Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sierra Leone's Democratic Challenge

The Transformation of a Nation

Sierra Leone hankers for a transformation most nations in the West enjoy in this modern era: a liberalized and technologically advanced economy within an established democratic order. It is foolish to ignore the notion that development interests and democratic principles are uneasily aligned in Sierra Leone today. The two are not intrinsically paradoxical, but there are apprehensions between them that Sierra Leone's leaders will have to manage carefully.

Students of James Barber's presidential character philosophy would argue that more than any other political figure, the president of Sierra Leone attracts the scrutiny and passion of the Sierra Leonean people. As their elected head of state, the president represents the presence of the masses, and is seen as the figurehead of the nation in times of national crisis and grief. But the last three decades have seen a public disillusionment with the democratic process in Sierra Leone politics, and, as a consequence, the electorate now looks to a strong president to support their interests against a public service that is not doing its job and certain private elements whose actions are undermining national development objectives. Sierra Leone remains caught in a poverty trap of disease, environmental stress, political corruption, and lack of access to investment capital and medical technology—a poverty believed to be sustained by a lack of a strong presidency. In a democratic polity, this leadership incapacity often translates at the ballot box into a change of leadership in government.

Unlike many Western countries that adopted universal suffrage only when they were ready for it, Sierra Leone adopted universal adult suffrage four years before its independence, and had a lively political history during the years immediately after independence. In 1961, when it became an independent nation, Sierra Leone held the promise of a stable democracy. But the promise was soon dispelled. After the rule of Sir Milton Margai, in 1964, Sierra Leone lived with corrupt and partisan political regimes. It was the birth of the All People's Congress (A.P.C.) from a soured marriage of convenience in the name of the People's National Party (P.N.P.) between Siaka Stevens and Milton Margai's half-brother, Albert Margai (presidential candidate Charles Margai's father), that has forever impacted the political landscape in Sierra Leone. The APC, with support from younger radicals and much of the trade union movement, at its core, counted on the lower social orders as its most important voting bloc. Today, after four decades of independence, Sierra Leone is still at the crossroads and is preoccupied with a number of challenges rooted in its political culture or lack of it.

Sierra Leone's development experience is also likely to be similar to most countries in Africa. Ghana, Nigeria, and a host of other African countries embraced universal suffrage democracy but also institutionalized corruption after independence as one of the dominating challenges affecting the development of these countries. In Sierra Leone, like in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Guinea, and Zimbabwe, police officials collect bribes from commercial drivers. To get things done, one has to "grease the palm" or "wet the lips" of an official before a duty for which the official is paid can be done. Customs officers demand bribes from traders at ports of entry. In Sierra Leone one "can register a company at the Registrar General's office in 48 hours for a bulk fee paid to a senior official there. The bulk fee would include charges payable to government and extras for the official doing the legwork. There is also the possibility of licensing a vehicle without it being physically inspected; or acquiring certificates for fictitious births and deaths. Corruption in these instances is about the willingness to bribe public officials when people fall short of procedural requirements, or seek to beat bureaucratic processes, or to ask public officials to ignore petty wrongdoings" (www.globalintegrity.org). This is the culture, and periodic renewals of mass mandates through the ballot box do not seem to work in Sierra Leone, or in most of these African countries to change the culture of corruption and retarded development. This is partly because this is an acceptable culture in these countries, where everybody condones corruption in one way or the other and elections are easily rigged by incumbent parties. In the West, citizens who condone corruption are disgraced, tried, and jailed, and electoral processes are efficiently managed, something of a challenge in Sierra Leone's democracy.

But it is rather fair to also acknowledge some of the positive trends of the reform process of the last five years in Sierra Leone. Though poverty reduction remains a major challenge for the government and people of Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone People's Party-led government has labored "to develop a framework that is people-oriented and people-centered, working with an Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (I.P.R.S.P.) which, among other things, sought to empower people living in poverty through improving their access to basic social and other types of services and productive resources. [The strategy seems to be working since it supports] a wide ranging set of policies aimed at poverty reduction, progress toward the [United Nations] Millennium Development Goals, and the goals and targets of the Brussels Program of Action. Again, the successful implementation of the I.P.R.S.P. and the N.R.S. [National Recovery Strategy] resulted in economic recovery in 2001-2004. Real GDP expanded from 5.4 percent in 2001 to 6.8 percent in 2004 and 7.2 percent in 2005. Gross capital formation as a percentage of GDP increased from 14.3 percent in 2003 to 19.6 percent in 2004 as per the World Development Indicators database 2005." Also, "wide ranging and comprehensive governance reform measures are being undertaken." These include the enactment of the Anti-Corruption Act in 2000; the Anti-Money Laundering Act, a new Public Procurement Act and the Local Government Act in 2004; and a new Government Budgeting and Accountability Bill and an Investment Code in 2005" (www.un.org). The government has also embarked on a decentralization process in 2004. The first local government elections in 32 years were successfully conducted in May 2004 following Paramount Chieftaincy elections in 2003. The government's strategic focus has also been and continues to center on promoting basic education, providing basic healthcare and other social services, and empowering vulnerable people.

A National Youth Policy has been adopted and vigorous youth empowerment programs are being pursued. In the area of health, the government continues to implement programs with the support of the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the European Union, and other donors, all aimed at rebuilding health infrastructure. Telecommunication usage is being encouraged in order to exploit fully the benefits of globalization. Telecommunications facilities, especially cellular phones, have improved significantly. A new mining policy aimed at mitigating environmental degradation "while encouraging investors to engage in small-scale artisanal diamond mining projects in partnership with local communities" (www.sierra-leone.org) was approved in 2004. The government and donors are putting in place agricultural support measures such as the provision of machinery and improved seedlings to farmers and farming communities. The government maintains a liberalized trading system to promote trade and diversify exports. The Office of National Security (O.N.S.), set up in 2002 for coordinating national security, intelligence gathering, and analysis, is enforcing a national disaster management policy. A National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) has also been established to provide social safety nets to the vulnerable.

But despite some of these gains made by the besieged SLPP administration, the current interventions do not seem to be supported by a "strong presidency." The country receives an overall "very weak" rating in the 2006 Global Integrity Index. The rating is based on the continued poor state of the economy and the lack of opportunity for most people in Sierra Leone. The index assesses national anticorruption policies and practices in countries around the world. It depends on Sierra Leone's democratic politics to change the present dismal state of affairs with the principles of democracy empowering the right candidate for the office of the president—a person with good intention to aggressively pursue sound policies, redistribute wealth and develop the country.

Mainstream development vision within the bounds of conventional economics and human welfare holds that sound development policies will benefit all in the long run. According to the Africa Futures Group headquartered in Abidjan, "long-term perspective planning guides short- and medium-term plans, keeps development plans more focused, ensures optimal use of resources, and opens the eyes of a country to long-term development opportunities" (www.uniqueservers.net). But long-term perspectives do not come naturally to democratic politicians who must focus on winning elections in the short term. Accordingly, a grass roots democracy such as Sierra Leone must nurture the energies of its youth and entrepreneurs while, in the short run, responding to the reservations and resentments of the masses. How well Sierra Leone's politicians walk this tightrope will determine the outcome of the country's economic and development transformation.

How Political Kleptocracy Began?

Sierra Leone achieved her independence in 1961 with growth prospects that looked encouraging. The new Sierra Leone was born "with great enthusiasm and optimism of a promising future" and with "the potential of becoming one of the wealthiest and most developed states in the West African subregion." The country had a renowned educational system; a rich and diversified natural resource base comprising "diamonds gold, rutile, iron ore, bauxite, illemenite; a vibrant agricultural sector that met national needs and generated foreign exchange earnings; rich marine resources" (www.uniqueservers.net); tourist attractions; and a seemingly stable democracy. But not for too long, Sierra Leone's post-independence economic growth performance became dismal. "Real G.D.P. per capita growth averaged -1 percent for 1961-97 compared with 0.9 percent for Sub-Saharan Africa (S.S.A.). Like S.S.A. the country experienced moderate growth in the 1960's up to the early 1970's: 2.5 percent for 1961-70, falling to 0.06 percent for 1971-79, before turning negative in 1980-90: -0.9 percent. Unlike S.S.A. where growth recovered in the mid 1990's, Sierra Leone's growth in the 1990's deteriorated further to -8 percent for 1991-97 during the civil war" (www.centad.org). Sierra Leone had opted for a centrally planned economy with a closed-trade regime, heavy state intervention, and a garbled industrial policy in a large informal economy. The deteriorating growth performance from the early 1970's due to adverse terms of trade shocks and the political economic factor of "kleptocracy" and political repression under the A.P.C., which ruled from 1968-92 provides a national account of what really happened when the British returned the country to its sons and daughters.

It was within this coppice of poor policy choices that, in the 1990's, reformers in the A.P.C.-led government began to push hard for economic transformation based on Structural Adjustment Program (S.A.P.) liberalization measures. The International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) and the World Bank argued that in order for a developing country to qualify for a loan, it had to meet a list of budgetary and policy changes. "This 'conditionality' typically included reducing barriers to trade and capital flows, tax increases, and cuts in government spending." Thus the A.P.C.-led government of Joseph Saidu Momoh began a series of incremental reforms, which the S.L.P.P. under Tejan Kabbah continued after it came to power when the N.P.R.C. junta era of Valentine Strasser and Julius Maada Bio ended in 1996. The big thrust of reforms came about in 2001 especially on governance, which had taken the country a long way from the dark days of "kleptocracy" and political repression.

In some areas of economic policy, progress has been dramatic; in others, little or no progress has been made. Sierra Leone's investment regime has undergone some form of reform. "To cope with a weak investment environment, in August 2004 Sierra Leone updated its legal framework governing investment (now covering all sectors); past fiscal incentives (including a lower payroll tax rate for ECOWAS citizens) remain in force pending the revision of the tax code. Work on the adoption of an export processing zone regime is under way." Although the Sierra Leone economy is 48.4 percent free, according to the Index of Economic Reform 2007 assessment, "which makes it the world's 141st freest economy," "Sierra Leone scores well in fiscal freedom and freedom from government." In Sierra Leone, "starting a business takes an average of 26 days, compared to the world average of 48 days." "The weighted average tariff rate in Sierra Leone was 14.9 percent in 2005. The government is making progress toward liberalizing the trade regime" (www.heritage.org). The rules governing foreign investment have been reasonably liberalized."

Progress has been limited, however, in many key areas of the economy as estimated by the 2007 Index of Economic Freedom measures. The Index of Economic Freedom is a project that ranks 161 countries across 10 specific freedoms on things like tax rates and property rights. The index shows that "investment freedom, financial freedom, labor freedom, property rights, and freedom from corruption are all weak." It further shows that the government of Kabbah and Berewa "faces political instability, which discourages foreign investment, as do legal restrictions and a devastated infrastructure. Sierra Leone's financial system is small. The judicial system is riddled with corruption … as is virtually all of the country's civil service." The labor market is "highly inflexible" and is found to be "one of the 20 least free in the world" (www.heritage.org).

Unbridled Selfishness

Who has really reaped the benefits of the reforms of Tejan Kabbah's S.L.P.P.-led government? Sierra Leone has always had a small number of affluent individuals, symbolized by its big "alayjus" and "swegbehs" ("invisible wicked men") and business tycoons. Now the proportion of the population that is rich has undoubtedly increased, and a substantial new middle class has emerged. In what is fast becoming an emblem of the rising Sierra Leonean middle class, a new corps of government contractors is booming, new residential houses and privately owned hotels are being built, and Sierra Leonean entrepreneurs are bringing investments into the country through partnerships and joint ventures with Western and Chinese investors.

At the same time, the begging hands of agonized Sierra Leoneans, starving mothers, malnourished babies, ragged children, and even emaciated dogs—historically the most visible signs of mass dispossession on the streets of Sierra Leonean cities, towns, and villages—have not noticeably diminished. Poverty has not decreased even with the reform measures of the S.L.P.P-led government, when a greater share of the population is living below the poverty threshold, and more than 60 percent of the population still lives on less than $1 a day. The reforms have not created jobs.

Where inequality is concerned, Sierra Leone has shown the highest level of socio-economic inequality when compared to other African countries. "The richest 20 percent of the population accounted for more than 63 percent of all expenditures, while the bottom 40 percent has the resources to spend just a meager 3.1 percent. After the war ended, surveys of former combatants found that many young people in Sierra Leone felt a sense of hopelessness, worsened by visible signs of elite wealth and power that had contributed to their decision to take up arms" (www.un.org).

Opinion polls and local musical vibes such as Emerson's "Borbor Belleh" album and Sierra Leone Refugee Stars' "Monkey Work" track are confirming that a very large proportion of the population believes the S.L.P.P.-led reforms have mostly created a new middle class of "alayjus" and "swegbehs", which, in the public's eye includes mostly stooges and sycophants of the party. An S.L.P.P. defeat, come August 11, will therefore project an analysis showing those who believe the reforms of the incumbent party have benefited only the new middle class created from the party ranks outnumbering those who thought the reforms have benefited the whole nation. The elections outcome will also show that those who believed the reforms have benefited the whole country have voted for S.L.P.P., whereas those who thought the rich are the only beneficiaries will vote disproportionately for the A.P.C. and the P.M.D.C.

These perceptions may not essentially complement actuality. It is especially vague how the masses construe the term "reforms." For a more informed elections analysis, the National Electoral Commission (N.E.C.) should stretch its mission to simultaneously conduct surveys focused on aspects of economic reforms by asking questions such as whether the number of employees in government service should be reduced, whether public-sector businesses like the National Power Authority (N.P.A.) and Guma Valley Water Company (G.V.W.C.) should be privatized, and whether foreign companies should be allowed to freely enter the Sierra Leonean economy, or whether import tariffs should be lowered so as to allow for the greater availability of cheap consumer goods.

Perceptions of the majority matter in politics regardless of what statistics may optimally show. The overall picture that emerges from current perceptions of the reform process is one of two Sierra Leones: a Sierra Leone of booming businesses, growing cities and towns, and a vibrant middle class; and a Sierra Leone of a struggling agricultural and informal economy, an unsustainable rural community, and a large lower class. The market economy reforms appear to have stabilized the economy, but more work has to be done. Critics of the reform machinery of the S.L.P.P.-led government say President Kabbah and Vice President Berewa have created what they describe a "feudal" system within the S.L.P.P. Political connections play a role in S.L.P.P. politics in driving opportunities. The claim is that Sierra Leone under Kabbah and Berewa, political connectedness, rather than fundamentals such as competence and ability to complete tasks, is the primary determinant of civil and political engagement, and that this has led to distorted development decisions.

The Democratic Limitation

There are two aspects to the challenge reformers face within Sierra Leone's democratic context: perceptions of the reforms the government of President Kabbah has undertaken and the people's choice of a new president in August, 2007, likely to radically pursue reforms supported by international donor institutions such as Britain's Department for International Development, the World bank and the I.M.F. within the context of the I.P.R.S.P.—a support that helps in monitoring the government's progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.

The economic reforms President Kabbah has undertaken thus far have not been those that would immediately impact the lives of Sierra Leone's poor masses, and this has fed their resentment against the reforms, which they believe have only benefited a new middle class of party sycophants and stooges. The reforms have not created jobs or minimize corruption and reduce poverty substantially enough to mitigate this resentment. Unquestionably, the pro-market reforms along with the enactment of the Anti-Corruption Act, the new Government Budgeting and Accountability Bill and Investment Code, the enactment of a national youth policy, programs aimed at rebuilding health infrastructure, the agricultural support measures, and the new mining policy, will undoubtedly have a golden impact on the lives of the masses. But the long-term benefits of these reforms for Sierra Leone's lower classes are likely to be accompanied by considerable short-term pain. The electoral consequence of this presumption has meant that President Kabbah and Vice President Berewa have proceeded squeamishly on these market reforms, taking actions that noticeably benefited the elite.

It is therefore helpful to think of Sierra Leone's reform politics as following two tracks: what may be termed elite-politics and mass-politics. This distinction is absolutely crucial in understanding Sierra Leone's reform dynamics. In Sierra Leone, the elite consist mainly of entrepreneurial and political urban citizens. Elite politics in Sierra Leone typically takes place in the upper realms of the public sphere: in the interactions between business and government and in the dealings between Freetown and foreign governments and international financial institutions. To the elite, Sierra Leone's economic future has never looked brighter.

But Sierra Leone's mass politics is dancing to a different tune. It is the youth and majority of the unemployed population that make up this political constituency. Streets and the ballot box define mass politics; and voting, demonstrations, and riots are its notable manifestations. Economic reforms are thus viewed by the poor masses as a revolution primarily for everyone but them. Economists may recommend a more prurient acceptance of neo-liberalism—a phenomenon of the rich western market democracies—as a solution to Sierra Leone's poverty, but the masses appear to have plenty of reservations about economic reforms—and they have voting pizzazz in Sierra Leone's democracy.

One can therefore see why elite-favored reforms (an anti-corruption act that shows little or no impact on the reduction of real and perceived levels of corruption, a budgeting and accountability bill that is too sophisticated for the regular rural and urban poor to internalize its relevance) have continued under the current government in Sierra Leone. Whereas, more radical reforms—changing labor laws, privatizing public enterprises, innovative policies that are employment-driven, advancing more "green box" agricultural support measures—are not vigorously pursued.

Three factors are typically critical in determining the relevance of policies to mass politics: the number of people affected by the policy, how organized those people are, and whether the effect is direct and immediate or indirect and over a long time horizon. The more people affected by a policy choice, the more organized they are, and the more direct the policy's effects, the more likely it is that a policy will generate mass concern.

By this logic, some economic issues are more likely to arouse mass opposition than others. Corruption, for example, quickly becomes a contentious matter in mass politics because it affects most segments of the population. A stagnating agricultural program has a similar effect, because a large number of rural farmers are adversely affected. In comparison, a legal framework governing investment directly concern mainly foreign investors and their indigenous partners, whose numbers are not likely to be large or very organized in a poor country such as Sierra Leone. As a result, short of the setting up of factories, legal frameworks governing investment issues rarely enter the fray of mass politics in less developed countries. Grassroots-economics, not elite-economics, have until now driven mass politics in Sierra Leone. The consequences of the availability affordable consumer goods and poverty reduction policies tend to be obvious to most people, and grassroots groups are either already organized or can organize quickly.

Like most of the economic reforms already implemented, the deeper changes that many economists argue Sierra Leone needs for long-term growth do not immediately appeal to the passions of the lower class. In Sierra Leone's highly adversarial democracy, political leaders will continue to find it unappealing to stake their political fortunes on economic reforms that are expected to cause substantial short-term dislocations and are likely to produce rewards only in the long term. Identity politics—especially tribe-based affirmative action and regional politics—also occupy the center of the political stage, consuming substantial political attention and determining electoral fortunes. Consequently, what is critical to mainstream economists is of secondary importance to politicians, who favor predictability in and manipulating their political universe.

The Sources of S.L.P.P.'s Conduct

Mass politics is a tendency toward a political experience in which the people anticipate the availability of affordable consumer goods and basic healthcare needs. A N.E.C. survey on mass political attitudes in Sierra Leone may confirm that a small percent of the electorate may report any knowledge of economic reforms being implemented. In the countryside, where more than 70 percent of Sierra Leoneans live, an even smaller percent may have heard of the reforms (compared with a greater percent of voters in cities.) It can be true also that just a sizable percent of college graduates are aware of the dramatic changes in economic policy, compared with an estimated 0.5 percent of the illiterate poor.

In contrast, close to 95 percent of the electorate—urban and rural, literate and illiterate, rich and poor—may acknowledge the argument that the S.L.P.P. has existed predominantly as a "Mende man" party and the A.P.C. a predominantly "Temne/Limba man" party. Economic reforms were therefore a nonissue in the 1996 and 2002 parliamentary and presidential elections. However, economic reform has been growing in importance in Sierra Leone's electoral politics over the last five years. The 2007 elections therefore seem to be different. There is much talk about reform by all political parties and the people are getting the message. The A.P.C. and P.M.D.C. parties are campaigning on pro-market platforms. In dramatic contrast to 2002, when an estimated smaller percent of voters even knew of the reforms implemented up to that point; in 2007, it is estimated that at least 75 percent of the general population are expressing clear judgments of them—there is talk about the Kabbah and Berewa presidency of not being a strong presidency because it lacks the audacity and imagination to serve for the greater good.

To be sure, economic issues were still not the main reason for the A.P.C.'s election defeat in 2002. A.P.C.'s loss had more to do with regional politics and party alliances. In four significant towns—Bo, Kenema, Kailahun, and Pujehun—the regional allies of the A.P.C. did disastrously. The key issues in these and other towns were more regional in nature, rather than related to national or economic issues.

More germane is the character of the constituency that now forms the main pillar of S.L.P.P.'s support. Until the mid-1980s, the S.L.P.P. was a clearly regional party drawing substantial support from the South and the East, but the S.L.P.P. under Kabbah and Berewa has since come to represent the socially privileged, the educated and high-income groups in the Western and Northern parts of the country as well. The party is also consolidating gains in the much larger middle and lower segments—especially given the latter's higher rates of voter turnout. It is therefore no surprise that targeted poverty alleviation interventions on behalf of the lower social orders; now form the centerpiece of S.L.P.P.'s new political strategy.

The A.P.C., although less constrained than the S.L.P.P., cannot entirely escape these pressures either. If the A.P.C. is to regain and hold on to power, it will have to resolutely move down the socioeconomic ladder for support, something it has already begun doing. But it is almost certain that with his background coming from the insurance industry, A.P.C.'s Ernest Bai Koroma, if voted in, will waste no time in pushing through pro-market reforms.

The P.M.D.C. is the new kid on the block with a following unprecedented in the political history of Sierra Leone for a newly launched political party to have that kind of support. Not even the U.N.P.P.'s message of uniting all the people of Sierra Leone into a solid political foundation for economic development caught the attention of Sierra Leoneans when it was launched over a decade ago. Or the National Democratic Alliance, the only party that came out with a philosophical approach toward the country's political troubles in 1996 got the kind of support the P.M.D.C. enjoyed during its inception early this year. The debate on S.L.P.P.'s Berewa and P.M.D.C.'s Charles Margai revolves around continuity and change. Margai sees his P.M.D.C. party as a fitting "response to that call for a radical departure from the negative and unprogressive political traditions that have characterized governance over three decades" (www.pmdcsl.org). Berewa is seen as the establishment candidate, and his "victory," it is feared will be a continuation of the ruling regime whose reforms have not reduced poverty and have failed to meet the basic energy and health needs of the people of Sierra Leone.

All parties have work to do to be able to form a government post Aug. 11, 2007. The Sierra Leonean masses are defiantly rising up against an overbearing political system. Regardless of the inflated party manifestos of the various political parties, the 2007 elections will determine which party has come from the grass roots and which party has grown from the soil of peoples' hard necessities.

All Is Not Lost

Although the masses are wary about pro-market economic reforms that may blur their reasoning when voting for the most fitting candidate for the presidency, it need not be a reason for alarm. The stability of Sierra Leonean democracy is not in question. Whichever party wins the elections, reforms on the whole will continue. Since 1968, the A.P.C. and S.L.P.P. have ruled Sierra Leone, and none has departed from the path of reforms. The differences have been those of degree and pace, not direction. A middle class with rising incomes will continue to attract investor attention. The nation's remarkable human capital at the middle-class level will also draw investors. Moreover, there will continue to be economic reforms largely impervious to the constraints of mass politics: anti-corruption approaches; changes to the financial sector; further simplification of investment rules; the liberalization of real estate development; the modernization of the Lungi international airport; and the construction of open air structures, particularly motorway flyovers, underpasses, bridges, tunnels, and underground car parks.

P.M.D.C., A.P.C., or S.L.P.P reformers after Aug. 11, will only have to juggle two short- and mid-term parameters: continuing pro-market economic reforms supported by the World Bank, African Development bank, European Union and other donors; and responding to mass needs through further anti-market state interventions to alleviate hardship. If the masses are to embrace pro-market reforms, politicians will have to clarify issues about the privatization of public enterprises, the reform of labor laws, and the provision of agricultural subsidies to increase the use of variable production inputs, such as fertilizer, irrigation water, pesticides, and herbicides, among other things. All of these reforms are likely to enhance mass welfare in the long run. Proceeds from privatization of public enterprises, for instance, can be used to support certain basic sectors of economy. Safety nets for workers can be constructed as labor laws are reformed and a plan for a "green box" revolution in agriculture supported by huge agricultural subsidies put in place. By opening up agriculture to market forces and greater public investment in agricultural research, and rural infrastructure and education, will provide a long-term benefit for the greatest number of Sierra Leoneans.

But also, Sierra Leone's burgeoning middle class has the resources to become a middle class of community builders. Generally speaking, community-building approaches emphasize a middle class that can adopt and sponsor roads construction projects, participate in national cleaning programs, provide local leadership to organize social capital and networks, and the strengthening of local capacities as keys to fixing urban and rural communities mired in poverty and its attendant ills. A new middle class of community builders will ask not what Sierra Leone will do for them, but what together they can do to complement the effort of any government for the development of the country.

There are long-term benefits associated with democratic politics notwithstanding the challenges reformers have to deal with to win elections. Consider the counter-example of Guinea. It is hard to believe that the military state in Guinea will not constantly be challenged by determined pro-democracy forces, by the burgeoning middle class, or by rising peasant and labor unrest. The attendant economic consequences of a political transition or upheaval in Guinea are uncertain. In contrast, democratic Sierra Leone has a viable solution to the problem of political transition: the party or coalition of parties that wins elections will run the government. Democratic rules are now deeply institutionalized in Sierra Leone, and long-term political stability is fundamental.

The long-term benefits of Sierra Leone's democracy are defined by its rule of law and its pro-market reforms reflected in its new mining policy and investment code. The rule of law continues to evade Guinea, and its capital markets are heavily government-dominated. Guinea's economic performance is rapidly deteriorating, largely as a result of a weak policy framework and against a background of mounting national insecurity. Sierra Leone's constructive approach toward consolidating her democracy along with checks and balances, greater accommodation and tolerance of political differences, on the other hand, shows the country's resolve to respect democratic procedures.

The Case for a Strong President

The growth of the president's power is necessary. Presidents should be strong and powerful. Sierra Leone today needs a strong president. Who else can give the nation leadership? Who else can make the quick decisions that are needed in a national emergency? Furthermore, only the president can give real leadership on the many national problems. Parliament cannot lead as well as the president simply because there is only one president, but there are 112 parliamentarians in Sierra Leone. Members of parliament seldom agree on what to do.

Critics maintain that S.L.P.P.'s Berewa "lacks political vision for his country. That, he simply wants to be the head of a patronage racket, amassing ill-gotten wealth and dispensing favors, without any regard for the suffering of ordinary folks or the virtues of good leadership. Of the three top presidential candidates, it is argued, Berewa is far more predisposed to be soft on corruption and to uphold and protect the status quo." And to many other critics, P.M.D.C.'s Charles Margai, is a controversial character. Some say he is an "arrogant" man with dictatorial tendencies. A.P.C.'s Ernest Koroma is rather seen as a "silent player," who has worked hard to organize the brains of the dissidents within his party. But Ernest, like Margai, has also been observed to lack strategy.

"You have probably heard the old saying that anybody can grow up to be president. But, not everybody is cut out to be president. It takes a special kind of person, someone tough, smart, and driven, just to run for the job. It takes still more talent and character to hold up under the pressures of life in the [State House]" (content.scholastic.com). For who is best qualified for the job—Berewa, Koroma, or Margai—voters cannot be sure that any of these candidates will hold up during the kinds of pressure situations that come with the office of the president. "A candidate's character, however, often gives clues as to how the person will react under stress. People disagree about what character traits are most important in a president." But there are some commonly accepted things that people look for, such as integrity, strength, and caring. How important is character in deciding which candidate to vote for, is hard to tell also, because voters today worry more about the issues: what the candidates plan to do about corruption, health care, education, and other problems.

Without question, Sierra Leoneans expect a lot from their president today more than any other time in the political history of the country. Understandably, they want the president to take quick action on problems facing the nation, such as crime and corruption. Despite what the Sierra Leone constitution states about the office of the president, the Sierra Leone president has incredible power. Much of that power is informal, meaning it is not spelled out anywhere in the Sierra Leone Constitution or laws. Like what President Theodore Roosevelt said of the office of the president, it is a "bully pulpit, a powerful platform that lets [the president] draws attention to key issues." Sierra Leone clearly needs that kind of president who uses the "bully pulpit" to drum up support for his policies and the resolve to be firm against corruption.

The point is, a president can be weak if he becomes the slave of the majority. The president has to have "the virtue of responsibility. 'Responsibility' is not mere responsiveness to the people; it means doing what the people would want done if they were apprised of the circumstances. Responsibility requires 'personal firmness' in one's character, and it enables those who love fame—the ruling passion of the noblest minds—to undertake extensive and arduous enterprises" (www.claremont.org). Only a strong president, and sometimes "arrogant" president, can be a great president for this ailing West African nation. Sierra Leone, sick with all forms of corruption at all levels of the society as it is, at this point deserves a president who will work hard to become a great president worthy of the admiration of his people. Such a president has to excel in deliberately planning and executing enterprises for shaping or reshaping the entire politics of the country.

Sierra Leone's Democratic Challenge - Worldpress.org