Consolidating Democracy in Post-war Sierra Leone-A Chatham House presentation by Brig(RTD) Julius Maada Bio


Chairman, let me take this opportunity to thank you and the leadership of the Royal Institute of International Affairs for inviting me again to Chatham House to share with you my reflections on the challenges and opportunities for democratic consolidation in post-war Sierra Leone . Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, in 1996, I had the difficult task, against the background of an on-going brutal civil war, to organise the first democratic elections in more than 20 years and peacefully handed over political power to the democratically elected government. After more than 20 years of this historic moment, whereby the military supported the re-establishment of democratic governance and constitutional rule in war-torn Sierra Leone, I have had ample time now to reflect on the state of and the future of democracy in Sierra Leone. Ladies and Gentlemen, for those of you who are familiar with developments in Sierra Leone Today or have followed events, will note that this Resource-rich, but badly governed country had gone through a very difficult period in its political history as an independent state. The country has gone through a decade-long bloody civil war; a devastating Ebola outbreak that exposed the dysfunctional nature of the post-war Healthcare delivery services and undermined the gains of economic growth and development; and more recently, an equally devastating mudslide that claimed the lives of more than 400 people. So you could be forgiven if you conclude that Sierra Leone is a clear representation of the ‘Hopeless Continent’ narrative of the 1990s. But let me hasten to say that Sierra Leone represents the contradictory image of Africa Today: on the one hand, the unending wars and armed conflicts and terrorism; depressing socio-economic development indicators and Ebola Pandemic; increasing poverty, underdevelopment, and large-scale youth unemployment And on the other hand, decrease in wars and armed conflicts; emergence of more and more democratic governments across the continent, with spectacular economic growth rates of 15-21%, whereby some of the emerging economies are now described as Africa’s ‘Lion Economies’. Ladies and Gentlemen, Sierra Leone, like the rest of Africa, has been transformed within a decade by the International Media, from ‘Hopeless Continent’ in 2000 to ‘Africa Rising’ in 2010. In fact, the International Community and the former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, have all presented Sierra Leone as a success story stating that: ‘Sierra Leone has been a success story of maintaining peace after a decade of bloody civil conflict and has impressed the rest of the world … the country is seen as an example of post-conflict recovery’. Let me stress that there is evidence to justify the optimism of the international community in that with the end of the civil war, the Sierra Leone has made some progress in consolidating post-war peacebuilding and state reconstruction by organising three relatively free and ‘fair’ democratic elections and the peaceful transfer of power by the ruling SLPP to the opposition APC party, a rare event that we do not often see in the divisive electoral politics of Africa Today. So what are the challenges and opportunities for consolidating democracy in Sierra Leone Today? Ladies and Gentlemen, let me be clear here, democracy in Sierra Leone is relatively new and, in particular, the ‘Third Wave of Democracy Building’ is bearly 2 decades old So Sierra Leone, like the rest of Africa, is still struggling to build strong, viable and accountable Democratic Institutions and a Credible Democratic Culture that is tolerant and respect the due process of the law, guaranteed by a democratically-oriented military and security agencies.

Sierra Leone and the Challenges of Democratic Consolidation

  • Chairman, let me now outline some of the key challenges that threaten the consolidation of democracy in Sierra Leone Today Democracy Cannot be Built on an Empty Stomach
  • My experience in government as Head of State and reflections since handing over power to a democratically elected government, have all shown that democracy cannot be built, sustained and consolidated on an empty stomach
  • In other words, poverty, illiteracy, underdevelopment and lack of existential necessities of life, i.e., Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Healthcare, are a threat to the consolidation of democracy
  • As the saying goes, ‘a desperately hungry man or woman is an angry man or woman’. So how can we build and consolidate democracy in the context of extreme poverty and deprivation?
  • And let us be frank here, ‘Democracy’ in Sierra Leone as in the rest of Africa, is really a metaphor for ‘Development’, and here, I mean development in all its forms and manifestations
  • The Context of Sierra Leone today shows that Democracy is not only in decline and its consolidation is under threat because:
  • Bad governance and rampant corruption have converted Sierra Leone into one of the poorest countries in the world and the 3rd Hungriest Place on Earth
  • In Sierra Leone Today, two-thirds of the 7 million population live on less than US $1.25 a day, 3 out every 5 adults cannot read or write, life expectancy is 50 years compared to 53 in neighbouring Liberia and 59 in Guinea.
  • Most of the population either lack or has limited or no guaranteed access to basic services including education, healthcare, and social protection.
  • 70% Youth unemployment and they are unskilled and lacking social mobility opportunities.
  • Justice is not accessible to the majority of the poor and dispossessed in Sierra Leone today.
  • The IMF and World Bank have raised serious concerns about the economic mismanagement and poor governance in Sierra Leone today and have therefore frozen multilateral funding to the current APC government until after the March 2018 elections
  • Chairman, in this context of extreme poverty and deprivation, democracy and electoral politics is reduced to ‘buying votes’ and the promotion of sectional, ethnic and parochial interests as the only means to secure access to State Power and its Patrimonial Resources

Decline of Democracy and the Emergence of Elected Autocrat in Sierra Leone

  • Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, due to limited time, let me just outline one more crucial challenge to consolidating democracy in Sierra Leone today
  • Despite the international optimism for democratic consolidation in post-war Sierra Leone, what we see in Sierra Leone is a decline of democracy and the emergence of an Elected Autocrat
  • In the past 10 years, Sierra Leone has been sliding further and further into authoritarianism. It is therefore not a surprise that the Global Freedom Democracy Report (2017) has ranked Sierra Leone as a ‘Partly Free Democracy’
  • This slide into what I call, ‘Elected Autocrat’ was manifested by the current President of Sierra Leone when he unilaterally sacked his Vice President, in complete contravention of Sections 50 and 51 of the 1991 Constitution
  • This political fallout between the current President and his Vice triggered the intervention of the Supreme Court.
  • With the Chief Justice appointed by the President, it was therefore not a surprise that the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favour of the President, claiming that as president and Supreme Executive Authority, he had the power to dismiss his Vice President, citing Sections 40 and 41 of the constitution
  • The ECOWAS Regional Court of Justice last week ruled that the removal of the Vice-President in 2015 by the President was a wrongful and an unconstitutional act.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the greatest challenge to consolidating democracy in post-war Sierra Leone because:
  • if the Supreme Law and Social Contract of the Land, the National Constitution, can be flagrantly abused and manipulated to serve the political and vested interests of the President of the Day, then there is currently, little hope of consolidating democracy in Sierra Leone today.

Opportunities for Consolidating Democracy in Post-war Sierra Leone

  • Against this background, what is the hope for consolidating democracy in post-war Sierra Leone?
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you our New Direction for Democratic Consolidation and Inclusive Development
  • The Sierra Leone Peoples Party, one of Africa’s oldest political parties, if elected into Government, will focus on 4 Key Policy Areas to transform Sierra Leone
  • And they are: the Economy; Human Development; Infrastructure and Governance
  • These 4 Board Policy Areas are further outlined into a 12-Point Development and Governance Plan including:
  1. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Skills Training + Jobs = Development and Peace for All:
  2. Domestic Revenue Mobilisation and Collection
  3. Free Education for National Development & Economic Growth
  4. ‘People First’ Diversified Economy
  5. Governance, Governance, Governance: effective Governance of the State and Natural Resources
  6. Food Security for ALL
  7. Health Security: for a productive economy and national development
  8. Energy & Water Security
  9. Power to the Youth, Women and Disadvantaged
  10. Lands, Country Planning & Affordable Housing for ALL
  11. Infrastructure Connecting Sierra Leone by Roads, Air and Sea
  12. Peace and Security for All
  • Our Strategic Objective for this 12-Point Plan is to:
  • Offer a STARK CHOICE between the current ‘Business as Usual Status Quo’
  • That has ensured that Sierra Leone is mired in Poverty, Rampant Corruption, Gross Indiscipline and Underdevelopment and ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world
  • OR the New Direction Opportunity to Change and Transform Sierra Leone for the Better through Inclusive Politics, Inclusive Economic Growth and Inclusive Development
  • Where every Sierra Leonean is given the Ladder of Opportunity to Climb and achieve their greatest Potential for Development
  • Where Efficient Political and Economic Management of the State and natural Resources will ensure that we are able, as a Country, to Pay and Finance ALL our Basic and Essential Service Provisions and Invest in our Critical Infrastructure
  • Chairman, if elected, my Government will implement, through a National Referendum, the findings of the Constitutional Review Commission to establish a Liberal and Progressive national Constitution that will enshrine into law:
  • Two-Term Presidential Limit, with no President ever able to unilaterally sack his / her Vice President, in contravention of the constitution
  • Presidential and General Elections Date and Date for Presidential Inauguration
  • By enshrining into the Constitution these key elements of the democratic and electoral politics processes, we want to make sure that the next SLPP Government will make a meaningful contribution to the consolidation of democracy in Sierra Leone and to ensure that the post-war gains of democracy are not reversed.
  • Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, to secure this much-needed Change and Transformation in Sierra Leone, the New Direction is based on the political ideology of Social Democracy
  • The New Direction Social Democracy Political Ideology is fundamentally commitment to peace, freedom, security, justice, equality, unity and solidarity.
  • It promotes and guarantees political, social, economic and cultural rights of all Sierra Leoneans through Entitlement and Access to basic necessities of life.
  • Our New Direction Social Democratic politics aspires to create a more just and equal society in Sierra Leone as the only guarantee to avoid another war and recurrent political instability.
  • The Social Democracy foundation of our New Direction Development focus is based on inclusive politics, inclusive development and inclusive economic growth whereby the benefits of economic growth are re-distributed to all Sierra Leoneans through the provision of Free Education, Free public healthcare services, affordable housing, guaranteed access to electricity and water provision
  • Our New Direction Social Democracy gives every Sierra Leonean a Voice, a Role, Ownership and a Stake in the country and its future.

Conclusion

  • Chairman, to conclude, what hope do we have for consolidating democracy in Sierra Leone?
  • I am of the view that the democratisation challenges faced by Sierra Leone is not different from some of the challenges faced by other African states as they make the difficult, and sometimes, chaotic and violent democratic transition
  • But the Hope that the people of Sierra Leone have is a new SLPP Government in Sierra Leone that is committed to:
  • Democracy, Democracy and Democratic Empowerment and Consolidation
  • A New SLPP Government that is committed to Governance, Governance and Efficient Political Economic Governance of the State and our Natural Resources
  • A New SLPP Government with the Strategic Vision of Inclusive Politics, Inclusive Economic Growth, and Inclusive Development

I thank you!  

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