The local economy in the northern districts of Bombali and Tonkolili must have gained a massive new lease of life last week and this. The observance last weekend of the anniversary of the Magburaka Boys’ School saw alumni of the school stream in to the area under the umbrella of the Magburaka Old Boys’ Association (MOBA). In a country where alma maters play a great role in governance you need look no further than the political role the past decades saw the Old Bo Boys’ Association (OBBA) play. A classic case of MOBA mobs OBBA.
Every room in every hotel in Makeni and Magburaka has been gone since last week I am told. The 750 delegates, observers, well-wishers and journalists have colonised the towns. And in case you are wondering what is happening there this week, the governing All People’s Congress party are meeting for their first national delegates’ conference since they came to power in 2007. And the reason for the venue – Makeni – begets no-one any prize. It is home of the party’s leader and President Ernest Bai Koroma and stronghold of the party. And if you are the colour RED, you are the proverbial Wole Soyinka ripest-fruit-being-the-saddest. Every one wants to pluck you.
It is 49 years since the party was founded by the man who kept defying all odds. First he became Mayor of Freetown as an opposition leader, and arguably the first man in sub-Saharan Africa to defeat an incumbent as head of government. Siaka Stevens’s epitaph, like most other political leaders’, is written in grey and in black and white. He was a nationalist leader, some would say, who wanted elections before independence in 1961.
Stevens’ admirers commend him for the development he brought as the country’s first president as evident in his landmarks including the National Stadium and the Youyi Building, among others. But his critics condemn him for undermining democratic values as evident in his muzzling of free speech and his introduction of one party system. But his party never ceased to amaze. In 2007 it sprang a shocker by repeating history and defeating the SLPP yet again at the polls. This, after being overthrown in a popularly acclaimed military coup just fifteen years before, and after struggling to make it to parliament in 1996 and in 2002.
This week’s convergence of the APC party has left the political spirit sprinting and spiralling but still within control it would seem. It comes some five weeks since the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party held theirs in their own stronghold in the southeast. It is time for a show of supremacy by the APC that they are the new old kids on the block. And it beams all light on them. Whatever happens there will reflect on the party and what it stands for. A peaceful end to the convention will mark peace within the party and throw away fears in some quarters that the legal gymnastics that characterised the party in the run-up to the 2007 elections emanating from a party conference, will recur.
But while supporters of the party have been beating their chest that their convention will eclipse that of the opposition by way of turnout and lavishness, many are praying that the party will not condone those things it criticised the opposition SLPP party when the latter were in power.
Among other things, the SLPP were notorious for either deliberately assembling at their convention civil servants who must remain apolitical, or turning a blind eye to them without raising a finger. In a country where some people’s consciences never learn any decent lessons, some of today’s civil servants may be readying themselves to travel to Makeni on tax payers’ money and time to attend the party’s convention. I will be surprised if President Koroma, who has brilliantly spoken a whole lot on the indecency of public servants taking over politicians’ job, does not reign in on this all-important issue at the conference.
But one other issue that will definitely occupy attention is the criticism levelled by some that the APC does not encourage competition. While I think everything should be done to keep cohesion within a party, and you ask SLPP what the opposite brings, some believe the issue of consensus as opposed to elections has in itself the tendency to breed disgruntlement. But I definitely believe that the pre-convention meeting that struck a deal, for want of a better word, to send unopposed the Youth Leader and Women’s Leader among others, was a fine idea. Getting the guns blazing even before the convention would have boded unfavourably for the party. But for the biggie, namely choosing the National Chairman and/or Leader and Secretary General should be determined by open and credible ballot.
One thing that also stands out or promises to is the inclusion of the opposition SLPP leader, John Benjamin at the APC party convention. True to the spirit and letter of the agreement signed by the two parties a few weeks ago, it is an opportunity to cement the peace accord signed by the two parties a few weeks ago. And an opportunity to show party stalwarts that there is more that unites us as brothers and sisters than divides us as members or supporters of one political party or another.
That said it is believed that there are two factions within the party and it will be interesting how they play along at the delegates’ conference. The one group, namely the reformists who are obviously led by President Koroma, have a serious battle at hand, with the conservatives not willing to give in. Which group gets what at the elections will serve as binoculars in being able to clearly see ahead. Before his election, President Koroma assured me in several interviews that it was not going to be business as usual either for the party or for the country if he won. He guaranteed that his party was a changed party that believed in the spirit and letter of democracy and good governance. But while he can be safely said to believe in that, the same cannot necessarily be said of some others in his party. The 750 or so delegates that are billed for the convention, have a monumental challenge ahead that will affect the party and by extension the country’s development. Which of the party’s constitutions they will use, could also raise some dust. There is one, I understand, that limits party leadership to two terms only. And there is another that is open ended.
President Ernest Bai Koroma has just addressed the nation on the Bumbuna hydroelectric project. While everything is almost complete on the project, we await divine intervention for the rains in the raining season to get the turbines swinging. The idea itself of keeping the nation informed, coupled with his recent frequent visits to the dam site, is real testimony of real interest in the completion of the dam. One reason that decades-old project has still not borne fruits, or at least we have not tasted them yet, is that visits by previous leaders to the site were few and far between. We can’t wait for the rains!
By Umaru Fofana