Sierra Leone
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EU Elections Observers Mission to Sierra Leone meets Yumkella – what future for NGC now?

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 February 2023:

EU Elections Observers Mission to Sierra Leone held talks yesterday with the parliamentary Leader of the National Grand Coalition (NGC) Party – Dr. Kandeh Yumkella at his residence in Freetown, after last week’s wave of resignation by senior officials of the party including the chairman Dr Dennis Bright.

The resignations which were sparked by Yumkella’s threatening statement at the party’s National Executive Committee’s meeting two weeks ago, to quit the party so he can have the freedom to negotiate some form of coalition with President Bio’s ruling SLPP, have brought into sharp focus the viability of the NGC and its capacity to seriously contest elections in June.

Though it is not clear what was actually discussed and agreed at his meeting with the EU Elections Observers Mission, writing on Twitter Yumkella said: “It was a pleasure to welcome the EU Elections Observers Mission to my home earlier today. We discussed the importance of political competition in  democracies, contestability and vulnerability of small parties, and the dangers of divisive ethno-regional/identity politics.”

What however can be inferred from Yumkella’s comment about the meeting, is that the EU Elections Observers Mission are concerned about the NGC leadership resignations and more so, Yumkella’s intention to form an alliance with the ruling SLPP, which can only serve to limit the country’s democratic space and destroy political pluralism.

So why do emerging third force political parties flounder and get absorbed by incumbent parties?

This is a question succinctly commented upon by popular political commentator – Dr Yusuf Bangura. This is what he said:

“Thaimu Bangura’s PDP lost steam when it entered into an alliance with Tejan-Kabbah’s SLPP in 1996, and its key members later joined the APC when the PDP became moribund.

“The majority of Karefa-Smart’s UNPP parliamentarians decamped from Karefa-Smart and joined forces with Tejan-Kabbah’s SLPP in parliament in 1996-97. When Karefa-Smart expelled them from the party and selected new MPs based on the PR system that was in use, the expelled members and the SLPP parliamentarians suspended Karefa-Smart from parliament.

“This expulsion may explain why Karefa-Smart colluded with the AFRC in the wake of the overthrow of Tejan-Kabbah’s government by the military. Remnants of the UNPP later joined the APC to reclaim power in 2007.

“Similarly, the alliance between Charles Margai’s PMDC and Ernest Koroma’s APC in 2007 sounded the death knell of the PMDC in the South. The PMDC later fizzled out of the political calculus in Salone when Maada Bio’s SLPP won the 2018 elections and Margai was given a ministerial job.

“Third force parties are difficult to sustain in Salone because they are largely personalist outfits. Significantly, they emerge out of defections from the two main parties rather than from independent movements that see transformative change as a long drawn out struggle that may not yield immediate benefits to the founders of the parties.

“The historical record suggests that leaders of third force parties in Salone calculate in the short term and are ready to switch camps when new opportunities arise, or their new parties become a burden or constraint on their personal ambitions or calculations. All claim to put Salone ‘fos’ but are largely in it for themselves.

“The need to connect third force parties to the activities and interests of popular sector groups is profoundly sound. In a highly polarised ethno-regional polity or duopoly like ours, third force parties cannot compete with the established parties using ethnicity or region as a base.

“The duopoly of the two main parties can only be broken from a bottom-up type of politics that appeals to, and involves, common folk. And this takes time. Structural ties with common folk are built in the period between—not during—elections. Fine speeches, as we are accustomed to under the NGC, may not cut it because voters do not believe that politicians will deliver on their promises.

“In the absence of alternatives that credibly address their socio-economic interests, voters may opt to stick with the established politics of patronage that deliver benefits during the electoral cycle. Third force parties, which are new in the game, lack a track record to reverse such rational voter calculation. They can only earn it by getting involved in the programmes and grievances of the organised mass groups in their communities and workplaces.

“The NGC’s sudden demise may make it extremely hard to craft another serious third force party any time soon.”

“My brother, thanks for reaching out.  The day will come for my rebuttal.  There are times when even brothers have to agree to disagree.  I have learnt to accept what I cannot change.”

The question many are asking now is: Is Dr Kandeh Yumkella on political suicide mission?