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A leader that believes in democracy and fair play…

A leader that believes in democracy and fair play… thumbnail

Get on to your computer, check all the search engines for “who is a good leader?”! You are surely going to get long lists of results that might take hours if not days to read through.  (Photo: Umaru S. Jah)

This is certainly because there are numerous schools of thought as to what good leadership means or represents. While some will tell you that a good leader is born with the attributes of leadership, others will warn against such a notion. For them, to state that good leaders are born, is a dangerous myth because leaders are made rather than born. Notwithstanding these varying perspectives (which are in fact not the main point I want to discuss here) there are certain characteristics about informed leadership that forms the core of all schools of thought, regardless of how much they disagree. These include but are not limited to the fact that:  good leaders have exemplary characters; good leaders are enthusiastic about their work or cause; good leaders are confident; good leaders function orderly and purposefully in situations of uncertainty; good leaders are tolerant; good leaders are able to keep the main goal in focus and think analytically at the same time; good leaders are servants, who care about those they serve and pursue their interests; and good leaders are committed to excellence.

As general as these attributes might sound, they are also very specific to political and state leadership which is the main theme of this article. They might also look simple but the reality is very few leaders in the world or more specifically in Africa have been able to effectively combine these qualities. As I write, I can only think about Nelson Mandela! Even more specifically, my beloved Sierra Leone has been no exception – I need not mention what poor political leadership since independence has done to our country because it’s a fact everyone knows.

What has actually captured my attention (which is why I continue to believe in him and his presidency) is the manner in which the current leader of Sierra Leone, H.E Ernest Bai Koroma, has been distinguishing himself from most, if not all, of his predecessors regarding who a good leader represents.

Rebuilding a nation like Sierra Leone, which had been plagued by years of blatant mismanagement and endemic corruption culminating into a decade long disparaging conflict is a very huge challenge that requires sound and informed leadership which combines all the qualities highlighted above. This is no easy task! Notwithstanding, the manner in which he has stood up to these challenges even in the most difficult of times has been nothing other than exemplary. An example: When our nation was on the brink of sliding back to conflict because of political party rivalries and violence, President Koroma was quick to intervene and set up an independent body to investigate the causes and come up with solutions to address such threat. That is what a good leader is – functioning orderly and purposefully in situations of uncertainty and difficulty! I can go on and highlight a number of other examples but that will only mean repeating the same point over and again because such excellent political judgments and interventions have been the hallmarks of the president´s almost five-year reign. I will rather focus on the latest of such informed, insightful and visionary leadership attribute which shows once again that he truly believes in democracy and creating a level playing field for other players in Sierra Leone´s political life.

The issue has to do with the decision of NEC to raise nomination fees for all contestants – from those vying for the seat of presidency to councilors in the local bodies – in the November 17 pools. The new nomination fees introduced by NEC included the following: Presidential Candidates Le100, 000,000 (One Hundred Million Leones); Members of Parliament is Le25, 000,000 (Twenty Five Million); Mayors/Chairpersons is Le5, 000,000 (Five Million); Councilors is Le2, 000,000 (Two Million).

In a poor country like Sierra Leone, it was very clear that this increment will certainly disenfranchise candidates who might have very good programmes but who do not have the financial capability to pay such fees.  The increase was therefore met with stern criticism from some sections of the public and various political parties.

Columnists wrote critical articles! Radio discussants and political activists blasted the increment! Others urged the candidates to go back to their constituencies to raise the fees if they were sure of winning. Others questioned whether in fact NEC has the power to make such increment although the elections commission had cited Sections 46(1), 60(5) of the Public Elections Act of 2012 to justify the increment. Others believed the CONSPIRACY THEORY was at work – NEC conspiring with the ruling APC to automatically disqualify candidates who could not afford to pay the fee. Like always when there is a conflict, baseless allegations were made and blaming fingers were pointed.

The issue became a bottleneck and an impasse that could have definitely undermined our upward democracy with seven opposition parties including the SLPP, going as far as threatening to boycott the polls if the increments were not reversed.

It was a standoff that required timely and decisive intervention to save the day. Thanks to Sierra Leone´s insightful and forward-thinking president that was what the country got!  Several local newspapers reported last week how the president intervened and pledged that his government will subsidize nomination fees meaning the contestants will only have to pay what they paid in the last elections. Problem solved!

This is certainly a bold step by President Koroma giving the fact that it will strain the government´s already constrained budget. However, as the president himself cited by Awareness Times Newspaper put it, it was necessary  “to subsidize the nomination fees because the citizens of Sierra Leone need to go to the polls and be presented with a credible process of choosing their leaders.” I certainly agree that however expensive such a move could be, our nation and its hard earned democracy cannot afford the alternative! Let me try to put this in perspective to bring to the fore the bigger picture.

In a country where almost every issue is polarized across regional and political lines, President Koroma´s latest action is significant for two reasons:

Firstly, it shows that he is a president of all Sierra Leoneans, regardless of which political party they belong to.  This has certainly not gone unnoticed by other opposition parties as indicated by the reaction of the leader of the NDA  Alhaji Amadu Jalloh quoted by Awareness Times: “I admire the wisdom and good judgment of the President who has saved the elections from total collapse. This is how Statesmen conduct the affairs of States.”

With elections around the corner, such action couldn’t have been taken at a better time. He has taken a huge step in demonstrating that it is the interest of our country and its people that should take a centre stage and not our individual political affiliations and differences. It’s an action that is worth admiration, commendation and emulation, not only by leaders of other political parties but all Sierra Leoneans. I have in the past argued times and again that Sierra Leone can only be a better place when we put the national interest first. That is what our president is doing and we have a responsibility to compliment his efforts by inculcating the same mindset because regardless of how hard he tries, he cannot achieve it alone. Together we can walk the path to prosperity!

Secondly, and probably most importantly, the president by his latest intervention which has ensured that other parties do not boycott the forthcoming elections, has demonstrated that he truly believes in multi-party democracy and creating a level playing field for all other political players.  He did not only addressed the political standoff that might have engulfed our country, but has as well given the people of Sierra Leone the opportunity of choosing among multiple candidates the ones who will steer the ship of state for the next five years.  We just have to look elsewhere in Africa and other parts of the world where leaders have consistently suppressed, oppressed and repressed opposition parties to actually understand the magnitude of our president´s inclusive thinking and political tolerance.  Because we have a president like Ernest Koroma, Sierra Leone is going to be singled out as a nation where the people´s choice through the ballot box based on their judgments of the contesting candidates  is what takes precedent.

Furthermore, as the elections draw closer, the president has sent a clear message to all Sierra Leoneans that if we want a fairer and a better society, we have to fight for it through the ballot box by choosing from the various candidates contesting and not to engage in violent clashes as we have seen in the past. He has given an opportunity to the candidates themselves to use the electoral platform to sell their messages to the people of Sierra Leone regarding why they should be elected without being hindered by high nomination fees that some cannot afford!

Fair play and a level playing field is what I will call it! That is democracy! We must consider our nation lucky to have a president who believes in those values!

I want to close by coming back to the discourse on good leadership with which I opened this piece: A good leader is one who takes timely and decisive action for the general good of the people irrespective of their political beliefs or orientation! Our President, H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma certainly fits in that category!

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