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Hark, the TRC Calls

Hark, the TRC Calls

I may have darkened the corridors of professional journalism since 1996, but now more than ever, I feel tormented that the current political theatre has grown to the level that it can get terribly worrisome as to where we are headed as a people. Especially, it is good to step back and look at where we are at/headed, with regards to citizenship and electioneering. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is not prevaricating when it provides advise on both citizenship and elections, among other things, as a way forward for post-war Sierra Leone. We face downright desperate attempts to obfuscate the strides we have made nearing two decades away form that dastardly chapter of our history. There are loud signs, with the March 7th elections nearing, and desperation running wild, that more than ever, it is time to harken, seriously…to the TRC Report on this country! (Photo: Fayia Sellu, author)

So, why TRC Report? Don’t get me started. I know what the Special Court was about. Its “greatest responsibility” bracket excluded the historicity, and more, of Salone’s war, antecedents and all. Like the South African model, the TRC was meant to heal Salone’s war troubles; not only that, but dig deep into its root-causes, lay them out bare, stark enough, that we can learn about how not to degenerate into such heinousness and bestiality, ever again! As an ardent believer in the Human Rights Manifesto (signed by then UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson) of 2000, the precursor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, it took me time to warm up to the rationale, work and product of that tangential project—TRC Report.  Few Sierra Leoneans get around to reading the TRC Report and imbibing it contents, let alone popularizing it. And that’s a shame; considering that if any single document came out of the peace process, prescient enough, on gut-issues that led to our country’s civil war and proffering ways to stave off a recurrence, it is the TRC Report. Read it! In its entirety!

With the recent kerfuffle over the provision in the 1991 constitution for dual citizenship, or not, of candidates vying for mostly parliamentary and presidential positions in the upcoming March 7th elections, there has been a resurgence in the need for a clean and definitive clarification on the matter. One would imagine that a matter with such gravitas would have been decided by no less an organ than Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, giving its preponderance and persistence since it was first raised even at the crafting of the very constitution. Anybody who has memory enough, or cares to remember, will recall that this thorny issue has raised the ire of observers, both at the preceding Peter Tucker-led exercise, and the recent Constitutional Review Commission. There were thorough briefs on the matter to warrant prompt action! But for some reason, the can was kicked down the road, or erroneously, it was stated that the citizen provision or amendment to the document amply handles the matter. Well, fact is, certainly that’s not the case as we all know by now. And what citizenship law were they referring to, really? That is where the TRC report comes in more than handy. I will not dignify the actual provision in our constitution with a cataloguing here, but it is worthy to state the TRC reports observation of its archaic/backward stipulations.

It’s a shame indeed, as section 82 of the recommendations in the report notes, the “racist” and “sexist” bent of the Sierra Leone Citizens Act of 1973, allowing for only persons of “Negro African descent” whose father or grandfather was born in Sierra Leone prior to 19th April, 1971, while section 83, highlights that section II of said Act allows only people of “Negro descent” to apply for citizenship. I will not even dignify above dictum with a comment, no matter the brutal historico-racial actualities of euro-colonialism, slavery and so forth. Cliched-out as it sounds, two wrongs never make a right. Rightfully, the report notes (85) that citizenship is supposed to be gained by birth, descent and naturalization, not by race or gender, adding the notation that this recommendation was an “imperative.” Next, there was the other “imperative” recommendation: “All citizens should be equally entitled to rights privileges and benefits of citizenship. They should be equally subject to the principles and responsibilities of citizenship. These principles should be enshrined in the constitution of Sierra Leone.” The lattermost of those recommendations, like the rest, we should know, has not been heeded, and is the fulcrum for the last-ditch effort by the incumbency (just my own reading, the reader has a right to theirs) to disqualify some candidates, even as it has appointed dual-nationality characters to high posts within government in its past decade-or-so in power. The report urged for a cultivation of “a new culture of citizenship,” surmising: “A common and equitable citizenship is likely to promote a new patriotism and devotion in Sierra Leone. This new citizenship demands a culture of mutual respect, understanding and tolerance by Sierra Leoneans for all Sierra Leoneans and other peoples.” What lofty ideals! Not really, come to think of it. There is a reason the TRC adopted the “imperative” ascriptive to those specific two recommendations; they are both commonsensical and, well, how does one put this, imperative? We can always have different rules for the goose and gander, if whimsicality rules the day. I am stultified by shame and can’t thoroughly editorialize on above backwardness.

I want to turn to other areas, relevant to this piece, to which the TRC report speaks. The report is clear that, long term, Sierra Leone needs a new constitution. In the meantime, it suggests the revamping of its Law Reform Commission and suggested the constitutional review organ (maybe the, now late, Justice Cowan type of outfit) which will ensure that our laws are consistently, comprehensively, reformed and brought up to spec with regards to contemporaneity. Nobody should have to die of heart attack or deal with the shock of disenfranchisement, or worse, because of veiled areas of the law sprung upon them at the last minute about their eligibility to hold any office in Sierra Leone. Not with all the hollering about law reform. What is the use of a constitutional review exercise if is it useless to the populace? On the part of National Electoral Commission (NEC) and Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), how can one be registered and certified to run for an office for which they are disqualified? It would be great if the rigor of registering and operating a political party would cover the ground of eligibility requirements. Anyway, the report is very clear on the role of civil society, the media and security apparatus, and the need to field a “countrywide coalition to monitor general elections.” That’s verily of import come March 7th! If you have never read the TRC Report, or do not have a copy of at least the recommendations (Chapter 3), get off Facebook, Whatsapp or whatever social media and google it! Someone I was speaking to recently—who will be busy monitoring the elections in March as part of civil society—shrugged me off when I seemed anxious about the dual citizenship fiasco in the country. He said it was a minor matter for the Supreme Court to clarify. I terribly want to believe him.

That brings me to my closing point. As much as I want to believe in the Judiciary as a fair and independent fountain of justice in the land, the track record of decisions does not make me rest easy. So, I should just repose my trust in the same court that endorsed the illegal sacking of Vice President Sam Sumana, only to be countered by the ECOWAS court? I really want to believe that the problem is not them (Judiciary), it is the laws that need reform; but point me to a crucial case in recent time where the current incumbency (the Executive) does not have the upper hand? Maybe this could be construed as a side swipe; but the Special Court for Sierra Leone came and went (it sure still does have residual operations), and I am not sure there was any fundamental impact on the capacity of our Judiciary, as I write. The TRC, though, at least left a report that is solid on diagnoses of most of our problems and proffers a map on the way forward…If only Salone people would read…take heed!

By Fayia Sellu, California, USA

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