For the first time since independence from Britain in 1961, we finally voted directly for mayors for our municipalities on 5 July. Like many unchecked legacies of British colonialism whose usefulness or otherwise we have not seriously debated, we could only vote for mayor in six municipalities. It begs the question why Bonthe should be a municipality while Magburaka or Port Loko or Kailahun is not.
It is akin to the other discrimination that makes some families – namely Ruling Houses – superior to others; making them the only ones eligible to contest to become Paramount Chief. But the essence of this piece is not so much about these issues. Rather, it is about how the results of the recent local and municipal elections have exposed yet again, the sharp political dichotomy that exists in our country.
The results have a sad outlook for those of us who believe we should cohere. They show, very clearly, that we are divided as a nation between north and south. It is probably not news that the country’s two main political parties are rooted in regionalism and tribalism; with minority tribes and a couple of swing districts tilting the balance depending on who or what their interest is at the moment.
The late Aiah Abu Koroma, father-in-law of the current president, was seen by many as the godfather for the Konos. He could hardly advance any serious reason for throwing his weight behind the SLPP after his defeat in the 1996 elections and subsequent to that. If his reason was trivial, the one given by the spokesman for the Kono Council of Chiefs for supporting the APC in the last local council elections was even galling.
Speaking in an interviewing on the Independent Radio Network, Chief Paul Tamba Wuseni Manga II defended tribalism saying it was “not a bad thing”. He said Kono chiefs were supporting the APC because the vice president is Kono. This is as sad as it is sickening. But Chief Manga II is not alone. Ask people in the north why they support the APC or those in the south and southeast why they support the SLPP. If they are honest to themselves, they will tell you it is because of regionalism or tribalism or both.
And this has been manifested in the results of the local council elections announced early this week. Of the dozens of wards in the south, the All People’s Congress could only win eight. Conversely, the Sierra Leone People’s Party could only manage two in the whole of the Northern Province, with both seats won in Kambia district. This is probably explained by the fact that there are members of the minority Susu tribe, where former president Tejan Kabbah hails from.
And in the whole of Kailahun district, the APC could not win a single seat. And in Kenema the party could only manage one ward, in Tongo Field, because of the large group of northerners mining in the area. But the good thing the APC did was that they managed to penetrate Bonthe by winning two wards there. But the SLPP was wiped off the face of Kono by managing only a single ward.
The politicians must be told that Sierra Leone deserves to smile now after crying for far too long. Many a time political leaders frown at tribalism and regionalism. However, both main political parties are guilty of preaching it at their convenience. Otherwise how could the regions be so consistent in their voting pattern?
In the run-up to the council elections, it was reported that President Ernest Bai Koroma would take his party to Kailahun and Kenema. Whatever happened to that plan! Whatever happened to Solomon Berewa’s announced trip to Makeni and other parts of the north! From this, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we are sinking into the trappings of what has the proclivity of making a good number of my compatriots hate each other based on their ethnicity. Who is responsible for their being a Mende or Themne or Limba or whatever ethnic group? They were merely born into it.
One may be tempted to argue that even in advanced democracies, there is generally a pattern of voting. Blue States and Red States such as in the United States. But issues and personality divide them in many instances. Otherwise a Republican in the person of Arnold Schwarzenegger would never have won in the most prosperous US state of California. If you are a southerner, have you asked yourself what the SLPP government did to develop your lot in the eleven years they were in power? They inherited and handed over a terrible road network to and within the province. Despite having some of the crème-de la-crème in the top echelons of power, what did they do for Pujehun which is one of the most under-developed in the country.
Or have northerners asked themselves what they could show for the APC were in power. This is why the electorate must treat some politicians with the contempt they deserve. Once they know you will vote for them based on region or tribe, they take you for granted. And this is a message civic groups should be preaching until it drills in.
But one thing the sharp divide in our country should teach our leaders is to make them work in the interest of the country and be not distracted by self-centred individuals. You don’t have to like former president Tejan Kabbah to accept that even though it took him a military coup to do so, he had a good blend of northerners and southerners in his cabinet. So much so that towards the end of his tenure, many south-easterners hated his guts for that.
And it is those who feel they made the president what he is that he must look in the eye and tell them they are bunkums. I hear that following the announcement of the final results for the presidential elections results in last September, president-elect Koroma paid his defeated rival Solomon Berewa an unannounced visit, after speaking with President Kabbah. My sources say the he told Mr Berewa that the margin of the result, about 20,000 votes, meant only that the country was divided and that it required the concerted the joint efforts of all three main political parties to move it forward. How far have we gone with that?
I have known the president for quite some time. And prior to his enthronement, we discussed a few things, not least in politics, with utmost frankness. He crossed me then – and largely still does up to now – as someone with sincerity of purpose. Despite having some tendency of hydrophobia, I know how difficult it is to swim against the tide. Figuratively speaking that is. But I know as well that the president can act, if he wants to, to bridge the gap in the country and let the people smile, making no region feel marginalised. By Umaru Fofana