By Malcolm Rice
Sierra Leone will be holding the presidential elections on Saturday 2nd April 2018, a run-off presidential election that will be battled between the governing All Peoples Congress and the Sierra Leone Peoples Party.
But as Sierra Leoneans prepared to again vote for a political party to steer the ship of governance for another five years, tribal and regional affiliations to the political parties are the major determining factors, as has always been since 1967 when the country held the first democratic elections. Tensions are high and already there are cases of fatality and damages to properties, a situation which has put the majority of people in the country on edge.
The stakes are high for both political parties but the SLPP’s bid to win the presidential race is a high hill to climb amidst accusations of having marginalized other tribal and regional members of the party and having a penchant for tribal provocations, as well as none tolerant to other political supporters.
The tribal card
For the purpose of national development, unity, and prosperity, the tribe card shouldn’t determine the ideology of a political party but rather positive visions that seek to address good governance, accountability, human rights, employment, education, affordable healthcare, infrastructural development, and international peace. Unfortunately, post-conflict Sierra Leone is still knee deep in a tribal mess, fed and nurtured by bad politicians.
It is unfortunate the issues the majority of the people cared about are centered on tribal lines and pride, rather than bread and butter! The politics of tribe and region is endemic in the country and though efforts are being made by other political parties to break into the strongholds of both political parties, it is always futile. The North and West regions are mostly APC strongholds while the South and East are SLPP’s.
However, while the Sierra Leone Peoples party is being accused of promoting tribalism and antagonizing other members because of their tribe, the All Peoples Congress is a fluid platform of everyone in the country, a practice it continued to promote since its formation in the early 60s.
The irony though regarding the SLPP’s changes from a ‘social-political party’ aka “the countryman’s party,” with strong support of tribal chiefs nationwide, is that it lost its footing after the elections in 1957 when Sir Milton Margai stepped down from the SLPP leadership and his position held by his younger brother, Albert Margai.
It was at this time the governance of Sierra Leone faced a new culture. It was during Albert Margai’s time that the 1965 Public Order Act was passed to suppress political opponents, the media, and any Sierra Leonean suspected to be a probable threat to the SLPP. However, his rule was short-lived with the APC winning the 1967 parliamentary election; but Albert Margai’s regional politics has created roots which the APC built it foundation on throughout the 23-year rule, until when the National Provincial Ruling Council (NPRC) overthrew the government in a military coup on 29 April 1992.
In the midst of a brutal war, the people of Sierra Leone voted resoundingly for the SLPP in 1996 despite efforts by the NPRC headed by Rtd. Brig. Maada Bio, trying to hold on to power, arguing there must be peace before elections, and maltreating pro-election campaigners. Women’s organizations, civil society, and the media challenged the wrath of the junta while people like the then leader of the People Democratic Party (PDP), Thaimu Bangura, was attacked and beaten by soldiers.
Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was the hope for a changing Sierra Leone and the SLPP had all the opportunity the world could provide to change the face of the country. The country’s economy was almost 100 percent donor driven with full support from the British Government for the operations of the police, military, Anti-Corruption Commission, and the judiciary. Millions of dollars were poured into the coffers of government for vast infrastructural development, amongst other projects; but unfortunately, apart from the policies which were largely crafted and introduced by the international community and made to be debated in the house of Parliament, there is nothing tangible the SLPP could point to as a claim for their stewardship.
Instead of working together as a political party the president was hounded by members of his political party and had to stop working at State House which is the office of the president, and for almost two years, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah worked at his Jubba Hill residence. What the membership of the SLPP forgot was that the party won mainly because the presidential candidate, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who had a Northern and Eastern root, was a unifier.
His leadership brought in the SLPP fold people from the North who would have voted for the United National People’s Party (UNPP) headed by late Dr. Karifa Smart. The party doesn’t also realize that regionalizing or tribalizing a political party only denies it the national strength it needs to get favorable votes to win the elections.
Regionalizing and tribalizing a political party only alienated the party from the majority of the people. In a world of growing intermarriages and migration, politics of tribalism or regionalism will never survive for long. The APC has challenges and it is expected of every Sierra Leonean to demand accountability and transparency from the government, but it takes convincing and lobbying from the SLPP and Maada Bio to capture the votes of the undecided voters, especially when the history of the SLPP governance has major loopholes.
The case of Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella is a present case scenario. The guy from the north who felt hounded by a political party his father helped founded had to form another political party and contested for the presidency under the National Grand Coalition (NGC). The SLPP which used to win parliamentary seats in Kambia, the only Northern district it is always sure of winning a seat, lost everything. Had the SLPP worked with him the APC would have lost the elections.
The tension between Yumkella and supporters of Bio became a regional and tribal struggle which ended in the parting of ways after bitter struggles in courts. Unlike the SLPP, the APC is an open platform for people from all walks of life. While the SLPP struggles with the tribal stigma the APC is using an open policy to make amends with people and strongholds they would have lost, such as the latest pronouncement of Alhaji Samuel Sam-Sumana that he will support the APC during the run-off presidential elections.
His pronouncement, like some NGC members, was a shock to Sierra Leoneans, and it indicated that the APC is now poised to win the presidential elections considering that with a firm grip in the West and the North, and a strong support in the Eastern district of Kono, will turn the tide in favour of the ruling APC government!