|AT THIS time in the life of Sierra Leone occasional reminders
about events in our country's recent history are necessary to give guidance
for those of the future. They say power corrupts and that absolute power
corrupts absolutely. It is tempting to forget sometimes some of the basic
principles of good governance, especially when one is surrounded by the
aura and paraphernalia of political power and influence such as having
the vast resources of the State placed at one's disposal.
Already we see those who only yesterday could barely manage a humble existence living luxurious lifestyles when everyone knows that they have not acquired it by the sweat of their brows but simply by the process which brings these resources within their control. Such is the conspicuousness of their wealth when viewed against the backdrop of the frighteningly degenerate poverty and deprivation that surrounds them.
Many unscrupulous ones among the present crop of state functionaries - ministers and civil servants to be precise - are using these tremendous resources of the State to consolidate an otherwise tenuous and unmerited hold on political power. They are building up their personal (not even the ruling Party's) power base at the expense of the rest of us, using our national resources - literally frying us with our own fat!
There would of course be less displeasure if some, not necessarily all, of this much vaunted acquired/ accumulated wealth went into improving the basic life situation of ordinary Sierra Leoneans. Unfortunately, the culture of selfishness and self aggrandisement upon which these manifestations of political power are predicated are so deeply ingrained in the political psyche of the present breed of politicians in our country that rarely will the masses draw any benefit.
There is a basic assumption that political power, however thorough and personalised the mandate, is held purely and simply upon trust by the governors for the governed. Ultimately it is in the electorate that, in democratic tradition, the power to hire and fire the leader and his or her team lies. It is when the political leadership - the leader and his chosen lieutenants - forgets the masses who put them there in the first place and refuses to countenance their views or to consult them for their input into policies ostensibly meant for their well being, that fractures in their relationship occur. By the time the leadership realises it, it is too late. Just take an objective and unemotional look at the origins of the civil war and you can see how our rulers then became complacent and took the masses for granted. It does not justify the methods that the RUF, NPRC or the AFRC applied in the end but it cannot be denied that the attitude of our rulers was a major contributory factor to the mayhem in Sierra Leone.
Sometimes because of their ensuing state of insecurity, the powers-that-be become paranoid and sensitive about any form of criticism of their policy or the lack of it. They resort to draconian actions, including locking up their opponents - an action which runs diametrically against the interests of the electors. That courageous tiny section of Sierra Leone's independent Press - the ones that are not afraid to call a spade a spade (of which there are merely a handful!) - provides us with ample testimony, if ever one was needed. Journalists have fared worse, being often arbitrarily locked up or dragged before the courts by this government and its predecessors simply because some crooked political magnate is threatened with exposure or criticism.
To avoid the development of such conditions, it is sometimes useful for us - government and the governed - to step back into the past to recall those singularly instructive events from which we can draw inspiration and which will reinforce our vigilance and strengthen our commitments to democracy and democratic governance.
It is thus with that in mind that one revisits the famous speech of Late President Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea on the occasion of his State visit to Sierra Leone in March 1979 at the invitation of late President Siaka Stevens. Stevens was at the peak of his power, having by then turned Sierra Leone into a police state by using his notorious twin security agencies - the ISU and the SSD - as instruments of state coercion, thuggery and violence against the citizen, but especially also as agents for securing the return of his chosen candidates at every parliamentary election that was held during his tenure of office.
President Toure, one-time avowed and acclaimed Pan -Africanist firebrand and arch anti colonialist, was himself reputedly a dictator and a prime offender against the universally accepted human rights’ codes. His regime featured regularly in various reports by Amnesty International.
But at the Siaka Stevens Stadium, Toure gave an unscripted lecture to his host Siaka Stevens, and his Cabinet, about democratic governance. It was like music in the ears of Sierra Leoneans who had become accustomed to Stevens' terror tactics against opposition parties like the SLPP who had no means to fight back. It caused pandemonium among the invited audience.
Here was a foreign Head of State saying those very things ordinary Sierra Leoneans had always wanted to say but which they could not say in public because of the prevailing climate of fear and lack of freedom that was a hallmark of Stevens’ reign.
To thunderous applause, with some of the crooked big wigs occupying the front seats glaringly embarrassed and wishing the earth would open up and swallow them, the wily Toure proclaimed thus:
"Lesson one: Being leaders or achieving one party status does not mean getting rich, driving Mercedes Benz cars and accumulating wealth at the expense of the masses.There is hardly any more that one can add to these "lessons" from Comrade Toure except to say that he himself did not practise most of what he preached. His' was one the most repressive regimes on the African Continent. He had actually helped to equip and reinforce the coercive machinery that Stevens used in Sierra Leone.
At the time he spoke, the whereabouts were unknown of Mon. Diallo Telli, a prominent Guinean national and political opponent of Toure, who became the first OAU Secretary General and was poised to become the first African Secretary General of the United Nations. It was rumoured that he had died in solitary confinement in one of Toure’s prisons.