Thursday April 20, 2006
Comments: SLLP Did Not Bestow Political Pluralism; Like All Other Political Parties, It’s a Fruit of Political Pluralism Demanded and Achieved by the People of Sierra Leone
Attention: The Editor, Cocorioko International
Reference: Editorial – “Encouraging signs from erstwhile Heart of Darkness” (Tuesday April 11, 2006)
I must mention how beholden I feel to your ?information outlet’ for the comparatively timely, balanced and good quality information on our country.
I commend you for signalling the advent of “Encouraging signs from erstwhile Heart of Darkness” in your editorial of Tuesday April 11, 2006. I sense the delicate line of neutrality you should maintain in the service you are providing but I dare say objectivism must not be seen to be sacrificed at any cost. In that vain let me ask for your permission to disagree with you on the generative mechanism of ?.. signs from erstwhile Heart of Darkness’ in the context of Political Transformation of Sierra Leone
My centre of attention is on the mechanisms and actors at play that have culminated in what you have beautifully put as “the political renaissance that has swept Sierra Leone”. I am surprised and maybe uncomfortable when the invaluable input of the ordinary Sierra Leonean Man, Woman or Child in the streets of our country is functionally left out of the equation of the genesis of the political status quo that we have all worked hard to achieve. I submit that by so doing, the entire argument may fall flat on its face and disintegrate into unsalvageable inconsistent fragments that may not be very useful. This is because the ordinary man is the hub around which other actors including the international community and whatever Political Party is revolving. To omit that factor, seems to me, is like chasing the wind.
The intension of the editorial is brilliant (apparently intended to recognise the growing political tolerance and freedom of association in our democracy). However the reservation of compliments for the ruling SLPP Party as an actor in the evolution of political pluralism in your words – “However much we criticise the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), we must however not fail to pay tribute to the Grand Old Party that during its incumbency Sierra Leoneans became free once again to exercise their political franchise. In the past, dancing in the streets for another political party was an invitation for systematic KGB and Gestapo-like extermination by the powers-That-Be then” – as compared to “It is a new day in Sierra Leone and we all deserve a pat on our backs” – at the tail end of your article for the rest of mankind; may not be proportionate. This suggests that, the mechanisms and context in which the political actors have interacted to produce outcomes (registration of PMDC to stick to your example) is not as obvious as I tend to assume.
This is not to say that SLPP does not deserve commendation on some other aspects of good governance of our beloved country. But I will be derelict in my duty of service to the “land that we love” if it is not reaffirmed here that outcomes that we are witnessing now has been brought about by mechanism in which the SLPP is the weakest link. An unsophisticated example is when the people and the International community were battling it out with the AFRC; SLPP was leaking its wounds in some obscured location after publicly accepting knowledge of the imminent perpetration of the highest crime on our land (overthrow of a democratically elected government by force).
Had the people welcomed the Junta, I submit that the outcome would have been different. But we the people of Sierra Leone insisted on voting our leaders in or out through the ballot box and will never allow anybody to shoot his way to political power. When leaders were dining and wining with Foday Sankoh on the eve when that unforgivable criminal was planning to wreck havoc on our country, it was the people who confronted him. I will not shy to insist that had the people not intervened, the outcome would have been different with more serious consequences than the lives of our 22 brothers we lost. When people dived under the bed at the gun shots of the infamous ISUs, in the Siaka Stevens days, the fight was only postponed to be fought another day (as Mr Marley Philosophised) – again with more serious consequences of a colossal more than a quarter of a million deaths. On this, you will see me ?cautiously blaming’ us all (the people of Sierra Leone) for letting our country down during APC days in my succeeding take on the issue. Resisting Siaka Stevens’ negative power (see sections below) by then may have resulted in fewer deaths – but the generation had a huge capacity to absorb negative power because of the geo-political realities – thus my use of ?cautiously blaming’ above (see subsequent sections for contextualisation).
Power is a process that permeates and shapes the control one would have over his/her own life. You would agree with me that it could be positive – where people are empowered, included, encouraged, equity in distribution of resources, access to and ability to obtain services etc. Or it could be negative where people are robbed, marginalised, excluded, dismissed, used and misused etc. When, power is negative, the capacity to accommodate its vices changes with the orientation of the era and generation. This accommodative capacity shrinks as man evolves (now the Monarch is resisted in Nepal of all places as I write – something unimaginable in the not distant past).
This theory allows me to put it to you that, had the same Siaka Stevens been around today (with the same cabinet and with this population character as it is now – 2006), it must dawn on you now that; he would have been absolutely incapable of inflicting on our country, what he did in those dark days. At the other end of the spectrum, the capacity to hold positive power is insatiable as more is needed the more you give (Manifest destiny – Man was born free) – political economists would love to explicate this. All what SLPP has done, more for its own continued survival before being consumed by peoples’ aspirations, is to recognise the shrinking capacity of Sierra Leoneans to accommodate negative power – an attribute eloquently manifested in recent times (Resistance of NPRC, Civil Defence, AFRC show down, Sankohs’ arrest etc) – which as you known brought and sustained the SLPP at the central stage. Positive political power is achieved and not bestowed (Nelson Mandela believed in this position and (his first wife) Evelyn a Jehovah Witness believed God will find a way to save his people. Nelson believed in God – God was good and will not want bad things to befall his people – but he deferred that one have to work hard using God given talents for good things to come about.
This irreversible positions lead to what history will now record as Nelson’s first divorce). So when people work for positive power the least to be done is to acknowledge it. The South African Government in the Apartheid era was not going to wake up one morning and transfer power to the majority. The huge hatred for PMDC openly showed by SLPP must indicate how powerless they are in the face of demand by our people for positive power. SLPP did not bestow political pluralism on the people of Sierra Leone – the people demanded and achieved political pluralism (from rebels and two brutal Junta – NPRC and AFRC regimes) of which SLPP like PMDC are only but fruits. Since reintroduction of political pluralism in 1996, more than 15 political parties have registered. Therefore, “…today we are free to form alternative political parties” was more pertinent 10 years ago when SLPP registered with other parties in 1996. That PMDC’s registration is different from all other registrations to the extent that SLPP should be credited is a mouth watering thesis which I will comprehensively resist due to time constraint.
We can congratulate ourselves for another credible force; but SLPP should be busy with whatever they choose. My fear is that we easily and voluntarily create giant tormentors in our midst and end up being incapable to contain them from bringing untold sorrow to our people. Let me don’t gild this lily, I will embark on a more critical analysis of the PRINCIPAL role of people in political situations at any point in time when I join you in the ensuing analysis of independence and post-independence evolution of Party politics in Sierra Leone up to the registration of PMDC embedded in theories that could be publicly defended.
Having indicated the direction I am headed; let me continue with “why” I took that position. The popular dictum that “the people deserve the government they have” is accurately embedded in the elementary but valid principle that – outcome of an action follows from mechanisms acting in a particular context. The common example used to illustrate this principle is the question: Does gunpowder explode when a flame is applied? Yes if the conditions are right; is the answer. It doesn’t ignite if it is damp, or if the mixture is wrong, or if no oxygen is present or if heat is applied only for a short time.
The vital components of the principle outcome (the explosion) of an action (applying flame) follows from mechanisms (chemical composition of the gunpowder) acting in a particular context (particular conditions which allow the reaction to take place). Humans share 98% of their gene in common with Chimpanzee; but we are not Chimps. I am my fathers’ son; but I am not my father. We were born by different parents and the time we were born puts us in different context in which different generative mechanism will act and outcome is bound to be different. But I look so much like my late father though; the same name, lived in the same house, he loved and took good care of me, provided protection, we were good friends etc, but my father is my father, I am my father’s son. It is quite tricky to compare current and past events of a socio-political nature because of the brutal reality dictated by the above principle. That is why care must be taken before such statements “Three decades ago, it was virtually a crime to form an opposition political party in Sierra Leone.
The octogenarian politician, Dr. John Karefa-Smart, will never forget his ordeal at the hands of the then ruling All People’s Congress (APC) when he decided to form another political party to challenge the Siaka Stevens oligarchy…” are made and used to evaluate a group of politician under completely differently circumstance. Smart lived in an era when hooligans were allowed to slaughter people with impunity. if Charles was President of Liberia in 1967, he would have wiped out the entire sub-region and retire to the balcony of the executive mansion before realising that there is nobody to give him water to drink. When the gunpowder was damp, who dared to arrest Idi Amin Dada and other dictators for the slaughter of our brothers? President Kabbah does not have the luxury to chase news papers out of town like Stevens did with Tablet. With Cocorioko International et al; around the world, running after people in the street of Freetown like a mad dog is not helpful. After all, Stevens did send an email until his death. But you can argue that Kabbah is harassing journalist and imprisonments and deaths here and there. I will agree with you that it is a good argument. But the generative mechanism is dynamic as there is tremendous pressure underway to repel the public order act that allows abitary arrest. This is in the manifesto of a number of political parties. Assume that act is repelled when some other person is in power. Will it be justified to suggest the current President then is so democratic that the public order act has been repelled during his incumbency? I beg to defer. Stevens’s resisted multiparty because of the context and mechanisms at work during his era. But if we had multiparty in 1996, is it because NPRC loved democracy? They could not have resisted because the demand for positive power (the people, international community and host of other generative mechanisms) could have consumed them. We are related to the former generation (same country, our fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts etc) but we are different as we emerged in a different context with different generative mechanism acting on us to steer our nation to a different outcome from those that Karefa-Smart went through. Your comparism thus, is only useful to see where we are coming from and maybe tell stories; but not to evaluate adherence to democratic value in retrospect. Some of these guys out there now (from all indications) would have behaved worst than Stevens if it where not for the iron jacket of context and generative mechanism they find themselves.
When APC went berserk in the late 60s’ and used force to cling to power against the wish of the people, it was dealing with a collection of peaceful, well educated and prosperous people highly respected by the rest of the world (Athens of West Africa) and receive independence by negotiation. Our country was rich and Stevens could fry us with our own oil without resort to outside help. Our fathers’ generation took a long time to get out of the shock that Stevens sent them into by the introduction of naked violence. The “Dog Police” had perfected violence in Marampa mines where he championed violent strikes. It was reported that he wanted to disrupt the Queens’ visit.
Most people where professionals alien to mass resistance which they did not go through to achieve sovereignty. Action was not contemplated; the gunpowder was damp and the mixture was wrong without oxygen for the type of action to take against Stevens who could not understand negotiations through which Sierra Leoneans were thought to resolve their differences. In fact; all avenues where closed for such decent activities with the 1978 One Party. Unfortunately, doing nothing about a situation is in effect; an action for some other mechanism to generate an outcome. The outcome was a collapsed state that bred discontents that became hopeless to the point of doing what they did between 1991-2002.
The generation by then had a huge capacity to accommodate negative power because they were novices to the challenge they faced (why I used “cautiously blame” above) and had to adapt by institutionalising subservience thereby abandoning their country to the wimps and caprices of a man who had so much energy and so adroit in bringing the country to her knees. When gunpowder was getting dry in 1977 (people (students) who grew and went to University under Steven’s maladministration and started learning the language he could understand) there was no oxygen (the intimidated older generation including labour congress did not support) and so the heat could not be applied long enough to generate mechanism. Since 1977, it was just a matter of time for the country to collapse as an outcome; once Stevens’ actions, mechanism and context where maintained.
By 1991 when Charles Margai and others hit the road to resurrect SLPP, (when it was not fashionable) the gunpowder was dry, the mixture was correct and there was enough oxygen (the era had changed and the current generation born and bred in resistance (multiple student strikes in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s) – took central stage while there fathers weakened by Stevens had long retired together with their tormentor). The country has been militarised (CDF in the 90’s) largely in self defence or else one will be killed in cold blood anyway. By 1992 an epitome of the shrinking capacity to accommodate negative power was manifested by the coup of young officers who took the APC by complete surprise. Most of these officers were actually born during Stevens’ rule and had nothing to do with the Westminster generation – context has changed. When Sierra Leoneans actually challenged gun toting boys to conduct multi party election in 1996 (that resurrected SLPP); they ushered in different mechanism fashioned on demanding positive power at the cost of even paying the ultimate price. Reminding you about the circumstances under which SLPP gained political power from the 30 year wilderness and locating the Sierra Leoneans (Bintumanni 1 and 2 conferences) in the process should allay your expressed fears “a chronically self-indulgent government would have preferred to fall out with stakeholders and donor agencies than play ball with them and change the country”.
It is difficult to glimpse SLPP – full of guys with packed bags ready to fly in thin air at the slightest “Maskita like bush shaking” – thwart political pluralism; hard won with blood and iron by our people who are watching closely and very interested at every twist and turn after they have been baptised with fire for ten and more odd years. The admiration of the Sierra Leonean by the international community for having championed democratic values and the expressed willingness to pay the ultimate price for it; is echoed on every corridor of the international community. They will stand by us to reinforce the generative mechanisms firmly towards stability as part of the correct chemical composition of the gunpowder to achieve positive power outcome for all. The global village with one super power is guarding the mechanism.
Cocorioko International on the information super high way is part of tens of thousands of the mechanism at play working towards prosperous and stable Sierra Leone. For any one Party of the poverty stricken country to dream of reversing this forward match is foolhardy and I do not think if I have lost all the respect for SLPP and that they are so irrational with themselves as to attest to your fears above. If any Party should know what the people of Sierra Leone and the rest of the world are capable of doing to achieve freedom; (from Bintumanni 1 1995, February 1996, May 25 1997, January 6 1999, to May 2000) it’s the SLPP.
SLLP Did Not Bestow Political Pluralism; Like All Other Political Parties, It’s a Fruit of Political Pluralism Demanded and Achieved by the People of Sierra Leone
Editor, having said this, when I sit down and look at what you guys are doing for your countries, I thank God for your lives.
Acim Baio (Portsmouth, UK}