by Mahmud Tim Kargbo
The Bio led SLPP government will argue for months about what led to the legitimate loud cries of “electricity plus bread and butter” by the people of Kono when the President visited them on Friday — whether it was their messaging, the behaviour of the majority of their choice of people occupying social positions of trust towards the suffering majority or the president himself. But there was consensus that the first step is to get something immediately done on economic issues.
A few days after an embarrassing loss for the main APC opposition party in the Kono by-election and a dispiritingly tight race in Kabala that gave victory to the main APC opposition party, SLPP from President Bio to moderate and progressive Members of Parliament cast passage of his infrastructure for the Kono people with social spending package as a panacea for further losses.
For nearly four years, the centerpiece of Bio’s social contract agenda with his people has been stalled because of massive greed by the majority occupying social positions of trust, alleged corruption, infighting among SLPP members and the government refusing to listen to voices of reasoning. But party activists and strategists say that SLPP has to take action on so-called bread-and-butter issues, like inflation and job creation if they don’t want a repeat of what happened in Kono across the country in the campaign for the coming 2023 General Elections.
“If things don’t change, then 2023 is going to be a very, very difficult election for SLPP,” said Emmanuel Sandy, an SLPP pollster. “The good news is, there’s a year and few months to change how voters view their own personal situation.”
Bio, speaking to key party players across the country after the people of Kono legitimate cries, now believe more than before that his government needs to up its game to meet the test of times as this would ease voters’ anxiety and help them coalesce around his Sierra Leone People’s Party in the 2023 general elections, which will decide control of both State House and Parliament.
“People are upset and uncertain about a lot of things, from youth unemployment to electricity, to bread and butter for the suffering majority, to job creations, to alleged corruption, to a whole range of things — and the cost of a litre of fuel. And so if Bio can effectively address these challenges within the shortest time possible, he’s in a position where you’re going to see a lot of those things ameliorated, quickly and swiftly if he ignores most of his trusted lieutenants. So that has to be done,” a European African expert said.
Speaking to me on condition of anonymity, a key player of the ruling SLPP, that also served as a member of one of the prominent civil society organisations in Sierra Leone, said the Bio led SLPP government must immediately address its key campaign promise of “bread and butter” for the suffering majority, address the issue of electricity and create jobs for the highly unemployed youth by allowing other nationals that have the right connections to play their own role in tackling the challenges of the country’s economy to give voters something they can rally around in the coming 2023 General Elections.
“The loud and necessary cries of the Kono people are a warning for all SLPP stakeholders,” he said in a statement. “ In Kabala, while most stakeholders spent time-fighting each other, APC was focused on mobilising their base and peeling away voters from the Bio ruling SLPP basing their campaigned on the unaddressed bread and butter for the suffering majority and the increase in prices of other essential commodities.”
Speaking to the moderates in the Bio led SLPP government, they almost harbour the same message.
“The years of in-fighting and sausage-making must come to an end,” “We must come together to do the historic things we promised in our manifesto and then make sure the issue of bread and butter, electricity, create jobs, build indigenous young entrepreneurs, and help working families afford the essentials.”
The hard, but uncomfortable truth here is APC stakeholders will seize on the genuine loud demands of the Kono people as proof that Sierra Leoneans are no longer buying the unfulfilled promises of the SLPP government.
“The Bio led SLPP should listen to the voters. Drop this reckless spending spree and propaganda. And stop trying to ram through a socialist transformation that the Sierra Leonean people never asked for,” a former Bio sympathizer said last Friday.
Bio’s approval rating has been plummeting — especially among independents — based on concerns about alleged corruption, injustice, lawlessness and inflation, exacerbated by supply-chain problems from the coronavirus pandemic and failure to enact his economic agenda, in addition to other priorities, like democratic institution reforms.
But the Bio led SLPP has also insufficiently communicated its accomplishments to voters, a key SLPP Representative, a Kenema based, said in an interview with me.
“SLPP failed at messaging. We allowed the opposition parties to frame the issues of the country. And we at the Legislative level stopped talking about the fact that we passed a very good Covid Relief bill to strengthen our indigenous entrepreneurs to genuinely do their parts in assisting the government to make essential commodities affordable for all nationals in these trying times. We allowed the narrative to say that we’re not getting anything done,” he said.
In Kono and other parts of the country, APC stakeholders interspersed tribal and regional-war issues such as critical favouritism theory in government money set aside to assist indigenous entrepreneurs to salvage the pandemic challenges in essential commodities for the general good, with poor electricity and high prices of essential commodities, among other topics.
“I do not see this as a win for the SLPP in the coming general elections,” SLPP pollster and strategist said of Friday’s open frustration displayed by the Kono people in the eyes of President Bio “. “I see this as a loss for the SLPP.”
The President’s proposals were generally good kitchen-table issues, but he didn’t utilise them for the general good of the suffering majority, said stakeholders of the SLPP.
SLPP strategist said the President embarrassment in Kono showed that it wasn’t necessarily the candidates, but the national political issues are tense because the majority continue to suffer in a number of odd ways more than three years since Bio took over governance.
To counter that in 2023, the SLPP stakeholder also said President Bio must address some of the broader problems upsetting voters by reducing corruption, fighting inflation and passing concrete proposals like encouraging other nationals that have what it take to tackle the intractable problems of poverty in the lives of the majority so that they can cite them when campaigning.
“The loud cries of the people in Kono are very popular and have a direct impact on the lives of millions of Sierra Leoneans,” he said. “We need them to feel that and know that it was us that did it.”
“We have to just produce results for them to change their standard of living and give them a little more breathing room,” Bio reportedly said Friday night after the Kono people legitimate demands. “People want us to get things done.”