By Alpha Bedoh Kamara
Multiparty elections in Sierra Leone have never been peaceful and always filled with tribal and regional tensions but the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in 2018 may prove the most challenging multiparty elections in the country.
Presently the pinpricks are being felt with many people worrying that the country may become a hostile ground in the peak of the electioneering process, more so now that a new kid on the block, the National Grand Coalition (NGC), a political party headed by Alhaji Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, threating to deplete the two major strongholds of the ruling All Peoples Congress party (APC) in the North and West and the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party in the South and East.
In the midst of present economic challenges made worse by the Ebola crises and the recent mudslide in Freetown that caused the deaths of more than 300 people, most Sierra Leoneans are disappointed and angry over the handling of the country’s economy and blaming the APC and SLPP for all the woes the country has suffered and continue to suffer and are looking for a third force that could neutralize the situation and create a political leverage that will seek the interest of the people.
The determination by the people to vote in ‘a third’ force isn’t new since when the country first held the post-conflict democratic elections that were won by the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, then headed by the late Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The introduction of democratic governance in 1996 ushered in new political parties with different ideologies and tribal and regional followings, such as the People Democratic Party (PDP) Sorbeh, United National People’s Party (UNPP), and the People Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC). These political parties came into the political limelight with bravado and strong messages to challenge the political status quo and promise to provide the solution to the national challenge.
Unfortunately, the ideals once floated with hopeful words became dreams and they still haunt the millions of Sierra Leoneans who sacrificed monies, time and energy, to support these political movements. People were betrayed as the leaders only seek their own interest and later abandoned the crumbling parties in the hands of others and jumped into the wagons of the APC and SLPP, the very political parties they accused of destroying the country.
Politics in the country is being regarded by the people as a trading ground for politicians who scamper from one political party to the other seeking for opportunities while the needs of the people are seldom cared for amid growing poor economic situation. Millions of children in the country cannot afford breakfast before going to school, thousands of children are in the streets and used as laborers and in prostitution, access to sustainable pipe-borne water supply in Freetown and in urban areas is challenging while in the rural sector it is even not available, standard of education is poor as colleges and schools struggle in dilapidated state, and among many other issues, the law in Sierra Leone isn’t blind, it knows the rich and the poor!
In a democratic state, as ours seems to be, the three arms of government should ensure the effective handling of governance, but unfortunately, ours is in regressive state. The Executive, The House of Parliament, and the Judiciary are not operating independently because though in theory it implies so, yet there are people in the Judiciary of Sierra Leone who also are MPs, serves as boards of directors in public commissions, and are executive members of political parties.
The intricacies of the political party system in Sierra Leone is so twined that sycophancy, nepotism, regionalism and tribal politics create an overabundance of bad political dealings which continue to influence bad policy decision makings, poor governance, and high level of poverty. For the majority of Sierra Leoneans life is always the same and may continue to be so if the country doesn’t have a leader who will challenge the political status quo regardless of the people surrounding him/her and seek the interest of the country.
For some of the people, the answer, for now, is Alhaji Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella. For them, he is the sure ball for their answer, but others are still skeptical and are closely reading along the lines before taking a decision as to whether to join his new wagon or continue to hold onto the old ones. The suspicion cannot be an oversight because political parties have emerged with the third-force message and like the new kid on the block, garnered tremendous popular support and became determinants in the presidential elections that have always ended in re-runs, yet they always ended in disarray and members fleeing to the APC or SLPP.
A former SLPP member and embattled presidential aspirant, Alhaji Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella and his NGC political party is also being viewed by some Sierra Leoneans as another SLPP in disguised, especially when the majority of the supporters and some executive members of NGC were once members of the SLPP and have worked as ministers in the then SLPP government. Unlike the PDP and UNPP which came on the backdrop of a struggling APC after it was banned by the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) military government, the NGC shares a similar story with the Charles Francis Margai’s PMDC which was also founded after the embattled Charles Francis Margai lose favor with the SLPP executive and booted from the party.
It was a big mistake then by the SLPP, Margai became an enigma and pain. The PMDC, like the NGC, traversed the length and breadth of the country, daring rival political attacks and threats on his life. With Margai’s PMDC majority support coming from the South of the country, the APC as the majority opposition political party and a strong contender for the presidency took to their advantage. The SLPP lost the elections to Ernest Bai Koroma’s APC and the supporters are still angry and believed they were denied the presidency by corrupt means, and for Margai, he later became a thorn to some of his supporters and once told them he is a ‘benevolent dictator’. Today, as the new kid on the block, Yumkella is still viewed as a prodigal son in the SLPP and may be the Charles Francis Margai to determine who wins the next presidential elections in Sierra Leone or might emerge the winner of the presidency. His exposure and academic achievements are laudable and expectations are high in the country for a leader who will salvage the nation and from the burden of poverty.
But unlike Charles Francis Margai’s PMDC which broke the SLPP political strong-hold in the South, Yumkella’s NGC is digging deep in the North and eating the roots of the APC, but will he outsmart the APC and SLPP at the end of the elections?