Governance and Social Media at Crossroads.
Our digital world, with all its fun and glamour, has quite a lot of latent distractions and detractions and one has to be highly intelligent and smart to know what to do so that you can be at peace with yourself and others. With social media pervasively entering every citizen’s psyche, there is a sort of general mild madness overcoming people, paying more attention to the phone and not their fellow man. There seems the feeling that people now see the little machine in their hands as the solution to all their problems and that they no more need other people.
Sierra Leone is going through very trying times with our democratic foundation under serious siege and there seems no end in sight. Our two main parties who have been taking turns to be at the helm are yet to have the right strategy to take us out of the wilderness of suffering, poverty and hunger; our entire existence as a people has been characterized by these ugly description.
Beyond the three Arms of Government, we have the Media and Civil society. The entire state community is technically divided into three sections for society to run properly. These are: The Government, the Civil Society and the Business Community. It is worth noting that the Civil Society stays in the middle as if trying to keep the Government and the Business Community from undue collusion. Generally speaking, the mainstream Media is supposed to be part of Civil society but there is a small hitch. The mainstream media is also business. It needs the adverts, sales and sponsorship to survive; so while its traditional focus is to point out the ills in society and keep government on its toes for society to stay on an even keel and observe the human rights and other tennets of ordered society.
You might be wondering how the mainstream media keeps this delicate balance. Well their ability to do this and maintain the human interest places them in the category of independent and objective media. We indeed have quite a few independent and objective mainstream media.
Well just some couple of years back Sierra Leoneans were inundated by what is referred to as social media. Just as Globalization put the world in a Global village, so social media has put us in digital communication and opened up people’s voice and space, that is everyone holding an apps phone. While digital communication has made life easier through instant communication, it has also given rise to a lot of abuse as we see currently in Sierra Leone where it is not mostly used for the common good. We will leave this for another story that will also cover the key sticking points that may be in the Security and Cyber Crime Act that has been recently passed by the Sierra Leone Parliament.
Earlier I talked about the Civil Society. These are the generality of citizens who are neither part, nor working for government and not in full-time business. Among them Civil Society Organizations may be formed to professionally help with development, capacity building and supporting the nations aspirations in order to maintain human dignity, call government to account and generally protect the citizenry from the abuse of their rights, maintain their dignity as human beings. Civil Society Organizations came to existence in Sierra Leone mainly in the 1980s when excruciating economic constraints were hard felt by a normally poor citizenry. Those were the days rice importation became sanctioned by Government and it became a field day for the APC One Party Hajas. The importation of rice became their special domain. Those were the days citizens queued for rice for days on end and only succeeded in getting few cups of the much needed staple food at expensive cost.
In countries where there are many Civil Society Organizations, it is most likely that they have governance and development issues plaguing them. This is why Sierra Leone especially in the 80s and 90s had a proliferation of Civil Society organizations. At the time, Development partners had lost trust in many Governments especially across Africa, so they preferred channeling their funds for a countries Development through Civil Society Organizations which had credibility and could account for the funds adequately.
After our horrendous Rebel carnage when Democratic governance was being established civil society activism increased in various sectors and thematic areas. Part of the reasons advanced for the rebel war was bad governance and so Civil Society was determined to support government efforts to get it right that time round.
Since 2000 and thereabouts there had been impasses between the general civil populace and some Civil society Organizations with the former accusing the latter as not working on the side of the people, but rather colluding with government. Some CSOs were said to have been bought over by government in order to compromise their principles of independence and objectivity. Interestingly, there are often the confusion between the Civil Society Organization and the Non-Governmental organization (NGO). Both are non- Governmental, but the NGO may not necessarily be a strict watch dog to Government. It supports government efforts especially where there are gaps. Both the CSO and the NGO are both non-governmental.
There are NGOs both national and International which support CSOs in Development and good governance.
At times for some Civil Society, because of their composition and Modus operandi, people see them as being on the side of government. What one needs to get clear is that the CSO is not an Opposition to Government. While it checkmates Government, it also in so many ways supports Government through training and other capacity building activities just so as government is made able to perform. The CSO does not stand by and wait for government to fail so that it can amplify that failure, not at all.
The challenge we have in Sierra Leone is that we have been polarized politically on lines of ethnicity and region. So if the CSO Head is from say the East or South, he or she is suspect as pro SLPP and vice versa. This is why some CSOs which were highly recognized during the Koroma regime, are now somehow seen as opposition. It is a very dicey situation. When President Bio appointed a former Head of a prominent CSO as an agency Head it raised some eyebrows as if to say hmm the CSO Head had always been a part of the SLPP. The same happened with the past regime.
The situation has worsened now with almost everybody has become a small time reporter, what some people call Labo Merchants on social media. A whole lot of unsubstantiated information is put on WhatsApp by most times unidentified persons. These go to the extent of even abusing state actors with careless arrogance. There propaganda can only be dismissed by objectivity and independence of mind. We do not expect party pikins to be objective when it concerns the pride of their party.
In Sierra Leone people forget that there are a cross section of the citizenry who are not party card carriers and can afford to even vote across parties in the same election.
By Beny SAM