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Politics of Development: Many voted Five Months Ago!

By David Tam-Baryoh

A decade backwards, 2002; the Presidential and Parliamentary elections were premised with the argument that President Tejan Kabbah had ended the war and that he was to be given a second term to move his development programs forward. The Proportional Representation method of choosing Members of Parliament was much helpful to hitherto unknown individuals who got elected simply because voters had more allegiance to political parties other than principle.

In those general elections, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, SLPP had its presidential candidate, Kabbah scoring 73% of the vote-cast with greater majority in Parliament. During those elections, tensions were less and many doubted if Kabbah would not win by landslide margin. As further continuation of International support to the country, funds continued to pour in by millions in US Dollars.

Five years after his second victory (2007), many discussed whether the Kabbah government actually utilized well the Millions of Dollars received from donors and well-wishers. Depending on which side of the coin one is arguing, some believe that the country lost the golden opportunity to developmentally grow immediately after the war since we had had more donor sympathy than ten years later. On infrastructural development, Kabbah tried to do what he could under the circumstances; amidst his tough financial discipline under the watchful eyes of our International partners such as the World Bank and the IMF.

The Makeni/Masiaka and Masiaka/Bo roads were completed while the Gbere junction/Portloko and Goderich roads were abandoned because the contractors were nowhere to be seen. In fact as early as two months into his leadership, President Ernest Bai Koroma had to negotiate a ‘refund’ of $4.5m of EU funding because the Sierra Leone Commercial bank, with criminal connivance of some high ranking officials therein to had issued bank guarantee for non performing contractors who were involved with the defunct Gbere junction/Port Loko road.

But for that positive Presidential decision, the EU would have withheld very much needed funds for a country ready to embark on very important developmental projects; mainly in Agriculture, health, education and roads. Only a few would doubt then why actually the managers of the country’s commercial bank and the Roads Authority were relieved of their posts barely two months after Koroma took office.

Ernest Koroma

The sad reality and negative financial effects of the British foreign development office, DFID withholding all funding in April of 2006 until after the outcome of the September 2007 elections said a lot. Little wonder then that one of the first state duties Koroma performed was to increase, through legislative instrument, the independence and prosecutorial powers of the country’s anti graft institution, the ACC. Did business continue as usual for the bad roads network, fake contracts but some financial discipline in the country after Tejan Kabbah, Probably not. In fact we improve considerably as we now realize that we are using some 60% of locally generated revenue to undertake development programs. Thus against the backdrop of complaints, playing politics with development and parochial interests, many outside the power-periphery would criticize the Koroma government for being less ‘inclusive’ while those from within the Koroma regime would taunt their critics as being selfish, ever non accountable and wishing to lay their corrupt hands again on the country’s resources. So whichever way you look at it, some group-economic interest is at play in a country where many have little appetite and interest for private resource development, safe for the insatiable desire for, and to get closer to easily accessible national resources. So the bigger question then is: In Sierra Leone, can elections actually be fought on issues? Well, if selfish interest and long standing political alliance based on tradition are issues, then yes. Those outside the confines of state power do not want to come in simply because they love Sierra Leone so much. They want to come in because they know it is their natural and national right to have access to state revenue and resources. And in a country with only 1% having control over the natural and national resources, may be they are right to want to rush in and fill every imagined political space available. Thus as November 17, 2012 approached, for elections to take place, every political party, especially the SLPP and the All Peoples Congress, APC had had time to mobilize voters arguing basically not from the vantage point of issues; but from where the great grand mothers and fathers had decided how the children, even as old as 50 years now, should vote. Some, like the SLPP, have had to rely on regional strength with the leader, Maada Bio saying he would categorically get 80% of the south eastern votes. On the contrary, with the huge penetration the APC have made into Kailahun, Kenema and a near political seizure of Kono (districts) in the east of the country, with expected reasonable votes from Bo, Pujehun and Bonthe districts in the south, neither the SLPP, nor the APC can get 80% of these scattered hitherto traditional, now changing to swing votes. And with a solid block support for the APC in the north, coupled with huge sympathy-admiration for the President in the Western area, it would be interesting to see how different these elections can really go other than victory for the incumbent, except if the opposition SLPP have some very strange magic to perform at the counting and verification rooms of the National Electoral Commission, NEC. But like my grandmother said, “for these 2012 multitier elections many actually had voted some five months ago” irrespective of which new issues that are brought up!

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