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Remembering Maada Salia Jusu-Sheriff

3 January 2020 at 15:57 | 1404 views

The Nation State, Democracy and the Role of Parliament

Inaugural lecture by the Honourable Dr. Abdul Karim Koroma in memory of the Honourable Dr. Maada Salia Jusu-Sheriff (pictured) in the Parliament of Sierra Leone, December 17, 2019.

Mr. Chairman, Your Excellency Mr. President, Honourable Members of Parliament, Distinguished Guests Ladies and Gentlemen.

Please allow me in the first instance Mr. Chairman, to pay due cognizance to the distinguished presence in this Parliament of madam Gladys Jusu Sheriff and members of her family, who are here today as surviving representatives of the family patriarch, the Honourable Dr. Maada Salia Jusu Sheriff who transitioned on December 12, 2009. And it is in his memory and in his honour this ceremony is dedicated.

Let me also take the opportunity as inaugural speaker to say thank you Mr. President for the honour you have accorded this ceremony by your distinguished and gracious presence; a presence that also serves as a testimonial to the high regard you have demonstrated for a man so many Sierra Leoneans have come to regard as one of the political icons of our Republic. To you honourable members of Parliament and all our wonderful guests gathered here this morning I express my appreciation and I register my due respects.

The Honourable Jusu Sheriff will be remembered for many great things; firstly as a past member of Government, who eventually attained the position of Vice President. But perhaps, and more particularly he will be remembered as a member of Parliament, in which role he was an active, committed and distinguished participant especially in the contentious and confrontational moments of the country’s early post colonial period. But the vision of the Honourable Maada Jusu Sheriff and his contribution to Sierra Leone went beyond the frontiers of Parliament to encompass diverse aspects of the Nation and its development.

And so to the family of this our great compatriot, I record my thanks and gratitude for the honour accorded me to deliver this inaugural lecture which I believe, will set the trend for the Maada Salia Jusu Sheriff Memorial Lectures..

In undertaking this assignment I do so with some amount of trepidation, fully conscious of the fact that our subject the Nation State, Democracy and the role of Parliament, which in its individual compartments represent some of the most intensely researched and greatly written about themes of Political Science. But then, even after two thousand five hundred years since Plato’s writings on Politics and the Rgpu_hljgz we seem not to have been able to establish a universally accepted formulation of what truly and fully Constitutes a Nation State and the System of Democracy, not to mention what constitutes the democratic ideal.

Contending viewpoints have always prevailed in the discourse and will seemingly continue to do so for as long as our global Political environment holds the potential to produce leaders whose character and convictions will dictate the course of human history.

Any discussion of our topic must , of necessity, begin with an examination of the Political entity we call the Nation State and its essential characteristics. We also recognize the fact that any political entity involving human activity and human interaction must equally involve a system which organizes and gives direction to human behavior within that specific entity.

From the days of antiquity to our modern times, the most popular system of governance has been the democratic system. We do acknowledge the fact also, that between ancient times and our modern day, human political evolution has experienced phases, producing dictatorships, tyrannies, strong medieval monarchies, to our 20 th Century Communism, Fascism and Nazism. And following several incarnations there has eventually evolved, albeit in diverse forms, and modifications the system we refer to as Democracy.

What then is democracy in the entity of the Nation State, and what is its origin and defining characteristics? And being a system of governance, is it the Ruler, howsoever we identify him, or the people, who must bear prime responsibility for the successful functioning of a democratic system of governance within the state?
One of the distinctive aspects of human behavior has been the powerful desire by all people to organize themselves into a state. This desire is rooted in the commonality of people regarding who they are and the characteristics that define them either as a homogenous group or otherwise.

And so we ask the question, what, in effect, is a nation, and what defines a Nation, and the idea of nationhood? In broad terms, a Nation represents a community of people who perceive themselves as belonging to a group with a deeply shared history and a shared destiny for the future. People of a Nation usually also seem to possess distinctive characteristics of race, language, religion and social customs which identify them as different from other people, There is also the fact that people who identify themselves as a nation when confronted with a crisis that threatens their existence as a group, will respond to that crisis even at great cost.

The idea of a community with common characteristics is sometimes also referred to as tribal. And if we go by the same characteristics of race, language, religion and social customs, can we reasonably accept large communities as Nations?

The various indigenous Communities in America such as the Apaches, the Cherokees, the Cheyenne and the Sionx, were all referred to throughout their active history as Nations, and sometimes also as tribes. Equally so, very large communities in Africa such as the Zulus, Hausa, Yoruba, Mandinka, Fulani, Mende and Temne were all throughout the 1 9th and early 20 th Century referred to ss Nations, and they themselves regarded themselves as such. And although they all had aspirations to govern themselves, the tide of history made it impossible to establish individual states.

But does the establishment of a state naturally lead to the creation of a nation with common well-defined characteristics? The answer to this may well lie in an examination of certain clear case studies.

In 1861 the unification of Italy was achieved and the various City States and Regions became the Kingdom of Italy. In 1946 the Republic of Italy was created. In the Parliament of the new Republic, a member made the statement ’we have created Italy. We now have to create Italians. The new Republic incorporated several different City States and Regions, that now had to be welded into the Nation of Italy with common defining characteristics and paying loyalty to a single concept of Italian nationhood.

But two case studies present the most evident examples of the creation of a state, and the vast challenges almost the impossibility of having a nation with common identifiable characteristics. The first of these is the State of Israel. The deep rooted history of Jews and Arabs with their very different historical experiences, their languages, religions and customs have spawned a seventy year history of instability, demonstrating the profound challenge to the concept of nationhood within the State of Israel

The case of Malaysia is just as difficult, but perhaps to a much lesser degree. Here we have Malays, Chinese, and Indians- three different races with three different religions, languages and social customs, with very little to hold all three together as a united people with a shared destiny within the same State.

In the case of Sierra Leone, did that colonial entity emerge as a nation with the declaration of a Protectorate by the British in 1896 which more or less effectively established the boundaries of the colonial State of Sierra Leone? Or did the concept of Nationhood emerge, if at all, at Independence in 1961 ?

Did the created independent State of Sierra Leone produce in 1961 or thereafter the nation of Sierra Leoneans with a commonality of interests, a shared destiny and a primary and fundamental loyalty to the concept of nationhood? Moreover, how profoundly do we as a people perceive ourselves and each other, within the territorial boundaries of the geographical and political entity we refer to as the State of Sierra Leone?

Sierra Leone emerged as a State from colonialism, and the colonial administrator, more interested in divide and rule, had no desire whatsoever to create an ethnically unified nation. And for very good reason. No colonial power would do that, which could only foster ideas of self- determination and independence with the potential for instability and conflict.

If Sierra Leone like most sub-Saharan states has had to deal with the nagging problem of ethnic diversity and the challenges that problem has presented in creating a unified nation with shared interests, perhaps Sierra Leone has demonstrated much earlier in its history, certain advantages that have diminished the potential for instability and conflict.

The Physical size of the country, the few ethnic groups, and in certain cases, the linguistic similarities between some of these groups such as Mandinka and Koranko, Yalunka and Susu, and others; the unifying factors of race, two dominant religions which cut across community lines, a close similarity of social customs among the ethnic groups, a single official language and a common Lingua Franca for social and commercial interaction, and above all a shared history of 150 years of colonial rule, have collectively laid both the political and psychological foundations for nationhood.

This admittedly was not an easy process. Each ethnic Community, perceiving itself as a nation with the ability to exist as a State and other prevailing conditions has often led to inter-ethnic rivalry and the potential but occasionally also, the reality of violent conflict. Though often suppressed by colonial authorities, such conflicts have left a negative psychological and political residue that has impacted in some ways on the collective ability to establish a comprehensive and wholesome concept and perception of nation hood.

But in 150 years of colonial rule, and 58years of independence, it must also be admitted that a substantial degree of integration, has been achieved, enabling the diverse communities of Sierra Leone to establish a sense of identity as a nation, and to give the State the authority to wield its powers both coercive and juridical to preserve the integrity and concept of nationhood.

There is a profound fact we must acknowledge that howsoever a people may identify themselves as a nation, it is essentially the State with its coercive and juridical powers that maintains the integrity of a Nation.

However homogenous or diverse it may be, it is the State which in our modern era that takes prime responsibility for organizing and mobilizing the various groups within its state boundaries. And eventually, it is the power of the State, with all the appurtenances of state authority, that overrides the often compelling desire for individual communities to lay loyalty to individual groups rather than to the concept and cause of the nation.

And it is in this respect in which both the Nation and the State must function in concert, that in all likelihood, eventually laid the foundation for the birth of what we call the Nation State.

With the establishment of the Nation State, we must now consider the system of government that would be desirable to the people.

Throughout history, no system of government has attracted the greatest attention than the system of democracy in spite of its diverse manifestations.

Despots and tyrants have used it in the name of the people to cover their authoritarian rule; medieval monarchs have referred to it as the bastion for divine authority, and the support of the people. Nazis used it to gain political power legally only to abandon it later for more despotic methods; Communists have used it and referred to it as the power of the Proletariat or the dictatorship of the masses. But what is the origin of Democracy and what is its defining character.

It began in 508 BC in the Greek City State of Athens, as a political system where the people have ultimate power. The Greek word Demos means the common people; and Kratis the_rule of the people.

From 508 BC in Athens to 1863 in Gettysburg in America, where Abraham Lincoln Propounded his modern version of a government of the people, by the people and for the people , democracy was essentially based on the power of the people.
But in over a thousand years of history, that system went through several modifications that eventually produced such characteristics as adult suffrage, equality of race, gender and economic status. But equally so in all these centuries, the twists and turns of democracy could not prevent the rise of authoritarian systems while in several cases authoritarian Rulers simply incorporated their version of democracy into state governance.

But in general, democracy, through the constant struggle of societies to overcome the oppression of despotic rulers, has given us the opportunity to transform our nation states from authoritarian systems to the more liberal and rational democratic form of governance that prevails in most of our nation states today.
And yet in spite of the fact that several international agreements have been signed, conventions and protocols established to guide state governance and proper state behavior, most countries interpret democracy in their own particular manner, producing a wide variety of democratic governments.

But democracy in its most popular application throughout history has come down to two versions. Direct democracy as practiced in ancient Athens and some modern states where the people, vote directly for the laws, the ruler, and the policies of society. The other is Indirect or Representative democracy where the people vote for their representatives who act in their name.

Each of these two forms of Democracy has a problem. In a small, homogenous and highly literate society like Switzerland, Direct democracy might be largely workable and acceptable. But in a large, populous and heavily illiterate State, Direct democracy can be extremely challenging.

In Representative democracy, on the other hand, which prevails in much of our world today, it is assumed that the Representative minority is given power to govern for the majority and in the process, protect their interest. In numerous polarized societies in Africa and the Third World with vast illiterate and poor masses whose choice of their representatives is dictated by diverse factors, can the minority be fully trusted to protect the interest of the majority. When the majority of the masses cannot even understand the nuances of government and the constitutional processes by which they are governed, how deep a stake can they invest in the integrity of the minority to pursue and protect the interests of the majority.
But in the course of political evolution, a greater problem lay ahead; one that was as old as the system of democracy itself; and one that would from the earliest days, bring into confrontation, the Ruler and his subjects. That confrontation has hinged on the distribution of power in the State.

That struggle for power dominance has not been easy, since throughout history, the Ruler has consistently tried to possess and preserve as much authority as he could, and to exercise it to the highest degree, to control the lives of the citizens. The people on the other hand have equally and consistently endeavoured to reduce the ability of the Ruler to exercise unrestrained authority. In cases where this struggle has produced acute disagreement, and reached a critical mass, it has led to assassination, or rebellion or Military coup against the Ruler.

This struggle for power and political dominance has thus been the defining characteristic between the two groups- the Ruler and the People- from the days of the Roman Empire when Emperor Gaius Caligula believed and claimed that he had the power of life and death over every individual in the Empire. To enhance that claim, Caligula elevated himself to the divine status of a god. His eventual assassination seemed long in the making. And so too in England following a deep power struggle, King Charles I of England was executed. The record of such power struggles is long and sad, producing a large number of victims.
Can we in Africa and the Third World claim to have matured sufficiently to define democracy in Abraham Lincoln terms; that democracy is not just a mental image we pay lip service to as and when it suits us?

In the context and circumstances of the struggle for power between the Ruler and the subjects, can we, in the light of our modern history, say with any degree of conviction that democracy truly reflects the power of the people, where the minority can govern by the will and mandate of the people and the majority is protected?
This brings us to an interesting point in our long historic search for the elusive democratic ideal where the voice and the will of the majority is the defining and acceptable feature of democracy.

If therefore the power of the people and the vote of the majority constitute proper and acceptable democracy, then what happens when an angry mob accuses a man of criminal behavior and instantly imposes mob justice by hanging him from the nearest tree? Are we not correct to say, that is pure democracy at work? After all it is the action of the majority whose decision carries the vote, against the single vote of the minority whose neck is now at the end of the rope. Who can say that particular lynching was not a democratic decision, never mind the injustice?
In the constant struggle to gain political power and dominance in our modern age, a powerful Ruler occasionally emerges and proceeds to disregard constitutional provisions by invoking the power of the Executive to by- pass legal constitutional limitations. When that happens it becomes tragically obvious that the fate of a single individual can hang in the balance.

In the name of the State, every manifestation of power is possible, and we can conclude with a great deal of certainty, that power, with the exception of a brief period in the history of Athens, has always been exercised by the few over the many. This was as true in ancient and medieval societies as it is today in our Western Liberal democracy.

Thus when a European President or Prime Minister, and an American President and an African President all claim with conviction to be acting in the interest of the people, it was the same claim made by the Roman Emperor, the feudal Monarch or Communist dictator, all with equal conviction. But it is worthy to note that in a liberal democracy in most States today, there are constitutional red lines that cannot be crossed without consequences.

However, even in a Parliamentary democracy with a Chief Executive, a cabinet and a large number of members of the legislature, they still constitute a minority who exercise their authority over millions of their compatriots, who never really selected them directly, but merely endorsed them by their vote. And in a Liberal western democracy, even the Head of State is selected by a core group against other candidates, or as seen in some constitutional provision, the potential Head of State is selected by one man to the exclusion of all others, and again both of them for the endorsement of the people with their vote. And indeed we refer to all of that as Democracy.

In the equally telling case of the United States of America, the popular vote of the people does not guarantee victory, until the small Electoral college certifies the vote for a successful President This constitutional provision emerged in the early political history of America following the declaration of Independence, in the belief that the vast illiterate and "unwashed" masses lacked the capacity to elect a President directly.

Thus democracy as we have defined it and understood it presents us with tremendous challenges while the democratic ideal is technically impossible to achieve.

However, our consolation has come down to the fact that in the long struggle for power, there has been a consistent erosion of the power of the Ruler which has eventually produced the liberal democracy of our modern age. And if throughout this discourse, so far, we have considered the Nation State and the system of democracy that emerged at its birth, we must now consider the third political institution- Parliament, its importance and its role in the Nation State.

Historically, Parliaments comprised of all types of assemblies involved in deliberation, consultation, or Judicial matters summoned by the King. By the 1 5 th century, these assemblies were transformed and became specifically known as the legislature. In 1215, the struggle for power between the king and the people in England took an important step when King John gave the people the historic document known as the Magna Carta. This established the greater council and laid the foundation for our parliamentary system today.

In the reign of Henry VIll who still had immense power, further moves were made by the Reformation Acts that henceforth also reduced the power of the King who now had to rule in consultation with Parliament along an established parliamentary procedure. The King’s proclamations had to be enforced by Parliament. Freedom of speech was observed without the possibility of arrest.

When King Charles 1 tried to reduce the authority of Parliament and actually dissolved it on several occasions, the ensuing bitter confrontation for supremacy between King and Parliament led to the first English civil war and eventually to the execution of the King in 1649 for treason. By 1688, Parliament became separated from the Monarchy.

In modern times and specifically in our Sierra Leone context, Parliament has three specific functions:

(l) It represents the electorate through elected representatives from various constituencies

(2) It has the responsibility to make laws

(3)It overseas the activities of government through regular hearings and inquiries

The role of the Member of Parliament is focal in these three areas in which his actions and responsibility as a Member of Parliament are clearly circumscribed by constitutional regulation.

These spheres of action for the Member of Parliament excite us to ask some fundamental questions pertinent to the loyalty of the Member of Parliament with regard to the Nation State, the democratic system, and the question of the Ruler.
But first let us examine two issues of significance in discussing the role of the Member of Parliament with regard to his responsibilities. The first is that as an eventual outcome of the struggle for power in the State, Parliament over an extended period was able to achieve what became known as the Sovereignty of Parliament. No longer was parliament under the control of the Monarchy to be summoned and dismissed whenever it suited the Monarch. In our modern times, and with the doctrine of the separation of powers,Parliament became independent divorced from Executive control and accountable only to itself and the people.
Secondly, there is a potent political reality which must be recognized. That is, even though the Member of Parliament represents a constituency which is part of the national electorate, he was hardly identified and selected directly by the Constituents and subsequently voted for by the entire constituency electorate. It is a fact that every Member of Parliament belonging to a political Party as in the Sierra Leone political dispensation, is identified by friends, or political associates or Party patrons, and then adopted by his political party and presented to the constituency . Thus in a polarized society, and being on the correct side of that society, the election of the Member of Parliament becomes all too predictable. Was the Member of Parliament therefore really elected by the people or was he merely endorsed by the constituents who had no choice but to vote for what was presented to them? These two issues thus periodically present to the Member of Parliament the dilemma of making difficult choices.

The importance of raising questions regarding these three areas is born of the necessity to really and truly appreciate the issue of loyalty in making the difficult choices, as Members of Parliament go about their fundamental constitutional responsibility of serving the people.

In the first place, how do Members of Parliament perceive their role as elected spokesmen and women for the people in the context of the three distinct but interrelated entities of The State, The Democratic System and he Ruler.

Our African political environment has experienced several tragedies such as natural disasters of drought, famine, epidemics and scarce natural resources. But the truth is also distressingly clear, that many of Africa’s woes are self inflicted. Civil conflicts have polarized and devastated whole communities. Autocratic regimes have presented a fagade of democracy; corruption and mismanagement prevalent in numerous states have stalled and choked the development of social services and infrastructure.

During the Cold War dictatorial Third World regimes were maintained without question as long as they were on the correct side of a powerful patron. Little wonder then that in a Latin American State a brutal dictator was referred to by an official of a Western democratic country as a son of a bitch, and the President of that western democratic country responded by saying ’yes I know he is a son of a bitch, But he is our son of a bitch.’

The Cold War as we knew it may have vanished, but corrupt and dictatorial regimes still persist in many places in Africa and the Third World. It is in this context that we ask the pertinent question How can a Member of Parliament freely and conscientiously operate on behalf of the people whose interest he was constitutionally mandated to pursue and protect in such a dictatorial Latin American state or a chaotic autocratic African political environment both of which are fraught with dangers.

Again, did the World not clearly witness the tragic spectacle of an uncle of a Head of State being dragged out of a meeting and summarily executed on questionable grounds? And all this happened in a country that officially and proudly refers to itself as a democratic Republic with full international recognition.

Can the Member of Parliament constantly strive for the elusive democratic ideal in such an immensely questionable political environment? And on the question of the Ruler, how can a Member of Parliament freely and conscientiously operate with integrity in defense of the State and the protection of the people’s interest when he is confronted with the evidence of the painful reality that the Ruler to whom he owes loyalty even for his own continued political existence, has developed an autocratic tendency and become a poacher of the national treasury. The Member of Parliament is thus confronted with the dilemma of loyalty to the State or to his Ruler.

Again in dealing with issues of corruption, can Members of Parliament independently initiate and pursue action on this socially despicable, aspect in the nation state? Or do they simply prefer to take the line of least resistance and consign it to some state agency. But if that state Agency is remiss in its statutory obligation, is it not sufficiently concerning to Members of Parliament to initiate concerted action. However, I am palpably aware of the fact that even in this situation of dire necessity to act in concert, Members of Parliament of various Parties will still face the age old dilemma of loyalty to the State and loyalty to their political group.

Then again, when an issue is brought to Parliament on a certificate of urgency, is that not an opportunity for Parliament to initiate critical debate, to investigate clandestine protocols and clauses embedded in the fine print of such a document. Can Members of Parliament conscious of the sovereignty of Parliament not act in unison to defend the interest of the State by putting the brakes on a potentially corrupt issue irrespective of Political affiliation?

How can the Member of Parliament particularly in Africa respond to the increasingly popular but very disturbing phenomenon regarding the extension off term limits for a Head of State when he the member of Parliament himself must be distressingly aware that such a thing is potentially destabilizing and must be prevented. Again we face the problem that the Member of Parliament is also fully conscious of the fact that his fate as a member of parliament may well depend on his endorsement or rejection of the Ruler’s political ambition? Caught on the precipice of loyalty to the State and its stability, and loyalty to his Ruler and by extension his own political fortune or misfortune, the decision of the member of parliament becomes a decision painfully located between a rock and a hard place.

All of this now makes us fully and firmly conscious of the fact that democracy in most political environments has on countless occasions, come up short of fulfilling the people’s will. The political class more often than not panders to the democratic process in the gratification of a personal or group interest. But when an issue reaches the critical mass and respect for democracy stares us in the face, we often tend to brush it aside as a vexatious nuisance. Does this not make democracy itself a fragile state issue, which gives urgency to the need for establishing a framework for a more open democratic process that will involve greater inclusion of the people for most of our states in Africa.

Mr. Chairman, Hon members of Parliament distinguished guests, all through this discourse I believe we have been able to glean what the Nation State is, and its defining characteristics. Is it possible, perhaps just by chance, or through some enduring political will, to conceive and establish a nation State, and a system of popular and acceptable governance that can guarantee the interests and will of the people and in the process fully unify the people into a greater concept of nationhood? In every political context and throughout the centuries this is a thing we may well just dream of; something we are fully aware of but can hardly be in accord with political reality.

The history of our African continent has produced a constellation of so many politically, untidy state entities whose efforts to serve the interests of the citizen have not only come up painfully short, but have been nothing other than monumental failures.

But there is hope. And all is not lost. Political evolution in 3000 years of history has had its brutal and painful dimensions. Equally so it has been the resilient political nature of man, who in the face of constant odds has not only endured, but has consistently struggled to challenge the forces of adversity — of brutal despots; of the powerful and merciless medieval monarchs, bloodthirsty state adventurers and democratic fraudsters of our 20 th century. It has been a history writ large in alternating pain and torment on the one hand, and serial successes on the other.
In Sierra Leone in 1961, the euphoria of independence unleashed the feeling of identity about who we are as Sierra Leoneans The new leaders preached a message of hope for the creation of a new Sierra Leonean, and about unifying the various ethnic groups within a Nation State. As Members of Parliament almost six decades today, it is your responsibility to pursue the dream of our Founding Fathers; not merely to be observers and bystanders to the enactment of history but to be the makers of history.

It is for you to collectively and concertedly confront the divisive politics of those who seek to create antagonisms between and among people in pursuit of opportunistic interests. It is for you to confront those who freely plunder the State and undermine the rules that guarantee accountability. And it is for you to reject conspiracy theories that preach the politics of US versus THEM, where we draw red lines in defense of different political groups.

Democracy is never perfect, and its pursuit is a difficult assignment full of uncertainties that can be messy in times of competition and confrontation. And in post-colonial systems like ours in Sierra Leone Democracy was never identified or selected or voted for by us but imposed by external authority with all its strengths its weaknesses and its shortcomings. To you therefore is the unenviable task of restoring faith in our Democracy, to ensure the participation of people of all political persuasions in the issues and decisions that affect their lives. To achieve this as a united force of Parliamentarians is to ensure that your collective voice in this House will resonate with future generations and echo down the centuries all across our Nation.

If today we stand on the threshold of achievement in democratic transformation and state governance, distinct from what it has been down through the ages of man’s political history, we owe it largely to the power of the people, and to their elected representatives- the Senators, the Congressmen, the Members of Parliament- those in whom they have invested their hopes and aspirations to defend, protect and advance their collective interest.

Mr. Chairman, Your Excellency, honourable Members of Parliament, distinguished ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you profoundly ..for your kind attention.

Honourable Dr. Abdul Karim Koroma