In all our elections in Sierra Leone, preponderantly from 1996 when our nation returned to multi-party constitutional rule, political parties release what they call their Manifesto incorporating their vision and action plan for the nation. This has become what I refer to as “quadrilinear political illicit affair” whereby the political parties use semantics and charming words to woo voters. As susceptible to attack as the typical Sierra Leonean voter is, party slogans are enough to slake their five–year thirst, hunger, poverty, etc.
Deplorably, these manifestos which are escorted by pomp and pageantry when they are being launched are hidden in a hole and covered with a huge and bleak lid until the next election approaches. The ordinary voter hardly sees the colour of these manifestos let alone glancing through them. Parties fail to carry out these manifestos when they come into power and they are left off the hook as well. This has reduced manifestos to a mere rhetoric of political parties to hoodwink unsuspecting and vulnerable voters.
All the above happen and get repeated every five years simply because there are no legal backings to political party manifestos. Parties are not obliged to fulfill promises contained in their manifestos since there are no legal authorities, at least not that I know of, to compel them to do so. Interestingly, there are always nicely packaged lies to tell the electorates during elections.
For instance, both the SLPP and APC have promised to abrogate the very oppressive seditious liable law from the constitution. This has never seen the light of day. Today, the SLPP is again giving the same promise in 2018. Again the APC in 2007 promised to fight corruption sincerely and also to provide every Sierra Leonean with a job which they can earn their livelihoods, which also never materialised.
The hard but uncomfortable truth is after 56 years of independence with all the minerals we own as a nation the majority of our nationals are still living in abject poverty. This means our political party leaders simply don’t know how to lead. So do we really need a political party manifesto or Citizens Manifesto?
Not long ago civil society and journalists outdoored a development plan for Sierra Leone which they named as “Citizens Manifesto”. Members of various civil society and journalist organisations trekked the length and breadth of the country to solicit ideas from the citizenry before finalising the document which all political parties committed themselves to. The billion dollar question is, how are the SLPP and APC party manifestos recently launched going to propel the Citizens Manifesto into action? How the other manifestos yet to be launched fashioned along this grand Citizens Manifesto development plan?
With the current system, one party takes the nation to the right and the other comes to power and takes us to left. Why can’t we as a nation get a national manifesto but always have to depend on manifesto from parties which goes to project the parochial interest of the particular party?
Years of experience continue to teach us that we need to have a Citizens Manifesto to collectively tackle key national developmental issues such as education, health, economic management, agriculture to mention but a few. No party manifesto should supersede the Citizens Manifesto to the point that programmes, policies, and projects initiated by previous governments are abandoned and discontinued by successive governments. Why should one government introduce a four year Senior High School programme for another party to come to power soon afterward to revert it to three years? Did we go or did we come?
I would not be surprised that the various political parties are oblivious to the content of the Citizens Manifesto either than that APC and SLPP would not be fighting over who is stealing whose ideas.
With the current Citizens Manifesto, there is still a way forward. In order for us to share a common destiny as one people there is an urgent need for a Citizens Manifesto or agenda no matter how our politicians try to distance themselves from it. The current system has been try and error where our leaders are toying with our lives. There should a common plan for almost all the aspects of our nation. This plan should be part of our curriculum so that it is imbibed in our students right from the onset.
Again, political party manifestos should be fashioned along the line of the Citizens Manifesto or Development Plan. With this, parties cannot force any policy or programme down our throat simply because it was captured in their manifesto.
We have advanced far in the wrong direction. The solution, however, does not lie in us pressing hard the accelerator but rather turning backward, better late than never.