Time flies. So true. A few days ago President Ernest Bai Koroma turned five years in office as voters get ready to assess his performance through the ballot box. If voters are convinced that he has performed beyond expectations, he will definitely win by a landslide. But if his performance has been average, he will surely contend with a run-off. If voters think his five years performance in office was below average, he will be told accordingly.
Living beyond borders, two issues I have been commenting on over the past few weeks in my capacity as a Sierra Leonean are: the Cholera outbreak which has claimed dozens of lives and the upcoming November 17 elections. With Cholera making headline news, today, almost every Sierra Leonean is perceived as a potential exporter of the bacterium - whenever something goes wrong at home, everybody shares the blame.
In less than 24 hours, I will be flying out of the country in order to continue my international information assignment following a brief visit to the country. With Cholera and elections as topical issues, I arrived at the Lungi international airport a few days ago to a rather delayed luggage collection process. Passengers from another airline were collecting their luggage from one conveyor belt, so we were told to collect our bags from the other belt. After waiting by it for some time without it showing any sign of movement, we were told it wasn't working and therefore had to patiently wait for the other group of passengers to collect all their bags before we could collect ours. Some passengers, who were apparently returning to the country for the first time in a long time with high expectations of witnessing development, were obviously embarrassed by such a welcome home.
We arrived in Freetown by 10 pm in pouring rain. Some streets were flooded with water as I did some long jump here and there, but I must admit I was not always successful in completely jumping over what could have been heavily contaminated water with the possibility of having vibrio cholerae, the Cholera causing bacterium.
During my snap visit, I've had the opportunity to have a firsthand impression of sanitation in Freetown vis-à-vis the Cholera emergency. I have also travelled up-country to have some deeper insights into happenings there less than two months to crucial presidential and parliamentary elections.
There is a proverb that a person suffering from diarrhoea knows the way to the toilet. In the case of Cholera, forget it; there is nothing like going to the toilet. Watery stool and vomiting humiliate you beyond belief and leave you completely dehydrated and shocked to death. I've visited a Cholera treatment centre beyond borders before as a journalist who believes in seeing. I was not allowed in with my camera and had to be disinfected before entering and leaving the centre. The scene of naked patients in hopeless states with sunken eyes dying on specially made beds with a hole in the middle and a bucket beneath for the easy passing of stool remain unforgettable.
Exacerbated by seasonal rains, what our country is contending with is Sierra Leone's worst Cholera outbreak in 15 years. It has affected thousands of people and killed several dozens. The international community has come in to provide support. The question is: is the country surprised at the outbreak? The answer is "no". The warning signs were all over: poor drainage, lack of safe drinking water, indiscriminate waste disposal, including flying toilets ( toilet packaged in plastic bags) , and more.
As the country struggles to put the disease under control, what I have seen in Freetown, including the heart of the city at PZ, has been an eyesore and unthinkable to say the least. Heaps of garbage are all over. Everybody agrees that the city is more than the word filthy. I would have imagined that after 250 reported deaths, even a heap of garbage should be the last thing to be seen on the streets of Freetown.
During the last elections, the SLPP clearly took voters for granted. Solomon Berewa, the former SLPP presidential hopeful, was over confident of victory. Is the APC making the same mistake? The blabbermouths in authority should not just focus all their energies on praise singing and how to win the elections at all cost, but should ensure that those issues that border on life and death should not be toyed with. By the way, if the APC government is not keen about cleaning the streets, in my view, a serious opposition should have taken up the initiative to mobilize both human and material resources and clean and shame. Tell me, does Cholera stop to ask whether you are Mende, Temne, Limba, Mandigo, Kono, Fullah or whether you belong to APC, SLPP, UDM, NDA PMDC or non-partisan before infecting? The days of cheap political chicanery should be long over. I would like to suggest that President Koroma take a walk around PZ for instance and tell us how he feels to see uncleared heaps of garbage with traders mindlessly selling uncovered bread and other food stuff nearby as the country tries to beat Cholera.
I am of the opinion that politics should not just be about protecting one's job and raking a fortune for I, me and myself as most people in authority may think. At the moment, depending on whose opinion is sought, the APC or SLPP has already won the election. I have heard all kinds of stories and "theories". Some of those who have gone over to APC reportedly confess to dear friends and family members in corners that they did so for survival reasons, but remain SLPP at heart. Diehard APC supporters, however, credit their party for being generous and not selfish and greedy as the SLPP. SLPP supporters accuse APC of compensating people for political gains thereby encouraging and promoting mediocrity. Whatever accusation and counter accusations, one thing is certain: a run-off is highly likely between the APC and SLPP. Both the APC and SLPP supporters are largely counting on PMDC, the last kingmaker, and other smaller parties for support during the run-off. Although I am not unaware that the only consistent thing in politics is inconsistency, I think, in view of his overwhelming unpredictable antecedents, both the APC and SLPP should deal with PMDC's Charles Margai with great caution.
The other day I listened to social commentator David Tam-Baryoh and my good old friend Dr. Sylvia Blyden on the former's Monologue programme, a dialogue programme actually. Both Sylvia and David have something in common. They are upset about alleged hauling of invectives on their persons, including 'mammy cus', by SLPP supporters and Julius Maada Bio's loud silence on the issue. The two journalists were sometimes hilarious as they expressed their surprised at Bio's silence on the issue and wondered about his chances of winning the presidential elections. Generally speaking, I think both APC and SLPP should remind their supporters that invectives, which sometimes lead to violence, do not represent the values for which they stand.
What APC should focus on is not to discredit Bio by calling him names as is currently the case, but should instead explain to voters what Koroma's government has achieved over the past five years, what were the challenges and would be done if given the opportunity to serve for another five years. One issue most voters are concerned about for example is the price of a bag of rice, which the APC had reportdely promised to reduced, but the cost of which has doubled and tripled. The issue of systemic violence with even high-profile politicians becoming victims is another concern to most citizens. What concrete assurance can Koroma give to the nation that violence will not become the way of life in the country if allowed to return to State House for another term?
As for the SLPP, Bio must realize that he is going to the polls with the same divided party that his predecessor, Solomon Berewa, went to the polls in 2007. At the same time, the party has also suffered some defections to the running party. To regain their supporters, Bio should continue to extend the olive branch to former party supporters and the SLPP should not also trivialize any gains the APC might have made over the years. If SLPP is serious about a keen contest, part of Bio's campaign is to immediately start discussing with smaller parties for their support during a very likely run-off.
About ten years after the war, as the country heads to the polls, this is the time for all Sierra Leoneans to manifest a sense of nationalism and patriotism. We should see each other as brothers and sisters with a common cherished belonging: Sierra Leone.
As for the case of Cholera, I sincerely look forward to President Koroma declaring the clearing of waste in Freetown as an emergency just as he did when Cholera started killing our compatriots without mercy.
Come November 17, both Maada Bio and Ernest Bai Koroma should be prepared to accept the people's verdict. At the end of the day, when one's time on earth is up, nobody will return with power in his or her hands or with cars, houses and bags of leones or stolen dollars kept in secret bank accounts. Tell me, where is Ghana's John Atta Mills today who just the other day was preparing for presidential election this coming December? Where is Ghadafi who used to swim in oil money? Where is Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi? Let me remind our politicians that what their people will remember them for when our Maker call them to rest is what they did for their nation and humanity ( good or bad), what they failed to do, and what they could have done for the positive transformation of Sierra Leone where every citizen and resident can live in peace and where our natural resources are used for the prosperity of all. These are points to ponder. Is someone listening? Best wishes.