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HomePolitics“Us” and “them” – the politics of polarization

“Us” and “them” – the politics of polarization

“Us” and “them” – the politics of polarization

Job seekers and opportunists in both political parties have used the above labels to continue dividing the nation. They fail to realize that absent the rhetoric, we are all the same people, and that our differences in language, culture, politics, and location may be due to accidents of birth. All human beings have comfort  zones, and exercise favoritism even among their own children. This is why “many people surround themselves with people who agree with them, think like them, and support them.” While, it is within our rights to question the actions of our president in his choice of employees, we should also realize that he alone is mandated by the constitution to assemble an administrative team that he perceives as best to govern the nation. We may disagree with his choices, but should remember that not all disagreements are resolved to our liking. We win some arguments, and we lose some. Further, while we cannot win all our disagreements with the government, at least, we can make our points known without being deliberately obnoxious. The nation is polarized and ill served when opponents and proponents of administration policies employ loaded terms  such as  “northernisation,” and “Southernisation,” or  “enemy tribes,” to describe  government  actions be they APC or SLPP.  Perhaps it is time to debate the matter. (Photo:  Hassan Sisay, author)

At issue is the question, should presidents of Sierra Leone be required to include in their administrations members of the opposing political parties? The problem is compounded by the fact that  our political parties are mostly divided along ethnic and regional lines. The ruling APC party generates most of its support from the Northern and  western areas, while the Southeast is dominated by the current opposition SLPP. There are pros and cons to this matter, and each side is passionate about the validity of its viewpoint.

Proponents of regional distribution of government jobs  accuse president Ernest Bai Koroma of giving top government positions to folks who like him were born and raised in the North, and belong to the ruling APC party. They argue that for the sake of UNITY, the president should also give high profile jobs to opposition members. The same group maintains that when the current opposition (SLPP) was in power, it too extended jobs to the then APC opposition members. Besides, it asserts that because there is a dearth of experts in our country, it is important to utilize the expertise of the few that we have without resorting to wholesale exclusion of individuals on the basis of ethnicity or political considerations. Proponents have also maintained that due to the considerable ethnic tensions emanating from our prolonged civil war, providing jobs to all ethnic groups regardless of political and ethnic affiliations would help bind the nation’s wounds, and advance the healing process.

Opponents disagree. They maintain that elections have consequences, and that worldwide, leaders of victorious political parties usually give the best government jobs to their supporters. They also claim that what proponents are advocating amounts to power sharing, which is bad for the country because it dilutes the effectiveness of the opposition parties, and may cause the government not to take responsibility for its actions. Besides, they also maintain that power sharing is often the sliding slope to the establishment of a one party government and eventually a dictatorship. On the claim by proponents that when the the SLPP  was in power it  extended jobs to APC members, opponents responded that such an action was purely voluntary, and must not be construed as a permanent power sharing formula for future governments.  Further, opponents have argued  that regional balance in job distribution is not mandated by our constitution. On the contrary, it has always been relegated to the president’s discretion. That the president alone decides whether or not to provide jobs to members of the opposition parties; and that no one has automatic rights to such employment possibilities. Accordingly, opponents have called upon the opposition parties, particularly SLPP members,  to concentrate more on suggesting positive alternatives to government proposals, rather than spending valuable time trying to be part of the very government whose activities they are supposed to thoroughly scrutinize. Besides, power sharing has an inherent problem of logistics and confidentiality. Opponents cite the potential difficulties of keeping government secrets and formulating political party strategies if both the opposition and government supporters work in the same administration. They claim that this would be problematic to any government, and might pose major conflict of interests issues for employees.

Giving a president options in assembling his/her administrative team is a viable strategy. Of course, it might be helpful if a president on his own initiative decides to also broaden or diversify his administration by hiring some opposition members, but such actions would only be meaningful if the decision was reached without undue pressure.  Of paramount concern is the prevailing observation that many of the current advocates for job distribution are the predator elites, who are notoriously corrupt,  self-serving, and not necessarily seeking the best interests of the nation. An Administration should be judged not on the number of opposition members it has employed, but on the effectiveness of its policies and programs. Come 2012, if the electorate chooses to change course, so be it. Otherwise, giving the president options is good for multi-party development and the evolution of democracy.

Hassan Sisay

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  • Mr Sisay you seem to miss the point. I am not sure the discord is about giving jobs to the opposition or does oppostion for you mean people from the South and East.
    I am aslo a victim of the indiscriminate dismissal after 2007 as where hundreds of other people who held professional jobs who also dismissed. But thanks God for the dismissal I have found something more productive to do.

    Now To the issues are we saying there are APC party supporters or sympathiser who voted for President Koroma in the whole of the south East or are we saying in the last three years of his incumbency he has not had allies for the South and East I am sure he has.

    All we are saying is we should learn from the mistakes of our past and try be build an inclusive, better and a stronger Sierra Leone.

    In my previous Job the Now Minister of Agriculture was the M&E Manager was he sacked no he continued in his job for over five and was steadliy promoted to that rank.

    The now Commissioner of NaCSA was the Director of Community Development Programmes was he sacked no he continued in his job.

    Better still the President younger brother was a project officer for Monitoring and evaluation was he sacked no he continued in that position for over seven years uptill his brother became president and he had to move on to brighter things.

    All we are saying is people should by no means be exluded from be it jobs or other oppurtunities on the basis of their identity.

    Lets work on the causes war with realisation that we should be a more inclusive united and prosperous country

    Long live Sierra Leone

    30th November 2010
  • Well-stated Fallay. I think this is the point that has always been missing in the two sides of the argument. It is crude to assume that all South-Easterners are SLPP or that all North-Westerners are APC. If this assumption was right we wouldn’t have the likes of Alpha Timbo, Osman Boi Kamara or Alpha Wurie all seeking for SLPP leadership. Unless we open up and accommodate the ‘others’ there can be no meaningful peace in Sierra Leone. I may not have been a strong admirer of Tejan Kabba but his statemanly role in bridging the regional divide leaves a lot to be desired. Accommodating the ‘others’ does not amount to the dissolution of the opposition for as long as the target is to include the APC voices from the South and East. Is it that Ernest Koroma has still got no eyes to identify any of such people?

    Hassan may need to do some more research to aptly understand and position himself within the discourses at issue. The two positions raised merely distort the point and does not adequately reflect the key concerns. It is either there is a complete lack of understanding on one part or that there is a deliberate attempt to distort the facts and hence, justify the establishment. Either way, Ernest Koroma has the final say and he will have to live with this for the rest of his life.

    30th November 2010
  • No body will advocate at this time for inclusion into government members of the opposition. That is tantamount to destroying our democracy.
    What people are saying is that even though our two main political parties are predominantly regional base, it is but true that for any one of them to clinch election they need some percentage from the opposing region. This was the case with the slpp election victory of 2002. What that shows is that the SLPP although predominantly a southern base party, have some strong supporters in the north and western areas. Those people were made to that have a stake in the government and party. It was the same for President Koroma’s 2007 victory. His percentage election scores in places like Kenema, Kono, Bonthe and Bo showed that he had strong supporters even though they may be in the minority from those areas. Now check if any of these areas are represented in his government.
    The same goes for civil and technical services jobs some of which are life long careers. Most of the people of South-eastern origins that have been replaced or marginalised had served those institutions for years predating the SLPP ascendancy to power. Now they suddenly become the spies for the opposition and therefore sack or placed in a position that they can not do what they are best good at.
    As president of the nation president Koroma have to use his constitutional powers and discretion to make sure that the safe and peaceful country that was entrusted to him remains safe and secure. All his subjects should fell they have a stake in the country and that all will know that if things go bad, everyone becomes the loser. Note that promoting one set of people over the others will always results to insecurity as he who is down fears no fall and in these days no amount of repression will make good for the country. President Koroma is the first president in the last 19 years that is governing over a peaceful and totally secure country. His predecessor while he was taking his oath of office in 1992, there was war going on in Mobinbi, Kono, Kailahun, and Matouer. He should therefore be careful that history do not judge him or remember him as one who inherited a peaceful country and yet plunged it back into war or laid the foundation for another bout of war because he used his presidential powers to bring discord among the people of Sierra Leone. As Shakespeare said “the good is always buried with them it is the evil that will remain for all to see”.

    30th November 2010

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