Dr. Julius Spencer
In 2007, I restarted writing this column after stopping in 1993. I stopped again after a while because I felt that I was not being heard and what I was doing was akin to throwing water on a ducks back. I am today re-starting this column as a weekly column because I believe Sierra Leoneans, including the new government, need to hear what I have to say. I believe this because in re-reading some of my old articles, I have been struck by the uncanny accuracy in them and I believe keeping silent will be doing a disservice to my country. I will start by publishing some of my old articles verbatim and you will see how right I was. I now believe that God has given me a gift of foresight and an understanding of human nature that is not very common so I will share my thoughts with you. They may not be palatable for everyone, but be rest assured that I have almost invariably been proved right.
This first article that follows was first published early in 2008 and was meant to serve as a warning to the APC government that had just taken over the reigns of government. You judge for yourself whether I have been proved right and whether there is a message in it for the new government of President Bio.
Fifteen years ago I was writing this column weekly in The New Breed newspaper which I was editing at the time. That effort to offer my thoughts to the public on events happening at the time ended with me being tried by the NPRC for sedition along with a number of my colleagues and going in and out of Pademba Road prison. The New Breed ceased publication on October 13, 1993, the day we were arrested. Since then, I have acquired tremendous experience both in and out of government, and I believe it is time for me once again to offer my thoughts to the public. I have not done this since 1993 because I have not found a newspaper in existence in the country with which I would like to be directly associated. With the coming into existence of Premier News newspaper, the situation has changed. So at least once a week for the foreseeable future, you will hear from me. Keep watching this space because at some point I will serialize my memoirs on my involvement in politics and the AFRC era. But for today, I will offer you my thoughts on the recent change of government.
Sorry to disappoint you, but I am not going to talk about why Solomon Berewa lost and Ernest Koroma won. What I intend to talk about is the reactions of various sections of the public to the events and what this says about the current state of our democracy and the implications for the future.
I say make hay while the sun shines because the very same people that are celebrating your ascension to power today will be the same people who will curse you if you do not perform
I was at the British Council Hall for the final Press Conference of the National Electoral Commission where Ernest Bai Koroma was declared duly elected as President. As the pronouncement was made and the air punctuated by thunderous shouts both from those listening to the proceedings on radio and the majority of people in the hall, I found myself wondering where the SLPP had gone wrong. I have some thoughts on this, but for now, I will keep them to myself. As I left the British Council Hall and walked the short distance to my car and drove back to my office on Circular Road, I saw people pouring onto the streets, many of them in red, jubilating. I guess if Solomon Berewa had won, the same thing would have happened, but this time the people would have been in green. I heard phrases like “APC back to power” “wi dɔn win” “tεl Gɔd tεnki, wi dɔn fri” and many other such expressions. Most of the people on the streets were ordinary grassroots people, people who have never been close to those in power and are not likely to ever have access to them, APC or SLPP. And I couldn’t help wondering really what they were celebrating. Was it just the ability to be able to change a government? Or did they truly believe that the APC was going to make a real difference to their lives? I guess for most of them, the latter was the case. For the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon, as I watched crowds of people in red dancing along the street, I reflected on the times governments have changed in Sierra Leone, and I realized that in each case, the scenario has been similar. The expression “the more things change, the more they remain the same”, kept ringing in my ears. How true it sounded.
Forty years ago, in 1967, Sierra Leone went through a hard fought election. Then like now, the battle was between the SLPP and the APC. Then, like now, the majority of citizens seemed to desperately want change and were prepared to risk their lives to make that happen. This time, unlike 1967, the SLPP accepted the verdict, unpalatable as it may be. This time, like 40 years ago, crowds came on to the streets in celebration when it was announced that the APC had won. The celebrations in 1967 were cut short because the military stepped in and stopped the swearing in of Siaka Stevens as the new Prime Minister. To cut a long story short, after a series of counter coups, Siaka Stevens was sworn in more than a year later, and again there were crowds on the street celebrating, singing denigratory songs against Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith, the overthrown military ruler. I was a boy at the time, but I still remember one of the songs “Jɔksin yu mama de kɔl yu o, yu de insay de…” By the time Siaka Stevens, who had been nicknamed “Pas a Die” was handing over power to his successor, Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, people were yearning for change, and so again we went onto the streets to celebrate, singing “na u gi Momoh pawa? Na God! Wata we na fɔ yu I nɔ go rɔn pas yu.” Seven years later, in 1992, we were again on the streets when the NPRC overthrew the Momoh government. Oh how we danced on the streets for that one, singing vulgar songs about President Momoh and his “tumba”. Three years later, there were demonstrations calling for elections, and we celebrated when Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was elected President in 1996. Well, about a year later, in 1997, the AFRC came into existence. The soldiers danced and celebrated, but civilians did not. Perhaps President Kabbah had not been in power long enough to become unpopular, but this time, there were no celebrations to usher in the new regime. For the first time in the history of Africa, a deposed government was reinstated by force and Tejan Kabbah came back to Freetown. This time the celebrations were so huge that Tejan Kabbah seemed to have become a demi-god. And yes, we danced on the streets. Finally, we are back where we started forty years ago, and we are dancing and celebrating the APC coming back to power.
As I reflect on the various times we have celebrated a new government, I realize that each time, the majority of people have genuinely believed that the new government is going to make things better. Each time also, it has not taken too long for them to be disappointed and so they have been willing to come out and celebrate when the government changes.
President Ernest Koroma needs to take note of this because he certainly does not have much time to make good his party’s promises to improve the lot of the ordinary man in Sierra Leone. Expectations are extremely high and so the honeymoon is going to be short. As someone somewhere once said, democracy is good, but if the people do not feel its impact in their stomachs, in short, if it does not have a direct impact on their lives, it will not be appreciated, and it will be worthless. So to our new President, I say make hay while the sun shines because the very same people that are celebrating your ascension to power today will be the same people who will curse you if you do not perform. In fact, even if you do perform, but do not succeed in convincing them of your performance, they will still curse you and will flood onto the streets to dance for your successor. With typical Sierra Leonean ingenuous creativity, the same celebratory songs they are singing for you today will be turned around by the same people and used to curse you.