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Page added on February 28, 2012
Since I was born, the phrase “free and fair elections” have always been forced into my ears but, unfortunately, on the African continent, nobody has ever advocated for a “free and fair election campaigning”. If I am not mistaken, even countries like Britain and America, which pour money and resources into Africa and other countries for the promotion and sustenance of democracy, have not for once mentioned anything like free and fair electioneering campaigns. All that hold their attention is the voting process where individuals cast the ballot, most times after enduring threats and brutality. Sadly, the world is ignoring the fact that electioneering campaigns or canvassing are more virulent and more deadly than casting ballots, especially in Sierra Leone and other African countries.
For a country’s election to be free and fair, it has to begin with a free and fair campaigning or canvassing. As far as my knowledge goes, the nature of election campaigns always determines the outcome of an election. An election that is free and fair begins with the campaigning. A violent campaign exercise produces a violent casting of votes; a mild and peaceful campaign exercise results in a mild, peaceful, free and fair election. For an election to be free and fair, there should be no room for intimidation or harassment, no suppression of supporters of any particular political party, no vote-rigging, etc.
Intimidation and suppression in elections can include the blocking of roads or streets by supporters of a particular party in order to impede access of other political parties to that area. In Sierra Leone, particular areas are referred to as “strongholds” of a particular party, which means that an opposing party has no right to penetrate that stronghold. This apportioning of Sierra Leone into political strongholds is one of the reasons of violence in Sierra Leone. For example, in the 2007 elections, the APC was barred from campaigning in certain areas in the east which were referred to as SLPP strongholds. The violence that erupted out of that is quite historical.
No area in Sierra Leone is a particular stronghold of any political party. Every area in Sierra Leone belongs to all Sierra Leoneans and Sierra Leoneans are therefore free to express their political rights everywhere. Sierra Leoneans, irrespective of party affiliation, should have freedom of movement, particularly at election time. No one party should monopolise a particular area as its stronghold. Such area-monopoly is not only divisive but absolutely myopic and unpatriotic. It helps to destroy the unity of a united populace and sows the degrading seed of discord.
As such, I would suggest that any political party that has been evidently found to intimidate another party for entering the so-called “party stronghold” should face the full penalties of the law and, if possible, its political activities suspended. I am sure this will send a strong signal to those who coined this diabolic phrase (“party stronghold”}. The geographical area of Sierra Leone is too small to be divided into political party strongholds. Already, we are disgracefully divided by tribe, so that when you meet some Sierra Leoneans for the first time, the first thing they would like to know is the tribe you belong to, without even bothering to know your name. How disgraceful it is!
Therefore, I strongly suggest that this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections in our beloved country should be made, by all means, to be free and fair and there should be no place for political harassment, intimidation and suppression of individuals. Furthermore, there should be no birdcage demarcation of areas at the detriment of one political party or the other.
It could still be recalled, for example, that during the late President Siaka Stevens’ rule under the old APC leadership, politicians regarded by the APC as” unfavourable” candidates were locked up or incapacitated somehow while voting went on, so as to prevent them from voting. The favoured candidates would then win by a landslide victory. That brought about the type of victory that became popular as “unopposed” victory. Sadly enough, even though it happened under the rule of the old APC, the diabolic practice was supported by members of the SLPP who had “cross-carpeted” to the APC. Most of them, like Sama Banya the political chameleon, who opposes the modern APC so vehemently today, brought the “unopposed” idea to the APC so as to court the favour and friendship of Siaka Stevens and the APC hierarchy. Sama Banya and the others, perhaps out of shame, can never mention such rascally moves in their writings and verbal utterances. How hypocrite they are!
Now there is this problem of leadership in the SLPP. Those hardcore supporters of violence in the country have thrown their weight behind the candidacy of Julius Maada Bio as a presidential aspirant. Some others more sensible, especially those who wouldn’t want another war in Sierra Leone, had to abandon the SLPP as soon as Maada Bio, the devil of violence and brutality, was chosen to lead the SLPP in this year’s elections. Surely, no sane person will support a soldier-rebel (so-bel) whose hands still drip of innocent blood! This is evident from the recent mass resignations of SLPP party stalwarts in favour of the APC. Moreover, nobody in his right senses would trust Sama Banya’s utterances or any other person who publishes lies under false names in order to plunge the country into violent rebellion.
Honestly speaking, the Old APC of Siaka Stevens was violent, especially during elections. Journalists and party opponents were brutalized by the Special Security Division (SSD) force. Many were detained indefinitely. Members of The Tablet newspaper in those days who are still alive will tell you their horror stories. However, many other schools of thought are of the opinion that Siaka Stevens and his APC party were not wholly and solely responsible for those atrocities against opponents because it was a one-party system which had absorbed other political parties, like the SLPP. Therefore, all acts of the APC in those days, whether good or bad, were a united force of ideas and behaviours from all political parties in the country, which makes it prudent to conclude that it was a collective responsibility of all parties, especially the APC and the SLPP.
If we throw our minds back to the early 1990s, during the nightmarish military rule of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), under the leadership of Captain Valentine Strasser and the current SLPP presidential candidate, Julius Maada Bio, violence against the people of Sierra Leone, especially journalists, was the order of the day. Strasser and Maada Bio and their military cohorts promulgated all types of draconian laws in order to silence outspoken media practitioners and academicians. Those who worked for the New Breed newspaper and other outspoken newspapers in those days will testify to that. In my next article, I will bring you extracts of such draconian laws of the Strasser-Maada Bio NPRC.
Equally so, under the leadership of former President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, the mighty and clammy hands of despotism were raised against poor journalists who were diligently practising their profession to reshape an otherwise crooked society. Paul Kamara of For Di People newspaper and many other helpless but patriotic journalists will ever live to tell their stories of terror in the hands of the SLPP government. That period of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah’s government was like bringing back the Dark Ages into a modern society, especially for journalists. His advisers and other politicians who surrounded him were as vicious as snakes and the poor man was powerless to halt their inhuman activities against opponents.
Comparing the modern day APC of President Ernest Bai Koroma with those respective periods of Siaka Stevens’ APC, Strasser-Maada Bio’s NPRC and Tejan-Kabbah’s SLPP, one is bound to heave a sigh of relief, especially when you are a journalist or political opponent living in Sierra Leone. Comparatively, Sierra Leone of today is a paradise, irrespective of whatever dishonest, naïve and tribal critics may write in the BBC magazine, Focus on Africa Magazine, Economist, in African Confidential or in other discredited media.
Today under President Koroma’s APC rule, Sierra Leoneans are happily confronted with development, political tolerance, free speech, credible assurances of hope, prosperity and good health, etc. I can honestly and sincerely state, as an echo of the voices of honest and patriotic Sierra Leoneans, that for the past four years of President Koroma’s rule, Sierra Leone has never experienced the detention or intimidation of a journalist or a political opponent.
Many journalists have written articles, sometimes provocatively and insultingly concocting lies and delving into the private lives of the President and other state functionaries, which would have obviously landed them in unquenchable political fire in the past SLPP government and which would have made some of those journalists never to live to tell the story but, surprisingly, not a finger has been raised against those deviant journalists. Instead they have been made to peacefully continue practising their profession.
Some of them, out of shame that they were unnecessarily vilifying a peaceful, harmless and good-hearted leader, sensibly made a turn-around to support the President and his government. That is quite commendable because only fools, hardened buffoons, don’t change for the better. Sierra Leone’s present democratic atmosphere clearly demonstrates the political maturity of President Koroma and his government. Will Sierra Leoneans ever be lucky enough to get a government like this again? Only God knows.
The aim of some politicians and journalists, particularly those who are crowned with tribal and regional sentiments and who would rather see Sierra Leone go back to the fearful days of civil war, would never be content with the present government’s developmental achievements. What the past SLPP government failed to achieve in more than ten years of misrule is what the present APC has achieved in four years. The only excuse the SLPP give for their inadequacies is that they were ruling in the time of a civil war but they forget to mention that they deliberately prolonged the civil war in order to keep themselves in power. It is like Napoleon (the pig’s) tactics in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: Mr. Jones (the human being) will come back to take back Animal Farm and subject all animals to slavery once more if the animals oppose the government of the pigs headed by Napoleon.
In view of that, I will continue to encourage all peaceful and progressive Sierra Leoneans to rise up and say NO, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH to any form of political violence in any corner of the country. Civil Societies, Media, Women’s Groups, Bar Association, Student Unions, Youth Organizations, Labour Congress and Human Right Organizations’ should wake up from their slumber and shout loudly against violence before it is too late. NOW IS THE TIME TO SAY NO TO POLITICAL VIOLENCE IN THE COUNTRY whether perpetrated by the APC or SLPP, political violence must be condemned with all sincerity of purpose, without fear or favour. All those underground political party supporters stand up and say NO to political violence in the country. If you fail to do that because of tribalism or die-hard party affiliation, you are failing yourself and posterity.
I always say and will continue to say that if Sierra Leoneans allow political violence to overwhelm the country, AK-47 rifles and other dangerous weapons do not distinguish between APC, SLPP or PMDC supporters; even innocent people, who have nothing to do with politics, will live to suffer. Former rebel leader Foday Sankoh’s rebels, NPRC soldiers or sobels and those who were in refugee/displaced camps will tell you more about the effect of violence or war, especially on the poor and defenseless people.
At the approach of a violent civil conflict, politicians who are the architect of violence, would have flown out of the country with their families, leaving we the poor people to suffer. When bullets were flying over Freetown during the January 6 1999 invasion of Freetown, supporters of all political parties suffered, therefore the weapons of violence don’t distinguish one victim from the other.
My final word here is that all Sierra Leoneans who think that violence or war is the only means of changing a legitimate government should think twice. Some of those narrow-minded promoters of tribe and region live in foreign countries enjoying themselves while they fan mayhem in poor Sierra Leone. When trouble comes, while poor Sierra Leoneans will be killing themselves, the trouble-makers will be sitting in overseas restaurants stuffing their blotted bellies with more fatty food and laughing at gullible Sierra Leoneans. Do I need to stress that we should learn from the eleven years of brutality and destruction in our country? Do we have to be continually fooled by people who wear tribal and regional crowns on their heads, people who can never get rid of tribal affiliation irrespective of their overseas education?
Sierra Leoneans, wake up from your slumber and say no to political violence or any other type of violence in the country. May I also call on the hardworking and trustworthy Chief of the National Electoral Commission, Dr. Christiana Thorpe, and her meritorious staff to ensure that all political parties freely gain access to any part of the country to campaign/canvass for November 2012 elections without hindrance of any sort. Those who have ears let them hear.
WHEN GOD SAYS YES, WHO WILL SAY NO? Even the devil (Satanic)’s unpatriotic destructive and tribalistic writers will not SAY NO.
By Tony Bee, Sydney, Australia
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