By Basita Michael
In his Christmas day address to the nation, President Julius Maada Bio rightly noted that democracy’s “survival depends upon civic participation using legal means to engage with ways of improving society. As with every democracy, family, or even relationship, we are not required to have the exact same thoughts to succeed. Sometimes we will disagree, even bitterly. However, our engagement must be premised upon the same fundamental principles of democracy.” He continued that by noting that his government “is resolute in the belief that democracy is sacrosanct. We will engage with critique and affirm the constitutional right of citizens to express their thoughts or even displeasure with the Government. And we will, with the same firmness, defend democracy against all those who seek to undermine it.”
The President’s remarks are apt and commendable. In this vein, it is crucial as one thinks about 2022 to heed His Excellency’s advice and share my viewpoints in order to support and safeguard our democracy. In my humble opinion, 2022 was yet another opportunity missed. True, there was the rollout of the HPV vaccines for girls under 18; we were one of only four African countries to achieve 70% COVID-19 vaccination coverage; we enacted the Customary Land Rights and National Land Commission Acts which, among other things, grant all local communities the right to Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) overall industrial projects on their lands; Sierra Leone has passed 11 out of the 20 indicators on the Millennium Challenge Corporation, enacted the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act 2022; and the First Lady introduced the Draft Resolution to Declare November 18 the “World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence” at the UN General Assembly.
Yet even a little glimpse behind the well-orchestrated performances revealed that reality was vastly different. Much being peddled as historic ‘firsts’ were not but were instead simple wallpapering of the cracks underneath. Take the much-heralded Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act 2022. It was a good first step, but it is NOT the panacea to all our problems. Whether we recognize it or not, after more than 20 years of work to ensure gender parity, we ended up with a much-watered-down Act. This legislation, frequently touted as a demonstration of the government’s commitment to gender equality, will change very little in reality. It may tick a donor box, appease some of them and encourage them to providemorefunding, but it will do very little to address the entrenched patriarchy and deeply ingrained structural and institutional discrimination that women still have to deal with. Like many of our laws, this will be more honoured in its breach than in its compliance.
2022 will mostly be remembered as the year that was rife with scandals – Dominion University fake Ph.D. scandal; persistent fuel shortages and fluctuations in prices; the redenomination and depreciation of the leone; the escalation of the kush epidemic; a mid-term census result mired in controversy, a questionable voter registration, and proportional representation electoral system that was forced down our throats,arbitrary arrests and detention of some opposition members by the Police, the August 10 killings, the overwhelming sense of grief on how loved ones were buried and the recent ‘murder’ of Mabinty for which no one has been charged. Civic spaces continued to close.
Corruption remains pervasive and unchecked, poverty and hardship profound, rising unemployment, injustice, divisions and uncertainty reigned. Amidst all this, a weak and fractured opposition lacked the courage of their conviction to stand with the people and instead focused on drafting a private member’s Bill entitled the ‘Parliamentary Welfare Act 2022, which sought to improve their welfare and not that of their constituents. As the Executive consolidated and zealously guarded power, the international community danced its usual diplomatic dance, and the poor people of Sierra Leone were told ‘nor to hype.’