April 13, 2015

APC Leading us to Yet Another Disaster
Paul Conton


At sixty, I have witnessed all of Sierra Leone's post-Independence history. From the dimly remembered joy of freedom in 1961 to the trauma of the first coups starting in 1967, when I clearly recall creeping home from the Prince of Wales School one day as soldiers besieged Prime Minister Siaka Stevens' Kingharman Road residence. From Siaka Stevens' consolidation of power in the seventies, culminating in the ill-fated 1978 one-party state, to the glittering 1980 OAU Heads of State Conference, when we dreamt that we were on the path to prosperity, development and international recognition but which instead presaged a disastrous slide into bankruptcy; to the catastrophic rebel war and attendant coups of the nineties; to the stirring of hope in a new democracy as the century turned; to Ernest Koroma's Agenda for Prosperity, when he dreamt we were on the path to prosperity, development and international recognition but which instead presaged the ongoing Ebola plague, I've witnessed it all. Much of the responsibility for this 54-year-long nightmare can be placed squarely at the doorstep of the ruling All Peoples Congress, APC.

The incredible thing is that even as Sierra Leone has slipped and slid to the bottom of the world class, the APC have remained blissfully unaware of the damage they have wrought. Talk to a party man and he remains utterly convinced that he and his comrades, past and present, have been the best thing that could have happened to Sierra Leone. Far from being sober-minded, reflective and analytical, God forbid, apologetic, the party and its apparatchiks remain triumphalist and boastful, eager to trumpet trifling success and to dismiss crushing failure.

The APC prides itself on being a "grassroots" party and this leads to a strong streak of anti-intellectualism. The likes of S.I. Koroma and Alfred Akibo-Betts were celebrated as action men, without much education but who could effectively get the party's work done. To appeal to the masses of petty traders and working class who form the bulk of the APC support base, an advanced educational background might not be the most desirable qualification. "Buk man" is not generally a term of praise among APC folks! This anti-intellectualism leads the APC to make ill advised, pooly analysed, hasty decisions  often crafted to boost the party's popular support but hugely detrimental to the nation's long-term interests. In 1980 Siaka Stevens was able to boost national pride by rashly volunteering to host the OAU Heads of State Conference, without a thorough analysis of the long-term financial implications; subsequent years saw sharp economic decline, followed by a brutal rebel war. After his election in  2007 Ernest Koroma embarked on building four-lane urban highways, at huge cost but to the applause of the masses, even as the education and health sectors deteriorated sharply, allowing Ebola easier entrance in 2014. Sierra Leone's white colonial masters spent decades trying to develop inland trade and agriculture (see Trade Routes of the Early Sierra Leone Protectorate) and building a rail network to service them; they understood clearly that in order for Sierra Leone to develop, the interior could not be left to languish. With the stroke of a pen in the late sixties, Siaka Stevens decided to abolish the railway, a decision whose consequences will perhaps never be fully analysed; many provincial communities withered as the railway folded up, hastening urban migration and its attendant problems.

To compound its distate for serious analysis, its distrust of the intellectual, the APC adds hero worship. The Leader achieves God-like status when he becomes President of the Republic. An APC President of Sierra Leone is also leader of his party, so an alternative power center within the party is impossible. He can do no wrong and his wish is every one's command. When the APC approaches a precipice, the Leader cries, "Jump and you will reach the Promised Land!", and the faithful shout, "Let me go first!" (to paraphrase Victor Foh). The Leader is never questioned, even when he comes to wrong decisions, as all leaders will do from time to time (some more often than others!). This hero worship inevitably lends itself to catastrophic missteps. The police are coopted to the party's service, the judiciary are intimidated and emasculated. Parliament is corrupted. All competing centers of power are brought under the executive's control. Over time the APC leader entrenches himself and becomes all-powerful. He makes decisions that are clearly illegal or not in the country's interests, but all dissenting voices have been suppressed. All manner of contrivance and contortion is concocted to justify indefensible positions. All manner of aides, spokespersons and appartchiks appear on stage to argue that black is white and white is black. The system of course eventually collapses, but not before it has taken mama Sa Lone down a further notch or two.

During the bright early-Independence days of the sixties as young students we genuinely believed that Sierra Leone was one of the rising stars of Africa, if not the world. We laughed at Liberians because they did not do well academically. Guinea was generally deemed to be a backward place; Foulah refugees fled from its poverty and Sekou Touré's harsh regime. Gambians were our small brothers, almost a colony. Only Ghanaians did we hold in some respect, because the West African Examinations Council was headquartered in Ghana, and Ghanaians did well at O and A levels. Studying in England we came across Nigerians who, though sound academically, we found had broad accents and sometimes heavily marked faces (a younger generation of Sierra Leoneans referred to them derisively during the rebel war as 'mak jabone'). West Indians were all over England, but they did menial jobs in  the streets and railways and hardly ever made it to college. Today, all these nations have managed to pull themselves, in one way or other, above Sierra Leone. Our supposed academic preeminence of the sixties is long a thing of the past (read Dysfunctional Education). In virtually every area of life, education, health care, the economy, agriculture and industry, sports, Sierra Leone has been leapfrogged by its third-world competitors.

Through all this there is no attempt by the APC at serious self-reflection, serious evaluation of where things went wrong. I

pity the younger generations who perhaps do not know all this history, who sing, clap and dance at the well-worn promises of politicians and look forward to better times. At least in the sixties and seventies we enjoyed Sierra Leone; we enjoyed a little of the radiance in which, the historians tell us, our forefathers basked. I pity the younger ones, our children and grandchildren, who have not had this opportunity and possibly will never get it. As long as the party can not honestly admit its mistakes, as long as the party continues to blindly trumpet success, it is doomed to repeat those mistakes.

To listen to any one of the recent Presidential State-of-the-Nation addresses is to listen to an exercise in monumental self-delusion. With global commodity prices at a historical high, foreign mining companies snapping up vast amounts of our iron ore, causing a spike in our GDP (all now reversed) is cause for superlatives ("world's best", "fastest growing economy") and endless celebration; long-term crushing failure at regional secondary-school examinations, the effects of which will be with us for decades, is an issue to be quietly put to one side. All other things being equal it's simply not possible for a nation of head-toting petty traders to rise above bottom place in the world league, other than through a serious, sustained effort at educational improvement.

Add to this toxic mix, bastardization of the Constitution, manipulation of the judiciary and Parliament, direct political control of the police, rampant corruption and incompetence, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster upon disaster. Which is where we are in Sierra Leone and have been for decades.