Sierra Leone’s Presidential Bully Pulpit
We have recently seen leaders of various political parties troop to State House to meet with the President. Reports of what transpired were scanty and certainly politically coloured by the time they got to the mainstream press and social media. What we do know is that the photos showed various party heads shaking hands with the President, with some grinning like Cheshire cats. This obviously did not go down well with some of their political supporters who would have preferred them to look menacing and “breathe fire’, in light of what they perceived as “very contentious and unsavoury circumstances in the country”. True to form, Awareness Times (AT) saw red (excuse the pun) with these pictures and went straight for the jugular, deriding opposition politicians for their ostensibly happy demeanour and accusing the President of throwing “dishonourable insults at members of the main opposition APC such as publicly describing them to be “Ayampis” on several occasions”. AT describes an Ayampi thus-“An Ayampi is an incorrigible reprobate who steals like a filthy rat”- certainly one expression for the Oxford dictionary!
This controversy apart, there have been times when the President has attempted to use his “Presidential bully pulpit” to rally us round as a nation, especially on issues for which ostensibly there should really be no division. I can think of education, women’s empowerment and the rape epidemic as issues that should make us wrap the green, white and blue flag around our necks at the rallying call of the President.
Bully pulpit? A Pulpit is a raised stand for preachers in a Christian church. This term “Bully pulpit” was coined by United States President Theodore Roosevelt, who referred to his office as a “bully pulpit”, by which he meant a terrific platform from which to advocate an agenda- “bully” meaning “wonderful” and “pulpit” meaning “a preaching position”. A bully pulpit is a conspicuous position that provides an opportunity to speak out and be listened to.
This brings me to the issue of Presidential speeches or statements, which, if delivered well with sincerity can augur well for national unity. John F Kennedy’s inaugural address command to “ask not what your country can do for you” inspired a generation of service-minded citizens. One of the most famous examples of this could be from President Ronald Reagan. On January 28th 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded less than two minutes after takeoff. Reagan cancelled the State of the Union Address that had been planned for that night, and instead addressed the nation from the oval office. He spoke from the heart in a comforting way, which helped begin the healing after what was at the time the nation’s worst space disaster.
A president who has the ability to deeply connect with the public by baring a piece of their own soul can reach across party lines, and into the hearts of his compatriots. Speeches that are given during a crisis can reveal more about a politician than anything else.
Back home, we have seen how Presidents have used several speeches to inspire us as a nation.
President Koroma said in his 2017 Independence Day speech:
“We do not have another Sierra Leone and ours is a small country because we are a family … the actions of a compatriot in Koinadugu or in Kambia may have consequences for others in Bonthe, Kailahun and in other parts of the country.”
Ponder the words of President Bio in his 2018 Independence Day speech:
“Today, we have a new opportunity as a nation to collectively and individually work together to take this country forward, to develop and transform Sierra Leone that we can all be proud of…….We want to attract and tap into the best brains and expertise that this country has to offer to drive our New Direction inclusive development, inclusive economic growth, inclusive politics and inclusive governance programmes. This is the only way to develop and transform Sierra Leone and together we can and we will make this possible.”
Ponder too, President Momoh’s Independence Day Address in 1991:
“Yet you are all aware of the recent events involving the unwarranted, unjustifiable and wicked violation of our territorial integrity by rebel forces belonging to Mister Charles Taylor of Liberia precisely at the time when we were making bold efforts to chart a sound political course for the nation……However, fellow citizens, I would like to appeal to all of you to stay calm and not to despair. My government and I are resolute in our efforts to see that this root intrusion into our national life by alien forces is brought to a speedy end.”
President Kabbah, that peripatetic peacemaker made this rallying call at the official end of the war in 2002:
“Let me take this opportunity to reiterate that election is not a war. The war is over. What we are about to embark upon on is a friendly contest. Election is a process by which we should freely and peacefully choose those who we believe are qualified to assume the heavy responsibility of serving this nation…We must note however, that peace and reconciliation cannot be imposed, it cannot be decreed, and it cannot be established by legislation or by commission. Peace and forgiveness must come from the hearts and minds of the people concerned, namely, us Sierra Leoneans.”
And who says our leaders cannot wax poetic?
President Stevens used some of his speeches to warn us to be “vigilant”. He would often use the expression- “Eternal vigilance is the price we have to pay for our liberty”.
I recently quoted in this column from President Bio’s speech at the recent University of Sierra Leone graduation ceremony, which was very inspirational for the new graduates:
“Among you today, I see teachers who will serve our free quality education. I see engineers who can construct roads, build bridges or the assembly plants that will start local manufacturing and packaging or support mineral exploration and extraction………….I see doctors and nurses who will provide accessible and quality healthcare. …….Above all else, I see promise – the promise that each of you will give abundantly of your individual talents to develop our nation, our Sierra Leone”
Perhaps nobody can match Kenneth Kaunda for raw emotion. Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia as President was an emotional and public man, one of the best known and most accessible leaders in Africa. A devout Christian, he said his inspiration as a leader was his “love for mankind as a whole.” He always carried a freshly ironed white linen handkerchief in his left hand and frequently wept into it when making speeches about the tribulations of Zambia or Africa. At one point as Zambia’s first Republican President, he even threatened to resign as President of the Republic because of the excessive use of alcohol in Zambia. Alcohol abuse was causing major social, economic and public health problems in Zambia.
As we have seen from history all our Presidents indeed should have had the capacity to use the “Presidential bully pit” to rally us round as a nation around several issues of national importance, but alas we have been torn apart by politics on so many occasions. Amidst such divisions, the “Presidential bully pulpit” becomes ineffective and merely serves the interest of a President and his political supporters. When used genuinely the “Presidential bully pulpit” can be used to communicate a greater common good, not personal interests or the interests of party members only. As the nation’s top chief executive, a President who understands his role to lead the public toward the common and greater good would have used his bully pulpit well. Let us all hope this will be the vogue with our new President.
Celebrating Our Women
Much has been said about Women’s day which we celebrated last week. Understandably, most commentators dwelt on the positive -which is good. We have heard about and experienced so many negatives on issues surrounding our womenfolk that the positive celebration was in place. I do not intend to make light of the challenges still facing our women-and they are many, but let me be forgiven for taking a light-hearted look at how many of our social descriptions actually do favour our women folk! I will also tell you about the record my wife has prohibited me from singing!
Consider the following:
- Mammy blessing-Have you ever heard about Papa blessing? Indeed, we accept implicitly that women are more blessed.
- De Mammy na power-Who has ever heard about the Pa na power? Bo, na woman get power na ose!
- Mammy Coker-Even when it comes to working extra to get you a few additional Leones, you never refer to a man. Of course you only indulge in “Mammy Cokering”. Whatever happened to Pa Coker?
- Mammy en Daddy bizness-Whenever Daddy is mentioned in the same breath as Mammy, it spells trouble.
- Sweet Mother-The Nigerian singer got it right. You only yearn for sweet mother-Sweet mother, a nor go forget you for the suffer way you suffer for me…..if a nor sleep, my mother nor day sleep, If a nor chop my mother nor go chop. Can you imagine if he had sang about sweet father? E nor go sweet sef!
- Mammy Queen- A well respected woman in the community. Papa King is not apt.
- Mammy cuss-We really do respect women to the extent that a “ mammy cuss” is the worst cuss you can mete out to someone. The recipient may go as far as holding his/ her head in his/her hands in disgust just thinking about how much suffering the mother went through bringing him/her to this World. Have you ever taken Papa cuss seriously?
- Boy Pikin- This can only be negative. When you are told. “U nar bo pikin bobs”- it usually does not refer to anything good.
The record I cannot sing? It is “O my commanding wife”. My wife has long banned me from singing it, even though the music sounds good-and I know better than not to even hum it under my breath. I think it must be the lyrics-“Oh my commanding wife, she wants to destroy my life… oh, oh ah ah, oh oh. Definitely bad and disrespectful to wifey
By Andrew Keili, Freetown, Sierra Leone
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