To many who wanted an amicable resolution of the electoral dispute between the SLPP and APC, it was a relief to see an agreement signed to end the post-election impasse. Alas, the APC would end its boycott of participating in governance and be part of a committee tasked with revisiting our electoral laws and processes.
The President’s speech, exhorting the parties and the nation to embrace dialogue, unity, and peace was uplifting and received good reviews. Dr. Samura Kamara in a statement says he believes “the committee’s creation will provide a platform for both parties to engage constructively, and allow justice, the rule of law, and peace to prevail in our beloved nation”.
The other aspects of the agreement relating to resettling of aggrieved internal and external opposition political supporters, institutionalization of inter-party dialogue framework rekindling the relationship between political leaders, condemnation of those who incite violence and hate and establishment of a committee of moral guarantors to monitor the implementation of the agreement are commendable.
Not surprisingly, critics say it ignores the major issue of electoral irregularities which had been at the core of APC’s concerns, lacks transparency and interferes with judicial independence by engendering the release of people alleged to have committed election offences or been involved in cases deemed to be politically motivated. One remarked-“The question remains: Under what circumstances were some of these individuals charged in the first place? Such vagueness raises concern about the potential for selective application of justice and disregards all notions of due process and rule of law.” An omission cited in the agreement is its failure to address the grievances of victims of election violence. Hardliners in the APC accuse their leaders of abandoning them to save their own skin. Those in the SLPP accuse the government of capitulating to “blackmail”.
Some of these may be fair criticisms that border mainly legality. In the current circumstances in which national unity and national economic survival are at stake, with the possibility of threatening national security, some argue that some amount of political expediency could be rationally invoked to trump legality. There are also those who could legitimately ask…..”What if those who are stewards of our legal system and law and order are the cause of the problem in the first place?”
Assuming the aspects of the agreement are well implemented, supporters say that national unity will be enhanced, there will be an effective opposition that will keep government on its toes and development partners will continue assisting us, including bringing several development projects like the MCC back on track. Overall it should bring greater clarity to future elections and their outcomes and bolster our democratic credentials.
But what exactly will the committee delve into? Dr. Samura Kamara sheds further light on this in his statement-“Both sides have agreed that this committee will review, within six months, the 2023 electoral cycle, taking into account various stages, including voter registration, voter card issuance, ballot paper procurement, election day procedures, vote tallying, tabulation, and results announcement………..The committee will also look into matters of political violence, excessive use of force by the security forces, extrajudicial killings, and harm to innocent citizens”.
Whatever the outcome of the committee’s work, we may in the longer term need to further address other issues beyond its mandate.
Many people have complained about what they consider is the incessant “weaponisation” of our laws to disadvantage opposition parties. Some point the finger at sitting governments, accusing them of remotely controlling the judiciary for certain cases. Sometimes injunctions and never-ending court cases become the norm.
Nearly every government has started its tenure with Commissions of Inquiry into the financial activities of the previous government ostensibly to ensure accountability but viewed by the opposition as an inquisition bordering on a witch hunt.
The police have always been under suspicion of being subject to “orders from above”.
A review of elections in the recent past indicates that many political leaders, especially those vying for Flagbearer and Presidential elections have had their share of these problems. Here is a honour roll of some of those who have “graduated with honours”:
1. Ernest Bai Koroma-Injunctions, court case initiated by own party, alleged assassination attempt, negative COI verdict.
2. Julius Maada Bio-Injunctions, court cases involving internal elections, election court cases, hole in the head from projectile.
3. Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara-Injunctions, court cases involving internal elections, corruption court case- Embassy building, negative COI verdict.
4. Usu Boie Kamara-Banned from entering Kono based on “orders from above”.
5. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella-Court cases involving internal elections, court case involving eligibility based on citizenship, stun gun case involving supporters, door slammed in face.
6. Dennis Bright-Long term rent-free guest of Police at CID.
7. Femi Claudius Cole-Long term rent-free guest of Police at CID.
8. Samuel Sam Sumana-Sacking and expulsion from party, court cases.
9. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden- Guest of Police at CID and seizure of “dangerous picture” hanging in sitting room.
10. APC MPs-Expulsion from Parliament and replacing by 2nd placed candidates.
11. Ansu Lansana (SLPP)-Loss of Parliamentary seat, which was given to 2nd placed APC candidate.
The influence of the judiciary and the Sierra Leone Police in these cases is huge. Some cases are also due to internal party wrangling.
The sceptic may argue that the work to sort out our electoral ills may have to go beyond this committee into honestly assessing the role played by the Judiciary (either by bad laws or acquiescence to the whims of the government of the day), the “order from above” syndrome implemented by the Police and internal party schisms (either directly by aggrieved party members or by hidden hands).
The agreement should be commended. In the longer term, addressing problems of the role of the Judiciary and other law enforcement officers will be important. It also behooves the government to be resolute, in spite of any distractions to fix our chronic ethno-regional problems, create a level field in the electoral process and seriously address our constitutional issues. Dr. Samura Kamara makes an inspirational statement relating to these issues when he says: “We believe that this dialogue should not be seen as the end, but as the beginning of a new chapter in our nation’s history—one characterized by inclusivity, accountability, transparency and progress…….Let us remember that the responsibility to unite our country and foster social cohesion is not the sole burden of one political party, but a collective endeavor that requires all of us”. How profound!
Wishing the committee well. Things have started well but well begun is half done!
Ponder my thoughts