Way back in 1996 when Sierra Leoneans defied threats from both the military and the rebels if voting was insisted on, they were steadfast and undaunted in their resolve. Elections were held albeit in a less democratic way. The proportional Representation strategy was used since some parts of the country were not accessible. At the time the expression “level playing field” was being popularised by the then INEC boss James Jonah who actually turned out to be larger than the Biblical whale. The rest is another chapter of the modern Sierra Leone History. The question is, is there ever any level playing field in life. Even when football teams are playing in the most modern stadia, they change sides. What seems to be gradually becoming characteristic of the average sierra Leonean state actor is that they handle critical national issues with levity until the shit hits the fan.
Events of the past two weeks hinging on rights and security give credence to the fact that all the efforts at building peace seem to be mere wasted journeys. Just listen: if a house is not brought down in Leicester and thuggery rejuvenated, a doctor and an MP in Magburaka are trading insults; or if irate and poor citizens in Lungi are not crying for the blood of the doctor who allegedly insists on cash before operation, political party members are resigning like flies from the PMDC never mind the feeble cry for the so called third force. If the Congo market women are not refusing to pay dues to City Council, the youths of government Wharf are having a stand-off with the City Council over the legitimacy of the occupancy of the former. Now the latest perhaps is the advocacy for the return of the PR System which was used when the the war was still on.
I am gradually getting to the point where I am beginning to think that democracy seems to be proving a very heavy load to carry. But of course people usually say that “Word nar mot nor to load nar ead.” But come to think of it, is it not high time Word nar mot became Load nar ead? Do we continue to hail state liars? No democracy will thrive in a country where consultations with all shades of opinions are not sought. Democracy is indeed a difficult pill to take but it has to be taken if we have to have the cure we all yearn for. In a democratic dispensation the minority will have their say, but the majority will have their way. What appears strange in Sierra Leone is that we have been so used to bad governance for so long that even in recent years when we have started seeing the semblance of good governance, we do not seem to recognize it.
One major issue we have to tackle is donor dependency. Until we cut down drastically on our current dependency, we can hardly do our citizens right. Take your mind back to the 2007 Elections. A lot of issues were out of joint in terms of boundary delimitation. Because of financial constraints constituencies had to be reduced, at least so we were told. Well the major factor taken into consideration was the population. Agreed but there are other factors like the topography, communication and nearness to certain amenities. In the 2008 Local council elections, whole two, three or four chiefdoms were clustered. Some wards had to flow over chiefdoms causing confusion in identifying polling centers. Well granted that all these were done, taking into consideration the prevailing constraints. However the two elections passed off as fairly free fair and transparent.
One major burning issue to address in African elections is the required 55% for presidential candidates to be declared winner. Looking at the ethnicity dynamics, this sounds very ludicrous. Because many parties draw their support from tribal and regional sentiments, it is indeed difficult for one candidate out of five or say seven to get that 55%.We all know that family pressure in Africa is a real force and the last thing a man would want to be accused of is bringing dishonor to his kith and kin. Even when people go wrong as long as they belong to our family, we give them a blind eye. The same happens with partisan politics – sure one’s party cannot be wrong, it must be the other party.
Over the years we have seen that people actually vote for parties and not individuals. Interestingly with the past two elections this writer actually voted for three different parties – can this be voting ones conscience? It is however difficult for a lot of people. Well it is the way of the world – while some people die of malnutrition, others die of obesity. I strongly do not believe that opting for democracy means going the whole hog. Common sense has to come into play. There should be some compromise between the law and the reality. Democracy is not really carrying out a law to the letter when that law is inhuman and debasing. Take some of the contents of the public order Act – many are at variance with present day realities. But yet we are told the law is the law! Without a good democratic foundation there can hardly be good governance. Governance is generally said to be good when among other things it has some basic elements like: ensuring good life; acquisition of knowledge and access to resources.
Forget about the MDGs for the time being as it is a horse that has had too much flogging of late especially with the celebrations of the Midwife’s and Nurses. For a country among the highest with maternal and infant mortality, we can hardly discuss the MDGs with heads up high.
Let us come back to these elements of good governance. Good Life: Abject poverty, ignorance and the inadequacy of health facilities are not the proper ingredients to achieve good health. Acquisition of knowledge: Everybody agrees that information is power, but how many go for this information? How much do our people know? Is information dissemination decentralized and deconcentrated? Some one once said that Sierra Leone is practicing Litrocracy. This is governance by the literate. Is this not to a large extent true? Our official Language is English yet some seventy percent of our citizens are illiterate. We cannot have good governance when the bulk of our citizens are ignorant of things it is there right to know. Surely democracy cannot thrive in this kind of situation. What I am saying is that we cannot be happy about the strides at elections alone as indicators of good governance and democracy. Any commission or omission that adversely affects people’s livelihoods does not reflect democratic ideals or good governance. What is the use of a democratically elected government when its people die of hunger or wallow in poverty? The improvement of the lives of vulnerable people goes in line with good governance and democracy. The third element of good governance is the Access to recourse: This is where the greatest drama takes place. People should be able to explore their potentials to the fullest in a democratic state. Take the case of poor kids taking the NPSE who did not know about the change of date and others who took the exams right into the night on candles! Take the case of qualified young graduates who cannot find jobs after graduation. Do you know why the Freetown city is over crowded? One reason is because the facilities abound in the city albeit still not to the standards of other countries in West Africa.
I vividly remember after spending 7 years working in Kenema I came back to Freetown in December 2008. One morning I went to the British Council to renew my membership of the Library. Little did I know that the British Council Library had long been transferred to the Sierra Leone Library Board. It’s like the kind of embarrassment Former President Jerry Rawlings had when he forgot that he had left power and was expecting his driver to take the bend to government house thinking he was still in power. They say call no man happy until he is dead. Look at this stupid swine flu. We are told the younger you are the faster it kills you because it turns your strong youthful immune system against you. Of course Sierra Leoneans who’ve been used to eating chicken with the runny nose may not worry. We hope our government will never think of taking the swine flu reaction on our youth. Just do not use the youthful effervescence of youth to bring them down. This reminds me of the flu epidemic in Sierra Leone around 1918 the intervention for which actually started the humble beginnings of what later became the Sierra Leone Red Cross.
Now there is talk of the passing into an Act of Parliament of the Freedom of Information Bill and final touches on the National Youth Commission document for passing into law. These have to be thoroughly understood. But oh yah in this country we like to run first before walking and no sooner we begin walking than we realize we have missed our way, there and then we start moving painfully backwards. Take the so called gender acts and cross match them with what is obtaining in the rural areas where some 70 % of our population reside – do you see the point? How can parliamentarians visit their constituents when there are all these bills they need to pass with break neck speeds! Can you blame them?
Another issue that affects our democracy and governance standpoint is that our political bonds dilute our perception of morality because in our social spaces the legal and the moral are not always synonymous. No matter how moral you can take the law profession to be they are always on both sides of wrong and right, the truth and the lies. So infact in each legal battle there are lawyers and Liars. If you doubt this take a case to court and watch it grow. Indeed we are yet at the state of Jivika democracy. Or don’t you think so?
By S. Beny SAM (firstname.lastname@example.org)