Titus Boye-Thompson, London
For want of a better place to hold a conference of national cohesion, the Bintumani conference centre holds out very little promise because what that place behoves for Sierra Leoneans is the prospect of a war premonition, careless abandon to recklessness and a country waiting to be picked up from the ravages of war by two contending factions of a de facto Military junta on the one hand and a force for global political change and national renewal represented by the will of the people and at the time, backed by a host of ‘moral guarantors.’
The first thing about the Bintumani context is that it has always been seen as a manipulative attempt to restore a failing illegal regime in power, the ‘peace before election,’ mantra was nothing short of a ruse to keep Brigadier Marda Bio in power for a bit longer after he had just taken over from Valentine Strasser in a ‘bloodless’ Palace coup.
The insidious nature of Sierra Leonean politics can undoubtedly be put down to the lack of creativity, an absence of adventure and a distinct refusal to try innovation as a means for reaching a higher height. Hence it would have been easy for his lieutenants to convince now democratically elected President Marda Bio that a National conference on dialogue for cohesion would ring the right bells with the international community, many of whose representatives are beginning to be agitated at the rapid breakdown of law and order in the country and the rising tide of political tension. As a noted Paramount Chief from the East puts it rather succinctly, “we can never have peace in the absence of order, leading to various degrees of chaos.”
Long story short is that we are invariably back where we started.
For many political observers, it is this ‘return to origin’ that is the most identified concern and its repeated dismissal the most virulent mistake. Never mind that the most egregious concerns are well known, the avoidance of their repercussions are unbelievable. It is as if we are sleep walking into revolving door of calamity, greed and self preservation. The ‘Green Paper’ is an obvious example. The urge to stamp Government in party colours is a major problem. Who on earth told them that a ‘green paper’ has to be written in green ink?
The many things wrong with B3 are known knowns. For the known unknowns, the issues of an intractable election victory and the capitulation that handed the Presidency to a party that lost the popular vote are top of the list. So it is, that the question is asked of why such a conference is necessary at this time when put together, the known knowns and the known unknowns of necessity require a rapprochement with the main opposition parties and this engagement is strained to the point of not forthcoming. As someone again made a comment on this confab, “if the APC is not going there, who will the SLPP plan to make peace with?”
On the whole, the untimely nature of this B3 is legendary. Erstwhile former President Ernest Bai Koroma has had to come out to damn this meet as inconsiderate and ill timed, give that a delegation had to be dispatched to him to notify him of the event at just the same day that his security detail was unceremoniously withdrawn from him.
For those adept at public policy management, the optics has been more of a rush to secure a face of normality. This cannot be unconnected with the brazen arguments put out on the World stage that this is a government of national unity. However, with the timing having been so very much off balance, and considering that this conference has been imposed on the rest of mankind, it is difficult to see reason for such a compulsion. In the absence of a genuine consultation, the government has decided to run roughshod on the sentimentality of everyone else. This attempt to bully everyone into a rather subdued call for unity has been a failed strategy thus far and as an observer noted, the ‘B3 is dead on arrival.’
No doubt, the mainstream political parties are now resisting this approach of governmental coercion for its high handedness. Trusting that no sane politician would want to be seen to be doing the bidding of such a repressive regime, opposition to the conference has been exacerbated by the dismissal of the concerns of others. The National Grand Coalition (NGC) had to toe the line after the Coalition for Change (C4C) and the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) braved it and followed the All Peoples Congress in rebuffing participation at B3.
Now as the APC Press release categorically states, “A national conference called by a ruling political party in the midst of attacks and oppression of the opposition will unlikely yield any peace dividends when undertaken by the oppressor who bad-mouths those he intends to summon to the conference.” This is a damning indictment of the lack of credibility ad to some extent the integrity of this call for a national dialogue. Interestingly, “the NGC finds the government’s case for a new Peace and National Cohesion Commission unconvincing.”
Everything that the government has done so far has been wrong and unrelenting in its immaturity. The blame must go directly to the President’s advisers. The significant misnomer of the two most trusted academics astride the President may be a reason for this poor attention to diplomacy. The President is unlucky to be cornered by people who he trusted for their presumptive academic brilliance yet they do him a disservice by their being practical novices in the Sierra Leonean political landscape and even their diverse academic backgrounds fail to produce a united or even positive acceptance of political realities on the ground.
In the event, and to support its case, the All Peoples Congress speaks for all those who oppose this B3 when it states that “the SLPP administration‘s call for a conference for national cohesion is thus a fig leaf to cover its misrule of our Republic.”