Some days ago, I joined thousands of Sierra Leoneans to listen to some of the country’s presidential candidates during a debate albeit online in faraway Europe, where I am currently living and continuing what I started many years ago in Makeni – reporting.
Let me also add that I have lived and reported from Kenema, Bo, and Freetown. This is in addition to several other locations, including the very dangerous civil war period in our country. Against this backdrop, I think I am a bit familiar with our country’s landscape and the issues during electioneering: the brown envelopes, the kolas, the “cold wata” that flows and “de pa we kam greet you” phenomenon.
Like a recruitment process for a job, many are called but only one person will be chosen. The vacant position? President. Who are the employers? The people (voters) of Sierra Leone. Location of office? State House. Duration? Five years, to be renewed subject to satisfactory performance.
Job description includes: the successful candidate shall be the Supreme Executive Authority of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces; shall be the Fountain of Honour and Justice and the symbol of national unity and sovereignty; shall be the guardian of the Constitution and guarantor of national independence and territorial integrity, and shall ensure respect for treaties and international agreements. The successful applicant shall be responsible for relations with Foreign States; the reception of envoys accredited to Sierra Leone and appointment of principal representatives of Sierra Leone abroad; the execution of treaties, agreements or conventions in the name of Sierra Leone; exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy; the grant of Honours and Awards, among others.
Essential requirements? The candidate should be a citizen of Sierra Leone; a member of a political party; has attained 40 years; disciplined, ability to work and remain calm under pressure etc. Salary? Attractive with a lot of incentives. This is the job for which we have over a dozen candidates.
As a youngster when I entered the noble but risky world of journalism, I was probably a bit naïve for thinking that our politicians, respectfully referred to as “big man or de pa” and “big woman or de mammy”, were absolutely honest people. Why did I think this way? Because our nation was in the throes of a ghastly civil war, a byproduct of bad governance, and it was commonsensical to learn from our past mistake.
Come to think of it, from the days of the old APC era through the grudging transition to democracy during the National Provisional Ruling Council to post-conflict regimes, one thing is always predictable: our leaders do not fail to disappoint. They assume power feeding our gullible people with sugar-coated lies.
You see, my consternation as a young reporter was to discover that to lie with impunity and make careless promises is actually deemed as the hallmark of politics. This is where there is usually a collision between politics and journalism. Truth telling is what journalism is all about. Someone once said: “News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising”.
In my opinion, the medicine our politicians generally need for their chronic lies and bloated egos is a daily dose of the truth and not sycophancy; the truth that the position of His Excellency is about servant leadership and not about a burning desire to be in power and be driving in long convoys with blaring sirens. Becoming the president of a nation is not about amassing wealth or eating chicken and salad with cronies in posh hotels and restaurants.
Clearly, some of those in the presidential race know that they have zero chance of winning and cannot even win local council elections in their so-called strongholds. Their apparent strategy is to make some noise or become a thorn in the flesh of government and they are subsequently invited to have their share of the national cake in the fashion of “borbor or tity set u mot”. Our history is replete with people who have found their way into government by so doing. The “unlucky ones” spend days in prison and come out licking their wounds.
As I move across various international borders, it is not shocking that many of those who have heard about our country remember us for the wrong reasons – war, Ebola, mudslide, you name them.
Although the presidential election can be likened to a recruitment process for a very serious position for which the successful candidate also employs a lot of people if you will, the difference between this vacancy and others in the corporate world is that those who will decide on who will become the president come from all walks of life with various levels of thinking, educational status and values. This means, a person who has tribalism in his blood has the same vote as the objective-minded professor who looks at things from the national standpoint. Equally, the drunkard who can easily sell his vote for a small bottle of “Omole” has the same right as a sober-minded teacher. The man who believes in violence has the same one vote as his compatriot who believes in the rule of law etc. Well, this is the “beauty” of democracy.
Going back to the presidential debate, it was fascinating to listen to the six shortlisted candidates in line with set criteria as the eminent and inspiring Hassan Arouni posed the questions. Notwithstanding the technical glitches, it was generally a laudable effort.
The scope of this piece is not to judge who was best, average, or below average. Instead, I would like to focus on the need for peaceful elections and transfer of power, and what should be the qualities of the president-in-waiting in moving forward the development agenda of our country…to be continued.
Note: Sulaiman Momodu is former editor of the Concord Times newspaper and reported for the BBC during the Sierra Leone civil war. He works for the United Nations and is currently based in Geneva. The views expressed here are personal.