We are six months removed from the last general elections. The victorious party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), has by all accounts made an impressive start to its tenure in office. Domestic revenue mobilization has improved while the crackdown on corruption has intensified. Also, president Julius Maada Bio and his men have launched the Free Quality Education initiative, an initiative that has received much plaudit both in and out of Sierra Leone. But how’s the country’s opposition doing? In what that follows, I summarize my impression so far of the opposition:
1. ALL People’s Congress (APC). The APC is the largest party in parliament. However, the party's numerical strength has not been used to the benefit of the party or the country. Currently, the APC is a disorganized group of rabble rousers with no concrete agenda for the future. If the party’s loyalists are not spreading false propaganda in social media, they are orchestrating intra-APC violence and blaming it on the governing SLPP. Also, desperate members of the APC are fanning the disgusting embers of tribalism and sectionalism. This is meant to create an atmosphere of political intolerance in Sierra Leone.
Specifically, those dismissed from lucrative diplomatic positions (they know themselves), have embarked on a campaign of calumny against president Bio. This is meant as a retribution against a president whose only sin is to fight corruption with one of the most regionally inclusive governments in the country’s history.
Below, I compare regional representation in Bio’s government with those of the governments of Ernest Koroma:
Koroma APC Koroma APC Bio SLPP
1st Cabinet 2007 2nd Cabinet 2010 Cabinet Jun 2018
North 15 68.2% North 17 70.8% North 8 27.6%
South 2 9.1% South 4 16.7% South 9 31.0 %
East 2 9.1% East 2 8.3% East 8 27.6%
West 3 13.6% West 1 4.2% West 4 13.8%
Source: RIP Pios Foray Forum.
The above information indicates that Bio’s government is more regionally inclusive than any of the two governments of Ernest Koroma. Bio has a higher percentage of Northerners and Westerners in his government than Koroma had of Southeasterners and Westerners in either of his two cabinets. Highly vindictive and overtly tribalistic and regionalistic, Koroma goes down in history as the father of political regionalism and intolerance in Sierra Leone. The former head of state’s alienating and belligerent feelings were particularly manifested in appointments that he made to top positions in government and diplomatic missions. Limbas, Lokos and to a lesser extent Themnes were Koroma’s prohibitive choice. Naturally, in and out of governance, the APC is corrupt and lawless. The party also has an unparalleled greed for power and notoriety.
Thus, the unexpected exit from power set in motion a chain of bizarre and psychotic behavior on the part of party membership. This trend has continued to reverberate around the country. To make matters worse, APC loyalists, especially in the diaspora, have been calling for a large-scale violence against the SLPP. Bad advice. A very bad advice. The Bio-led SLPP is different from the SLPP of the Margai’s and Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
The ranks of Bio’s PAOPA – SLPP are filled with civil war veterans who are adept at handling large scale violence, both urban and rural. Thus, no one needs to advice the APC that it would be totally eviscerated and exterminated if it ever launched an incautious strike against PAOPA. Violence must be condemned in all its forms as violence cannot be the foundation upon which a developmental state can be built. The APC must make a U-turn and renounce violence in all its form. The party must learn to respect the democratic process of which periodic elections are an integral part.
A common saying in Sierra Leone is that the APC has 99 tactics to win elections. Correspondingly, Siaka Stevens, the party’s founder, once remarked in 1977 that the APC cannot win free and fair elections in Sierra Leone. This may well explain why for the better part of its history, the APC has relied on unadulterated cheating at the polls and the abridgement of the voting rights of members of the opposition. Stevens himself was known for his broad day light robbery at the polls with the help of thugs who could kill or maim to realize their objectives. In more recent times, evidence abounds that with the help of Christiana Thorpe, Ernest Koroma stole two presidential elections.
Additionally, in the last presidential elections, several reports surfaced that the APC had made frantic efforts to bribe the national electoral commissioner, NFa Allie Conteh. This was meant to rig the elections in favor of the APC. But the move was rebuffed by the commissioner. Conteh could not allow his integrity and patriotism to be compromised by a bunch of nefarious and knavish losers. Consequently, the APC was left to fall hard on its face.
Despite losing the presidential elections, the APC won the highest number of seats in the House of Parliament. But awkwardly, despite its significant numerical strength in Parliament, the APC has not allowed that advantage to be felt by the nation. Through cynicism, bickering and lawlessness, the party lost the position of Speaker of the House and other significant positions to the ruling SLPP.
The problem with Africa’s political elite is that it is quick to forget that power is derived from the people and that those in governance must always promote the interests of the governed. Like other unscrupulous and iniquitous political formations in Africa, the APC government of Koroma abused and misused power with impunity while laughing all the way to the bank with stolen funds. But the people of Sierra Leone had the last laugh as they showed the APC the presidential exit.
Devoid of presidential power and authority, the APC currently finds itself in a new and strange political environment. This development has inflicted a feeling of spatial disorientation on party members. But a feeling of spatial disorientation or even that of cognitive dissonance cannot be an excuse for not embracing the democratic process. APC stalwarts continue to ferment tribalism and pockets of violence against the police and peaceful Sierra Leoneans. This must be a cause for serious concern.
2. National Grand Coalition (NGC): Following the monumental collapse of the NGC at this year’s polls, many pundits dismissed the party as a bad political experiment. This may well be true given that among other things, the party is so intricately tied to the apron strings of one man that it is sometimes difficult to determine if the NGC is a one man show, a movement or a political party.
Evidently, NGC’s organizational structure is weak. The party is dominated by His Royal Highness, King Kandeh Yumkella. But despite his over-powering personality, Yumkella has a trusted lieutenant in Andrew Kellie. However, Kellie looks more like a dedicated university provost than a politician capable of successfully going after votes in a multi-ethnic society. In the last elections, Kellie even lost his chiefdom to the SLPP. Ironically, the paramount chief of that chiefdom is Kellie's younger brother.
Ostensibly, beyond NGC’s organizational flaccidity and effete, the political immaturity and naivete of the party’s founders, have left the party with a significant presence only in the Western area and Kambia district. Arguably, there is a larger NGC membership in the diaspora than in Sierra Leone. A large diaspora following with big pockets provides the necessary funds for party operations. However, money alone cannot establish the political machinery that energizes the electorate and gets voters to vote for a party.
More importantly, notwithstanding his vaunted pronouncements, Yumkella may have underestimated the mammoth challenge that he faced in Sierra Leone. He was confronting what I call a resilient duopoly in Sierra Leonean politics. The two political firms of the duopoly are the SLPP and the APC, the oldest political parties in West Africa. The two have dominated the market for politics since Sierra Leone’s independence in 1961. Thus, power and leadership at every level of society have been the exclusive domain of the duopoly.
An important aspect of political behavior is that the duopoly anchors its operations in a reliable and potent system of ethno-regionalism. The natural outcome of this tendency is that Sierra Leone’s oldest political parties have the muscle and temerity to fight and crush any challenge to their supremacy.
Historically, third party forces have entered Sierra Leone’s political landscape with a bang. But they have always been subdued and blown away as political gravity has a way of asserting itself in favor of the effervescent duopoly. When, for example, a determined Dr. John Karefa-Smart riding on a large northern following beat the APC in the first round of the presidential elections in 1996, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the SLPP stopped the ensuing white noise by easily taking Karefa-Smart out in the runoffs. With one half of the duopoly winning, the duopoly survived.
More recently, a preface to this year’s elections was an ambitious NGC parade on the streets of Freetown just days before the opening of polls. Amid the big talk and braggadocio was the bold prediction that the NGC will bury the APC and the SLPP in an unmarked political grave. However, the results of the first round of voting showed otherwise. Yumkella was easily routed and humiliated. The NGC man only won Kambia district en route to receiving a paltry and dismal 6.9% percent presidential voting gift from Sierra Leoneans. And despite an assumed formidable party base in the Western Area, the NGC was eviscerated and massacred in both the Western Urban district and the Western Rural district.
As if the Western Area drubbing and dismantling were not bad enough, Yumkella and the NGC also lost by large margins to Bio and the SLPP in the North and to Samura Kamara and the APC in the South and the East. What these results demonstrated was that Northerners preferred Bio to Yumkella while Southeasterners preferred Kamara and the APC to Yumkella. Tellingly, this was yet another poignant reminder that it was sacrilegious and heretic to challenge the supremacy of Sierra Leone’s duopoly.
Evidently, the duopoly dominates the institutions of power in Sierra Leone. Consequently, it governs and determines the laws of competition in politics. When Ernest Koroma wanted to slow down the NGC momentum late last year, the former president simply activated the long forgotten TWO SIM law. The law disqualifies Sierra Leoneans with dual citizenship from running for the presidency and parliament. It also prohibits the holders of dual citizenship from being appointed to ministerial positions. Caught off-guard, a worried and physically shaken Yumkella dashed for the United States Embassy to renounce his United States citizenship.
Notwithstanding the apparent humiliation, Koroma’s awkward onslaught on the former UN man reverberated throughout the NGC thereby shaking the very foundations of that decrepit party. Since many of the NGC’s parliamentary candidates were TWO SIM guys with big pockets from the diaspora, a crestfallen Yumkella cried foul. But he had no choice but to bade farewell to his comrades from the dispora. They were replaced by lesser known and weaker candidates thereby setting the slippery slope in motion. At the time of the elections, there were rumors that the NGC was broke. The party won a pitiful four parliamentary seats, all in Kambia district.
Against all odds, the NGC continues to exist, albeit precariously. It has been reported that Yumkella will support president Bio’s diaspora initiative. The focus of that initiative is on allowing diaspora Sierra Leoneans to vote and run for parliament. This is understandable given that Yumkella’s large diaspora following would add to his voter tally in 2023. But the question is, would Bio want to give his wounded opponent a life line? No way. I believe that Bio would eventually modify the diaspora initiative to allow diaspora guys to run for parliament and hold ministerial positions without voting in elections. Diaspora voting rights empower Yumkella and the NGC, thereby weakening the duopoly.
3. Coalition for Change (C4C): C4C is the second largest opposition in Parliament. By all indications, C4C is in a big crisis. The party’s leader, Alhaji Samuel Samsumana, moved to Ghana after allegedly grabbing money from the APC and refusing to endorse the party for the runoffs.
Suspicions abound as to why the former vice president is avoiding visiting the United States. Is he afraid of his shadow while in the United States? On a more serious note, there have been several resignations of party executives including the high-powered lawyer, Kelvin Metzger. Whither C4C? There are also reports that Samsumana wants to tie C4C to the coattails of the corrupt APC.
4. Alliance Democratic Party (ADP): The ADP won no seats in parliament and is only in this review due to the notoriety of its leader. Mohammed Kamarainba Mansaray, ADP’s leader, has reportedly returned to the United States. It has also been reported that Kamarainba has always been a TWO SIM holder but lied about his dual citizenship when he decided to run for the presidency.
Further, Kamarainba has had a profanity-laced verbal exchange with his former running mate, Haja Isata Abdulai-Kamara, who is now the resident minister of the North-West. Haja Abdulai-Kamara reportedly had referred to Kamarainba as an idler, a liar and a thief who had no business leading a political party. Strong words for a man who had claimed to be a millionaire.