“Genuine tolerance means engaging differences within a bond of civility and respect” – Richard Neuhaus
Sierra Leone soon will be going into a crucial election: the third since the country came out of conflict, thus providing the most significant test to its resilient democracy. Getting this right will cement Sierra Leone’s credibility as a peaceful and democratic country that is an example to its neighbours.
But those neighbours have shown that elections are about more than casting one’s vote. They are about accepting differences, finding compromises, allowing dissent. Democracy demands that every participant – political leaders and their followers; election winners and election losers – should shoulder the responsibility for rejecting violence, espousing peaceful debate and demanding fair and transparent processes.
President Koroma once said that elections are not matter of life and death. He’s right – they are more important than that. For elections are about what society is about, how citizens treat each other, what they can expect from and what they owe to their leaders. These are the things that make us truly human, that allow society to flourish.
The SLPP Flagbearer, Julius Maada Bio said that 2012 should be about ideas. He’s right too. The fundamental thrust of modern day democracy is about constructive policy debate: what does the country need; how do we handle our vulnerable groups; where, when and how should decisions be made? We must answer these questions to live together in peaceful prosperity.
It is true that the primary objective of politicians is to capture or retain power and as such, winning elections becomes a major preoccupation. But you don’t want to win an election and in the process, lose the country.
This makes it extremely important for political winners to remember that they have a responsibility to govern in the interest of all irrespective of party, region or tribe. It is equally important for political losers to remember that they have a responsibility to monitor, to advise and to warn when decisions are not in the best interests of the country.
If they do this, voters will brave the sunshine and rain, trek over mountains and climb hills to cast their votes. If they don’t, the voters will stay home and let them get on with it. And history shows that apathy is democracy’s deadliest enemy.
On the eve of Sierra Leone’s 50th Anniversary, Britain’s Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham MP said that “Sierra Leone is on cusp of a better and brighter future” and is “set to complete a difficult transition and step forwards into the bright uplands of a better and brighter future for all Sierra Leoneans”.
Completing this difficult transition has begun. I’m keen to see how Sierra Leoneans complete it. Aren’t you?
Ian Hughes, British High Commissioner, Freetown
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