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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

On Intentions and Capabilities: A Critical Analysis of the Koroma Presidency
By Kelfala M. Kallon
Jan 30, 2009, 17:08
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The APC promised Sierra Leoneans a better life during the 2007 electoral campaign. Yet, after 15 months in office and in spite of the buoyant economy they inherited, they have only been able to deliver an economic catastrophe that is unrivalled in the nations post-independence history. Their only self-acclaimed success story (the provision of electricity to Freetown within the first 100 days in office) has become an economic albatross on the nations neck as revelations about its true cost and the seeming corruption that was attendant in its procurement have sullied this sole APC achievement. And even the electricity supply for which our national pound of flesh was bartered with such reckless abandon is at best unreliable. Finally, the Koroma government has overseen the return of thuggish violence to the political arena.

Greatly disappointed at the dismal performance of the current APC caboodle, many Sierra Leoneans have begun proposing hypotheses about the Koroma governments spectacular failure in governance and economic management. The prevailing (seemingly evangelical) explanation proffered by the Presidents admirers and supporters is that he is a good man who means well for the country. However, they claim, he is being misled and/or ill-served by a cabal of apparatchiks of the "old" APC which is bent on frustrating his well-intentioned agenda for the country. But being a gentleman-politician, the story continues, President Koroma cannot just bring himself to sacking his underperforming underlings.

However, a careful examination of President Koromas actions since he assumed the presidency, as well as his business and political history, would suggest that the saintly picture of the President that is being shamelessly painted by his supporters is at variance with reality. For instance, President Koroma wasted no time in illegally sacking the former Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone even though their terms would have expired within six months. A gentleman-politician, who respects the rule of law, would have simply waited for their terms to end and then not reappoint them, as former President Kabbah did in the case of Governor Sanpha Koroma. Additionally, since President Koroma took power, many government functionaries have been sacked or redeployed into other positions simply because they are suspected of being SLPP supporters. The President and his supporters have justified these actions by claiming that he needs his own team to help him tackle the nations problems. Hence, it is errant nonsense for anyone to suggest that President Koroma is just too nice to fire anyone.

Moreover, the ability to put together an effective team to successfully implement a leaders policy agenda is the most important requirement for effective leadership. The President himself acknowledged this when he made much hay out of the so-called performance contracts that he allegedly signed with his ministers, which, by the way, is as closely a guarded state secret as the Presidents declared assets. Therefore, if it turns out that the man who promised to run the country like a business cannot assemble an effective team to implement his policies or fire those who are not performing according to his expectations, then we should be talking about his leadership abilities, not his intentions or his allegedly kind and gentlemanly disposition.

Additionally, even the portrayal of President Koroma as a gentleman-politician is problematic. For instance, much has been written about how Ernest Bai Koroma, as a private citizen, used his wits, instincts, and political connections in the "old" APC to outwit some very crafty people in the past. His takeover of RITCORP from Jamil Sahid Mohamed and his usurpation of the leadership of the APC from Eddie Turay are stuff that would make even The Godfathers Don Carleone drool in admiration.

Moreover, I conceive a gentleman-politician as one who has the political courage to put the truth ahead of everything else, including his own political ambition. Thus, were President Koroma a gentleman-politician, he would have told the truth about the Libya Rice issueespecially when his supporters told the people of Sierra Leone that the APC knew nothing about it. That he duped Sierra Leoneans into believing that lie even though he had chaired the parliamentary committee that sold the rice suggests a character trait that most people do not associate with a gentleman-politician. This is especially true when one realizes that President Koroma could have told the truth and lost no political capital because he could have still held the SLPP ultimately responsible for the decision to sell the rice because they were the government in power.

I often tell my students that an ounce of the principles of economics is always a good remedy for several pounds of foolishness. The two most important of these principles are that people are motivated purely by self-interest and that they are, by and large, rational in the sense that they have objectives that they seek to accomplish using all resources available to them. Public Choice economists have used these principles to conclude that politicians, being human, are similarly motivated by self-interest, which in their case includes gaining and retaining power. Hence, I find our APC compatriots preoccupation with explaining President Koromas actions as anything other than his careful attention to his political interests to be either dishonest or just sheer nonsense that is borne out of ignorance of the fundamental principles of economics.

I refuse to be taken in by such a ruse. On the contrary, I think that President Koroma is a very skillful politician who is in full control of his government. Hence, I believe that whatever has transpired in Sierra Leone under his watch are mostly consequences of his policies. The interesting question, which the rest of this essay will try to answer, is this: What does President Koroma expect to gain (politically or otherwise) from a continuation of the current state of economic decay in the country?

Perhaps we can glean an answer to the above question by remembering that, in his autobiography, another APC President, Siaka Stevens, admitted to having sacrificed the economy for political reasons during his stewardship. Perhaps President Stevens ability to maintain and retain power while totally wrecking the economy is a textbook example that President Koroma is keen to emulate. If that is the case, then we would be correct to conclude that the current economic malaise that the country is experiencing on all fronts is proudly "designed, produced, inspected, tested, and approved" by President Koromain much the same way as the "suck-air" syndrome of the 1980s was similarly manufactured by the APC of the Stevens-Momoh vintage. Blaming it on anything else (global economic conditions or the attitude of Sierra Leoneans, for instance) is just a manifestation of the APCs dishonesty.

Dictators and would-be dictators know that poor people tend to see democracy as a luxury. Hence, they are likely to barter their democratic rights for handouts. On the contrary, economic prosperity empowers people to take care of their basic needs, thus making them less dependent on largesse from politicians. Thus, economic prosperity tends to promote democracy while economic stagnation provides opportunities for dictators and would-be dictators to bribe their people into bartering their democratic rights for pittances. In other words, dictators and would-be dictators often find that their political interests are best promoted during economic stagnation.

Accordingly, as Sierra Leoneans painfully remember, the APC of the Stevens-Momoh vintage used the deliberate destruction of the Sierra Leonean economy (in addition to state-sponsored violence) in order to perpetuate themselves in power for over two decades. If the rhetoric that we are hearing from the APCwhich is that they intend to likewise rule for at least two decades before relinquishing poweris anything to go by, then we could reasonably conclude that the current APC would similarly wish to implement the policies that worked so well during the Stevens-Momoh years. In fact, President Koroma promised that much when he pledged during the electoral campaign to take the country back to those horrendous Stevens-Momoh days.

Unfortunately for President Koroma, our recent history of violence has made the Agba Satani style of politics very hazardous to the health and life expectancy of those who perpetrate it. Moreover, the indictment of sitting and former heads of states by international tribunals for crimes against humanity makes it crystal clear that the international community will no longer turn a blind eye to the sort crimes that the Agba Satanis of the world inflicted on their people with impunity. Hence, without the manpower to design and implement a sustainable economic growth agenda, and totally intent on pursuing a "winner-take-all" style of governance, the only tool available to the current APC leadership is to use economic hardship as a tool for binding the average Sierra Leonean voter to their party.

Thus, I see the so-called missteps of the Koroma government during the last 15 monthssuch as its leasing of over-priced generators without due attention to the nations procurement policies; its payment of 25 million United States dollars to Wanza for gunboats that were never delivered; the feeding frenzy that has epitomized its stewardship of the nations scarce resources (as demonstrated by the decision of the President and his delegation to stay at the most expensive hotel in the United States during their last visit to that country); its reportedly unending obscene grants of waivers for import duties to the politically connected, thus starving the Treasury of much-needed revenue; its abuse of Nolle Prosequi in order to allow the politically connected to avoid justice; and its targeted sackings of experienced bureaucrats and their replacement with political hacks of mainly Northern extraction, among othersare all part and parcel of a grand APC scheme to impoverish Sierra Leoneans so much that they are forced to barter their votes in order to sustain themselves. This was according to reports most recently demonstrated by the APCs shameless use of cash to bribe voters in the Southern Province to vote for their candidates during the just-concluded bye-election in Constituency 87 in Pujehun. But as the Pujehun voters so vividly demonstrated on January 10, Sierra Leoneans are perhaps too politically awake now to sell their hard won democratic rights for "coco-yebbeh". Hence, we will have to wait till 2012 to see whether the rest of the country will follow the Pujehun example.


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