The APC won the bye elections last week at Constituency 066 in the Tonkolili District – in the area where the biggest iron ore mining company, Shandong Minerals, is located; and where the largest hydro-electric facility in the country, Bumbuna Dam, is also located: 7,393 votes for the APC’s Rosemary Bangura (61%); and 4,678 votes (39%) for the SLPP’s Musa Bendegu. But, the SLPP are jubilant. They lost; but, they, paradoxically, felt they ‘won’. How so?
In the 2012 presidential election, the APC polled 145,479 votes in Tonkolili District – 92.6% of votes cast. In the abovementioned Constituency 066, the APC candidate, Hon. Taworo Tara-Koroma, won 88.21 % of the votes cast – juxtapose that with Rosemary Bangura’s 61%, and you can see why the SLPP are rejoicing: the APC candidate scored 27% LESS votes in 2017 than in 2012. The SLPP is apparently hoping that this could be a trend in the APC strongholds in the Northern Province.
The SLPP did not get high votes; Musa Bendegu did
“It was not the SLPP that scored that high a vote in Constituency 066, it was the candidate that the SLPP put up, Musa Bendegu, that caused the high SLPP vote. It was more of a vote FOR Bendegu, and less of a vote AGAINST the APC”, said Hon. Hassan Abdul Sesay, when I interviewed him at Parliament Building on February 21, 2017. Hon. Hassan Sesay of Constituency 059 in Tonkolili District said that it was simple TRIBALISM that won the SLPP candidate the high votes; that was the same view of Hon. Abubakar Sesay of Constituency 063 (also Deputy Chairman of the APC in Tonkolili District). This was what was explained to me.
The bye election came about because the former MP in Constituency 063, Hon. Taworo Tara-Koroma, died. He was from the Bendugu area of the constituency. In the 1996 Proportional Representation system, and in the 2002 to 2007 parliament, the MP for Constituency 063, Hon. Alie Sankoh, was from from Bendegu also. The choice of Rosemary Bangura – who Hon. Abubakar Sesay said is “classed as a Limba”, from Mobenthor village – as the APC candidate could have angered the Korankos of Bendegu (there is also the macho culture of the Korankos that got many males to say, “It is unthinkable to have a woman being out leader!!”), and stimulated what Hon. Hassan Sesay called a “protest vote”. How so?
Hon. Abubakarr Sesay explained to me how the choice of Rosemary Bangura came about. When it was time for the APC in the district to choose a candidate for Constituency 063 bye election, the District Executive Council conducted an interview of the 10 aspirants. This District Executive comprise of all MPs in the district; all chairpersons in the constituency; all other party executives: they number 39 persons. The interview of the aspirants took place in January, 2017, at the Teachers’ Center in Magburaka Town. Hon. Abubakarr Sesay chaired the meeting. Rosemary Bangura emerged as the favorite among the APC aspirants who were interviewed; but, there was some dissent as to the suitability of Rosemary Bangura. Since the choice of Rosemary Bangura was not unanimous, the Constituency Chairman, Hon. Minkailu Bah (the current education minister), advised that the matter should be referred to the Governing Body of the APC in Freetown. Rosemary Bangura was again endorsed by this higher body. Why?
According to Hon. Abubakar Sesay, Rosemary Bangura would actively participate in all district APC meetings; she has a great working relationship with all the APC executives in the district; and in APC meetings in Freetown, would always be part of the those representing Tonkolili District .
He who provides jobs is our savior
Musa Bendegu , the SLPP candidate, had earned his immense popularity this way: He had gotten a contract to fix stones on the railway tracks to keep them firm – tracks being constructed by the African Mineral Company (AML) when they started operation about 2009. Musa Bendegu consequently gave a lot of jobs to men, women, and youth in the constituency and district. Musa Bendegu adopted a tactic of spreading out jobs to as many people in the area as possible; in some cases, even ‘withholding taxes’ from those he would employ, and giving it as charity to others in the area who he would not be able to employ. Hon. Abubakar Sesay said that the slogan of Musa Bendegu chanted by his supporters was “He who gives us jobs has given us life”. Musa Bendugu’s reputation as a job provider, and his Koranko ethnic genes, got the Koranko people to massively vote for him in Constituency 063.
Demands on government and Expectations
Hon. Hassan Sesay and Hon. Abubakar pointed out to “voter apathy” in the constituency. This he said has been stirred by some of the grouse of the people that the government has not been able to address. “The road between Bendegu and Bumbana are horrible”, Hon. Abubakarr Sesay said. The people in the area felt cheated that they would have such poor roads when the American Mineral Company is operating in the area. Another serious complaint is the inability of the people to use their mobile phones almost always. They have lobbied for government to get one of the mobile server companies, Airtel or Africel, to construct a mast that would make communication as easy as it is in Makeni, for example. They are not sensitive to the reality that Africel and Airtel are private companies, and they respond to the capitalist logic of demand and profit.
The Youth Factor and Great Expectations
Hon. Abubakar Sesay told me that youth in Tonkolili District generally are “disgruntled”. They bitterly complained that the African Minerals mining company (now Shandong) has employed only a few of the indigenes in the district in significant positions; preferring outsiders. Hon. Hassan Sesay told me that the “expectations of the youth are quite out of proportion to the resources available to parliamentarians, indeed, resources of government”. To cater to the regular demands of the people, both parliamentarians said they have been using their own personal funds. “I spend about Le50 million every year to pay school and colleges fees for children and youth in my constituency”. That does not include what both MPs say they spend every week on funerals and marriage ceremonies; hospital bills; on Poro, Ojeh, and Sande rite-of-passage ceremonies, etc. According to Dr. Abubakarr Sesay (who told me, “I have 45 people in my house at Makeni that I daily feed!!”) the people don’t even seem to appreciate what politicians like him are doing. “When I was a medical doctor at Yele, I was a hero. I performed over 200 hernia surgeries at the hospital at Makeni; now, I am a politician, too many people are cussing me. I am frustrated by this; angry at the selfish attitude of too many people in my constituency”, said the bespectacled medical doctor, Dr. Abubakarr Sesay. He showed me a Whatsapp message in his phone from a youth with an ominous ring: “Dark clouds are gathering for you”.
Work done in their constituencies
Both Tonkolili parliamentarians reeled out to me development work they have stimulated in their constituencies. Hon. Hassan Sesay said that in the Mayatah Section of his constituency he put his personal funds to help build a community center. And in the Linelenken Section, he again used his personal funds to provide 85 desks and chairs for the Nursing Training School of the Masanga Hospital. (More on this later).
Hon. Abubakarr Sesay, a medical doctor trained in Malaysia in the 1990s, has an illustrious track record of helping his people with their medical needs – since 2002 when he started constructing the 70-bed Magbenthe Community Hospital. He also takes credit for “Taking the Dutch to Yele” – an impressive and model development project that involves a mini-hydroelectric project; an oil palm plantation, and soap making factory, and, a referral hospital; now being managed by a Dutch medical team. (More on this later).
Lessons for the APC
Hon. Hassan Sesay said that the surprising good showing of the SLPP has “given us an opportunity to know that we have more work to do. Parliamentarians should consistently and constructively engage the people”. MPs of governing parties have to show on the ground what they have done, and what their government in power has done: both men gave me a long list of achievements that cannot be captured in this article.
Judging from what the two men told me, I have my own lessons for them – and, implicitly, for all the APC. Most of Africa’s educated elite, especially politicians, most often than not fail to CONFRONT problems, and would keep on clinging to small lies and Big Lies until bad situations become worse, until political parties lose power. In Sierra Leone, there is the over-reliance of both the SLPP and APC on their principal ideological weapon: Political Tribalism. How come the Korankos of Constituency 063 who had traditionally voted for the APC… this time stuck together as an ethnic group for a Koranko man, and swung their votes to the opposition SLPP? (Remember what happened to Solomon Berewa’s candidacy in 2007 when Charles Margai’s PMDC was able to woo away votes from the SLPP in what was believed to be the religiously fanatical Mende-speaking/SLPP people of the South East?).
Another thing is the failure of the parliamentarians to continually showcase what they have achieved; and, importantly what government has achieved and how it has positively impacted the ordinary people in their constituencies. A lot of video documentaries and video dramas would have to be done to educate the people.
Importantly, the parliamentarians appear not to know how to MANAGE THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE YOUTH. In the 21st Century, political parties in Africa, where the youth are the disproportionate majority, that fail to manage the expectations of the youth, fail to harness the energies and ingenuities of the youth, are doomed to failure. The spike in the votes for the SLPP in the traditional APC stronghold of Constituency 063 should be a wakeup call for the APC countrywide.