– AND THAT’S WHY IT’S FAILING US!
by Mahmud Tim Kargbo
Sierra Leoneans distrust of their political system is at an all-time high. Many of us are concerned about the dysfunction in the State House and Parliament and whether things will ever get better. Politics is an industry and the two dominant competitors do everything in their power to focus on serving their sycophant and bootlicking supporters and the special interests of those supporters. From my research, I suggest the root cause of our political gridlock and dysfunction is the lack of competition itself. I argue that our political problems are the result of a failure in the nature of political competition that’s been created.
I bring an analytical approach to study Sierra Leone’s political system, applying the renowned Five Forces analysis to diagnose the issues failing our political system. Sierra Leoneans should expect four outcomes from their political system:
- Practical solutions that solve our nation’s most pressing problems.
- Legislation that advances through Parliament.
- Broad-based buy-in from voters.
- Respect for the rights of all voters.
The reality, however, is that none of these expectations is even remotely met, and our political system is made up of actors who are gain-seeking with the two major parties competing to grow and accumulate resources and influence for themselves. The two parties compete by dividing up voters based on ideological interests – effectively resulting in Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and All People’s Congress (APC) competing by dividing the citizenry. The two parties compete to reinforce partisan divisions, as opposed to delivering practical solutions. As a result, both parties are incentivised not to solve our nation’s problems because keeping a problem or controversy alive, according to my research, is a way to attract and motivate voters, special interests and donors to both sides. Moreover, there’s no accountability for politicians if problems aren’t solved or progress is not made. We don’t vote party leaders and legislators out of office for poor performance.
So what’s the solution?
The only way to reform the system is to alter the structure of the system and its underlying rules. The top two parties should always be operating under the threat of competition from a group that better serves the public interest. We can never forget that the political system we have today was designed by our own elected representatives – the people we voted into office. This system was corrupted over time, and most of us did not even notice. We have the power to reinvigorate our democracy, and we must.
The industry of politics continues to thrive
By nearly every single token, our political system is thriving – from the business sense. Campaigns continue to rake in billions of Leones and draw in endless consultants and media pundits. In terms of actually solving our nation’s most pressing economic challenges and rising economic inequality, the political system in Sierra Leone ranks as the #1 barrier to solving these and nearly every other important challenge our nation needs to address. The political industry, however, is different from any other industry in Sierra Leone. The reason is that the participants in the political industry control the rules of competition. The lack of transparency in the political industry has undermined our democracy, with redistricting suggesting that politicians choose their voters instead of voters choosing them.
Healthy political competition suggests that industry actors would compete to deliver desired outcomes for us as voters. The LSE- Oxford Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development report launched in March 2017 to guide policy to address state fragility should make each of us think more deeply about healthy competition and what that means. If the current system is failing us, healthy competition would find a way of bringing in a newcomer who would offer better value. Healthy competition is a win-win, with rivals and customers doing the best they can to make the nation better. We should never forget that we as voters have the means to fix our political system – and more importantly – that we must fix it.