50th Independence Anniversary: We Want to See Real Changes Mr. President
The All Peoples Congress (APC) government has unveiled plans to celebrate Sierra Leone’s 50th independence anniversary, which coincides with its fourth year in power; but celebrations without meaningful changes in the lives of ordinary Sierra Leoneans would be mere merry-making. The government has lined up an inordinately expensive program to commemorate the anniversary, with a hefty price tag. What Sierra Leoneans really want from them is a dedication to fight corruption, a commitment to promoting healthy democratic practices, and most importantly, a drive to foster national cohesion. The APC government has so far failed miserably on all of these areas.
Since its return to power, the APC has consistently demonstrated that it has not abandoned its old undemocratic ways. Violence unleashed by APC thugs on the supporters of the opposition SLPP and the peaceful citizens of Kono district marred the recent local by-election in district. Weeks before the elections, APC thugs violently attacked the motorcades of the several SLPP presidential aspirants in Kono, in some cases the vehicles were smeared with excrement. This shows the extent to which the APC is prepared to go to secure its stay in power. President Earnest Koroma did not take any serious measure to coil the violence, and has continued to countenance the action of the thugs by his refusal to condemn the attacks. It took the intervention of the United Nations (UN) for the by-election to be conducted in Kono. Such actions send worrying signals about how the APC government plans to run the presidential and general elections in 2012. I find it ridiculous that ECOWAS had included President Koroma in its delegation that was sent to Ivory Coast to persuade President Laurent Gbagbo to accept electoral defeat, when President Koroma himself is not committed to free and fair elections in his country.
The government has also extended its hostility to other critical voices outside the official opposition party. It has continued to harass and arrest journalist in spite of its promise to promote press freedom while it was in opposition. In December 2010, three journalists were detained at the Criminal Investigations Department for investigating corruption at the Ministry of Lands. The government has also condescended to the point of interfering in college student union politics in order to suppress potential opposition from among students. The APC government has actively participated in rigging student union elections at both college and national levels since it came to power in 2007. A blatant case was the 2010 Fourah Bay College (FBC) Students Union elections, where the government robbed Francess Mark of the opportunity of becoming the first female student union president of FBC. Forget the election result for a moment; they have continued to harass her because of her alleged affiliation with the opposition SLPP. She was arrested and detained at the Freetown Central Police Station in November 2010 for no justified reason.
Apart from its oppressive and dictatorial tendencies of this evidently inexperienced administration, the APC is also not serious about fighting corruption within its ranks. Their latest so-called successful prosecutions of government ministers have only been a hoax aimed at impressing foreign donors who are becoming frustrated by the high level of corruption in government. There are reports that the President had paid the heavy fines that were slammed against ministers Sheik Tegan Koroma, and Afsatu Kabba by the courts—in an effort to cover-up the fact that the proceeds from the funds squandered by the ministers had actually gone towards financing the ruling APC government party activities. In a weak attempt to dissuade the public from questioning Afsatu Kabba’s prompt payment of the court fines, the APC devised a scheme to present the picture that her court fines were paid by her supporters, who are mostly market women. Anyone with common sense knows that those poor market women have better things to do with their hard-earned income than giving it away to save a corrupt politician. Corruption in President Koroma’s cabinet has not been limited to Sheik Tegan Koroma, and Afsatu Kabba, it cuts across his entire cabinet. A recent posting on Wikileaks revealed that the erstwhile APC Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Serry Kamal, was prepared to quietly release drug traffickers who landed with 600 kg of cocaine at the Freetown International Airport in 2007 for a fee. President Koroma himself had to personally intervene to avoid the huge international embarrassment, but he kept Serry Kamal in the position for another three years.
Lastly and most importantly, the APC government has still not made serious efforts to promote national cohesion. The government is still bent on upholding its northern agenda, which excludes the rest of the country from participating in national governance. Although President Koroma recently appointed a hand full of disaffected members of the opposition SLPP to his cabinet, northerners still largely dominate his government. President Koroma has continued to sack and appoint people to key government positions along regional lines, even at the expense of his government’s reputation. During his recent cabinet reshuffle, President Koroma appointed Kemoh Sesay as his advisor, despite the former transport and aviation minister’s role in the botched cocaine trafficking incident in 2007- again, thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know that President Koroma has prevented the police from prosecuting the narco minister. This does not bode well for a country that is trying to move away from 50 years of underdevelopment and terror, and aspiring for prosperity and tranquility.
The best 50th anniversary present President Koroma and his APC government can offer Sierra Leoneans is a serious commitment to strengthen the country’s economy and fight corruption in government, and an effort to strengthen the peaceful coexistence of Sierra Leoneans irrespective of regional, tribal and political affiliations. The government should also be prepared listen to critical voices. Gone are the ‘careless talk’ days of the old APC when people were subjected to a constant climate of fear, and prevented from expressing their critical opinion about government. The people of Sierra Leone fought hard to restore democracy after decades of APC misrule. Well-meaning Sierra Leoneans must not sit by and allow the Ernest Koroma-led government to take us back to those years as we start another milestone in our national history. The elaborate plan for an independence celebration at a time when our country is pan-handling around the world is down-right-laughable. Our foreign donors and creditors must be wondering when President Ernest Koroma and his gang of thieves would stop making mockery of Sierra Leoneans’ misery.
Morie Alpha, New Haven, Connecticut-USA
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