By Ambassador Amadu Koroma
In less than fifteen weeks from now, Sierra Leoneans will be voting for the fourth time in a free, fair, transparent and democratic election after the 1997 AFRC interregnum. The political landscape in post-colonial Sierra Leone has always been dominated by the two major political parties: the APC and the SLPP. It has always been one of these two that will be in governance after a democratic election and the forthcoming elections slated for March, 2018 are not going to be different. The new political parties that have surfaced can be a source of irritation for the SLPP but they do not have the political muscle to upset the two major parties. It is therefore going to be a straight fight between the APC and the SLPP. However, there are very strong indications that the APC ruling party will win the said elections without a runoff for the following reasons:
- The outcome of the recently concluded APC Delegates Conference held in Makeni (home town of President Ernest Bai Koroma) could not shatter the cohesion and unity of the party much to the chagrin of the main opposition party. They could not fathom how with over twenty strong aspirants, the Conference could end peacefully without any bleeding noses or even the exchange of foul language. A close party colleague disclosed to me after the conference that the flagbearer issue ended peacefully because President Ernest Bai Koroma did not betray the trust and confidence that was reposed in him by NAC (the second highest decision-making body of the party), the aspirants and the general membership, to select a flagbearer in the best interest of the party. If there was any suspicion of bias on his part in carrying out that huge and onerous responsibility, it would have been very difficult to manage the reaction of delegates present and the wider membership of the party. At the end of the day, it was clear that considerations such as family ties, friendship, financial and even long service to the party did not play a part to influence his decision. On the other hand, the SLPP meeting that was held to elect a flagbearer ended in a lot of dissatisfaction, dissension and acrimony. The “Pa O Pa” (i.e. by all means it must be him) philosophy of the Maada Bio camp was violently rejected by many SLPP supporters. In the case of APC, love for the party and what it stands for triumphed over personal interests and preferences. The APC is therefore going to approach the March, 2018 Elections as a more determined, stronger, cohesive and focused party than the SLPP.
2.So far, all the aspirants that were in the race for the position of flagbearer have exhibited leadership and courage by endorsing without any delay Dr. Samura Kamara. All of them have not only made oral and written statements calling on their supporters nationwide to accept the decision of NAC and President Ernest Bai Koroma, they have been moving in most parts of the country spreading the message of party unity and the need for the party to stay in power by winning the forthcoming elections. Reliable reports state that efforts were made to offer the position of running mate to some of them by the opposition but they were rebuffed. It is clear that in the coming elections APC will have a considerable edge over its rivals, in that Dr. Samura Kamara will be surrounded and supported by the other aspirants who already have huge political capital and are already well known with supporters all over the country, a privilege which Maada Bio is deprived of at the moment. Most of the well-known big wigs in SLPP who could not reconcile with him have deserted the party to join either the NGC or the APC. It is not likely that those that have remained will spend their time, energy, and financial resources to effectively campaign for him. The animosity in the SLPP party is too deep at the moment and it will take a lot of time for any healing process to take place. Maybe this might happen after the departure of Maada Bio which most SLPP supporters pray will happen after March, 2018 to enable them to redeem their party from his firm grip. Some political pundits have also prognosticated that the new NGC party headed by Dr. Kandeh Yumkellah will likely disband to rejoin the SLPP after the departure of Maada Bio.
3. Another very important factor that will help to tilt the political scale in favour of the APC in March, 2018 is the tremendous success of the party under the leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma, the most popular leader since independence. There is hardly any part of the country that has not been impacted by the development policies under EBK as he is fondly called. If delivering on socio-economic development, good governance, peace and security will be the deciding factors in the forthcoming elections, then one can safely say that it is a done deal in favour of the APC. Impressive strides have been made in the areas of tackling corruption, human rights and justice, political tolerance, freedom of speech and the press, health, education, energy, road network, agriculture, freedom of doing business in the country and peace and security. What the APC has to show to the electorate for ten years in governance, surpasses by far the eleven years of SLPP inertia. In these coming elections, the people will have to decide which of the two parties has moved the country forward in terms of national development. It is for this reason that at the moment the message of ‘change’ that is being peddled by the NGC is not resonating well with the people and cannot as a breakaway group from the SLPP convince anyone that they are a new and fresh bunch of politicians with innovative ideas, they are simply viewed as old wine in new bottles. Change can only be craved for where no progress has been made, but a lot of progress has been made in the APC led government of President Ernest Bai Koroma. The fact that he is going to remain as Leader and Chairman of the party serves as a great assurance to the people that he will be helping and guiding Dr. Samura Kamara during his tenure to make sure that the development trajectory of the country is not derailed. With President Ernest Bai Koroma at the helm of the APC election-campaign machinery, it will definitely have a tremendous impact on the choice that the people will have to make. SLPP does not have any personality with credibility, political stature and popularity to match President Ernest Bai Koroma that will face the people in the campaign period.
4. What I will call the Dr. Samura Kamara factor is a brilliant political chess move by the APC. The choice of Dr. Samura Kamara is a shocker to the opposition because they did not see him coming until the last moment and so do not have any plan for him. The fact that he has served as a public servant since Dr. Siaka Stevens to date and even with the NPRC military junta without any major scandal or impropriety is a serious point to ponder in his favour. He has served the country all his life leaving only briefly to work at the Commonwealth Secretariat and the IMF. There has never been any development strategy that is crafted in the country since President Joseph Saidu Momoh to date (including the Agenda for Change and the Agenda for Prosperity) without his unmistakable inputs. He commands deep respect among our international partners and the Bretton-Wood institutions; he does not only speak the language that they understand but they are more comfortable with him and trust him more than any of the candidates vying for the presidency. The wife of Dr. Samura Kamara is a Mende from Pujehun, the south of the country which the SLPP regards as one of its strongholds. This time round, a disunited and lackluster SLPP under Maada Bio will have to fight for its survival in the southern part of the country where Mrs. Samura Kamara and her people will be a force to reckon with. Most of my friends who hail from the south-east of the country and who are either serving in government or in the private sector confess to me that the March, 2018 Elections will be pay-back time for Dr. Samura Kamara who has fought so many battles for them in all the governments that he has served. It is also well known that the Creole community in the Western Area will more likely gravitate towards Dr. Samura Kamara than to the other flagbearers and this factor will obviously increase the chances of the APC to sweep clean the Western Area.
5. There is also the Chericoco factor. The choice of Chernor Bah as running mate is also a brilliant killer move by the APC. He has two significant constituencies to his credit: the youth constituency and the constituency of the Fulahs (an ethnic group in Sierra Leone mostly engaged in the business sector). These two constituencies put together, will definitely work to the advantage of the APC in March, 2018. We are going to see a significant shift in the voting pattern in the south-east of the country particularly in the cosmopolitan cities of Bo, Kenema and Kono as well as the north in Kambia and Koinadugu and in the Western Area and environs where we have a large concentration of Fulahs. The Fulahs are a very cohesive group with a block vote and this time round, they will be more than willing to give their full support to their own Chericoco. At the moment, the SLPP is broke and will find it extremely difficult to mount an effective election campaign throughout the country. There is a rumor making the rounds that the SLPP is presently scouting for a popular Fulah running mate to counter the Chericoco advantage of the APC but so far, they have not met with any success. The problem that they will have in this endeavor is that Maada Bio being a Muslim; it will be extremely difficult to get a popular Fulah Christian to maintain religious balance. At some point Alpha Timbo (himself a Fulah and a Muslim) who could have been a favorable choice was tipped for the position but they had to discard him because of the religious factor. Come March, 2018 the block votes of the Fulahs will kill the prospects of a runoff.
6. A more organized and cohesive SLPP in the 2007 General Elections with Solomon Berewa as flagbearer was not able to score more than 40% of the total votes in the country and in 2012 with Maada Bio as flagbearer, he lost to President Ernest Bai Koroma with no runoff. I do not see how this time round a much fragmented and weak SLPP led by Maada Bio will perform a miracle. The people of the North will find it very difficult to embrace him and much campaign is not needed to convince the people to reject him. The NPRC junta (in which Maada Bio was a key player) human rights atrocities which included the brutal murder of many northerners for an alleged coup plot (without any trial) is still fresh in the minds of the people. Let us face it; the present demographic setup in the country makes it impossible for any political party to win a presidential election without the overwhelming support of the North and by extension the Western Area. Maada Bio could well be a popular candidate in the SLPP but certainly not popular enough to carry the day at the national level. Most of the SLPP supporters knew this and that was why they wanted him to step aside in the flagbearer race. Recently, he just succeeded in shooting himself on the foot when he declared publicly that he will expel all Americans from the country when he becomes president. This display of ineptitude in international relations portrays his unpreparedness to assume the mantle of leadership in the country. As already noted, the new NGC party is a breakaway faction from the SLPP and its leader Dr. Kandeh Yumkellah is basking in false popularity. If he is that popular as his supporters want us to believe, why was he not brave enough to face and beat Maada Bio in the SLPP flagbearer elections? If he cannot win his former party ticket how on earth can he possibly win the national presidential election? Besides, his attempts to clear his name in the putrefying scandal that erupted over the sale of the National Oil Refinery while he was Minister of Trade in the NPRC Government has not been very convincing to the people. Most SLPP supporters are lamenting that at the end of the day, the NGC will only succeed to hurt the SLPP in a significant way in the March, 2018 Elections as the PMDC did in the 2007 Elections.
7.There is no gainsaying of the fact that in terms of resources, manpower and strategy the APC party is on top of the game. Presently, in spite of all its challenges, APC is the best organized party when it comes to winning the general elections. It is the only party on record that has toppled a ruling party twice in a free, fair and democratic election in Africa. President Ernest Bai Koroma openly declared at the Makeni Conference that the March, 2018 Elections is going to be his personal fight. This statement speaks volume when it comes from a man usually of few words. If SLPP or NGC doubts the ability of President Ernest Bai Koroma as a political master planner they will be doing so at their own peril. His love for his country and his party is a very personal thing to him. His selfless sacrifice and devotion to the progress of the party is unparalleled and therefore convincing him to accept the position of Leader and Chairman for life is in the best interest of the party, but sceptics cannot see the value in this move. There is truism in the African proverb that “an old man sitting on the floor can see farther than a child standing on top of an iroko tree”. The APC is now a more discipline and likable party. While ratlan democracy (flogging of party members with dissenting views) is being practiced in some party headquarters, there is unrestrained expression of personal views in APC party offices. With EBK at the forefront of the APC election campaign machine, victory without a runoff will be a certainty in March, 2018.
8. We must also appreciate the fact that the recently concluded national registration of voters in the country clearly shows that more people registered in the North and the Western Area (strongholds of APC) than in other parts of the country. It should not therefore come as a surprise to anybody if in March, 2018 APC wins the majority of votes in the country with these two regions put together and with support that it has gained and still gaining in the South-East. The critical point here is that the demographic composition and voting pattern in the said regions has not changed in any significant way since the last general election; the various bye-elections in the recent past lend credence to this assertion. Unlike the APC, the SLPP has not been able to chart any significant inroads to upset the support base of the party in its strongholds. In Kono, APC already has the upper hand. The injection of new youthful blood into the party system by bringing onboard personalities like Tam Bayoh and Raymond Gbekie will have a great impact in voter turnout in that District in favour of APC.
9.The APC party has to its advantage a diaspora community that is large, more vibrant, more creative and better organized than any other party. The role of the diaspora in the March, 2018 Elections must be treated seriously by any political party. Although a large number of the Sierra Leone diaspora community will not vote in the coming elections yet, most of them command considerable influence over voters on the ground. Regular remittance from the diaspora helps to sustain a lot of families in the country. The APC diaspora community is well known not only for making cash donations and election campaign materials to the party, but they are also well known for their innovative ideas on election campaign strategies. The Makeni Conference has already endorsed the diaspora as a region in the party structures, a move that is been regarded by many political pundits as very brilliant. The various contributions of the APC diaspora from different parts of the world are expected to be very huge to the extent of making a runoff highly unlikely.
10. Finally, an important development that is presently hurting the SLPP in a big way is the defections of key party stalwarts to the APC which is happening all over the country. Prominent examples are Med Kay of Kissy Shell area. These personalities are crowd pullers and they have the ability to change the voting dynamics in their areas of influence. This development is hurting the SLPP seriously though they would not admit this in the open. For now, we do not see any movement of party big wigs from the APC to the SLPP, NGC or to any other party for that matter. Defections from SLPP to APC have the effect of eroding the confidence and morale of party supporters. It sends a message that there is little hope of success for the party. If this trend continues in the coming weeks, a landslide victory is surely going to happen in favour of the APC in the March, 2018 Elections.
I have decided to write this piece to react to some of the views expressed (particularly on the social media) on the coming elections which tends to over emphasize the challenges of the APC party and its ability to win without a runoff. All the points that I have raised above are a true reflection of the reality, the signs for a landslide victory are glaring and it is only left with us to make it work by putting the interest of the country and the APC party first over and above our personal interests. Let us all put our individual talents and other abilities together to ensure overwhelming victory in March, 2018. Some of us are good at talking to people, writing good articles, composing songs, singing, organizing people, meetings and rallies, spending money, donating election campaign materials, preparing food, social media operations, etc . Any contribution, however small is very relevant to the party and to the success of our flagbearers. Please do not allow anybody to dampen your spirit and your belief in the party to win the coming elections big time. Let us focus on the advantages we have over the other political parties rather than hyping its challenges. Very soon, Parliament will dissolve and you will begin to see what the APC is capable of doing and those who want to see more of Dr. Samura Kamara in action will have that opportunity.
I wish to remind all APC supporters including those Sierra Leoneans that are still sitting on the fence that APC is the only party with a track record of moving forward the country since independence. Almost all the development projects in the country bear the signature of APC and we should be proud of that. The people are happy with the successes of President Ernest Bai Koroma and they want to see a continuation of that success story. Equally so, our international partners and international financial institutions are also impressed with improvement on financial discipline and development gains made in the country and that is why in less than three months to elections they are still supporting national programs (which they are normally reluctant to do in an Africa country facing elections) on the firm belief that funding will be used for the right purpose(s) and in the best interest of the people.
Always remember, that the worst APC government is the best SLPP government.