By Jacob Sax Conteh, Senior Editor of COCORIOKO , Virginia, US
It is a sign many of us have been waiting for our life time. Barely two weeks after the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) blanketed the streets of Freetown with red in their Peace Parade, the ruling Sierra Leone’s People’s Party had a reciprocal One Million Man Parade that painted the streets in their green color. In the bad old days when thugs ruled, any march by opposing forces would have led to the infamous ISU or thugs that destroyed the Tablet newspaper office in Rowdon Street to descend on the marchers. But Sierra Leone is entering an enlightened age. With cell phones sprouting all over the country, it is no longer possible to keep people in the dark. I was amazed the other day when I called my sister on her son’s cell phone as they were busy working in the farm right there in the heart of Sierra Leone.
Apart from the few glitches that occurred during voter registration, the campaign is well under way. The three major party leaders are busy criss-crossing the country looking for votes. What remain ironic, however, is the fact that neither the ruling SLPP, nor the opposition APC presidential candidates have picked a running mate. It seems like both parties are waiting for the other to blink first. Here, I have to caution both parties that their victory will depend heavily on who they pick as vice presidential candidates. While it makes much sense for a southern candidate to pick a northern running mate, none of the parties should compromise honest, qualified candidates to fulfill the tribal quota. Here in the United States, Bill Clinton went against conventional wisdom by picking a competent fellow southerner to be his running mate, and they ruled the country the maximum two terms the constitution allows.
As the march to a democratic election moves on, a fact all the candidates should keep in mind is that the upcoming election cannot be business as usual. The practice of baring other parties from running in certain parts of the country cannot be tolerated. “Sierra Leone nar we all yone.” The only way to win elections is to appeal to hearts and minds of all Sierra Leoneans. No body should carve out a territory for themselves. The age of using tribe to intimidate voters is over. Today, Mendes, Temnes, Susus, Korankoes, Konos, and the various tribes in Sierra Leone intermarry. No one should use the divide and rule tactic any more.
Perhaps the most important fact to remember about the 2007 elections is that it is going to be a test for all Sierra Leoneans to see whether we have matured as a nation. Here is the question every voter should ask themselves: Are you better off now than you were seven years ago? If you are better off, do you think there is room for growth in your life? If you feel that your life is worse than it was seven years ago, the other question to ask is will the ruling party make your life better in the next seven years? If you feel they can, then you have to vote them in power again. But if you feel your life has not improved, and that the ruling party cannot improve your life, then you have to find an alternative in the opposition parties. These elections should be based on electing people who will provide the best health care, the best education, improve the economy, be honest and transparent, and above all respect the rule of law.
Finally, Sierra Leone should learn from the recent inept and failed elections in Nigeria where the ruling party reported rigged the elections with impunity. While Nigeria can get away with such behavior because of their oil, we cannot afford to alienate the international community of nations which we still need to rebuild our tattered economy. The time to win the upcoming elections is now. Each party has to puts its message out now. On elections day, every candidate should go out, vote, return to their house and await the elections results. That is the way to true democracy, and that is the way Sierra Leone should go in the 2007 elections.