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Wide ranges of definition have been given for political tolerance, for this piece we are limiting ourselves to; Political tolerance means accepting and respecting the basic rights and civil liberties of persons whose viewpoint differ from one’s own. All citizens, including political leaders, have a responsibility to practice political tolerance not only in their words but in actions. As a clear rejection of “might’s makes rights” political tolerance is the key principle of democracy. Political tolerance is the willingness to extend basic rights and civil liberties to persons and groups whose viewpoints differ from one’s own. It is a central tenet of a liberal democracy.
As an ideal, democracy upholds that members of the society should treat each other, and be treated, as equals. Underlying democracy is the acceptance and respect of the other. Democratic life is both the right to differ as well as the acceptance of such difference by all. Democracy implies respect for the plurality of views and virtues of dialogue as a means of resolving conflict. The individual rights and freedoms that Sierra Leonean values have encourage a wide array of ideas and beliefs, some of which may offend segments of the population. The expression of those beliefs is protected by another core democratic principle –that of majority rule with respect for the rights of individuals or groups in the minority. Without safeguards for the free expression of divergent opinions, we risk a tyranny of the majority. In a free and open society, public deliberation exposes “bad” ideas instead of suppressing them.
That is why the open government initiative – OGI, was applauded by many Sierra Leonean both within and without, as a positive move to for citizens participation in their governance, sadly it has lost its’ focus, and it has been transformed into a one man civil society voice, who does not consult the entire civil society family it is purporting to represent like all others masquerading as civil society representatives in the different institutions.
Political intolerance is engendered by a willingness to restrict the rights of a disliked person or group based on their differing views. It represents a threat to democracy since it discriminates against and may even silence certain parts of the population. Intolerance creates a conformist culture and a closed society, which narrows citizens’ perceptions of politics and shapes their subsequent behaviors.
The protection of individuals’ rights, including those of individuals we dislike, or with whom we strongly disagree has often been a struggle in Sierra Leone, for the past 51 years of her political history, bigotry is to a very large extend responsible for our 11 years brutal war. Sadly though, politicians on the deferent side of the political divide still refer to each other as ‘enemies’ in Sierra Leone, negative statement like, we will not empower our political enemies, is responsible for the massive dismissal of people believed to in the opposition parties. They are not awarded contracts even when they fit. This negative attitude does not only breed bitterness but it is also responsible for our backwardness. Intolerance has let off the hook, many criminals in Sierra Leone including economic criminals, perpetrators of political motivated violence and many more.
Civil society organizations are charged with the responsibility of developing an enlightened citizenry. Enlightened citizens do more than “lip-synch to the tune of democracy.” Enlightened citizens understand the role of tolerance in a democratic society and are committed to practicing tolerance and respect for minority rights. Taking a tolerant stance is one of the more difficult tasks citizens face in a society. We are not born tolerant, but must learn to be tolerant. Adolescence is potentially a very important time for the development of political tolerance because during this period, most young people are developing their capacities to apply abstract principles that would concrete situations, they have a heightened curiosity about social and political issues, and they are keenly interested in their increasing rights and responsibilities as young adults.
Sadly, the virus of intolerant start affecting our young generation in our higher institutions of learning, universities and colleges, come to think of the heavy violence that mar their elections each year. Most times one wonders how come, they are all easily polluted with the contagious virus of violence, and prejudice except, our Medical College, we stand to be corrected, Sierra Leoneans have never heard of disturbing incidence of violence coming from the College of Medicine and Allied Science. Their example is worth emulating by other institutions of learning across the country.
Perhaps, we should lay emphasis on liberal education, which is meant to prepare individuals to think more clearly about themselves and about their relationship with others, to be more tolerant of diversity, to be less hasty in their judgments of the unfamiliar, and to get more meaning out of life regardless of where they are or what they do. As we approach the 2012, general election, let us be more tolerant, with a clear understanding that no politician in our country is worth our brothers blood, therefore, the young people must resist drug and violence, before, during and after the elections, remember NO DRUG FOR VOTE!
Researchers: Saa Matthias BENDU and Habib T Kamara-FDID-SL
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