By Titus Boye-Thompson :
Titus Boye-Thompson Strategic Media & Development Communications Unit :
Divorcing politics from everyday life is a difficult thing to do because politics remain an integral aspect of engagement in any society where livelihoods are hamstrung and the pickings of ordinary people are meager. Politics like religion is becoming the opium of the poor, it keeps them engaged with the mechanics of social order and the constant ambiguities entrenched in the allocation and distribution of resources. The political discourse is always designed to serve a purpose, in most cases to destroy a given set of principles or otherwise to advance a point of view detrimental to the interests of those considered to be opposed to a particular point of view. In a country that is socially aware and politically astute, political engagement is determined by the ability to exhort influence, inveigle subliminal threats of distension or otherwise end the will of the people to adopt a peculiar vision of reality that tend to comply with the political view advanced by those in authority. Thus political engagements are deemed contentious when there is a tendency for it to be destructive to society but otherwise health y and supportive of a political dispensation aligned to a populist view.
President Koroma has mastered the art of walking the political tightrope but his style of leadership has often been circumspect as he engages with equal vigor to rally friends or foe to his sense of vision for Sierra Leone. He has been known to express the view that a politician should be firm but fair, even as a leader, one must ensure that leadership and style should accord everyone a chance to feel belonged. It is in this light that some of his interventions ought to be considered. When he recently called the heads of political parties to State House, that engagement was regarded as circumspect. The blow-out of that meeting was quickly reduced to an argument about who received largess from the executive. The subject of the meeting which was of such importance to how this nation is governed become lost in that argument and the substantive decisions or composites that were reached have now been confined to the annals of political history. President Koroma’s acknowledgement of political opposition went far beyond the composition of Parliament or the City Councils where he commanded large majorities. His power and authority is executive in nature thus giving him a wide mandate to govern without rancor or recourse. That notwithstanding, his need to engage with a cross section of political parties opposed to him is a show of strength. He was sending a very strong message that his style of leadership preferred the concept of inclusiveness and engagement (entent cordiale) as opposed to autocratic rule, (diktat).
It is also to be noted that President Koroma has followed that meeting with the executive members of SLAJ, the union representing the interests of Journalists. Again, the discussions of that meeting would remain sacrosanct until someone decides to bemoan the President’s call and extend to it a misinterpretation in context and substance. These acts of widening participation in the policy formulation process is a management style widely utilized by the most successful corporations in the world. A leader sho9 leads by example is far better than one who leads by fear and autocracy. To fault him for his vision to encourage everyone to put Sierra Leone first is foolhardy.
It is based on the above that the press conjecture and speculation that is slowly building up concerning an allegedly strained relations between His Worship the Mayor of Freetown and the President of the Republic is misleading, to say the least. When commentators expound theories that are so far away from reality, it follows then that interpretations given to even the slightest gesticulation could easily be translated as an act of war or vengeance. The President was moved to visit Sewa Grounds to see for himself and reason with those concerned about the condition of the proposed market site. His move would have been instigated by the Abacha Street traders who have been slated to be moved to that site as part of the necessity to de-congest the central business district in Freetown and to accord for a more environmentally friendly use of our city streets and market areas. The President informed the Mayor about his visit long before he went down there and in fact, he informed other line Ministries such as the Ministry of Local Government and Finance. He invited the Decentralization Secretariat’s Director and others including the newly appointed Coordinator of Operation WID. President Koroma was anxious to get results and based on previous discussions he may have had with the Mayor, he was well versed in the theory that the Freetown City Council had been hamstrung for cash for a period and that it was such constraints rather than anything else that would have been the bane of contention in securing amenable facilities at Sewa Grounds. The President was right in his assumptions and on that basis, provided an executive order for money to be released to the Freetown City Council to undertake a much better design and construct of Sewa Grounds as a market site. This move confirms the President’s support for the Mayor’s position in no uncertain terms. To translate this otherwise would be highly misleading. It brings the whole argument back to whether the cup is half full or half empty.
It smacks of irresponsibility to politicize such an event. President Koroma has demonstrated that he subscribes to the ethos of improving the physical environment in Freetown. That is in no way to be trivialized by rendering that action as a point of discontent or distension between the President and Mayor. Mayor Bode Gibson has done nothing else since assuming office but work assiduously with President Koroma on all aspects of their mutual engagement. These are two people with separate mandates but a shared vision for this City. Operation WID is a much vaunted initiative but its good aspects are good for Freetown. The state of cleanliness, the lack of discipline, the apparent lawlessness, a complete disregard for ethics and the conduct of this city’s affairs are of as much concern to the President of the Republic as it is to His Worship the Mayor of the Municipality. Their combined efforts would yield great benefits for this city hence it serves no interest other than to destabilize the opportunities for growth and development of this great city. The contention that the President is opposed to the Mayor’s attempt to move traders from Abacha Street is not supported with evidence and is so far-fetched that it moves the argument from the sublime to the ridiculous.
His Worship the Mayor remains committed to making a difference for Freetown and so is President Koroma in his determination to secure prosperity for Sierra Leone. In the event, as Sierra Leone becomes a middle income country by 2035, why should its capital city not aim to be a clean, safe and secure environment, indeed a world class city within that vision?