Ending the Grace Period…
Why We Must Now Scrutinize the Bio Presidency
By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah
My position and viewpoints on matters of Sierra Leone politics are not new: I have always been outspoken in my critique of those who misuse power. Anyone who has followed my activities, actions, and writings over the past decade and a half can attest to this fact. I start this brief article today with these two sentences in response to the feeble efforts of the new state propagandists – mostly SLPP members and supporters – who have expressed outrage over a few comments I have posted on my Facebook page in recent days critical of the Bio administration’s handling of the country’s economic crisis. The posts in question, most of them less than ten words in length, have led the new online noisemakers of the SLPP to resort to a tirade of insults and derogatory remarks against my personality. Some SLPP supporters and members have gone as far as accusing me of being “an APC sympathizer” and a “benefactor of the previous Koroma regime.” Others among their ranks were so vexed that they called me “a hater of Sierra Leone,” “a non-patriot,” “a bad citizen,” “an enemy of progress,” and so on and so forth. A senior ranking SLPP member contacted me privately to express how inspired he was by me in the past and how he now feels betrayed by my recent comments in response to on-going national trends in my country. Others have contacted me asking whether there has been some personal dispute between myself and others in government that has led to my frequent critical comments of the president’s performance and activities.
Thus, it is necessary to summarize and contextualize the anger of the SLPP membership and its new cyber vigilantes against my comments regarding the current government. I do this not as a response to their fruitless attacks designed to silence me, but to signal to these licensed SLPP cyber vigilantes that the grace period – the carte blanche – we gave Maada Bio and his SLPP has expired: it is now time that citizens speak out and hold Bio and his government on account of his electoral promises. Most importantly, I am proclaiming to the people of Sierra Leone the importance of independent and critical voices willing to stand up to the misuse of power, regardless of which party is in office. As citizens, we have the right and the democratic responsibility to ask what Bio and his government have done with their power since they occupied the State House two years ago. We are obligated to ask reasonable questions, namely: why the economy has continued to contract? Why has the national currency also continued to collapse? Why has double-digit inflation continued to rise? Why have commodity prices scaled? These are fundamental questions, yet SLPP cyber partisans have been licensed to smear and heckle any voice that attempts to scrutinize the Bio regime.
So, before we move forward, it is first appropriate for us to remind ourselves who we are and where we stand in the toxically divisive political environment now made worse by Maada Bio and his revengefully intolerant squadron at the State House. Setting out the context in which our current struggle is unfolding is important for putting into proper perspective the cause of the SLPP’s anger against any citizen that decides to speak up against the indolence, inefficiency, and unproductivity of the current SLPP administration under Bio. This will also help us understand the hypocrisy of the SLPP’s propagandists’ tirades against my critiques of the Bio regime.
Let us first uncover the roots of the SLPP propagandists’ hostility to democratic scrutiny. When we were all in opposition against the APC of Ernest Bai Koroma (between 2007-2018), SLPP members mistook my position as being in favour of the SLPP. I forgive them for thinking that way. In a battle of opponents, one is always likely to think that the enemy of their enemy is their friend. In the years that I was active as an opposition politician and political party spokesperson, I came across many of the individuals now in power during our many television and radio talk shows. For the most part, SLPP supporters cheered my uncompromising stance against the APC at the time. Many of the individuals now opposed to me once called into radio shows and sent electronic messages expressing support of my ideas and views. In fact, running up to the elections of 2012 and 2018, the pro-SLPP newspapers published all my essays on the elections. Many of the journalists and editors of these pro-SLPP newspapers are now part of the online defence brigade of the Bio regime that has been calling me all sorts of names. It is obvious that they are only angry because they are now on the receiving end of my criticism.
But the SLPP and its intolerant partisans forget two basic things: Firstly, I am nobody’s party line man in Sierra Leone politics. I have my own ideological and political convictions, which I have articulated throughout the length and breadth of Sierra Leone to the best of my ability and convictions. Secondly, key to what these angry SLPP members failed to remember is that, in my opposition to the APC, I openly stated that the two-party dominance that the SLPP/APC have exercised in the Sierra Leonean landscape has to be broken if real national progress is to be witnessed in the country. I have said openly in the past, and I say again today, that the SLPP is part of the Sierra Leonean national development nightmare. This position I have always maintained since the days of Tejan Kabbah. Those who have followed me over the years can bear witness to this fact.
Actually, there is no one in the current SLPP government, including Julius Maada Bio, who I don’t know directly or have had at least some interactions with. Some of these angry SLPP individuals are my very own FBC classmates. And because we all sat together in certain quarters, and shared views together in the past, especially at Stop Press (which was by then an open rendezvous for opposition politicians and journalists), they assumed my acquaintance with them superseded my commitment to the country. They thought that because the APC we mutually fought was out of power, I should naturally throw my support behind Maada Bio’s government even when things are going awfully bad in the country. That is impossible for me to do.
Let it be known to all these SLPP supporters that once celebrated and cheered my opposition voice against the APC that the issues on which my opposition to Ernest Koroma were centered have become more amplified and worsened today by Maada Bio in just the two years that he has been in power. What has Bio been able to achieve with power in these two years beyond the mere policy pronouncements he has made across the country? Why has Bio suddenly become the most frequently flying president Sierra Leone has ever produced? Why has the presidency suddenly abandoned the disclosure of the size of its travel delegations? How much money has been spent on all international travels since Bio assumed the presidency? Why has the economy continued to contract, and why has the finance ministry stopped the public disclosure of revenue collection they initiated in the first few months in office? Why do we still have gross disparities in the national salary structure? Why have commodity prices skyrocketed, and why has the Central Bank’s monetary policy failed to control the collapse of the national currency? Why do we have an alarming reduction in the foreign currency reserves worse than any other time since the 1980s?
These are just a tiny segment of the questions SLPP members do not have answers to. Worse, they do not even want us to ask these questions or debate them openly. This is because Maada Bio and his new men in power have failed to take responsibility for the increasing problems in the country: dwindling foreign reserves, rising youth unemployment, inflation, hardship and general economic crisis. In fact, they have escaped scrutiny on these questions for two years now because they have assigned the burden of the current national economic crisis to Koroma’s APC. And their strategy since they have been in power is to shut down everyone who criticizes them by calling the person an APC sympathizer.
A few days ago, when I asked the SLPP how long they will use the excesses of the previous Koroma regime as excuses for their inability to address the growing problems of the country, they resorted to the same shallow defence: they called me “an APC sympathizer.” But even a simple recollection of my actions during the Koroma regime renders these attempts to mask the indolence and sterility of the Bio regime laughable. This is because our views against the APC are all well documented, and SLPP journalists who are now in government positions are witnesses to this. The SLPP propagandists are now desperately scrambling for a strategy for handling our legitimate criticisms.
Over the last few days, some of them have been trying unsuccessfully to develop a narrative to fend off my criticism of Maada Bio on Facebook. They even went as far as calling me “a non-patriot” and a “bad citizen,” as if the new yardstick for what good citizenship and patriotism are based on unconditional and blind support for Bio’s regime. Interestingly, my criticism of Bio’s presidency is nothing new. What is new is that, in the last couple of days, I have been consistently posting brief words on Facebook. Through these opinions on Facebook, I have expressed both privately and openly to the hearing of many in government. As usual, the SLPP has reacted to most of my comments intolerantly. Within just a few months of the SLPP coming to power, some WhatsApp groups controlled by so-called civil activists – mostly south-eastern SLPP supporters – deliberately removed me from their groups because I had started saying Bio was heading towards governance disaster from the day he constituted a national transition committee and his first cabinet appointment. For the last two years, I have openly pointed out how some of the policy actions and pronouncements of the SLPP have the potential to wreck an already broken country. Each time anyone says this, they are always quick to use the APC’s ten years as an excuse.
So, I have decided now to confront this failing regime full time the same way I did to Ernest Koroma and the APC. We can’t all be silent because a few people we once knew as our friends are now in charge of power. In the next few days, the Africanist Press that I am a part of will commence a publication aimed at assessing Bio’s first two years in power. Every citizen, regardless of their political association, has an obligation and a democratic right to hold government to account. That is what I have decided to do. I have done it in the past when the APC was in power and I will continue to do it now that the SLPP is in governance.
So, let the SLPP know that I have decided to hold them accountable for their electoral promises. They also need not forget that I am still the same opposition politician they once loved during the days of the APC. The only difference here is that this time the SLPP is now in power, and they are at the receiving ends of my criticism.