By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah
In early December 2017, the Sierra Leonean political scientist Zubairu Wai, in an incisive social media comment titled “the dilemma of a ghost,” characterized Kandeh Yumkellah as “a parachute politician who believes he is doing the country a favor by running for president.” Wai notes that Yumkellah’s militant desire for the presidency of Sierra Leone appears to be anchored solely on his belief that being a former UN employee “makes him the only person qualified to be president beyond scrutiny.” Like many of us, Wai believes that Yumkellah is not the answer to the Sierra Leonean problem. “His connection to the global power elites, and his subscription to the neoliberal ideologies of governance means that he is a far more danger to Sierra Leone than Maada Bio or Samura Kamara,” Wai stated emphatically. For my part, I have resolved to engage the NGC jihadists and social media vigilantes to demonstrate the truth Wai speaks of.
Over the past few days, Sierra Leonean friends from as far away as Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have been calling me. As supporters of the National Grand Coalition (NGC), they’ve begged that I stop publicly questioning Yumkellah and the GNC’s claim that they represent the “progressive” alternative in the upcoming elections. These individuals are frustrated and embarrassed at the vitriolic social media brigade launched against me by their fellow GNC supporters, especially two odious vigilantes named Ibrahim Suma and “Sweet Mo”. These NGC cyber-vigilantes are fuming over my request that Yumkellah and the NGC demonstrate what concrete policies within the NGC platform could reasonably be described as progressive. I do not believe it is unreasonable to ask that a political party and its candidate offer concrete proof to support serious policy-related claims they have made throughout their campaign. This is a minimal responsibility of any political campaign. Yet, when I questioned NGC’s self-declared title as the “vanguard of change” one week ago, I was met with a barrage of insults and character assassination. These personal insults are only a distraction that deflects from the original conversation I initiated, which questioned the claims of NGC of being somehow progressive and different than the traditional parties in our country, even though the founders of the party are simply ambitious elites who decided to form a new party only after they failed to garner positions within either the APC or the SLPP.
These questions cannot be drowned out by name-calling and insults. All that’s required is a rational response which provides evidence that I am wrong. I do not believe the GNC can offer this response, simply because they do not have progressive policies to offer, nor can they deny that their founders and leaders were part of the dominant parties in the very recent past. Thus, in this essay, I will continue to make my case that the NGC does not represent a true progressive alternative in Sierra Leone politics. I will contextualize the NGC’s project, its genesis, and the underlying opportunistic aspirations of its leaders. My objective is to continue to point out not only the lack of difference between the NGC and APC or SLPP, but to equally show how the NGC’s agenda represents the very definition of political fraud committed by an angry and defeated faction of the Sierra Leonean political class, one that is now acting in alliance with a tiny alienated group of intellectuals, and which aims to dupe the innocent working men and women of Sierra Leone. This group, which claims to be “progressive” and possessing a “newly discovered message of change” is nothing outside of a mix-bag made up of windshield wiper politicians, an assortment of political jihadists, and fundamentalists; individuals who have been rendered outcasts and thrown on the roadside of the predatory politics that has haunted our country for over fifty years now.
In my previous essay, I painstakingly contextualized the genesis of the NGC’s by properly locating it within the theatre of the KKY Movement’s anti-Bio campaign; these are the opportunistic parameters that gave birth to the NGC and continue to condition its existence. Having established the political context in which the NGC’s project emerged, I then asked this so-called “new party of progressives” to show the people of Sierra Leone what distinguishes Kandeh Yumkellah from Mr. Julius Maada Bio and the APC’s presidential candidate. As I previously stated, the NGC has failed to address this question because they have no answer. They have only attempted to assassinate my credibility to avoid the question altogether, claiming that any interrogation of the NGC and its presidential candidate is born out of malice and hatred. The NGC’s cyber-vigilantes and political jihadists have avoided the questions I raised, instead continuing their pattern of gnashing their teeth any time they are criticized, in hopes that stampeding noise will conceal the real agenda of the NGC from the people. On my part, I have also resolved to engage these political jihadist and social media vigilantes as part of my effort to expose the real reasons behind the NGC’s fundamentalist approach to political power in Sierra Leone. It is no longer lost on the minds of the real progressives and pro-democratic forces in Sierra Leone that the NGC’s are conducting a violent and intolerant bid for power at all costs. In politics, words are cheap. We can only judge politicians by their actions. And the actions of the GNC when faced with criticism are simply emblematic of a dictatorial regime. How can a party which cannot respond to reasonable inquiries and tough criticism be trusted with political power? What does this portend for how they would treat political dissidents or critics of an NGC regime?
The NGC social media vigilante, Ibrahim Suma, has even gone so far as to label me a “covert SLPP media operative.” He claims that my efforts to expose the NGC’s attempt to dupe the people of Sierra Leone means I have a “soft spot for the SLPP.” NGC’s vigilantes and jihadists have also claimed that I am pretending to be a neutral player in the politics of the country. Before going forward, I would like to quickly address these ridiculous claims: I am not a neutral player in the politics of Sierra Leone. I have never made any claims to the contrary. My political opinion and position regarding the current state of affairs are clearly stated. Those who have followed my work over the last twenty years, including the people who now run and support NGC, have no illusions about where I stand in the political divide in the country. Unlike the NGC leadership and intermediate membership that is ashamed to admit its relationship with the SLPP and APC, my own position as a vehement opponent of the two-party monopoly in the country is without question. Those in the NGC are not only aware of my history of opposition to the two dominant political parties in the country from which the NGC is descended, but they are also very much aware of my political philosophy and ideology, a fact which they grudgingly admit with condescension by arguing that the ideology I believe in is moribund, while simultaneously failing to offer anything resembling an ideology of their own; indeed, they continually fail to offer even the most malnourished of belief systems or set of values, other than trumpeting the self-descriptor of being “progressive”. This is the gaping hole haunting the NGC’s claims. How does the nature and character of the NGC and make it different from the APC and SLPP? Can the party not adequately respond to this simple question? If they need an illustration on how one ought to respond to a doubter, maybe they can use this essay as a template: I have challenged the unfair claims of the NGC cyber-vigilantes and mud-slingers concerning my motives by simply offering concrete and historical examples which disprove them. But instead of answering my inquiry, an inquiry which the people must demand of any party which hopes to control their political future, the NGC’s social media vigilantes and political jihadists organized into a cyber brigade which has drenched the social media sphere with distasteful slander for all to see. One of their social media vigilantes even called me a foreigner born in neighboring Guinea. They are unable to answer what makes their presidential candidate, Kandeh Yumkellah presidential material outside of the usual song that he was a former UN employee that is supposedly respected by the international community. How far can this one accolade be stretched? How often can it be parroted?
Some NGC social media vigilantes have tried to justify the incestuous politics of the windshield wiper politicians of the SLPP and APC, who are now daily involved in media declarations as they jump from the SLPP and APC and announce their baptism into the NGC. The most hilarious aspects of these incestuous political declarations are the claims by NGC leaders and members that those defecting automatically become “progressives” simply by joining the NGC! Are these not simply declarations of allegiance to the excrement of the two parties they claim to be abandoning? When I questioned the moral foundation for these pronouncements, NGC jihadists tried to justify this political incest by seeking to draw a parallel between the political coalition we, the African Socialist Movement (ASM), formed with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ahead of the elections of 2012. Ibrahim Suma, in particular, tried unsuccessfully to equate the ASM/NDA relationship in the elections of 2012 to the incestuous politics of the politically blemished SLPP/APC faction now known as the NGC.
Interestingly, the NGC have neither denied the fact that they are a motley group of alienated politicians from the APC and SLPP, nor have they endeavored to present a program that supports their self-declared “progressive” status. They have only responded by arguing that it is impossible to construct a political movement independent of the unwanted and thrown-out fragments of the predatory political class in the country. They have even tried to lump me into the same filthy political basket from which the opportunistic leaders of the NGC’s past and present can be found. This smear campaign represents a lazy effort on the part of the NGC jihadists to respond to the questions I raised. So, let me again demonstrate what the NGC is unable to demonstrate: I will answer these salacious claims by pointing out the differences between the ASM/NDA alliance and this breakaway SLPP/APC faction now calling itself NGC.
The differences between this group and what we had in the NDA/ASM alliance are stark. Unlike the NGC, the socialists who formed a political coalition with National Democratic Alliance (NDA) before the elections of 2012 are a group of independent political activists who have no history of membership or association with either the SLPP or APC. In 2009, we had attempted to build an independent workers party in Sierra Leone and were denied registration by the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC). Besides, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that we pitched our political project with had no history of governance in Sierra Leone. Its members and leaders were never part of the SLPP/APC’s history of graft and economic underdevelopment that has plagued the country. If the socialists were eager to be a part of the shared loot of the country, we would have allied with the SLPP or APC, but we refused to do so despite opportunities presented to us. The NDA provided us with unblemished umbrella under which we launched a resistance against the Ernest Bai Koroma regime and the APC ahead of the elections of 2012. Additionally, the socialists who were part of that alliance with the NDA were not card-carrying members of the NDA. Our shared unity was governed by a collective commitment to a national democratic program designed to challenge the two-party monopoly that the SLPP/APC have exercised in the country. The NDA membership and leadership, apart from then being free from the history of corrupt governance, was at the material time of our relationship largely constitutive of workers and peasants who, like the majority of Sierra Leoneans, are actual victims of the depraved politics of corruption and exploitation that the combined monopoly of the APC/SLPP has inflicted upon the country. Thus, our socialist movement, denied the right to political association by a number of rogue institutional and legal limitations imposed by gangster politicians, carved out a pragmatic political option through its strategic alliance with the NDA as part of a first stage in its ongoing struggle for the revolutionary transformation of Sierra Leone politics.
Again, if we had wanted to share in the predatory loot of the country, we surely had the option of immersing ourselves into the two dominant political parties. Those who followed the political discourse that occurred in the two years leading to the elections of 2012 can still recollect the cutting-edge intervention of the socialists who took upon the umbrella of the NDA so as to advance a struggle for a national democratic revolution in Sierra Leone. The effectiveness of the ASM/NDA alliance was what defined the electoral contest in 2012; a factor which sent such shock waves through Koroma’s gang of political rogues that for the first time in the history of politics in Sierra Leone, a political party was prevented from running a presidential candidate in an election in Sierra Leone, a fact decried by international observers. Koroma’s war against the NDA in 2012 was directed principally against the socialists who were within the ranks of that party and who had successfully defeated the thinking representatives of the middle class in all debates on public policy across the country. The political establishment was not afraid of traditional NDA politicians; their focus was upon the presence of socialist revolutionaries within the ranks of the party. Again, in as much as we worked inside the NDA, we were never card-carrying members of the NDA and we never contested for any executive positions within the party. Based on our agreement, we controlled only the communications operations of the NDA; a strategy that allowed us to utilize the existing political platform of the NDA to initiate a contending dialogue against the bankrupt political elite in the country. We had no illusions, however, that the NDA had its own organizational limitations, as would be obvious for any independent opposition group in an environment where careerists, self-seekers, and opportunists —the likes who comprise leadership of the NGC— largely populate politics.
Our alliance with NDA ended totally and abruptly when the party leaders made a deal with the APC, a duplicitous move that violated a key condition for our unity. We had agreed, as part of this political arrangement, that the NDA must not support the APC and SLPP in the elections of 2012. Unfortunately, and as majority of the masses would remember, after a protracted proxy-war waged and financed by Ernest Koroma against the socialists within the NDA, a cross-section of the NDA leadership endorsed Ernest Koroma for a second term one day before the 2012 elections. Consequently, we pulled out of the NDA. Koroma, of course, had paid a bribe of over two hundred million Leones to the disenfranchised presidential candidate of the NDA to tempt him to throw his support behind the APC on the very eve of election day. Indeed, Koroma later compensated those individuals who infiltrated the party and waged that internal battle against the socialists within the NDA with political appointments. For instance, Mohamed Pateh Bah, the expelled presidential aspirant who was sponsored by the APC in its proxy-war against the NDA, is today Ernest Koroma’s nominee as head of the newly constituted Youth Service Commission (YSC). The current Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, Abdulai Cham was the presiding high court judge that issued the restraining orders to prevent a nomination of an NDA presidential candidate in 2012. President Koroma eventually appointed him as the substantive head of the judiciary. These appointments are connected to the roles of these characters in helping to secure a rigged second term for Ernest Koroma in 2012 and these examples are illustrative of the APC’s response to the socialists’ presence in NDA.
It is important to state that since we terminated our political alliance with the NDA, both the SLPP and APC have approached me, in particular, and on several occasions, in a bid to co-opt me into their ranks. In fact, those who now call themselves NGC repeatedly sought my inclusion and support for their own agenda at the very initial stages when they conceived the embryo that would first become the KKY Movement and would later be hatched into the NGC of today. I have vehemently refused to be a part of these factions and I continue to refuse to be a part of their dubious campaign to exploit the aspirations of the masses and enhance their own agenda. These windshield wiper politicians in the NGC are not new to me or to the hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans whom they now claim to want to liberate. These are individuals who have been part of nearly every government that has presided over the country. This long list of SLPP/APC politicians include the likes of Albert Joe Demby, a former vice president in Kabbah’s SLPP government, Isatu Jabbie Kabbah, former women’s leader of the SLPP, Brima Keita, former western region chairman of the SLPP, Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie, former Secretary General of the SLPP, Dennis Bright, former Youth Minister and SLPP Mediation Committee Chairman who was also a contender for the party’s national chairmanship position, Alieu Bangura, former minister and later Ambassador in the Kabbah government, and then SLPP 2012 Elections Chairman, Dr. Alusine Fofana, SLPP Deputy Regional Chairman in the north, Hon. Sualiho Koroma, a former SLPP Member of Parliament in Bo, Lawyer Mugbei Musa, a former SLPP legal adviser, and Ambassador Foday Daboh; these are the leading names in the so-called party of “progressives” called the NGC. Other APC ministers and party leaders who are denied nominations have now also joined them. How can this group of former ministers and SLPP/APC politicians claim to be a group of “progressives” with an agenda to free the country from its current predicament when they all bear the greatest responsibility for the public corruption and economic underdevelopment that characterize our post-colonial history? It is obvious that the animosity of these individuals against their colleagues who still remain in the APC and SLPP is only born out of the conflicting collision of selfish interests. The NGC simply cannot deny that its leaders are a collection of the same individuals of the political class that stands accused of all the political and economic atrocities that scar our national political landscape. Let me put it this way: if these NGC leaders had succeeded in taking over the leadership of the SLPP, the NGC would have never been formed. Can anyone deny this fact? Their agenda is not progressive, it is regressive and reactionary. They simply want to sit atop the pile of loot which has been stolen from the pockets of workers in this country, loot which is stained with blood and sweat. The GNC are simply members of a class of petit bourgeoisie, aligned with powerful foreign interests, who are angry that they have not yet been allowed to steal enough wealth to satisfy their insatiable appetites for wealth and power.
I know this because I know many of these people personally. Many of them have graciously invited me to join the SLPP or APC at one time or another. For the last twenty years, I have had personally to resist the ruling party co-option of Ernest Koroma, along with the invitations of the leaders that now opportunistically call themselves the NGC. So, I ask again: how can these individuals, whose names and identity are all soiled by the political corruption and underdevelopment of our country, attempt to equate themselves with other men and women who have never been a part of the history of corrupt governance, with the real progressives and pro-democratic forces in Sierra Leone who have continuously resisted the allure of stolen wealth. This tiny bunch of politicians split themselves like an amoeba every election cycle in a bid to keep themselves afloat; this is now the hallmark of political activity in Sierra Leone. True pro-democratic forces should be insulted by this segment of career politicians and elites claiming to be involved in revolutionary politics.
It is obvious that the political burden imposed on the suffering masses of our people by the SLPP and APC is colossal and unquantifiable. But it is also obvious that the objective conditions for change are imminent and evident across the country, as people are tired of the status quo. This reality is born out of the relentless struggles we – the real progressives and pro-democratic forces – have waged individually and collectively against a middle class which eternally chases its selfish interests in the name of championing a people’s agenda. Contrary to the noisy and loud slogans of these vacillating jihadist politicians in the NGC, I want to point out that an independent political movement is possible in Sierra Leone outside of the two parties. The construction of that independent party, one that truly endeavors to overthrow the existing social structures of greed and oppression and the two-party monopoly, will not, should not, and cannot constitute a splinter faction of the same predatory middle class that has ravaged Sierra Leone over the last fifty years. Such a movement will be made up of men and women who have no history of membership or association with the APC and SLPP. The National Grand Coalition (NGC) is not that organization. It must not be mistaken as one that embodies any of the features of a progressive organization. Any organization that sets-out to genuinely liberate a country must first and foremost have as its starting point a program that distinguishes itself from the rest of the political organizations that it seeks to challenge and defeat. It must be a group made-up of men and women with the proven track record of having genuinely labored for and in the interest of the masses. The program of such a political organization must be the result of an engagement with the masses, and not an imposition dictated by a few disgruntled and alienated middle class elites, who carry with them the political sins of the past. The NGC is nowhere closer to being a progressive organization that represents the interests of the poor masses. As Zubairu Wai eloquently said in early December, we will get nothing in a Yumkellah presidency outside of “elite arrogance and neoliberal fundamentalism on steroids.” Indeed, I believe that Yumkellah represents “far more danger to Sierra Leone than Maada Bio or Samura Kamara.” And so, I would still ask the NGC the same question they do not want to hear and cannot answer: what makes Kandeh Yumkellah and his NGC different from the APC and SLPP, an organization that is the recent progeny of the Alhassan and Alusine of Sierra Leone politics?