Salone @ Crossroads -Take A Journey Down Memory Lane

 

Hate filled demonstrations, with Sierra Leoneans uttering unprintable invectives against the country’s Head of State last year in the United States of America (USA) when he attended the United Nations General Assembly annual heads of state summit and in UK this week clearly shows that the internecine political division in the country between the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) holds the potential of reversing this country back to the war years.

As such, Sierra Leone is today in 2019 at a very decisive crossroads. Yes, dangerously, a Sierra Leone that does not seem to have gained any wisdom, knowledge and understanding of its past, especially that period between 1991 and 2000, still holds on to atavistic tribal, regional and political grudge and malice for each other that stems from the way the two major tribes in the country who largely affiliate themselves with either SLPP or APC have seen each other since the days of independence not as fellow Sierra Leoneans but as sworn political enemies. The hate-filled demonstrations against the current Head of State in the U. S. and the UK by his party’s chief political opponents clearly shows that Sierra Leone is divided and heading slowly but surely for doom if politicians and the people do not open their eyes wide and see the dangerous gulf they are about to jump into.

Before attempting to do a forensic analysis of the cause or causes of the division between SLPP and APC which has negatively affected the country’s development since the 1967 general elections that saw state power change hands from the SLPP’s Sir Albert Margai who stepped into the country’s Prime Minister seat in 1964 when his elder brother, Sir Milton Margai died, to APC’s Siaka Stevens, it is important to hammer home the fact that an eye for an eye will only result in everybody ending up blind.

When Sir Milton Margai led the country to independence in 1961, the seeds of the division between SLPP and APC had already been sown because the founder of APC, Siaka Stevens and the Margais hailed from Moyamba and both belonged to the same SLPP. Stevens and SLPP broke apart over the issue of elections before independence, an issue which gripped the nation again in 1996 when the people insisted on holding elections before peace.

However, not to deviate from the point that we are trying to make, there is no human being that is perfect; even the best, the most moral, the most ethical of us has his/her human flaws. There is good and bad in all of us. In that light, from Milton Margai, to Albert Margai, to Siaka Stevens, to J.S Momoh, to Valentine Strasser, to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, to Ernest Bai Koroma and now to Julius Maada Bio, all our post-independence leaders have contributed to the making of the Sierra Leone we know today. As human beings, they all had their successes, failures, challenges and obviously their weaknesses.

Therefore, until as politicians and as members and supporters of SLPP and APC we scrub our minds clean of whatever wrongs, misdeeds and injustices we have suffered sat the hands of each other when our parties have been in power; until we magnanimously decide in our minds, hearts and heads to forgive and forget and to let go of the past, Sierra Leone will never progress as a nation.

Thrice in our post-colonial history has the military had to intervene to grab power from civilian governments. In 1967, when the Electoral Commission declared APC as the winner of that year’s general elections and its leader Siaka Stevens was about to be sworn in by the then Governor Sir Henry Lightfoot Boston, the then military head, Brig. David Lansana declared Martial Law  and ordered that the Governor be put under house arrest.

Some twenty four hours later, junior officers of the Sierra Leone army (SLA) toppled the Brig. David Lansana and invited Col. Andrew T. Juxon-Smith to lead the coup. He became Chairman of the National Reformation Council (NRC) and Head of State whilst the then Commissioner of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), Mr. Leigh became the Deputy Chairman. The then APC leader, Siaka Stevens who had been declared winner of the general elections and his strong supporters fled the country to neighboring Guinea.

Almost a year later, another group of junior military officers overthrew NRC and invited Col. John Bangura who was in neighboring Guinea together with the self-exiled APC leader and supporters who allegedly had nefarious plans to attack Sierra Leone through guerilla warfare.  Col. Bangura returned to Sierra Leone and led the junior military officers. In early 1968, he eventually prevailed on them to invite Siaka Stevens to be sworn in as the next Prime Minister which they agreed.

The APC under Siaka Stevens did everything they could to drive SLPP into extermination between 1968 and 1977 when Siaka Steven called for the general elections which the SLPP contested and won 15 seats in Parliament though three of them were later detained at the Pademba Road Maximum Prisons until they eventually lost their seats, including Lawyer Charles Francis Margai and the late Hon. Teacher Dominic Alfred Ngombu. A year later, Sierra Leone officially declared a one-party state meaning that no other political party existed in the country.

In 1985, Siaka Stevens handed over power to the then Military leader, Major Gen. Joseph Saidu Momoh who ruled until April 1992 when the army again staged a coup led by Captain Valentine Strasser and formed the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). That coup was popularly, nationally and internationally accepted as the young military officers were seen as liberators of the nation from the excesses, failures and misrule of the APC regime. However, before he was overthrown, Momoh had lifted the ban on multi-party state.

Nearly four years in power, Capt. Valentine Strasser was again overthrown in a palace coup by Brig. Julius Maada Bio in December 1995. Later that year the people saw that the war could only end through dialogue. The people therefore demanded for a national conference to deliberate on the issue which necessitated the holding of the said conference dubbed: Bintumani 1. The aftermath of Bintumani 1 saw the NPRC regime and the rebels on the dialogue table to discuss peace.
That same year, the people insisted on holding elections before peace after they discovered that the NPRC wanted to hold on to power by using the war to buy time. Then came Bintumani II to discuss whether or not elections were to be held that year. At Bintumani II, the people unanimously agreed to go to the polls peace or no peace. March 1996 was then slated for the holding of the first democratic elections in the Second Republic of Sierra Leone. The presidential and parliamentary elections under Proportional Representation (PR) system that year, saw the then SLPP presidential candidate, the late Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah emerged as President.  Barely 14 months after the return to democracy, the army once more seized state power with Major Johnny Paul Koroma declaring him-self Head of State and called on renegade Foday Sankoh and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to come out of the bush and form a national unity government with the military.

From exile in Guinea, the very influential Tejan Kabbah mobilized the support of the UN, USA, UK, and ECOWAS to put together a strong international military force to wrestle back state power from Johnny Paul and RUF in order for the democratic gains the country had made not to be reversed. This same international community which since that time has stood staunchly behind Salone politically in consolidating, peace, democracy and development is now concerned that the country is returning to those unstable days.

This potential explosive political tension in the country does not sit well with the USA, Britain, Ireland and EU who have been joined by the United Nations Resident Representative to call on “all political actors to engage in meaningful dialogue to reduce the tensions and maintain the focus on addressing the important development needs of the country and its people.”

At this juncture of this analysis of what went wrong to make Salone a nation at war with itself ever since, we want to take a bold step forward and call on President Bio as father of the nation to swallow whatever insults he has received from APC, whatever molestations and provocations that he and SLPP suffered at the hands of APC whilst they were in power; on the understanding that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Jesus Christ gave a very important example of what forgiveness is all about, with the parable of the prostitute who the people who saw themselves as righteous and unblemished of sin wanted to stone to death. Do we as a nation know what Jesus said to the vengeful crowd? And after they had searched their consciences carefully, what did they all do?

For the Muslims, Prophet Mohamed is their greatest admiration because he was very magnanimous in victory. He never said I am going to treat my enemies or my tormentors the same way they treated me, no. Instead what did he do? He showed them kindness and mercy which is the highest Godly- attributes a human being can possess because each and every day we sinful human beings keep crying to Allah for mercy and forgiveness.

Why then should we as human beings not be generous enough to easily forgive one another and forget whatever wrongs have been done to us in order to live peacefully?

If we are busy fighting each other instead of joining hands to push forward the country’s development, we are doomed because, it is said, ‘a divided house cannot stand.’ Therefore, no country that is divided has ever developed as it is always full of jealousy for each other, malice and saboteurs. As NGC advises, emotions may run high but this is the time for cool calm hearts to prevail, adding that leaders of all political parties must refrain from inflaming their supporters with heated rhetoric.

As such, President Bio as leader and father of the nation should show that he sits high above the parochial quarrels and human trivialities that fill the minds of us the people. He should not allow himself to be distracted from either within or without by those who do not mean well for this country and its people but must also keep his eyes on the bigger picture.

The bigger picture is that it is his responsibility to unite the country, develop it because after five years he has to give account of his stewardship that will guarantee him reelection or not. In the two terms that he seeks, his greatest legacy besides whatever infrastructural edifices that he builds would be uniting and keeping the country together.

Since 1961, leaders have come and gone but Salone remains. Collectively, we the people must know that this is the only Salone that we have. It is our duty as citizens to protect it at all times and to serve her faithfully and loyally, regardless of who or which party is in power. That is what patriotism and nationalism is all about.

A word for the wise…