions such as Parliament and the Supreme Court are seized of certain matters is at best pervasive. Such challenges are often followed by a showing at the elections where political parties come to fight for the conscience of the people and to have the people entrust them with that duty to represent their interests.
Without wishing the strange situation to continue, President Ernest Bai Koroma has deemed it fit to send Abdulai Baraytay to take on the issues in open meetings with those who may have genuine concerns. This move is a brave attempt to ascertain the degree of concern in relation to how these Sierra Leoneans perceive the direction of governance in the country. It should be seen as an opportunity to challenge Government in a civilized way, to ask the questions that are pertinent to the issues they wish to raise and to be reticent in accepting the explanations and justifications proffered in response to their queries. Once this medium of exchange is established, then both sides win, in the sense that a conduit for registering their concerns would have been established on the one hand, and the Government would have opened itself up to scrutiny at an unprecedented level. No doubt, not all the answers given would be accepted but the good thing to be taken from this exercise would be the fact that the Government and indeed the President would have demonstrated that he has heard the voices raised against him in essence.
The process cannot be faulted because of the messenger who brings the message. Abdulai Baraytay has a job to do and this is exactly what he would be doing. As Head of Outreach at the Office of the Government Spokesman, this is his definitive job description, to address issues of concern to the general public and to put in a clear and succinct way, the Government’s position on any matter relevant and subject to public concern. That Abdulai Baraytay is a consummate professional, an excellent communicator with firm grip of language and being extremely adept at what he does should not be held against him. His job is to communicate Government’s position in a manner appropriate to the circumstance, and in the past, he has done this with flourish. It is a therefore a candid truth that these public meetings will be exciting, informative and generally buoyant. It is hoped that those who vehemently oppose to the Government would yield in this case and attend these meetings so that their positions can as well be put forward. Let them see how the mantle of civic responsibility is carried and let them make their case known so that their aspirations can be well and truly articulated without drumming and gainsaying to no avail. This is the exact chance some advocated for, for Government to be accountable to them. To seize this opportunity would be to repay Government with the same respect and maturity with which they have been approached. This should never be a slanging match with opposing sides but an opportunity for Sierra Leoneans to engage in a full and frank exchange of viewpoints as a way of reaching a common position.
Government’s maturity in tackling dissent head-on by sending an emissary in the person of Abdulai Baraytay should be commended. Initiatives such as these that hold the Government accountable to its citizens opens up a flow of discussion and such exchange of ideas would allow for more transparent methodologies in tackling grave issues of governance and state accountability. Interestingly, these are traits for which President Koroma has pushed for in the Agenda for Change and now Prosperity, but for which he is wont to take the praise. It is belaboring the point to draw attention to the fact that it was President Koroma’s sole prerogative to call for a snap audit of the funds collected through his office at State House for the Ebola crisis. On such a call, it is grossly unfair to accuse him of any wrongdoing when such an audit has found fault with procedures and levels of accountability, and since those issues are before Parliament. It is but temporal to exercise restraint whilst awaiting Parliament to report on its findings, It is also academic to mention that upon the back of the Parliamentary report, the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) would review such findings and institute action against anyone culpable as per Parliament’s recommendations. To otherwise would be to deny the democratic institutions in this country to do their work without fear or favor and such actions may in fact risk the denial of free and fair trial of anyone brought through the justice system.