“In a bid to consolidate the peace and avert any slide to more violence”, reads an announcement from the civil society interface body, ENCISS, “the Government of Sierra Leone and ENCISS are organising a 2-day National Dialogue to let Sierra Leoneans talk as brothers and sisters.”
Rewind the clock a little and listen to what the UN Secretary-General said about the fragility that has known our country since the 2007 general and 2008 local council elections. “[The elections] exposed a deepening political schism and highlighted the increasing dominance of ethnicity and regionalism in the politics of Sierra Leone, which, if not addressed, could have a negative impact on peace consolidation efforts in the country”
This is badly needed. And whoever does not take a cue from our civil war of the 1990s as reason for us to jaw-jaw rather than war-war, is not fit to call themselves Sierra Leonean. We have shed too much blood as a nation. We have experienced at first hand what hatred begets a nation and a people. And we can anticipate very easily how much more that brings upon a nation.
It is better to talk for years, they say, than fight for even one day. The decision therefore by ENCISS to bring together all of us as a nation through our representative Paramount Chiefs, political parties, civil society organisations and government departments for a National Dialogue, is a step in the right direction.
I remember writing in this column sometime ago and calling for a National Consultative Conference. It is remarkable that something along that line is now being organised for the 6 and 7 May. A forum that will enable the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party who to all intents and purposes have been sore losers of the 2007 elections, to vent out whatever their grievances are and proffer what they think are solutions to get us out of the ever-recurring political clashes with supporters of the All People’s Congress party. The APC, who have been ungracious in victory, should also use this national dialogue as an opportunity to help cement the frosty relationship which, it must be said, has warmed of late since the communiqué signed by the two parties.
The political violence of March couple with the outcome of the last two elections have brought our country to a major crossroads and made it imperative the need for people of the Southeast to accept the Government, recognise its legitimacy and embrace the country. Government and its supporters should also encourage those aggrieved south easterners to foster national cohesion by promoting the rule of law and taking leadership in trust-building.
The APC party members and supporters must always remember that whereas peace and tranquillity is good for every Sierra Leonean, they as the party in power need it more. And the SLPP will always concede an own-goal should they be seen as the group that foment trouble to achieve chaos and set the government back. In stead of that serving as a political capital, it will simply hound them. But the fact that the APC are in power means government should do all it can to ensure the National Dialogue is fruitful and its outcome respected.
The dialogue should be well managed however so it does not escalate into a never-ending rambling discourse that will cause more problems than it will solve. It should not be like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report whose recommendations have been as unimplemented as the voluminous report has not been read by most.
Paramount Chiefs who represent their chiefdoms or districts as the case may be should put aside their political affinity and represent the ordinary people they should represent. The Dialogue should not be a reflection of how they dabble themselves in politics and coerce their people to oblige. Rather a forum for all by all. This is Salone first and so it must happen.
Civil society groups that have pitched tents with one political party or the other should dismantle those tents or rebuild it for Sierra Leone. We should all take a cue from the two Bintumani conferences of 1995 and 1996 which goaded this country to a path that brought us to where we are, namely democracy. The National Provisional Ruling Council used all their resources to tele-guide those conferences but the resolve of the people reigned like rain in the rainy season.
The theme of the Dialogue could hardly have been better chosen. “Consolidating the peace and embracing the country”. There is at present a peace process brokered by the UN and foreign embassies in Freetown following the clashes on 13 and 16 March this year. Consolidating that peace simply means holding the country together. Holding this dialogue is seeking to hold the country as one.
This dialogue which comes in the wake of our Independence Day celebration that brought together President Ernest Bai Koroma and Solomon Berewa – two men who contested the 2007 presidential election and two men who not long ago looked like sworn enemies – could not have come at a more appropriate time. I would even suggest that former president Tejan Kabbah and his vice president Solomon Berewa be allowed to make a statement at the Dialogue.
Sierra Leone has made many gains in post-conflict recovery. Such a Dialogue can only consolidate these gains and reverse the recent reversals evidenced by the recent political disturbances. We are too poor a country to allow our poverty to be exacerbated by tension and violence and hatred. It takes us nowhere but down there.
The National Dialogue is an opportunity for us to bury the hatchet and unearth the olive branch buried underneath it for years now. Let us walk as one family with one destiny. Jaw-jaw, not war-war is what we need. By Umaru Fofana