PONDER MY THOUGHTS

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BY

Andrew Keili

HARDING V TUNIS: IT’S POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY, STUPID!

In the green corner, Dr Prince Harding, Chairman and Leader of the SLPP, with his usual “bullet in his “chakabuda gun”. In the other green corner, holding a loaded sling, hidden behind his back is Hon. Mohamed Sidi Tunis, Leader of Government Business in Parliament. The battle lines were drawn between these two political heavyweights. Harding, by a letter to Parliament had removed Tunis from being Leader of Government Business following his ascension to the position of Speaker of the Ecowas Parliament. Tunis was reluctant to be pushed out and cited procedural lapses and gave the impression he could in fact manage to do both jobs effectively. In fairness to him, he respected the primacy of the party to make such decisions. Harding would have none of this and was unequivocal in saying his decision was final and that if Tunis continued with his “anti -party activities”, he may find himself out of the party.

But now that the battle lines have been drawn let us digress a bit and talk about the issue of political expediency in Sierra Leone. I will not bother to define this in order not to insult the intelligence of my readership (well-em em- some of them!). For the avoidance of doubt, may I state from outset  that there is also a place for principled politics (many say it is an oxymoron) that may not necessarily be expedient.

One of my best examples of political expediency was with my late friend Unisa Alim Sesay aka Awoko. Awoko was hardcore APC but always had access to President Kabbah, who he was friends with. Although APC, he seemed to know so much about the internal machinations of the SLPP and would often give me a heads up on things even I did not know about my party. “How do you know these things and how come you are so close to President Kabbah”, I would ask him. He would reply-“Me na Kabbah APC”. He “survived” conveniently under both SLPP and APC.

President Kabbah made a lot of compromises to RUF’s Foday Sankoh in the Lome Peace accord, even giving him a status equivalent to Vice President and head of the Strategic Minerals Commission. As we now learn, the wily Solomon Berewa ensured in his legal language that Sankoh was in fact given a long rope to hand himself.

President Koroma also dabbled into political expediency. Before the 2012 election his idea of  transforming the entire country into a work’s yard was highly trumpeted and it paid dividends with road equipment strewn all over the country to “undertake road works”. His bringing into his cabinet of Eddie Turay and Serry kamal into his cabinet, two erstwhile vitriolic critics after he won the 2007 elections, which had been preceded by intra party rivalry steadied the ship of state, allowing him to govern with a united party.

Enter Albert Margai to illustrate how political rigidity can spell your death knell. Refusing Kaisamba and Mbriwa the SLPP symbol and allowing them to go as independent candidates, resulting in a hung election and ultimately bringing President Stevens to power may be regarded as an object lesson in political obstinacy.  President Kabbah’s sacking of J.B Dauda, Charles Margai and others after the now infamous 2005 SLPP convention, leading to the formation of PMDC and the growth of several apathetic groups going into the 2007 elections did not bode well for SLPP.

Enough of these examples. What about Prince Harding aka Bullet? This is a man that has had his political obituary written so many times but has always found his way to resurrect. This time he seems to have resurrected again-at Easter time, at that!

Harding has had his political problems but always found a way to come back. He has served as SLPP Secretary General, helping the party win two elections in 1996 and 2002 before he was defeated in the 2005 at the infamous Makeni convention by a young “radical reformist” J.J. Saffa aka JJ Blood. He became a senior Minster holding various Ministerial portfolios including Mines and Transport during President Kabbah’s tenure and held other jobs including NPA Chairman. He has lately held the positions and of Deputy Chairman and Chairman and Leader of the Party.

When the SLPP decided to delink the position of Leader from the Chairman and Leader position (not yet effective until the revised constitution is adopted), many felt it spelt the death knell of “Bullet” who was also unceremoniously removed from the position of Chairman of NATCOM. He was not even given any opportunity to tender his resignation and according to a sympathizer “maintain his public respect”.  Undaunted, he refused to speak on his sacking, and called on the mammoth crowd that had turned out to receive him in Bo to be calm and support the President as he drives the national agenda to develop Sierra Leone. Harding has also been challenged for the Chairmanship of the party by Jimmy Batillo Songa, who many felt would be in pole position as Harding no longer seemed to be favoured from “upstairs”. To cap Harding’s resurrection, he had recently been appointed to be Chairman of the National Privatisation Commission.

The challenge to Tunis, himself no slouch was surprising. Tunis, an astute politician does not make enemies and finds a way of getting on with all sides of any political divide. He himself has had his political obituary written several times only to have him bounce back. This is his third term in Parliament and he has seemed to see off supposedly popular opponents in close battles in internal party fights. Initially bent on being Speaker, he settled for the Leader of Government Business position.

When the battle lines were drawn between these two political heavyweights, all bets were off as to which of the two would emerge victorious. This was clearly a fight of two “Houdinis”. It is a testament to the negotiators of this peace accord and their power of political expediency that they struck an amicable compromise.

I have read several reports on how this fight was settled but I particularly like the one from a party supporter and some kind of public relations person who wrote in social media:

“The small harmless debate which recently sparked out inside the very bowels of our Democratic SLPP family unit has now been amicably settled amongst the players concerned.” Democratic bowels?

When he wrote further that Honourable Alhaji Sidi Tunis had received a “higher calling”, I was initially concerned he had gone to the great beyond until I later read it was as to serve as Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament.

What he said later about my friend Napoleon, I can only ask Napoleon to explain what he meant when I meet him:

“According to the SLPP Secretary General, Umaru Napoleon Koroma: “the SLPP is stronger than ever before”, proudly adding “the SLPP today is not immune to internal disagreements but we don’t disagree to digress”.

But why bring detractors in and who are they? It soon became clear:

“This remarkable show of unity is yet another affirmation of the fact that there are men and women inside the SLPP who will always come together and find a way forward even where it may seem dark and dismal in the dream of our detractors……So this is one less bait that has been snatched out of the chewing jaws of the Tolongbo crocodile. Let them go talk about how xxxxx fabricates issues around yyyyyy with  treasonable-sounding audios while hypocritically pleading for a real treason suspect because he happens to be “an APC comrade”. Can you beat the sick irony there?”

Ok now I think I know who he is talking about!

Anyway to cap it all I was enthralled to see a picture of the main fighters standing in the “ring” with the Secretary General, Hon. Martin Nyuma, the new Leader of Government Business (an affable man who nevertheless usually takes no prisoners), Hon. Bashiru Sidikie, the new Deputy Leader (a Harding protégé who represents his constituency), the Chief Whip and Deputy Speaker. When I noticed all of them smiling, I knew that they will leave “happily ever after”-well-em-until whatever fight comes next. What a show of unity-even though social distances were not observed! But then there is a Mende saying “Hygiene kafai” in instances like this when everybody lives happily ever after.

Honourable Tunis is now “Father of the House” according to the new arrangement with all the bells and whistles of an important man- office, car, respect etc. Someone asked me who is the “Mother of the House” and I answered even without thinking-“Hon. Veronica Kadi Sesay”. When he went further to ask me who the “Favourite children of the house” are, I gave up and answered in a perfunctory way-“Just choose from the “ayes on the right”, as Mr. Speaker would say!

Anyway congratulations to my young friends Nyuma and Sidikie. May the good Lord guide and guard you in your new positions.

The “The economy, stupid” is a phrase coined by James Carville in 1992. It is often quoted from a televised quip by Carville as “It’s the economy, stupid.  It’s time we coined ours and I would go for –Its political expediency stupid.

Ponder my thoughts.


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