Leaping into a year of promise?

6 January 2012 at 01:51 | 2391 views

Titus Boye-Thompson, Development Consultant, London, UK.

As news of accidents, sudden deaths and other tragedies filter in, a casual friend reminded us as we congregate in our usual drinking spot in the centre of town (Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone) that the period going into a leap year is always a calamitous one.

The Leap year that 2012 ushers is one that accords great trepidation for most of the ordinary people in Sierra Lone. The preacher at our usual Watch Night service was eager to pray for peace, happiness and non-violence for the coming year. One need not stretch the imagination too far to ascertain why such foreboding is in the air. 2012 is election year in Sierra Leone. The main parties are poised for a grave battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate.

Elections are serious affairs in Africa and Sierra Leone cannot be immune to the repercussions that elections bring, especially when violence becomes a factor in the equation. While this is not in any way implying that violence is necessary for the holding of elections, one has to be mindful of the recent events amongst our neighbors in Guinea, Ivory Coast and Liberia, all members of the Mano River Union, held together by a shared sense of origin, culture and traditions necessitated by the cross border and inter boundary engagements of our respective peoples. It is instructive also to consider that of all the members of the Mano River Union who have had elections in the past four years, the overwhelming will of the people have been made to prevail and in order to secure this heritage, successive opponents have been made to see reason, even by force as in the case of Cote D’Ivoire where France’s intervention established the electorate’s choice after a prolonged period of subversion.

What this is pointing to is the culture that Africa must respect the decisions of their internal institutions and the will of the people by allowing for political change through the ballot box and not by violence heaped on its defenseless citizens.

A close assessment of the situation in Sierra Leone yields that here is a country with a relatively stable government, working institutional framework and robust democratic institutions that have seen a peaceful transfer of power through elections as evidenced in 2007. In addition, the President is very well admired by the people and his administration has made great strides in fulfilling the promise of development that he proclaimed when he first took up office. Very few would doubt that he has not sought to acquit himself very well indeed, considering the massive global and regional challenges his administration had to contend with; the fall of the Western economies had a tremendous effect on donor funds worldwide but Sierra Leone enjoyed such great favor with donor countries that development obligations were hardly affected by the Western economic crisis.

Such is the mark of progress and goodwill engendered by this Government that international institutions and agencies have validated Government’s achievements in areas of tackling corruption, energy, health and sanitation by further pledges of international bilateral and multilateral aid at a period of shrinking resources worldwide. Calling a spade by its name, this Government may have far outstripped its own aspirations and the kudos for that has to be shared by the country, its people and its leadership!

If we do not learn anything from these events, we should simply look amongst our neighbors and compare their plight, then we must respect the courage of our citizenry who, after enduring the gruesome events and personal loss occasioned by the years of civil war, have pledged to secure peace and thereby safeguard democracy by working towards the process of healing and reconciliation. For their sakes, Government must deliver a free, fair and necessarily violence free election in 2012.

When campaigns starts in earnest, it is clear that vile language will abound, invectives will flow freely and semantics will be used to deflect criticisms as wild accusations pervade. The test of our democracy would be an atmosphere where all this is not used to create enmity but used as a means of raising the debate on the issues that matter to the people. Let this Government be judged against its achievements, a review of its policies and an assessment of its proposals.

In the same vein, let the opposition be assessed on the basis of their ability or otherwise suitability to govern. What will they bring that is new, innovative or different from what we have already? Do they offer us any hope of a better or brighter future, can they, will they or in other words, do we believe that they can or they would? Do we believe them at all?

The challenge to the main parties is how best they can rein in their supporters against instigating or otherwise instituting violence during the period of campaign. It is good that the precedence has already been set. Political violence is a crime against humanity and any perpetrator of such vile offences can be prosecuted at the International Court of Justice. Let the purveyors of such violence beware, the world at large will be too small for them to hide. No one can hold the democracy of this great nation to ransom!

Let the prayers of our religious leaders be answered and let peace prevail.