APC Must Manage Its Transition Well or Risk Big Split in Sierra Leone

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COMMENTARY

By Amin Kef Sesay

The main opposition All People’s Congress faces a critical future as it stands at the crossroads between its present leadership and a yet unknown future. Within the party, the National Reformation Movement is calling for a radical shift away from the politics of the past to a new democratic era wherein its national officers are elected and not selected.

Although the payoffs for sustainable growth are clear, transitioning to democracy is no easy task, as there is a lot of volatility in the processes.

APC becoming democratic is not simply a matter of ousting the present administration but rather a continuous process that shapes the party’s mindset, principles and importantly its political aims and objectives within clearly defined parameters.

As such, there can be no uni-linear and predictable path to incorporating fully fledged democracy into a party that for long believed in the communist philosophy of the leaders selecting themselves and doing what they feel is right for the party without necessary recourse to its members for their inputs. As such, instilling a democratic culture into the APC, as demanded for by NRM, will be complex and unpredictable. Gains can be achieved only to be backtracked and reversed to later re-emerge.

From the diversity in the country’s recent experiences with political parties and democracy since 1996, parties in transition generally can learn from the costly mistakes made by Charles Margai in monopolizing power in the PMDC and how that eventually led to the party losing popularity and its membership from a very impressive showing in the 2007 elections in which it helped the APC and Ernest Bai Koroma come to power by capturing very crucial votes and seats in parliament in the South.

Lessons to be learned by political parties in transition include:

  1. Move forward incrementally when beginning a democratic transition.

Democracy by definition must include the full range of stakeholders, interests, and principles. There are no shortcuts, knowing that political and social movements are not built overnight and take time to mature. While some political transitions in the past have been characterized by mass mobilizations, incremental changes work in democratic transitions because it allows stakeholders to adapt and mature with the process. As such, small steps are better, rather than waiting for a major change to occur.

  1. Retain a positive and inclusive vision at all times:

Transitions to democracy carry expectations for significant change. That can pose a risk if the reality does not match up as quickly as people hoped. One key aspect is to avoid excessively inflating people’s expectations. Thus, political leaders and other officials shaping the transition process must be able to present a commonly accepted vision of the transition through both long-term goals and modest promises to combat public fear and avoid disillusionment amongst the people.

3.Build coalitions:

Transition needs to focus more on what unites people and with patience and persistence, signal to all actors that they will have a stake in the new dispensation to emerge. As such, partnerships and alliances are important in every multi-stakeholder undertaking, and democracy is no exception. Collaboration and cooperation are at the core of a democratic system centered on inclusiveness, transparency and accountability. Opposition forces, students, women’s groups, etc. need to be included in every process including constitution building. Bridges must be built across and between sectors.

  1. Create and protect spaces for dialogue:

Promoting space for discussion and dialogue is important if democratic transitions are to yield development gains. Dialogue is necessary to increase trust between the members, which will in turn affect the transition success. Discussions need to focus on future common goals rather than previous disputes.

  1. Focus on constitution building:

A constitution is crucial to a political party’s future because it serves as a basic guide post.  Constitutions need to go through revision from time to time to reflect the progressive temperaments of the time that must be scrutinized by interest groups within the party that ask for amendments.

As such, drafting the new constitution should be a truly inclusive process engaging a wide range of participants based on broad goals rather and maintain transparency throughout the process, to help ensure all sectors are on board.

 

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