It must have taken a whole lot to make it happen. Happen it did anyway. A few weeks ago leaders, never mind supporters, of the governing All People’s Congress and the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party would not look at each other in the face. The hate that’s inside could be easily read on the face. It was palpable. It was scary. It was baying for blood.
But a deluge of thanks to especially the Executive Representative of the UN Secretary General in Sierra Leone, Michael Schulenburg, the two parties committed themselves to peace and stability in the country by denouncing violence among a list of things they agreed to do. The stress Mr Schulenburg had had to go through was very evident as even the well air-conditioned conference hall at State House could not keep the oil off his face. Good job. And his reward can only be the parties respecting their signatures.
That said one important point was made by the Administrative Chairman of the All People’s Congress party, Birch Momodu Conteh which had somehow been made by the visiting British Minister for overseas development, Ivan Lewis. Mr Conteh, who looked quite relaxed and full of smile, expressed sadness that despite the civil war in our country which I dare say affected all families our politicians would still need the international community to bring them together. The UK minister had earlier said in answer to a question that Sierra Leone must take over its sovereignty. The diplomatic community should only come in to make us reach the top of the hill but not to lift us off.
When I met the minister at the DfID office for an interview yesterday afternoon, he had just met with the political leaders. Without these leaders knowing I was around, it was impressive how the secretaries-general of the two parties were chatting as they came down the stairs. And the rest of the delegations were so convivial. This is what they should show to their different sets of supporters. So when I asked the UK Minister Lewis what he had told the parties, he was brutally honest. He had told them to reign in on their supporters and spare this “most beautiful country” another cycle of violence. No better way to put it.
In any case, the UN and the rest of the international community here including the UK, US and Nigerian governments did a spectacular job in bringing our two quarrelling political parties to yesterday’s signing ceremony. But that is as far as they can go. The rest rests with the protagonists. And the UK minister warned that they must stick to the accord. In diplomatic circles, they have warned of consequences if anyone behaved to the contrary.
At State House there were broad smiles, hugs and back-slapping and even head-rubbing between leaders of the country’s two main political parties – the only parties that have ruled this country since independence and have largely been behind the military coups that have ventured into their territory. They must redeem themselves this time around by living to the letter and spirit of the ceasefire they signed yesterday and ensure it sticks and becomes permanent.
The opposition leader John Benjamin looked angry, or at least did not look happy, at the signing ceremony. But even though he had a shaky voice to show this he made a brilliant speech that committed him and his party to peace and development in the country. The best way of assuring and ensuring peace and prosperity would be to say goodbye to violence and injustice he said. And if anybody thought the SLPP was questioning president Koroma’s leadership of the country that must have been put to rest by Mr Benjamin’s repeated reference to the president as such. He however appealed that the president should be seen as president for all Sierra Leoneans.
This point is particularly crucial because even though most people see the president as unproblematic, they believe some of the wrongdoers hide under the cloak of supporting him or his party. They are not. They are destroying them and must not be backed.
The president sounded magnanimous and graceful, assuring that the police and other law enforcement agencies would speed up investigations into the attack on the opposition headquarters on 13 and 16 of March not least the allegations that that there were cases of rape during the melee. The president even committed himself to an independent review of the events of the past weeks and promised he would call the parties involved to set up a panel to carry out the review.
The president sounded honest and lamented over the fact that recent disturbances had done a lot of damage to the country’s standing overseas. How true! But in all this, he reminded all of the pride that the two parties had come together to dialogue if only for the peace of the nation. And in what made me nod in agreement, he mentioned the T word – TOLERANCE in politics and urged all to so be. Such a statement can only draw marvel. Absolute exhibition of statesmanship!
But the leaderships of two political parties need reminding that if they renege on this accord, they have no business leading even a social club let alone a national political party ruling or wanting to rule a country. If anyone has been wondering why Somalia has been left almost alone, then it is the culture of its political leaders doing the same thing wrong over and over again. The world community that has put so much into our stability and continues to do so cannot afford the resources and synergy to keep talking between and among our political leaders like babies. These leaders must rise up to the challenge and be able to do the right thing no matter the circumstance. There are competing demands for world attention in conflict and potential conflict areas around the world.
As for the freelance unemployed youth who think the way to survival is through political violence, they should rethink and ask themselves how many of the politicians they claim to be fighting for have their children or even direct relations in these crowds. It is clear it not a conviction thing. They are jobless. And the president struck on the right chord when he said that the real development and peace was encapsulated in jobs for the youth. Both parties must now pull their energies towards attracting aid to the country. And those who talk for the parties should be trained in how to talk without sounding inflammatory.
“The values that hold us together are stronger than the issues that divide us…we share the same friends, relatives, religions, traditions and concerns for the progress of our nation” President Koroma said yesterday. And the more this is said, meant and implemented, the better and faster we can deliver on the bread-and-butter issues which are really what concern the ordinary man. Not violence under the cloak of one political party or another. Over to you APC and SLPP!
By Umaru Fofana