My Brothers and Sisters and Fellow Sierra Leoneans and Friends of Sierra Leone, West Africa
Too often, the urge to resort to tribalism, nepotism, political party loyalty and family relationships have largely trumped patriotism in our great and beloved country, the Republic of Sierra Leone in West Africa. That being said, in my opinion, our country of Sierra Leone with all of these challenges still stands as one of Africa’s most unified and interconnected countries in the world. Here are some undeniable facts to support my point of view:
1.Our nation and its citizens are guided by our core principles and values of traditions and culture. Even in this 21st century age of modernity, the young still respect the elders and generally take counsel from those more senior. For instance, in our family, the principle of respect for elders reigns supreme. I offer my younger brothers and sisters as examples. They always treat the elders in the family with the utmost regard and respect. Specifically and personally speaking, our eldest sister, Ngo Aminata Wai in Maryland, enjoys the utmost respect as the final decision- maker about critical family issues facing us. In other words, the buck stops with her. I am sure that practice also applies to many families in the Republic of Sierra Leone.
2.Perhaps the most significant and glaring personal example I can reveal – especially revealing for his critics – is the reaction of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma towards me during his visit to the United Nations two years ago. At that time, I had the honor and privilege to exchange pleasantries with him at a side event launch of an economic development conference, when he was presented with a recently published book by a British national as an investment guide to promote investment opportunities in Sierra Leone. As the patrons assembled in single file with each waiting their turn to greet the President, I also patiently waited. When it became my turn, he was very cordial and respectful in shaking hands with me, but also reminded me that I was once his “Senior at Magburaka Secondary School” during our school days as students. This acknowledgement is significant and relevant in affirming my point about respecting our tradition and culture for our elders, as even the President of our country still believes that despite his position as the father of our country, his values of tradition and culture are still an important part of his DNA. Needless to say, I was extremely impressed and humbled by the President’s incredible recall of an encounter that I did not even myself remember. That simple act on his part also showed me how humble and caring he is toward his countrymen – as well as what I have observed towards women — irrespective of Political party affiliations.
Over the course of a decade or more, politics as well as the tone and actions of well- meaning leaders of our country have taken a dramatic turn for the worse, thereby setting back the spirit of cooperation and civility in Sierra Leone. Many people inside and outside the country have demonized each other, often painting the opponents of either party as being of the great evil empire, unfit to lead our nation, let alone unify us. I have personally witnessed unkind words being said about our President during demonstrations which have gotten incredible pushbacks from the President’s party loyalists at the time. At one particular demonstration that I participated in at the United Nations, my cousin was on the opposing side of the demonstration during the chanting and dancing phases of the protests. When one of his partners on their side started telling the President’s supporters how terrible some of us were to organize the demonstration against him as the Sierra Leone President, he was quick to remind those colleagues that we may disagree on the substance and the issues leading to the demonstration; however what was clear in his mind was that at the end of the day, we were still members of the same family. The opposing sides were pleasantly surprised to see me and my cousin engage in a friendly family dialogue after the demonstration. My friends, this reality is what our country should be all about. We can disagree, but should always be mindful that there is no one-size-fits-all in solving Sierra Leone’s problems. This brings me to my last and most critical point in this article.
OUR POLITICIANS SEEKING TO SUCCEED DR. ERNEST BAI KOROMA:
Seeking elective office is perhaps one of the most important public service and personal sacrifice that would-be contenders will make in their lifetime. To be a candidate for public office, you have basically invited the public into your private and public space where anything and everything, including your family and loved ones, is fair game. The candidate is responsible for raising money; mobilizing his or her base; doing intelligent research on your opponent; spending sleepless nights and days pacing the streets in search of votes and likability; getting the right message to the public; participating in public debates; speaking to audiences and attending fundraisers; staying on the telephone non-stop at nights constantly begging for money to oil your campaign; making sure you have enough money to pay your staff to be happy and handle all the logistics necessary in producing a winning formula; traveling cross country to towns and villages to court and seek votes, constantly explaining why the voters should select you over the other candidates seeking similar or different offices. Irrespective of which office one runs or seeks, all candidates share their love of constituency and the people they wish to represent. Each of these candidates who make such a sacrifice deserves our respect and appreciation for caring and sharing themselves with the anxious and ever curious public. President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma did all of these things and more in becoming a two-term candidate of our Republic. Despite his shortcomings, he deserves our regard and respect as a nation. I salute him.
Looking at this enormous personal sacrifice that candidates must endure in public service, I want to submit to would-be aspirants seeking elective office that the politics of character assassination and outright voter suppression and dirty tricks have no place in our electoral politics. Every candidate meeting and qualifying to seek office under our constitution has a righto run for any office of his or her choice, without subjecting individuals to any dirty tactics or outright bullying from the opponents. These offices have never been reserved for any special candidate but rather, the unanimous choice of the electorate through the ballot box with one-man-one-vote opportunity in a fair and transparent conduction of elections. This practice is what democracy looks like!
Thug tactics, intimidation, bullying and trumping up false allegations and charges against an opponent to fundamentally silence free speech and expression of opinion should and must have no place in our nations electoral politics and practices. Such a practice must demand the rising-up of a chorus of voices across political parties to out rightly condemn such unacceptable practices. It is one thing to deplore these tactics in private because of political party loyalties. What may be a tactic to suppress or silence one party could very well be a similar tactic used against a succeeding government of a different party, if and when they gain power. A good example is what is currently unfolding in the United States Congress with the idea of repealing and replacing OBAMACARE with TRUMPCARE. With a democratic President in the White House, not a single Republican voted for OBAMACARE. Now, with Republicans in power in both houses of Congress, it is becoming increasingly impossible for the Republican controlled House of Representatives and Senate to Repeal and Replace OBAMACARE. The votes are just not there to do so. . With the currently proposed legislation resulting in over 22 million people losing their health insurance coverage, Republicans are joining Democratic patriots in banding together to say no! In this case, patriotism is trumping party loyalty. That is the kind of spirit and bi-partisanship that I dream and hope for my beloved country Sierra Leone.
QUESTIONS WE NEED TO ANSWER
Can we see a Sierra Leone someday when elections will be free and fair without the usual reign of terror towards members belonging to the opposition party, or where potential candidates within the ruling party who wish to put themselves forward as candidates are not afraid to do so because they did not get the blessing of the established order? Will we see a day when internal party squabbles, and the creation of frivolous lawsuits deliberately intended to stall progress within an insurgent party — as we presently witness in Sierra Leone — will take a back seat to a more unified party apparatus? Will we also see the day when the good-faith effort of a sitting President will be enough to rally the nation towards development and progress without unnecessary criticism, and also looking at every move the President makes through the prism of party politics, tribal or regional loyalties?
Will we ever see a day, when journalists can express their own opinions freely without been branded as an apologist for the ruling party? Will we ever see the day in Sierra Leone, when Sierra Leoneans will put the country first before political party affiliations? Will we ever see an independent judiciary, where the rule of law will be fairly applicable to anyone violating the law? Will we ever see a Sierra Leone when we can say no one is above the law and applied as such without prejudice? Will we ever see our country’s youth, women and girls, be provided equal opportunity to receive a quality education and careers that could make them productive citizens of our nation? Will we ever witness the uncompromising exercise of academic and press freedom without political interference? Will we ever see the day when our nation’s leaders will see their diaspora nationals all over the world as partners in rebuilding our nation to higher heights? Will there come a day and time in our nation’s history when our foreign diplomats serving in foreign land will receive the resources and support from our home governments to be proud and well-established diplomats like their well-endowed counterparts and colleagues in the diplomatic arenas all over the world? Will we see the day when our nation’s government could heavily recruit their successful diaspora nationals overseas to help in the building of their nations?
My answer to these questions is an affirmative YES, but only when Sierra Leoneans turn a new page for civility and patriotism that is deeply ingrained in our upholding our core values of culture, tradition, rule of law, and love and respect for each other. As Former U.S. President Barak Obama once said, “YES WE CAN.” I say WE MUST NOW MOVE FORWARD WITH THE SPIRIT OF NATIONALISM AND PATRIOTISM in the Republic of Sierra Leone, after the Presidential election in March 2018.
BY HON. SIDIQUE ABOU-BAKARR WAI
PRESIDENT AND NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON, UNITED AFRICAN CONGRESS, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
June 30, 2017
Monday July 17, 2017.