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Humble Host
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Sierra Leone


Post by Humble Host » Sat Apr 13, 2019 10:06 pm

by Mahmud Tim Kargbo

13 April 2019

It didn’t take long for the political honeymoon to end. Ernest Bai Koroma still more popular than Julius Maada Bio who removed his political party from power, but Bio is now being accused of dividing the nation by putting his very narrow “Paopa” cultist interest ahead of national interest. He can’t sell difficult policy choices, much less actually take them, it seems.

Whatever you may think of the merits of an increase in blocking leakages and the enforcement of the Single Treasury Account, the more important question all this raises is about the quality of contemporary political leadership in Sierra Leone and how it can address the intractable problem of bread and butter issue in the lives of the suffering majority.

If we scan the national political horizon, it is difficulty to spot anyone that might be described as an unambiguously great leader.

Perhaps the last person to fit this bill was Ernest Bai Koroma. Few people would argue that he was quintessentially the right man for his times. More than that, he was actually able to shape them in ways that not even his much less gifted successor has being entirely able to undo. This is not to say that he won’t eventually.

It is not only in what is still rather patronisingly known as the *“Paopa New Cultist Direction”* that effective leadership is in short supply though. On the contrary, the APC, NGC and C4C political parties have – rather tragically – become bywords for dysfunction and an inability to resolve pressing economic and social crises. Effective collective leadership is an especially difficult and rare form of the genre and one that is currently conspicuous by its absence.

But even if we set the bar of expectation somewhat lower and simply measure the current Bio administration political leadership style against a national benchmark, they still seem to fall short of the supposedly lofty standards of his predecessors. The conventional wisdom has rapidly become that the Ahmad Tejan Kabba and Ernest Bai Koroma governments provided Sierra Leone’s gold standard for ambitious, necessary reforms that were skillfully executed.

Even if we put to one side the possibility that this retrospective judgement doesn’t easily map onto the often-turbulent politics and economics of the period, was there something about 1996-2018 and the larger structural transformation that was occurring in an increasingly global economy that made the policy challenges and possible responses clearer and more pressing?

Do those very same market-oriented, “neoliberal” reforms actually make the challenge of governing more difficult for the Bio administration that's in total malice with national cohesion?

It has become a cliché to observe that “globalisation” has undermined the autonomy of nationally based political actors and empowered highly mobile market forces. The impact – and potential danger – of such changes can be seen in the rise of highly liquid financial capital and its potential to wreak havoc on the so-called real economy.

The inability – or the unwillingness – of politicians like Bio to tax and/or regulate such activities in an effective or equitable manner is one of the more distinctive features of the contemporary national economy. It is a failure of political imagination and purpose as much as it is a manifestation of the implacable logic of technological change or financial innovation.

How would any national leader cope in such circumstances? What would the prospects for international co-operation be?

The pessimists probably have the best answers to such questions. It is simply that “Paopa” politicians seem perennially unable to transcend their narrow cultist interests to national interests, but that even a national agenda is becoming harder to pursue. “Paopa” political rulers are entirely to blame for this.

The debate around the cancellation of the proposed Mamamah Airport for Lungi bridge increasingly demonstrates just how parochial “Paopa” politics remains, and how politically difficult it can be for these types of politicians to try and promote difficult ideas to the benefit of the nation not the benefit of Western neo-colonial institutions.

Wrestling with tax policy to raise revenue for unproductive Presidential trips and dividing the nation with “Paopa” cultist ideas while pretending you are fighting corruption is not terribly exciting, nor is it likely to be the end of civilisation as we know it if the Bio government stuffs it up. We are fortunate that this is the greatest challenge our political leaders in this country currently face and they must deal with it effectively.

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