“Whether you voted for me or voted for Barack Obama, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines. This is a fight for the future and it’s a fight we must win.” – Remarks by New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in her address to the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night in Denver.
Hillary Clinton’s reconciliation and endorsement speech of Barack Obama was the speech of the day and a clear message to many of her supporters who had vowed not to vote for Obama: Let bygones be bygones. A clear message also that it is only unity within the Democratic Party that will earn them the White House.
Unlike what Hillary Clinton has done, one of the contenders of the now opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) Charles Francis Margai did not do when he lost the party convention to Former Vice President Solomon Berewa in Makeni. The SLPP Makeni convention was the beginning of the party disintegration and the penultimate reason for losing State House to the then opposition party, the All Peoples Congress (APC).
Prior to the SLPP convention, the contenders to lead the party showcased their ability to the public through series of radio discussions. Four of the contenders – Maada Bio, then Finance Minister J.B. Dauda, Margai and Berewa – were prominent and whenever they were on any radio discussion, the feedback they would get was an overwhelming support for Margai to lead the SLPP. The delegates either advertently or inadvertently did not listen to the popular call from the people but that of the dishing out by ‘Solo D. Bomba.’
The processes and events to the SLPP convention was not in anyway an arena for unity within the party, thus the birth of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) by Margai. We saw how a vendetta was started when it was announced that Berewa won the convention. He did not start up in reconciliatory tone when he was asked to speak; rather he started by threatening and almost went to the extent of naming those who reneged against him. That was where the disunity started rearing its ugly head which was evident by the sacking of the Finance Minster, J.B. Dauda, the Energy Minister, Emmanuel Grant, and the Internal Affairs Minister, Banda Thomas. They were seen as Margai sympathizers or standing in the way of ‘Solo B.’
Because Solomon Berewa the winner was antagonistic, Charles Margai became the challenger and, unlike Hillary Clinton, Margai did not call on his supporters to support Berewa. He did not call for them “to unite as a single party with a single purpose.” He did not preach to be “on the same team” to capture State House. That was why the formation of Margai’s party disunited the SLPP.
The SLPP party hierarchy should also learn from the US Democratic Party that conventions are not stage-managed; conventions are the preliminary voices of the people and you cannot force an unpopular candidate on the people. How naïve the SLPP were to have discarded the formation of the PMDC and even calling them names like a small fly, a baby and in its embryonic stage, not forgetting that it is that small fly that will blind them.
Despite the political debacle, the SLPP still seems to be complacent about the existence of the PMDC and that of Charles Margai. Margai would have referred to himself as a proud SLPP and proud supporter of Solo B. had the convention gone satisfactorily or had the party chosen a preferred candidate and not Solo B. He would definitely not be proud of the SLPP, because the SLPP was not proud of him as their son and pillar.
The SLPP forgot what he did for the party when all that are today preaching the fake “One people, One country” slogan divorced the party. The SLPP also forgot how in 1977, because he was feared by Siaka Stevens, Margai was arrested and jailed after winning a parliamentary elections on allegation of murder – thereby making him lose his parliamentary seat.
The SLPP also forgot that whenever the name Charles Margai was mentioned during the odd period of the political history in the country, Charles Margai was first to think of. And the price they started by paying him was denying him the leadership of the party in their first convention in 1996. They preferred former President Kabbah, who is now saying that he had no intention of doing politics but was persuaded by some party people to do so.
Margai did not endorse Solo B, as his candidate or a man to lead the country, because he thought he was not suited for the job. Margai once taunted him as a sleeping Vice President. Margai also believed that Solo B was not the right person to cater for the needs of the people of Sierra Leone.
Margai would definitely have spoken of Solo B – as Clinton spoke of Obama – if there was unity that “before we can keep going, we have to get going by electing Barack Obama President. We don’t have a moment to lose or a vote to spare… We’ve got to ensure that the choice we make in this election honors the sacrifices of all who came before us and will fill the lives of our children with possibility and hope.”
That is how after conventions the messages of reconciliation should be and not antagonistic remarks that will divide the party. The SLPP should have realized their mistake and their next party convention should afford them the opportunity of reuniting and choosing the preferred candidate.
By Ishmael Bayoh