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As opposition kicks out ruling party in Jamaica … the fatal coincidence and the lessons for the APC

As opposition kicks out ruling party in Jamaica … the fatal coincidence and the lessons for the APC

2011 was a remarkable year as the Political Hurricane Eviction hit ruling parties around the world. Whether it was in Sao Tome and Principe (August 2011), Cape Verde (August 2011), Zambia (September 2011), Spain (November 2011) and finally Jamaica (December 2011), the peoples of these countries have used their most powerful political instrument to evict governments which have brought scores of sufferings, hardship and unemployment on them. As such, I will endeavour to focus this piece primarily on analysing the coincidence and lessons of the Jamaican elections in the Sierra Leone context.

Like Sierra Leone, Jamaica has a reasonably small population of around 2.8 million people. Like us, their political landscape has also been dominated by two major political parties: the opposition Peoples National Party (PNP) which has won the elections in a landslide and the defeated ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The victorious PNP has been led by iron lady, Portia Simpson Miller whilst the ruling JLP was led by incumbent Prime Minister Andrew Holness who succeeded Bruce Golding who resigned as Prime Minister in October 2011. With this background, I will now focus on the fatal coincidence and the lessons for the APC.

To start with, like President Koroma’s APC, the now defeated ruling JLP took office in September 2007 in a narrow defeat of the PNP. On assumption of office in 2007 and like President Koroma, Bruce Golding (then Prime Minister of JLP) criticised the PNP government of economic stagnation, abuses of security forces, corruption in public sector, inability to reduce crime and drug-related network, high levels of poverty, high unemployment of 9.3% (2007) and high level public debt. Coincidentally, in the same September 2007, President Koroma criticised the SLPP of high youth unemployment, poor conditions of living, high level of corruption in public offices, making Freetown filthiest capital city, poor management of our resources and poor fiscal policies. As such, whilst the then Prime Minister Bruce Golding promised the Jamaican people in his inaugural speech ‘a new approach’, President Koroma promised Sierra Leoneans ‘an Agenda for Change’.

Therefore, almost five years on what are the results? In Jamaica, PM Bruce Golding JLP’s ‘new approach’ has led to worse conditions of living with irregular water supplies, more people living in poverty than 2007, an increase in unemployment rate of more than 12% than 9.3% in 2007 and a record public debt of roughly $18.6 billion or 130% of GDP. Coincidentally, in Sierra Leone, President Koroma’s ‘Agenda for Change’ has led to massive increase in youth unemployment of around 70%, increased rate of violent crimes especially armed robbery, rampant business fraud, ripping apart of our country’s reputation either by timbergate or APC’s diplomats engaging in sexual scandals, connectocracy which awards contracts to the President’s families and friends, a filthier Freetown, petrol toe-line, debt liability of more than $ 800 million when in 2006 SLPP secured our debt cancellation of more than $1.6 billion and the worse is food crisis with prices of basic commodities either double or triple as evident in the price of rice which was Le 60,000 in 2007 but now ranging from Le140,000 – Le 160,000. Therefore, the lesson we can learn from the Jamaica elections is that suffering voters do not give a second chance to government where people wallow in Hardship, poverty and joblessness. The voters are waking up to the fact that they cannot mortgage another five years of a promised paradise when they sleep on empty stomachs. So if the Jamaican voters have Punished the JLP for their lies, deception and incapability, Sierra Leoneans too can punish the APC for their lies and deception which has made us poorer and still unemployed.

Another issue from the Jamaican elections which strikes a coincidence is that of the story of the new Prime Minister elect Portia Simpson Miller. Portia Simpson Miller was a former Prime Minister who first took up office in March 2006 but ruled for 18 months when the PNP narrowly lost to JLP in 2007. Although her tenure of office was short lived, that opportunity gave her the first hand experience of governance to handle state affairs as opposed to a novice to the corridors of the highest office. So the question is why could Jamaicans elect a former Prime Minister? The reason is obvious that when people find themselves in a wilderness of hardship where everything seems hopeless, they always turn to a political leader who has got prior experience of state governance. As such Portia Simpson Miller can be likened to Maada Bio, a former head of state with a wealth of experience and knowledge of state governance and whose leadership in office was tested especially during the toughest times of our transition to democracy. If Bio had the courage and determination to usher the people their first democratic elections in 1996, he can also lead them from the APC wilderness of hardship to the land of prosperity.

However, the flip side of previous experience in governance either as Prime Minister or Head of State is that the ruling party may find an incident or event during your tenure to make you a monster for political convenience. That is why the APC hand-to-mouth soldiers had been rehearsing their failed strategy that Maada Bio has baggage which they claim is the extra-judicial killing of Bambay Kamara and others. Well, whilst we have dismantled that baggage since Bio’s election but let be generous and assume it is a baggage. In Jamaica, the defeated ruling JLP had campaigned that Portia Simpson Miller had ‘two baggages’ whilst she was in office in 2007. Firstly, the defeated JLP accused her of poor response to Hurricane Dean in 2007 which accounted for the loss of lives of Jamaicans and about 3,127 houses damaged. Secondly, she was also accused of being evasive of the Trafigura Scandal regarding the Trafigura Beheer’s donation of $ 31 million to her PNP for alleged oil lifting agreement. Despite these ‘two baggages’, which are by far heavier than the Maada Bio supposed baggage, the Jamaican voters made a choice not to give credence to character assassination rather they focus on what really matter: unemployment, hardship and poverty. Hence, the lesson we can learn from the baggage issue is that whilst no politician is immune from political baggages, during hard times voters do not care about baggages but rather which leader who can provide jobs, decent living conditions and life’s opportunities.

Therefore, if Jamaican voters can evict the ruling JLP for hardship and unemployment then Sierra Leonean voters can also evict the ruling APC for hardship and joblessness.

By: Yusuf Keketoma Sandi BA (Hons), LLB (Hons) London

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