Ernest Bai Koroma

by Mahmud Tim Kargbo

Again, Ernest Bai Koroma and his fellow All People’s Congress have cast a shadow on the Sierra Leonean project, reminding us just how fragile – some might say flawed – our institutions and constitutional order are. We are a country of laws, but it is the political norms that make the system work. Norms are flexible, but they are also fragile.

In the past ten years, Koroma and his fellow APC have taken norm-shattering to a new level, disgracing themselves and undermining the institutions they are supposed to defend. As a candidate in 2007, Koroma refused to recognise the good work of his predecessor and labelled his government as a very corrupt one, he fired professionals for doing their jobs, repeatedly ignored conflicts of interest and profited from his office, undermined independent institutions and other critical agencies.

For good reason, we Sierra Leoneans are now wondering if our democracy can survive. One of the greatest worries of the founders, after all, was that a demagogue emerged and destroyed the system he inherited from his predecessor.

There is a daunting task ahead for the Bio administration. In addition to addressing an out-of-control global pandemic, rising inequality, there is also an urgent need to rescue Sierra Leone democracy. With APC having long since neglected its oaths of office, democratic norms will have to be replaced with laws. But this will not be easy. When they are observed, norms are often preferable to laws, because they can be more easily adapted to future circumstances. Especially in Sierra Leone’s litigious society, there will always be those willing to circumvent laws by honouring their letter while violating their spirit.

But when one side no longer plays by the rules, stronger guardrails must be introduced. The good news is that we already have a constitutional roadmap. Which was adopted by the House of Parliament, set out an agenda to expand voting rights, limit partisan gerrymandering, strengthen ethics rules, promote inclusiveness in governance and limit the influence of gathering unexplained wealth in politics at the expense of the always suffering majority. The bad news is that the ruling SLPP knows it is increasingly in the minority on most of the critical issues in today’s politics. Sierra Leoneans want our laws to be effected in a none selective manner, a higher minimum wage to address the issue of bread and butter for the suffering majority, sensible environmental and financial regulations, affordable health and housing facilities, expanded funding for our educational system, and greater limitations on rogue money in our politics.

The clearly expressed will of the majority in addressing corruption puts the APC in an impossible position: The party cannot simultaneously pursue its unpopular negative agenda and also endorse honest, transparent, democratic governance as the main opposition party in the contraption. That is why it is now openly waging war on Sierra Leonean democracy, doubling down on efforts to destabilise the nation, politicise the efforts to fight corruption and the national bureaucracy, and lock in minority rule permanently through tactics like partisan gerrymandering.

Since the APC has already made its deal with the devil, there is no reason to expect its members to support any effort to renew and protect Sierra Leone’s democracy. The only option left for President Bio’s SLPP is to deliver an overwhelming victory in the fight against corruption and the bread and butter for Sierra Leoneans at all levels. Sierra Leone’s democracy hangs in the balance. If it falls, democracy’s enemies around the country and the sub-region will win.

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