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Women in Leadership

Consolidating Democracy in Sierra Leone

Kenday S. Kamara asked:

A Return to Prosperity?

In September 2007, Sierra Leone had the opportunity to define her democracy for the first time after 41 years of many miscarriages in her democratic process. The September 8, 2007 run-off elections were by all means a defining moment in Sierra Leone’s democratic development. But the outcome of the elections, which confirmed the APC front-runner Ernest Bai Koroma as President, would become more meaningful when the political changes the country has experienced take hold if Koroma’s administration could position itself to consolidate the democratic gains made in the 2007 elections.  The 2007 parliamentary and presidential elections were Sierra Leone’s first truly democratic national contest in 4 decades and the victory of Ernest Bai Koroma—a former Insurance executive who ran on the platform of “zero-tolerance on corruption”—should put an end to 41 years of bad leadership.

In contrast to the dubious nature of electoral processes of the previous four decades, and much to the credit of the strong leadership of Dr. Christiana Thorpe (the National Electoral Commission (N.E.C.) chairman); the run-off elections were transparently conducted, and their outcome was incontestable. Koroma’s victory in 2007 has triggered hopes for profound change, and the caliber of the people President Koroma has chosen for his cabinet is testament to the direction he wants to take the country—that of development that is progressive and sustainable.

But it was not the first time Sierra Leone had experienced such optimism. In 1996, former head of state Ahmad Tejan Kabbah found himself at a similar turning point. He had become president after being helped by a N.E.C. led by Dr. James Jonah which was blamed to have manipulated the elections in favor of Tejan Kabbah against the veteran politician Dr. Karefa Smart after two rounds. Dr. James Jonah was consequently rewarded by Kabbah by appointing him Minister of Finance. President Kabbah was immediately consumed by a host of problems: a profoundly alienated country, a hostile and offensive press, the ill feeling of the U.S. for his friendship with Iran and Libya, and the rancor within a military establishment angered by the fact that the militia Kamajors were more trusted and favored by a defense department whose day to day activities were administered by a “Kamajor chief” (Hinga Norman) as Deputy Defense Minister.  Despite being dignified in many ways, President Kabbah was also impossibly careless and irresponsibly negligent. And thus, instead of marking the start of a stable Sierra Leonean democracy, Tejan Kabbah’s ten-year government ended with nothing to be proud about.  Again, it is worthy of note that in April 1997, President Kabbah was ousted from office in a coup d’état by Lt. Col. Johnny Paul Koroma — setting off a period of ten months interregnum and plunging the country into sadistic chaos. The governance vacuum created by the A.F.R.C. junta rule did not end until February 1998, when President Kabbah ordered a bloody military intervention using ECOMOG forces led by the Nigerian General Maxwell Kobe to force the junta out of power. President Kabbah was restored as head of state. He was again expected to guide a return to peace in the country and guiding the prosperity of Sierra Leone by laying the foundation for a stable and progressing nation. But again, President Kabbah could not assure that peace in the country. Instead Sierra Leone’s manipulated democracy faced risks that ultimately led to the veiled negligence of President Tejan Kabbah. Can 2007 now mark the return of prosperity in Sierra Leone? 

Only fundamental consensus on the major objectives of the state can provide a society with a secure basis for democracy, and the new Sierra Leone seems to have such an agreement between its principal political actors. The outcome of the August 11 presidential and legislative elections held with the backing, notably, of the European Union (E.U.) and the United Nations (U.N.) with Ernest Koroma’s party winning 59 seats; the incumbent party of Solomon Berewa winning 43 seats; and the newly formed P.M.D.C. party of Charles Margai winning 10 seats brought about a convergence of will between Koroma’s A.P.C. and Margai’s P.M.D.C. from a common determination to end S.L.P.P. misrule in Sierra Leone in the wake of the second round of presidential elections held September 8, 2007. Therefore, the winning parties of the 2007 elections are the APC and the PMDC parties. These parties are both abundantly gifted with resources, authority, and persuasive skill, and can possibly establish a basic consensus with one another to guide the country through prosperity. The unity between the two parties and their understanding to support that unity has kept contemporary Sierra Leone in a state of governmental optimism.

Governmental optimism is already being demonstrated following the selection of cabinet ministers which included some of the gifted resources of the PMDC party (Dr. Soccoh Kabbia as Minister of Health; Mr. Benjamin Davies as Minister of Lands, Country Planning and Environment; and Mr. John Saab, as Minister of Housing and Infrastructural Development) to ensure that the P.M.D.C. is involved in nation building and making Sierra Leone governable from a broad platform of political ideologies. Another demonstration of governmental optimism is the appointment of the human rights activist and chief civil affairs officer to the U.N. Mission in Liberia, Mrs. Zainab Bangura as Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Lango Deen, an insightful contributor to the Leonenet Forum administered from the University of Maryland in the United States summed up Zainab Bangura’s appointment in this brilliant assessment, stating: “When President Bush nominated Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State he said, “In Dr. Rice, the world will see the strength, the grace and the decency of our country.”  I am no President Koroma, but I’d like to say the same of Zainab Bangura. She is at ease with herself and no stranger to the global stage.  By nominating her for this high profile job, President Koroma has included all Sierra Leonean women as equal partners in the national endeavor. It is clear the president is aiming for a full engagement of Sierra Leonean women.”

In a country where conditions are so bad and a country that has experienced all sorts of chaos, any combination of party ideologies to inspire genuine social change is a giant step in the right direction. From such cooperation there will be a basic consensus on how to establish a firm rule of law. Organized crimes of corruption which have turned many Sierra Leoneans into innocent victims deprived of what their nation has to offer (which all members of the previous S.L.P.P. government failed to even recognize, for selfish reasons of their own). A cooperation of this nature again makes it easy for other aspects of the national agenda to be driven by general consensus to determine, for instance, the right ways to create wealth, economic growth, or employment; on how to modernize the energy sector; on how to combat poverty and inequality. In the last ten years, Sierra Leone’s political leaders have even failed to consider the value or the viability of the public institutions and the huge financial liabilities (such as those created by the relentless corruption of unscrupulous cabinet ministers and senior public servants and specific party privileges) being a continuation of the old.

All this obvious and underlying cooperation will inspire the furthering of democracy in Sierra Leone. The 2007 elections have demonstrated that the people of Sierra Leone who have been beaten too long by successive regimes have learned to appreciate the essence of democracy. Voting Koroma as President is a safeguard of the democratic process with Sierra Leoneans voting in a manner that tr
anscends their immediate tribal interests. President Koroma must now behave as a head of state for all Sierra Leoneans, not just a
representative of his party or his ethnic group. Then of course, civil society can contribute in many ways to help promote stability in the country. The media (local and international) has to be objective and impartial in their presentation and analysis of issues. However, going the right direction with the opportunity of becoming the number one man in Sierra Leone is the major responsibility of President Koroma’s APC government. It is up to him and his party whether Sierra Leonean democracy advances or is muzzled again, whether corruption is firmly dealt with or not dealt with at all. The humble but firm persona of Ernest Koroma gives some indication that he will rise above his short-term interests to consolidate Sierra Leone’s progress toward democratic stability.

The Promise of a Successful Presidency

The All People’s Congress (APC) has existed for 40 years. From its beginnings as a minor opposition party in a new independent country it had defended the rights of workers. The A.P.C. under Siaka Stevens showed an impressive tenacity in resisting and surviving the assaults of the S.L.P.P. machine. But this has also meant that with Siaka Stevens gone, the A.P.C. became more focused on limiting power than on exercising it — a quality that hurt the party when Joseph Momoh took over the presidency.

Like in 1967, the A.P.C. had another historic moment in 2007, and it had in Ernest Koroma a leader who, as the head of a veteran pro-democracy movement, “mesmerized Sierra Leoneans” — just as Siaka Stevens had done in his initial presidential campaign against Albert Margai, in 1967. (That campaign was truncated by Siaka Stevens’ exile to Guinea following the Brigadier Lansana coup d’état, but the unrest that ensued catapulted him to the presidency nonetheless.) For this impact, Koroma deserves much credit. Still, Koroma’s A.P.C. party carries some of the blame for the hard times and the degeneration of political life in the country. The performance of the A.P.C. during its 24 years of misrule (1968 – 1992) sowed the seeds of Sierra Leone’s chronic stagnation and stark deterioration of political life. And it could be a possibility for the sins of the A.P.C. under Siaka Stevens and Joseph Momoh’s leaderships to come to undermine Koroma’s status as “the champion of democracy” if he fails to use his initiative and be his own man to bring sanity in governance in Sierra Leone by any means necessary.

As president, Koroma has the opportunity to do enough real good. He has the right composition in Parliament—an A.P.C. majority plus the 10 seats of the P.M.D.C party under his belt. With good use of the emergency powers leverage he has to get Parliament to quickly act on various essential projects, the S.L.P.P. members in Parliament do not have the numbers to block Koroma’s projects. Koroma simply has to stave off any internal rivalries within his party to avoid possible stalemate from his own party ranks that would work against his cogent and logical catalog of obligatory reforms.  Koroma himself cannot make his party see any significant limitations in his persona. His personality cannot be unpredictable and be disposed to impulsive decisions, bizarre statements, and a lack of leadership and direction at critical moments.

Koroma can also learn how to keep his wife from intruding into the process of government and not make statements in public that may come to hurt his presidency.  It is clear that his cabinet choices so far will help him. By selecting the best possible people for his cabinet and the initiative he has taken to reach beyond the party for the best will help his presidency to succeed. Koroma can maintain a long-lasting public affection because his lingering popularity largely stems from the fact that he is a new kid in public life with no baggage. Many Sierra Leoneans view him as a “good man.” Moreover he deserves credit for some real accomplishments of his own as head of an insurance company he competently managed as Managing Director for over a decade. With his insurance background, Koroma can therefore use that experience to succeed in preserving macroeconomic stability and work to reduce unemployment or significantly improve growth. He has to respect the division of powers, the independence of the judiciary, and the principles of good governance.

By introducing and implementing a law requiring open financial accounting in government that again will certainly reduce corruption. By also introducing various democratic reforms on labor and management issues, will continue to expand democracy in the country. With the media guru and erstwhile President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (Ibrahim Ben-Kargbo) now at the helm of the information ministry, Sierra Leone will now enjoy true freedom of expression, and will be an important achievement for Koroma’s government.

The people of Sierra Leone cannot afford to be disappointed this time. Koroma has presented himself to be a great and colorless leader during his campaigns in 2002 when he lost to former President Tejan Kabbah and in 2007. He thus has to fulfill his promises to fight crime and insecurity and to generate tangible social change and progress—his apparent commitment to which won him much support among poor Sierra Leoneans in 2007. Koroma is likely to occupy a place in history very much like that of Sir Milton Margai: immortalized as a considerate and respected figure who made tangible social progress during the short time he was Prime Minister of Sierra Leone.

The ousted S.L.P.P. thought the people of Sierra Leone had placed a final judgment on the A.P.C. because of its dismal record of 24 years of misrule and blatant brutality (from 1968 to 1992) that would affect the fortunes of the A.P.C. candidate in 2007. Evidently, the A.P.C. got a second chance because of its contributions to Sierra Leone’s democracy over the past ten years as the leading opposition party in Parliament. The party found an excellent candidate in Ernest Bai Koroma. The son of a veteran Electoral Commissioner (Sylvanus Koroma), he is honest, intelligent, hardworking, and, at 55, relatively matured for the job. Ernest Koroma and the A.P.C. have managed to win the presidency, and the prognosis for a creative government would now depend in part on his political competence and strength as a leader, but even more on his capacity to establish alliances with disaffected members of the defeated parties — something easier said than done. The good thing is that the P.M.D.C. “positive change” ideologues have allied themselves with the A.P.C. in Parliament giving the A.P.C. an overwhelming majority. Koroma’s victory is therefore a sweet one, because he would not encounter any kind of parliamentary resistance to get his job done. Thus, Sierra Leone clearly has the opportunity now to start truly deliberating and undertaking necessary reforms.

With the outcome of the 2007 elections in favor Ernest Koroma and his party, it is clear that the S.L.P.P. was instead punished because of the widely held perception that Kabbah and Berewa had not governed effectively. With that being the case, the S.L.P.P. has a chance to draw lessons from its ten years experience with power, to promote the rise of new and charismatic leaders, to rekindle its image and its now- obsolete platform of demonizing the A.P.C., to distance itself from its tribalistic traditions (still strong within the party), and to prepare itself for the elections of 2012. As a strong party of opposition, the S.L.P.P. could perform responsibly in Parliament; help to simplify issues for the public; and continue to toil in general for democracy and political harmony. And it can persuasively press on for improved economic programs that support the legitimate creation of wealth, foreign investment, and standard fiscal and monetary policies.

Misused Opportunities, Five Years in “Politic
al Purgatory”

After losing the presidency in 2007, the S.L.P.P. can now start thinking of regrouping more
successfully. In fact, the defeat may be to the S.L.P.P.’s long-term benefit, because it gives the party a chance to clean up its image.

The S.L.P.P. can better position itself as an ideological powerhouse: the party can push for more refined economic and development measures or it can push for openness and a message of one nation, one people — whichever suits the moment. But the party has to work very hard to push well-refined economic and development ideas this time because the moral burden of its past is considerable. Under S.L.P.P. rule, Sierra Leone was tormented by violent confrontations because of opportunities mismanaged by a power that had the democratic legitimacy but became a corrupt oligarchy.

When Tejan Kabbah became president in 1996 — after the “self-made Brigadier General” Maada Bio was forced to end his junta rule that year opening the gates to electoral democracy — he had the full support of the international community. His government received millions of dollars in aid money. Many Sierra Leoneans were not happy that Kabbah’s government mismanaged monies donated by the international community to help with post-war reconstruction. The party’s defeat in the 2007 elections is partly because of aid money and in kind donations (Gaddafi’s rice donation) that did not benefit the people. The S.L.P.P. leadership had filed an injunction against the credibility of the presidential run-off results, but the party’s leaders eventually recognized their defeat — in part because they understood that by peacefully accepting their descent from power, they could begin to purify their long record of tyranny and corruption. In typical fashion, the A.P.C. reoriented itself and, treading very carefully, set about reviving its political fortunes.

A presidential victory for the A.P.C. was within the bounds of possibility. Voters came to fear that an S.L.P.P. government would continue to plunder the country and to divide the country by obvious tribalism and nepotism; and a P.M.D.C. government too inexperienced because it is a new party; as such the A.P.C. became a compelling lesser evil. With the A.P.C. winning, in addition to the presidency, enough seats in Parliament, it was grateful to offer some positions in government to the P.M.D.C. Together, the A.P.C. and the P.M.D.C. could now secure a workable parliamentary majority, one that would be able to enact needed structural reforms. Some analysts are suggesting that to stave off the dangers of distracting dissension and even violence, the A.P.C. can extend the same offer of “cohabitation” to the S.L.P.P., although that does not sound like a good idea because the S.L.P.P. had misused opportunities during its ten years of rule, therefore, in the next five years it is reasonable for it to be in “political purgatory” to reflect on and repent its gross miscalculations.

The A.P.C. has proven to be synonymous with “the Sierra Leonean political system,” even though its previous 24 years of misrule continue to weigh heavily on its reputation and possible future. Today, however, its ranks include many experienced political professionals and technocrats, a number of them honest men and women, and the party seem to have a great deal of prestige or credibility among younger Sierra Leoneans. It has put forward some strong, qualified candidates for ministerial positions.

The A.P.C. was wise to choose a presidential candidate with a fresh face and a reputation for honesty — someone like Koroma, who has a moderate, pragmatic left-wing ideology that proved very attractive to Sierra Leonean voters. Koroma is not linked to the A.P.C’s dark past of manipulation, corruption, and disinformation. His choice as front-runner of the party did help to end the years the A.P.C. has been in “political purgatory.”

Consolidate Democracy Now or Die Trying

In many ways, the victory for a modern left-wing popular front — much like those that govern Botswana in south-central Africa through “a relatively uncorrupt bureaucracy accountable to government and with the economic underpinning of increasing resources distributed through government” (Neil Parsons) — is the best possible result for Sierra Leone in 2007. Fortunately, the reformed A.P.C. has the attributes of such a party. The A.P.C. seems to favor retaining complete state dominance of the minerals and agricultural industries and is in no way skeptical of free markets and foreign investments, labor reforms, and the worldwide integration of humanity (globalization) — a body of proclivities the A.P.C. leadership has shown a propensity to steadily adhere to as a reborn and modern party of the left that has long adjusted its ideological schema to reality.

Meanwhile, President Koroma has to prove that he is a strong and assertive president. But he also has to show that he is not going to manipulate power through messianic demagoguery. Preferably, he has to be fully committed to the autonomy of the judiciary and the demarcation of powers, to a free press, and to complete fiscal transparency and accountability in government; a respect for autonomous institutions such as the central bank; and coordinating a violence-free government strategy, especially when reforms can be accomplished peacefully with composure. These are all necessary tenets in an open democratic society, and some of Koroma’s past conduct (showing a propensity toward humility to accept defeat in 2002 and a spirit of reaching out to his opponents within his party who repeatedly challenged his leadership) suggests that he may respect them. A choice not to respect these tenets at the national level could put the consolidation of democracy itself at risk.

With the A.P.C. victory by such a large margin, Koroma must waive any inclination to revive the one-party state in Sierra Leone like his predecessor (Siaka Stevens) did. As president, Koroma would have to contend with a plethora of challenges. If he honors the fundamentals of an open democratic society, of the rule of law and the inalienable rights of individuals, he will have every clout to implement his social and economic projects, so long as he conducts himself in the ambit of reality rather than conceptual ideology. But if Koroma rebuffs these fundamentals, then Sierra Leone is going to lose yet another opportunity to consolidate its democracy and his government like the S.L.P.P. government under Tejan Kabbah and Solomon Berewa will (by 2012) die trying.

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