The contention still rumbles on, even though for the time being at least, the contest is off. On we go under a new dawn. With the signs mixed. Achievements and drawbacks. And the choices seemingly fixed. Success and failure. Survival and poverty! Our hopes are pinned even if on a pin, with the potential to give succour even if with sharply, prickly pricks.
Exactly one year ago today, the victory chanting was everywhere in the Western Area and in the north; and all day. In the southeast, people were reeling as the echoes of Christiana Thorpe’s voice announcing the final results thundered across the nation. The court action by the SLPP aimed at stopping the announcement did not work out. The court asked for a return of the plaintiffs and a revisit of their procedures. That was two hours too many. Then the confetti was pumped out for some. For others, it was lightening that sparked.
As jubilant supporters, apparently of the APC, snaked their way from the Tower Hill where British culture stares from under the Lion Mountain and overlooks a part of the groundswell of the APC’s heartland, the crowd descended upon the headquarters of the SLPP who were now out of favour even if not lacking in fervour. They comprehensively looted it and systematically vandalised it. I saw them! And the police looked on. So far, no culprits, no punishment. Vintage Sierra Leone!
That is a scar the SLPP has probably healed. I say probably because they seem to be still licking their wounds! Wounds inflicted at the polls, yes. But also by the outcome of the outcome of the polls. What is certain though is that it is a scab that still remains.
One year on, we have faced the brass task. One year, probably an unfair period to measure success or failure. One year, of a government that inherited a nation sound in economic policy no doubt, but a policy that did not translate in the wellbeing of the ordinary Sierra Leonean. There was sufficient insufficiency. The worst on the UN development index on many scales.
But the APC also inherited a country that had had almost all its external debts written off. A groundbreaking footing on which to take off. So how far have we come since? For good measure, the newly elected president opened parliament and gave himself a 36-month agenda. But that is neither a precursor nor preclusion for a lenient or a harsh judgement by anyone of the president and his first 365 days in office.
He said he would prioritise electricity and no-one needs telling about the beauty that Freetown has become not least at night with most homes enjoying electricity. But the devil seems to be in the detail of this initiative. It is costing us tens of thousands of dollars a day, I am told, to generate that electricity. The independent power provider at Blackhall Road is as ineffective as the awarding of the contract still remains imprudent. But there is electricity anyway. Something the former government could not deliver on in eleven years. And it is easing off the stress.
Even though the awarding of that Blackhall Road power contract showed some sign of a possible corrupt practice, the president has moved decisively in dealing official graft a heavy punch. A strong anti corruption law is now in the statutes and he has declared his assets; the first by any president in the country’s history; and one of only three, or so, on the continent. But his ministers, whom he has direct control over, are yet to do so. But they still have two months to go and counting.
There was hardship before the APC came to power. But it is many times over today. Less and less people can afford even a square meal a day. As more and more go without food. The official line is the economic problems of a worldwide nature. The rise in the price of fuel and global scramble for rice.
But government’s excuse has been just that – it is a global problem. They one-year-old government has hardly thoroughly dealt with any crisis in an effective way with a clear outcome. Tax cut on foodstuffs in exchange for tax increase on luxury items was not implemented.
Another big crisis they have also struggled to deal well with is the cocaine plane landing at our international airport. A brilliant piece of legislation followed it and the police tried their best. But the retroactive power given to the narcotics act has eroded by fate in my safety. It is never right to punish someone for something they did before it became an offence. Not ever right in my view. It is a dangerous precedent that could be used against those who are clamouring for it today. But what that exposes also is the inability of the government’s legal machinery to use existing laws to try the suspects.
President Koroma has also been challenged in the area of reigning in on his ministers some of whom, he knows, are not delivering. He himself said this when he was assessing them and he used the excess passenger analogy.
Besides, some of his ministers have travelled so many times in the last few months with little, if anything to show for it. Travels that have been at the expense of tax payers. My sources say the president has not been happy with some of these travelling ministers at all. But the fact he cannot reign in on them, couple with the long hiatus in naming his cabinet, is not really indicative of a presidential president. At least not in his first one year in office.
My hope is that that does not continue throughout his first term as seemed to have happened during former president Tejan Kabbah’s first term in office. He only started proving decisive when he was given a second mandate. Since President Koroma may not be second time lucky, he needs to be really assertive to make that second mandate more likely.
But perhaps the biggest challenge for both the government and the opposition in the last one year has been the lack of any serious mechanism to reconcile the country. I said this yesterday and will say it again today. The wedge is widening. The wound is deepening. People are recoiling more and more into their corners and seeing themselves more and more different to the other. This is bad for out nascent democratic credentials.
The government has failed in bringing its supporters under control. We all definitely have everything to lose with instability, no doubt. But the government has more to lose. Investors will be half-hearted at best in pouring their money into such country.
I think, rightly or wrongly, that both the APC and the SLPP are new in their current statuses. The way things were done when the APC were last in power is different to the way things are done in this Internet age. They cannot continue to coerce people to support them. They should ignore opposition to their reign and concentrate their synergy towards achieving. They cannot cow the people as they used to in the 1970s and 1980s.
Invariably, the SLPP are not used to being in the opposition. This is their first taste of it in the Internet age. As a result, they are pursuing it the wrong way. Probably reading from the APC’s hymn sheet. They should be less confrontational and be soft in their hardness. There are times we commend something or someone and it sounds as if we are condemning them. The tone! Both parties must all avoid biliousness. I have the feeling they have all learned some lessons in the last one year and will perform better in the coming year.
Good luck! By Umaru Fofana