The All People’s Congress is the main opposition party in Sierra Leone and seems to work at odds with the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party. The undercurrent situation regarding a boycott of the peace and National Cohesion conference dubbed as Bintumai 3 has been described as eyesore in many quarters of the public. Now, in a lengthy position statement, the party did its best in stating the obvious problems standing between them and the SLPP. Here is that position statement:
PRESS STATEMENT ON THE BINTUMANI Ill ‘NATIONAL PEACE AND COHESION’ CONFERENCE TO BE HELD FROM 23 RD TO 25TH MAY 2019
Background to the Bintumanis
The APC would like to bring its position relating to the proposed Bintumani Ill to the people of Sierra Leone and the International Community. According to the SLPP, the Bintumani Ill is intended to serve as a forum for the establishment of a “National Commission for Peace and Cohesion” in Sierra Leone.
Bintumani I & Il were convened at a time when Sierra Leone was in a state of war and anarchy. Bintumani I was a meeting between two rebel forces — the Revolutionary United Front and the NPRC. Bintumani Il was the initiative of the people of Sierra Leone to determine whether Elections would be held before Peace. The NPRC Military junta then wanted Peace before Elections. The people of Sierra Leone who were in the majority chose Elections before peace and indeed the elections were held in 1996.
When President Kabbah declared the end of the war in January 2002, the responsibility for the maintenance of law and order and the building of peace and national reconciliation rested squarely with the government after Bintumani Il. To call for a Bintumani Ill is to go back to those years when we had no legitimate Parliament or President and the country was in war. The people of Sierra Leone with the help of the International Community won the war against the RUF and the NPRC. The war was not won by anyone one man or woman or by any one party or by one tribe or by any particular group of persons. The People of Sierra Leone won the war.
So the government that succeeded the military under Kabbah created peace and reconciliation. President Koroma continued the reconciliation process leading to 20 years of peace and harmony between the Presidents. The Kabbah and Koroma endeavours for peace epitomise the victory of reconciliation and atonement over vindictiveness, selfishness, and intransigence which this government is exhibiting in the height of SLPP intimidation and brutal behaviour.
The Bio Regime
President Julius Maada Bio inherited from the APC in 2018 a country that is rated the most peaceful in our region and one reckoned to be a nation in Africa where democracy has taken root. This is in addition to our notable progress in ‘Safety & Rule of Law, Participation and Human Rights’. Our army and police officers, who are widely acclaimed for their professionalism, now participate in international peace keeping. Civil liberties and democratic freedoms enjoyed by Sierra Leoneans under President Koroma’s leadership are unprecedented. Though constitutionally guaranteed, it is a fact that so far, it is only under the APC leadership that Sierra Leoneans of all categories enjoyed the highest levels of freedoms and human rights ever.
Now under President Bio the people produced a Parliament in which the APC had a majority and the SLPP had the Executive (Presidency). President Bio should not hide behind his inability to govern the country by asking a select few to proffer solutions in a Bintumani Ill. Such a move could easily be interpreted as ceding his responsibility to govern this country to a conference that has no legitimate power or authority. We have a Parliament which represents the people as a result of an election which was given a clean bill of health by both internal and external elections observers.
Since assuming power in 2018, the Bio government has embarked on a systematic abrogation of the Constitution and the harassment and intimidation of APC members and supporters as follows:
- Attempt to use the Judiciary to reduce the APC majority in Parliament first by injuncting 16 APC Members of Parliament and then using brute force to remove the entire 68 duly elected APC MPs and enthrone an SLPP Speaker and Deputy Speaker on the same day amounts to a treasonable act which the President as fountain of Honour and Justice must distance himself from. (Ref. To Section 79 of the Sierra Leone Constitution (Act No. 6 of 1991) and the Standing Orders of Parliament.
e On the Issue of Petitions against APC MPs; Section 78 (I) & (2) of the Constitution, Act No. 6 of 1991 provides that the High Court shall determine petition cases within 4 Months after the commencement of proceedings. In the case of our petitioned MPs the proceedings started on 19th April 2018. Up to this day 13 months after the start of proceedings the matters before the High Court have not been determined.
- A petition against the election of President Bio which was filed as far back as April 2018, has not been listed or assigned. We in the APC believe in the Rule of Law and not the Rule of Man. Consequently, we believe the Judiciary which has also refused to list and bring 32 petition cases brought against the SLPP by the APC must take this opportunity and re-establish its independence by throwing out of court the politically motivated petition cases against the APC which according to law should have been determined in August 2018.
- The Commissions of Inquiry were set up in clear violation of Section 150 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone. We deplore the behaviour of both the Chief Justice and the Attorney General demonstrating blind partisan loyalty to the SLPP led government. The Chief Justice also failed to appropriately respond to the filing by the APC Party on behalf of the Persons of Interest as represented by Dr. Samura Kamara and Mr. Paolo Conteh and even the Bar Association requesting the Supreme Court to interpret relevant provisions of the constitution and to determine whether due process has been followed in the ongoing Commissions of Inquiry; and did not heed to the advice from his Law Officers Department who admonished him to recuse himself from the matter because he cannot be a Judge in his own cause.
- We share our objections to the International Community, Civil Society Organisations, the Media and to all men and women of goodwill President Julius Maada Bio’s quest to fight against sexual offences but we do not share his declaration of a State of Emergency and we frown at the heavy-handedness of the Speaker in carrying the motion to approve the State of Emergency by a (mere collection of voices) contrary to the standard two-third majority vote and the Standing Order of Parliament 44 (4) and Section 29 of the Constitution. The Chief Justice had in fact ordered the judges to act on the President’s proclamation before even the issue was brought before Parliament.
- The APC Party and its members having been brutalized, raped and even killed on various occasions all over the country; the killings in Mile 91, Lumley and Wilberforce in Freetown and more recently in Pujehun and Tonko Limba; the massive sackings of Sierra Leoneans across the board and their replacement by SLPP Party loyalists without recourse to due process including the over 57 Regent Chiefs (Traditional Rulers) in the North of the country cannot constitute a basis for peace talks by the oppressor. The undue harassment and intimidation meted out to members of the security forces (Police and military) that served under the previous constitutionally elected former President Koroma; the changing of the guards without consent by the former President; and the undue travel ban and non-payments of benefits to former ministers of the APC Government.
The Green Paper
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a Green Paper is “(in the UK) a preliminary report of government proposals published to stimulate discussion.” A Green Paper is a Government publication that details specific issues, and then points out possible courses of action in terms of policy and legislation. Experts on Green Paper state that “It is commissioned from the relevant department if the Government feels that there is an area where new legislation is required, or existing legislation needs to be re-vamped. Crucially, a Green Paper contains no commitment to action, it is more a tool of stimulating discussion, but it is often the first step towards changing the law.” After publication, the suggestions contained in the paper will be up for public consultation and debate. The Government will talk to citizens, stakeholders and people with care needs to find out what they think. These discussions will then feed into the next stage of the process — the production of a White Paper.
Instead of proposing ideas for public discussion, the so-called Green Paper issues indictments against the APC and expects the party to join Government in discussing the particulars of the public indictment. An argument for a national conference cannot be persuasive when it maligns the APC in villainous terms by a false re-writing of the history of the Republic of Sierra Leone. It is regrettable after one year of pretending good governance practices, the SLPP administration has betrayed the good causes of democracy & pluralism, the rule of law, human rights and all it takes to optimize peace building in our nation.
It is a fact that the Minister of Political and Public Affairs, Mr. Foday Yumkella visited the former President in the company of one Madam Hawa Samai, a Consultant for the proposed Bintumani Conference and a representative from the UN Resident Coordinator. When they brought up the issue of a Bintumani Ill, the Chairman and Leader told them that it was untimely and he cannot promise attendance as he would have to discuss it with the Party. Furthermore, no commitment was made by the former President for the said conference to go ahead since he was not a party to the organization of the said conference. So the Party wishes to repudiate the assertions made on Radio democracy 98.1 that the chairman and Leader had accepted an invitation and given the green light for the conference to go ahead. Besides, the APC Party wishes it to be known that the Secretariat has not in any way received any formal invitation on behalf of the Chairman/Leader or the APC Party Secretariat to attend the Conference.
Among its feeble arguments for a national conference, its Green Paper makes a case not for national cohesion but ironically for SLPP reform. An administration which is on an awkward path against national cohesion and ethnic brotherhood cannot be relied upon to preside over a genuine national reconciliation. The fallacious arguments interposed by its Green Paper with jaundiced justifications are a catalogue of feeble rendition of the peace process in Sierra Leone.
The allegations against the APC in this frail justification for a national conference are reasons why the APC will not attend the conference the Green Paper labours so much to state a case for.
Genuine steps for national cohesion cannot be reached by the SLPP administration when it violates the principles of the rule of law, democracy and pluralism and ethnic solidarity. A national conference called by a ruling political party in the midst of attacks and oppression of the Opposition will unlikely yield any peace dividends when undertaken by the oppressor who bad-mouths those he intends to summon to the conference. The SLPP administration’s call for a conference for national cohesion is thus a fig leaf to cover its misrule of our Republic. This rationale for a national conference smirks of hypocrisy by an administration whose cornerstone is divide-and-rule in the midst of the ‘winner takes all’ SLPP administration. Long live Sierra Leone! Long liv PC!
Amb. Dr. Alhaji Osman Foday Yansan
National Secretary General – APC
The defining end point stick to the decision of the All People’s Congress Members to boycott the Bintumani Conference, but Alhaji Alpha Abu Bakarr Sahid Kanu former Minister of Information and Communications, appears to defy this dictate, but for a reason. “Yes. I am here as an individual. I was invited to a national peace building conference. I believe peace is the priority so I came to put my own views across and to dialogue with leaders of SLPP in the government to consider A P C and northerners as their compatriots.
I have also advocated for the payment of benefits to all former ministers of the APC and ambassadors and MDAs as a good will gesture.
It has been accepted and the minister of Finance has given instructions for the payment vouchers for benefits and the activation of pensions to be prepared immediately.
He assures me that the process should be completed by early next week.
As this is one benefit of the dialogue other matters will be dealt with in due course.
I have no apology for attending as long as it is in the interest of the people of Sierra Leone and particularly our APC comrades and sympathisers.
One of the important benefits is that benefits of past government officials will be made with immediate effect. Can you imagine what other issues could have been resolved had I not been here?
To jaw jaw is better than to war war. Dialogue leads to resolutions. No war is concluded on the war front. It has to be resolved at the negotiating table.
Our party still has the opportunity to correct our past mistakes which are not grave ones. Our problems are not insurmountable but we must solve them ourselves.
Tomorrow. I will be moderating an important session. I would like some of our comrades to attend. We can put our issues across.
I am the chair and so time is available for healing and reconciliation.
Hon: Dr Alpha Kanu
This was day one of the Bintumani Conference. The local media was quick to draw reference from Eddie Turay’s earlier reaction to the former information Minister. Mr Turay, a former envoy to Britain appeared to serve a warning to Alpha Kan in this news flash from the Satellite Newspaper in Freetown:
EDDIE TURAY, A FORMER ENVOY TO BRITAIN WARNED ALPHA KHAN AND RECOMMENDED THAT HE: Resigns if Unhappy But Respect the APC Party Protocols – Judas Alpha Khan Warned!
By a press release (03/02/19)
Former envoy to the United Kingdom Eddie Turay has fired back and stoutly reacted to Alpha Khan’s calls for the APC party Chairman to resign.
Mr. Eddie Turay made this reaction after the former APC Information Minister Alpha Kanu, alias Alpha Khan called for the APC party’s current Chairman and Leader, the former President Ernest Bai Koroma to relinquish his position in the party. (Photo: Lawyer Eddie Turay who blasted the hypocritical Alpha Khan for undermining the APC party protocols).
The ex-Chairman and Leader who was ousted by Ernest Koroma in 2002 told this press in an exclusive interview at his residence at Cantonment Road that Alpha Khan does not have the right to ask Ernest Koroma to resign.
“But rather, let him lead by example and resign from the party’s National Advisory Council, being the party’s highest decision-making body, since he was brought into the party by Ernest Koroma. If he is not happy with his leadership style, there is a party protocol Alpha Khan can show when he does not approve Ernest’s policies.
“The former APC majority parliamentary leader and head of government business in Parliament said Alpha Khan had been in the system for long and also held various ministerial portfolios, why didn’t he resigned as a decent gentleman, but instead waited until Koroma had left power.
“If Alpha Khan thinks that Ernest Koroma does not want to resign, let him be the first to resign, as his resignation should have been his idea of protest because he disapproves with what is happening and does not like the state of the party. Let him set the example and resign, then he will have the moral standing to ask all executives to resign, Eddie Turay urged.
He said Alpha Khan should know that he is a stranger in the party, since he came from the People’s Democratic Party PDP popularly known as ‘Sorbeh’ to join the party, and therefore, does not have the right, with all what Ernest Koroma has done for him, which he did not do for him as a party man, to ask him to resign was unfortunate.
Eddie Turay, an APC hardliner said in as much as they all want him to step down but perhaps, he is waiting for the correct time to do so, as he has already said it in a meeting that he is going to relinquish his position, since he has no intention to be in active politics.
Mr. Turay further noted that Alpha Khan should know that Ernest Koroma is still Chairman and Leader of the APC party and to resign his position is subjective to him, because he has a term to lead, since his selection at the party convention which ends in December this year.
Nonetheless, he was quoted as saying: “If I were Ernest Koroma, I would have relinquished my position, but we cannot force him to do so, because he is legitimately occupying the position until the party’s next convention in December 2019. “Except the party possibly takes a vote of no confidence. But again, does not see how it happens because he has the support of the grassroots voters,” he said.
Ambassador Eddie Turay however confidently stated that despite the current state of the APC party, they are still building momentum to win the 2023 elections.
The National Grand Coalition toed the line of the All People’s Congress in declining to attend the conference but had a change of mind a fortnight before the commencement of the conference. here is their position paper:
Position Paper by the National Grand Coalition Party on the Bintumani Ill – National Dialogue Forum on Democratic Consolidation for Peace and National Cohesion
This brief position paper sets out the views of the National Grand Coalition Party (NGC) on the Bintumani III – National Dialogue Forum on Democratic Consolidation for Peace and National Cohesion in Sierra Leone scheduled to take place 23-25 May 2019 in Freetown.
The NGC welcomes the idea of a truly national participatory dialogue aimed at consolidating our democracy to build a strong foundation for peace and national cohesion.
To that end, while we welcome the efforts by the government of President Julius Maada Bio to initiate a national dialogue forum, we believe – as we set out below – there are better ways of consolidating peace and national cohesion than the path set out by the government.
Much has already been written and said about Sierra Leone’s political system that perpetuates a vicious cycle in which winner-takes-all translates into benefits and “it’s our turn to eat” for one ethno-regional group at the expense of others.
This is a pattern familiar to anyone who has followed Sierra Leone’s postcolonial political trajectory. Our key message is, it’s time to break the destructive cycle and embrace a politics of inclusion. In order to do so, as a nation, we must tackle the root causes of our political malaise.
A Peace and National Cohesion Commission for Sierra Leone that addresses symptoms rather than root causes will add to the complexity of commissions with overlapping mandates that drain limited public funds without making a fundamental contribution to peace and national cohesion in Sierra Leone.
NGC finds the government’s case for a new Peace and National Cohesion Commission unconvincing. Rather than creating new institutions, the NGC calls upon the government of Sierra Leone to take concrete steps towards addressing the root causes of our current predicament.
For a start, prioritise translation of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) recommendations into a White Paper followed by swift enactment and implementation. Similarly, disseminate and implement at least, the key recommendations of the 2004 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
In this position paper, section 2 which follows sets out a vision for a peaceful, cohesive Sierra Leone. Section 3 presents a quick thematic overview of the areas we believe where a lack of peace and national cohesion affect ordinary Sierra Leoneans the most.
In section 4 we underscore why implementation of both the TRC and CRC recommendations would make the most substantive contributions to peace and national cohesion. In section 5 we highlight areas of agreement and disagreement with the Green Paper on the proposed Peace and National Cohesion Commission. Section 6 ends with NGC’s conclusion and recommendations on the way forward.
2 Vision of a peaceful, cohesive Sierra Leone
A peaceful, cohesive Sierra Leone has at its foundation the rule of law and respect for the human rights of every citizen without discrimination. A Sierra Leone in which the country is greater than its diverse, constituent parts but in which those parts exist in harmony, creating a society in which each citizen feels appreciated and respected with a positive sense of being Sierra Leonean.
A peaceful and cohesive Sierra Leone is one in which Sierra Leoneans feel a sense of pride and joy in their family and communal life, in their nationhood; a nation-state rather than a state of many nations with little in common and much distrust between them.
This is a Sierra Leone where there is a meaningful social contract that binds those led and their leaders; citizens and the state, in which citizens have obligations as Sierra Leoneans and in which they are able to hold their leaders accountable for upholding their side of the bargain.
As the Green Paper states, “As a country, we lack a common nation[al] identity.” Moreover, in nearly 60 years of independence, we have not made a concerted effort to build this sense of national identity.
Worse, political leaders and elites fuel ethnic divisions, fears, and distrust especially during elections when competition for power is intense as a strategy to increase their popular appeal and secure access to state resources. Elites then distribute state resources through patronage as reward for that support to their ethnic base and party affiliates.
This is the basis of the disastrous “it’s our turn to eat” syndrome. The national cake is for the favoured, connected few to enjoy at the expense of the majority. Political party supporters trade their political allegiance to a particular movement and its leaders in return for direct personal benefit – private rather than public goods – in the form of jobs, promotions, contracts, cash handouts, favors, provision of services, etc.
As the national cake, gets smaller relative to the increasing population, and without the rule of law to ensure fair and equitable mechanisms for distribution, the limitations of this strategy become evident. Tensions mount, poverty escalates, and the state apparatus is used to deprive and suppress those left out and excluded.
In the circumstances, a shift to a peaceful, cohesive and inclusive Sierra Leone is a shared responsibility of all Sierra Leoneans. It cannot be just a government of the day initiative, led by a political party anxious to score points against others.
We are therefore sceptical that creation of a new Commission is the most effective strategy to bring about this profound change in our political culture and the social dynamics of the country. The preparations leading to the conference, the formulation of the agenda, and above all the contents of the basic document, which ignores some fundamental flaws in our current polity, but seizes the opportunity to ascribe blame to only one political party, all manifest our failure to advance as a country.
In the next section, we outline the main building blocks for a peaceful, cohesive Sierra Leone that are currently missing.
3 Building blocks for a peaceful, cohesive Sierra Leone
We highlight here five essential building blocks for peace and cohesion in Sierra Leone today. These are well-documented elsewhere in countless other studies, reports, and strategies. Although we present them sequentially, there is no hierarchy intended. Indeed, these building blocks are interrelated.
First is access to justice. Today, justice is inaccessible to the majority of Sierra Leoneans. Just think about the number of young people held in custody in remand, often for minor offenses, for periods of time far in excess of the normal sentence for the offense, if found guilty.
Think of the land dispute cases clogging the courts in which a land-grabber is able to encroach upon someone’s land and then easily thwart the course of justice using their connections, and an inefficient system of justice.
Think of a poor rural widow in dispute with a more powerful elite family and her chances of securing access to a fair hearing.
Think of a young man bullied and preyed upon by more powerful elders with no recourse to justice. Refer to recent and earlier abuse of the security apparatus to suppress peaceful protests or bulldoze property without the authority of the courts.
These aren’t isolated incidents but the daily reality for far too many Sierra Leoneans today. We saw during the war how such injustices can breed a deep sense of anger and resentment that slowly erodes any trust in the state, exacerbates the breakdown in law and order and creates a vicious cycle of attack, reprisal, and further attack.
The second building block is the economy and jobs. A job is much more than a living wage. It means dignity, security, enjoyment of family life, hope, self-respect, a sense of purpose and self-worth. People with jobs are more likely to be stakeholders in society. They have a vested interest in peace, stability, and the rule of law.
Yet the reality for so many young and older Sierra Leoneans is the opposite: a life of unemployment and underemployment; an insecure, hand-to-mouth existence on the margins of society; one of eking out a minimal existence doing dirty, dangerous, or demeaning work.
For a young woman, it might mean being expected to exchange sexual favors in return for a promotion or even the chance of getting a job in the first place. Managing an economy to produce inclusive growth with job creation at the centre of the strategy is a complex undertaking but essential for peace and cohesion as well as many other positive attributes in society.
A third building block for a peaceful, cohesive Sierra Leone is the political system of governance. The Green Paper correctly draws attention to the resumption of a pattern in Sierra Leone’s politics of increasingly violent, ethno-regional elections and voting patterns that has its roots in our colonial past, emerged in the 1960s, and has reared its ugly head again in latter years.
Our winner-takes-all system of governance is partly to blame, which the Green Paper correctly points out.
Some people describe Sierra Leone as a “connectocracy”, ruled of, by, and for the well-connected. Patronage lies at the heart of our body politic and is a destabilizing force that undermines sound economic management and decision-making; undermines accountability and delivery of public goods; embeds corruption; and sustains mediocrity.
We must avoid superficial solutions. This is why serious consideration of our constitutional arrangements are in order to create the foundation for peace and cohesion in Sierra Leone.
It is time for us to examine an alternative system of governance, perhaps some form of proportional representation that will ensure representation of women, youths and other marginalized groups in our Parliament, district and city councils.
Nation-building is a fourth building block. We cannot take cohesion for granted. In addition to the fundamental principles already mentioned, there is a symbolic (though not without substance) dimension to peace and cohesion.
Civic education, a shared understanding of our history, celebration of our diverse cultures, sporting prowess, and performance on the world stage can all make important contributions to peace and cohesion.
None of this is possible If there is no shared perception that every citizen has the same rights under the law and is entitled to the same opportunities according to his or her abilities.
We do not claim the above four building blocks represent a comprehensive list, but we believe they are fundamental and a good starting point. Rather than restate what has been stated on many occasions before, we need to focus our attention and energy on implementation of recommendations based on previous analysis. This is the focus of the next section.
4 Implementing TRC and CRC recommendations
Notwithstanding minor criticisms at both the TRC and CRC processes, conclusions, and recommendations, they represent comprehensive exercises, consulting representative cross-sections of Sierra Leoneans as well as experts from around the world to make a series of recommendations.
So far only a few TRC recommendations have been implemented. Equally important, as a nation, we have not truly taken to heart the lessons uncovered through the gruelling TRC process. Yet if we fail to heed the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat past mistakes.
The pattern of electoral violence and ethno-regional voting are perhaps two of the starkest examples of lessons we should have learned from the TRC but apparently have not.
More recently, the CRC entailed considerable work, effort, and cost – building as it did on the earlier Peter Tucker Commission – to produce a comprehensive set of recommendations for amendments to our constitution to better align it with our contemporary aspirations.
In his May 2018 address at the State Opening of Parliament, President Bio committed to examine the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee and the accompanying White Paper and to take action. It is odd, therefore, that the Green Paper, though its analysis borders on constitutional matters, is totally silent on the CRC or changes to the constitution.
In our view, these two foundational documents are the starting point for any serious effort to enhance peace and national cohesion in Sierra Leone. To ignore or sidestep them is wasteful and counterproductive and raises questions about the sincerity of any stated commitment to participatory processes or national consultation.
This leads us onto a brief discussion of the Green Paper on the proposed Peace and National Cohesion Commission, the subject of the next section.
5 NGC’s view on the Green Paper
As we have already noted in this position paper, there are areas of agreement with the Green Paper in describing Sierra Leone’s current ailments that undermine peace and cohesion. However, in our view, the Green Paper suffers from many severe shortcomings. We highlight a few below.
1) The Green Paper frames the issue as if the All People’s Congress Party (APC) is solely or primarily responsible for Sierra Leone’s political ailments. At NGC, we see the poor governance of the last APC regime (and indeed that of previous ones) as symptomatic of our complex systemic political order.
While we are on record as commending some aspects of the Bio regime’s programme, we have also lamented those elements of continuity with the past APC regime. In order to find workable solutions to our predicament, we shall have to eschew finger-pointing and the blame game for a collective effort recognizing we all have roles to play, not just all political parties but society at large.
2) Paradoxically and perhaps perversely, the Green Paper runs the risk of further enflaming the simmering tensions between the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and APC. In politics perceptions quickly become realities and there is a danger that the entire effort to create a Peace and National Cohesion Commission can be seen as an integral part of the conflict, thus undermining peace.
3) Set within the framework of a broader, more strategic approach that aimed to tackle the root causes of our current challenges, some of the recommended actions the Green Paper sets out in Paragraph 26 (e.g teaching peace study courses in the first year of university or setting up peace clubs) might be useful. Outside of such a framework, which the Green Paper fails to provide, there is a risk that these are mere gimmicks that absorb much time, effort, and resource, but have limited to no impact at all, or worse, have a negative impact.
4) In calling for the creation of a new institution, the Green Paper fails to interrogate the reasons for the poor performance of so many existing institutions. We have a tendency in Sierra Leone to create new institutions to partially or wholly compensate for the failures of existing ones.
This results in a proliferation of poorly conceived, under-resourced institutions with overlapping mandates that are a drain on limited public resources, compound coordination challenges and institutional territorialism, and simply make getting things done in Sierra Leone harder, not easier.
Moreover, with our current system of ethno-regional patronage, new institutions are often captured by the “it’s our turn to eat” syndrome resulting in more “square pegs in round holes” – ill-suited appointees unable to perform well while talented Sierra Leoneans languish underutilized and discriminated against.
5) As we review the long shopping list of things that the Commission will do, we ask what are the roles of other agencies? Aren’t there risks of duplication and stepping on the toes of other agencies? Have these proposed Commission responsibilities been clearly demarcated as gaps in the general landscape in Sierra Leone?
6) It is against the backdrop of the previous two points that we worry the Green Paper ascribes almost magical qualities to the new Commission. For instance, the “Commission will also need to push and lobby for successful policies for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and work closely with and support policies that respect, promote and protect human rights, including the right to development, increase efforts to reduce inequality and eliminate social exclusion and discrimination and in particular enhancing opportunities for women and girls and advancing the economic, legal and political empowerment of women.”
This assumes a Commission with superpowers as advancing the SDGs in the way described has so far been a challenge for all other state institutions. Worse it can be seen to attempt a replication of the government.
7) The Green Paper fails to problematize the role of traditional leaders. Rather, it takes as given their benign position and stature. Without adequate checks and balances, any leader, no matter how revered, can become a party to conflict and undermine peace and cohesion.
Similarly, the Green Paper fails to take into account the possibility that civil society organizations can be co-opted by partisan political forces on the side of or against the government and thus undermine peace and cohesion.
8) The Green Paper is naïve in its expectations of the independence of the Commission. Without constitutional guarantees and protections, relying on the goodwill of the President, the Minister of Finance, and Parliament wilfully ignores the nature of our current political system and the almost inevitable elements to use all levers to control the Commission, particularly if its independence is deemed a threat to vested political interests.
9) Finally, the Green Paper states: “The Commission will be set up following extensive consultations across the country, culminating in a national conference on peace building, management and rebuilding of national cohesion.” We believe this puts the cart before the horse.
Whether a Commission is needed should emerge from the consultations. To conclude that a Commission is needed makes a mockery of a consultative process. It would be better to enter into consultations with a genuine sense of curiosity and for enquiry to be guided by the synthesis of insights heard from a cross-section of Sierra Leoneans and outside experts. Both the TRC and CRC processes were consultative, one reason why the government should not set aside their conclusions and recommendations.
6 NGC’s conclusions, recommendations, and proposed way forward
We need to break the vicious cycle, rooted in our history, of poor governance predicated upon ethno-regional divisions. This cycle has kept us at or near the bottom of human development indicators and almost all other measures of progress; led us into an 11-year civil war; weakened our institutions and undermined our ability to deal with shocks and disasters; and generally thwarted our aspirations for a peaceful society in a united nation-state.
But our past is not our destiny. We can free ourselves from our fragility trap.
We should be realistic. We cannot change deep structural factors that shape our socio-political system overnight; these factors shift over years, if not decades. We cannot create or change institutions in the short-term, either, though we can lay foundations now. And even if we can’t change the behavior of all the actors immediately, some can change now. Leadership matters.
We welcome the fact that President Bio has placed this important issue on our agenda for consideration. As our current democratically elected President, we believe President Bio could be noted in history as the head of state who helped Sierra Leone break its disastrous cycle of poor governance and thus contributed significantly to peace and social cohesion in Sierra Leone, provided the collective blame is accepted and we collectively agree to move forward.
We have as a precedent and example to this call for leadership, President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah’s legacy. We can credit President Kabbah with frugality in his spending; with working through values of peace, democratic governance and freedoms, and demonstrating a high level of political tolerance and pluralism.
President Kabbah appointed people to his cabinet from all the political parties in Parliament and he made real efforts to have regional balance in his appointments. He ensured that all actions taken by his government were in line with the law and the constitution.
Above all, he allowed the rule of law to prevail. He did not interfere in matters before the courts. Civil society engagement by government started under President Kabbah’s watch. He always sought the views of civil society before making important national decisions.
An example was the peace negotiations leading to the Lomé Agreement. Significantly, he resisted efforts by his party members for special privileges and when the pressure became unbearable, he wrote to the party telling them he was President for all Sierra Leoneans and they should allow him to govern as such.
The current post-elections atmosphere remains tense and the two major political parties are positioned in their respective trenches. We call upon President Bio to reduce the tension and pursue detente.
President Tejan Kabbah convened meetings in his home with top opposition leaders, and even advised them whenever they were locked in intra-party strife. Peace and national cohesion depend now on President Bio’s ability and willingness to rise above the fracas and demonstrate true leadership.
We are relieved that President Bio is obviously concerned enough about the threats to peace and national cohesion to act. We pledge to work with him and his government as well as other actors in society to strengthen peace and cohesion.
We believe there are four steps President Bio’s government should take immediately to strengthen the foundations for peace and national cohesion.
1) As a matter of urgency, revisit the Constitutional Review process by taking urgent steps to study the recommendations and the White Paper to produce a considered government response that Parliament can deliberate upon as soon as possible.
2) Produce an Action Plan for the implementation of TRC recommendations. The Plan should reprioritize those not yet implemented or stalled in implementation and provide the necessary resources and support to expedite execution. Such a Plan must be based on an understanding of the underlying factors hampering speedy implementation of recommendations so far and address these factors.
3) Bintumani III should be the start of a national consultative dialogue process (in our view, it should have been the culmination). The key lesson we learned from our painful encounter with Ebola in 2014 to 2016 was the central importance of community ownership for success. This is true of Ebola and also of supporting peace and national cohesion.
4) Questions of establishing a Commission should be deferred until government has considered what the implementation implications of CRC and TRC recommendations are and what lessons there are to learn from patchy TRC recommendations implementation before resolving whether a new Commission is needed as part of implementing the reforms needed or whether restructuring and rationalization of existing institutions would likely deliver more effective results.
We remind the government that action speaks louder than words, it is within the powers of this current government to avoid taking steps that further undermine peace and national cohesion and such a stance would go some way to reassure detractors as to the sincerity of these efforts.
If deeds fail to match words, we are all entitled to feel cynical about the government’s true motives. Compiled by Abu Bakarr Sulaiman Tarawally