By Mahmud Tim Kargbo
A few days back, an audio in which Pastor Francis A. M. Mambu blamed bad leadership for Sierra Leone’s socio-economic problems went viral on social media. According to him, most politicians in Sierra Leone are too desperate to amass wealth illegally at the expense of the suffering majority. Months back, prior to his audio, there was another audio in which a man called for a Jerry Rawlings-type mass burial of the country’s political elite, which in his opinion, would help combat corruption and unlock the country’s potential. Both views echo the inner and hidden sentiments many people living in Sierra Leone have about the majority of their politicians. The reasons for these are not hard to find. Most politicians in Sierra Leone have done little to improve the welfare of their people, who are very poor, while they, and their cronies, live in opulence.
The rot goes all the way through the political chain to elected and appointed public officers – starting with political parties. Party financiers and godfathers dictate who holds what public office without regard for competence and internal democracy. They ultimately dictate how state affairs and funds are managed with barely a distinction between public and private funds. So, elections don’t seem to help, mainly as the politicians are the same. Despite Sierra Leone political parties espousing different ideologies and launching welfare manifestos, nothing really changes when governments change.
Corruption is prevalent throughout the contraption. Tied to this is the fact that anti-corruption efforts fail because of a lack of honest and accountable politicians who cannot lead but can only rule. We have co-opted democratic systems, such as regular elections, or the current SLPP simply make up the rules as they go along to stay in power. Behind it all lies an insatiable appetite for money and the realisation that power can deliver untold wealth. These scenarios are also seriously playing out across; the contraption(and the people) are sacrificed to greed.
To make matters worse, those brave enough to stand up and be counted are driven out literally or figuratively.
Sierra Leone is home to many despots and sit-in presidents who either abuse their power or allow abuses to be perpetrated. The contraption is run like family property, and political dynasties are created. Checks and balances are weak, dissent is crashed, and alternative views are discarded, culminating in low accountability, further deteriorating leadership and reinforcing corruption.
One would expect multiparty democracy and its associated principles to produce visionary and effective leaders, but this is rarely the case in Sierra Leone. While elections are held, and rulers are changed at the ballot or Western Power Manipulated Regime Change, things usually remain the same. Often, policies and corrupt practices criticised by “Paopa” political rulers while in opposition now suddenly become right and justifiable when they are in power. In essence, there are new faces in government, but the status quo does not change or is even worse than before. The big question is, why?
Money and Politics
Sierra Leone politics is synonymous with wealth, whether acquired legally or otherwise. Hence, the scramble for power can be intense and sometimes dangerous. The expectation of quick riches increases internal competition for party candidature, often requiring deal-making and buying votes. And failure to align with the party establishment can prevent members from ascending the party hierarchy. Party members are socialised in the same way, mainly to do whatever is necessary to win power by fair or foul means, and those who dare to think or behave differently are sidelined, sabotaged or expelled.
Corruption and Political Party Financing
At the core of Sierra Leone’s corruption and leadership is opaque party financing. Mostly, parties rely on private funding from individuals and organisations. But regulations on financial disclosure are either non-existent or ineffective, which allows wealthy individuals or godfathers known as “bras and Mummies” to wield significant influence, mainly for their benefit but to the detriment of the contraption. Even leaders perceived to be strong-willed can find it hard to withstand the pressures. These examples attest to how State House rulers can be controlled from behind the scenes by vested interests and crooked godfathers. In some cases, our Presidents are incapable of addressing the excesses of their sponsors, leading to anarchy and recklessness.
Being Different is Political Suicide
There is a popular idiom: “do not bite the hands that feed you”. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that this is true for Sierra Leone Presidents. There is a high chance that rulers who act against the interests of their party establishment, financiers and godfathers, even for the benefit of the state, will not last long. The same applies to their policies.
So what’s the way forward?
Sierra Leone must regulate political party financing and strengthen state institutions such as National Electoral Commission to enforce compliance. Until then, most Presidents on the contraption will continue to be prone to capture and control by powerful and parochial godfathers. And the looting of public funds won’t stop.