Getting to ‘Yes’ and the fight for the Palm Tree
April, 24, 2014 – Just last week, hopes were high within the Sierra Leone People’s (SLPP) in Sierra Leone and around the world as members of the party awaited the arrival of Dr. Peter Tucker—the man dubbed as the peace messiah. This was much so because Dr. Tucker is not only renowned in Sierra Leone, but also viewed by many within the SLPP as a highly respected and independently-minded elder of the party. His special visit from the United Kingdom was meant to lead the peace talks viewed by many as the final opportunity for those aggrieved leaders in the SLPP to settle their differences. Eye witnesses described the start of the event as having the flavor of a family re-union; as leaders and ordinary citizens gathered around Dr. Tucker to get a glimpse of him and shake his hand. The environment was peaceful, cordial, and moreover reminded many about the long-lost comradely interaction that SLPP is known for.
In attendance were leaders and stakeholders such as the SLPP 2012 presidential flag bearer, Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio; former vice president, Solomon Berewa; former flag bearer aspirant, Mr. Alpha Timbo; and many others. Visibly absent were some key aggrieved leaders and stakeholders. Among them were former chairman, Mr. John Benjamin; former ambassador to Ghana and candidate for chairman at the 2013 Convention, Ambassador Alie Bangura; and the embattled SLPP minority leader of parliament, Dr. Bernadette Lahai. While many including the aggrieved were given ears by the silent majority, the outcome of the meeting was nothing to write home about as a number of key aggrieved members were reported to have hurriedly left the scene upon expressing their grievances. This much anticipated event left many party members more disappointed at the end than they were going in. This comes at a time when the call for leaders to come together and resolve their differences is getting louder by the day. As a result, many are now pondering as to what could be possibly done next to bring all aggrieved parties to the table, keep them there, and have them agree on a way forward.
For answers, I went back to the basic theory of negotiations taught in leadership 101. Nothing could come to mind but the popular case study for negotiation; “Tale of Two Sisters and An Orange”. The slightly modified version of the story goes like this: two sisters were fighting over a single orange and neither of them could agree to let the other have it. The fight went on for days as the orange sat in a jar on the table. The two sisters refused to negotiate. And neither of the two allowed the other to have the orange. The orange had been there for days and was running the risk of getting rot. Having had enough of their fighting over the orange; the mother of the two sisters decided to cut the orange into half. With little time left for both to make use of the orange before it spoiled, they agreed to the deal and the orange was cut into half.
While this appeared like the fair deal, it did not lead to the most optimum outcome for the sisters. This is because after the orange is cut in half and shared; one of them ate the orange and threw away the peel. The other sister used the peel from the other half for making marmalade juice and threw the orange pulp. At the end, half the orange pulp and half the peel ended in the dust bin, when it could have been put to use by the sisters. If the sisters had only sat down and discussed why they needed the orange, they could have reached an outcome that would have been the most optimal—one sister would have been left with the whole orange pulp and the other the entire peel.
SLPP could take a clue from the above story and find a way forward. Instead of cutting the palm tree down and into pieces, we could find a way to optimize the benefit of the palm tree for the greater good of all members. After all, we might be pleasantly surprised to find out that while some just want the palm nuts for palm oil, there are those who only want the palm thatch to cover their huts or palm wine to quench their thirst. And we can get the palm nut, palm thatch, and palm wine without cutting down the palm tree. But unlike the orange story where the sisters were already at the table and remained there, the SLPP brothers and sisters are not yet at the table. We must first find a way to bring our brothers and sisters to the table and keep them there. And while at it, we must also collectively agree as a party that refusing to come to the table is inexcusable and comes with some serious consequences. We will be halfway there, if we can only do that. Otherwise, we cannot even begin to talk peace.
The Cuban missile crisis could have exacerbated the Cold War and possibly led to a Doomsday scenario for the whole world, had parties refused to come to the table and remain there. We cannot broker peace and agree on the way forward if parties refuse to come to the table. After all, there can be no better time to come together than now.
Mustapha Wai, Washington D.C, USA
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