By Mohamed Juma Jalloh
In Sierra Leone, it is still believed that any political party that overwhelmingly dominates the Western Area is bound to take the seat of governance.
It is an unshaken conviction owing to the dense population in the nation’s capital since an election victory is about numbers although some latent factors cannot be ruled out.
According to the Freetown City Council`s (FCC) estimate, about three million out of the country`s seven million population reside in the Western Area.
The territory comprises the entire Freetown Peninsular, which juts out from the Atlantic Cape Coast and enters the sprawling fields of Waterloo.
As early as 1727, during the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, a portion of the territory was acquired from a local Temne Chief by the British. The acquired land was transformed as a settlement for freed slaves, eventually gaining a British Crown Colony status in 1808.
The Western Area which hosts the Capital City is divided into two separate political administrations: Western Area Urban and Western Area Rural.
Since the attainment of independence in 1961, political power has alternated between the Sierra Leone People`s Party (SLPP) and the All People`s Congress (APC) Party respectively with the exception of military interregnums in the 1960’s championed by Brigadier David Lansana, and Lt Col. Andrew Juxon Smith.
Exception also exists for the coups in the 1990’s which were masterminded by Captain Valentine Strasser and Major Johnny Paul Koroma.
Save for the transient military regimes of several military giants, the two parties-the SLPP and the APC governed the country for more than half a century.
The SLPP founded in 1951 is the second oldest surviving party in Sierra Leone.
The APC is an offshoot of the SLPP, emerging as a counter balancing force determined to always challenge the political dominance of the SLPP in 1960.
In the 1957 general elections, when the British were gradually setting the stage for self-rule, the SLPP won 9 out of the 12 contested parliamentary seats in the Freetown Colony.
The SLPP further dominated the first post-independence elections in 1962.
However, at this juncture, the APC had emerged as the official opposition in Parliament eventually sweeping the polls in the hotly contested 1967 elections.
Cecilia Samuels is an octogenarian who was a keen political observer in this period. She explained her political reservations to Nightwatch.
“The divisive politics, that has permeated the political landscape, began during those tumultuous years,” Madam Samuels remembered.
She continued that the political atmosphere was highly contentious between Sir Albert Margai`s SLPP and Siaka Steven’s APC.
Mrs. Samuels recalled after reading the APC manifesto in 1967, which was a total rejection of the SLPP`S one party idea.
According to her, the APC policy declaration was also anti-Republicanism and a denunciation of overt tribalism, nepotism and regionalism in political appointments.
“To the surprise of many socio-political commentators and intelligentsia, Siaka Stevens implemented the acrimonious policies he had hitherto decried and condemned,” the old woman explained.
Siaka Stevens was a profound political scientist; he capitalised on the resentment by north-westerners, who perceived Sir Albert Margai of overtly marginalizing them in his government. As a result, Stevens’ political appeal was readily welcomed, and his propaganda strikes solidarity among many people hailing from that part of the country.
The eastern region district of Kono is also touted as an indispensable kingmaker in national elections. However, the relevance of Kono only emerges after the regional corollaries are substituted by the two political giants. With the APC dominating the North-West and the SLPP controlling the South-East, the diamondiferous district of Kono stands out as a buffer zone, marking the line of demarcation between the two parties.
At any given time, more so during transitional elections, Kono district is up for grabs by the two colossal political parties. The district has earned a swing state status over the years in Sierra Leone’s political landscape.
Apparently, any of the two parties overwhelmingly supported by the indigenes of Kono is guaranteed of a presidential ticket to State House.
The regional corollary that was established in the political landscape in the 1960s has persisted and it has continued to take root ever since. The 1978 referendum made the APC as the only legally recognised political party in Sierra Leone.
The unsavoury one-party move outlawed all forms of political competition in Sierra Leone.
With the re-introduction of multiparty politics in 1996, it was expected that the APC and the SLPP would be politically annihilated.
The emergence of the United National People`s Party (UNPP), headed by late John Karefa Smart, and the People`s Democratic Party (PDP), led by Thaimu Bangura, in 1996 threatened the dominance of the two oldest political parties.
However, the 2002 general elections saw the SLPP taking over the western area, with the former United Nations diplomat, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, leading the SLPP.
The former president remained the most popular President of the republic, a rating dictated by the outcome of the democratically contested elections in 2002.
President Kabbah garnered about 75 per cent of the total votes cast. At this period, the former president contested the elections as a widower. In support of President Kabbah in 2002, many Sierra Leonean women were exuberant.
The high-spirited women vocalized songs, trumpeting themselves as concubines of the former Head of State.
The dominance of the SLPP in the Western Area was short lived.
Immediately after the civil war, the country benefited from ceaseless donor inflows. Sierra Leone also benefitted from the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative of the World Bank that saw the cancellation of the country`s foreign debts.
To the disappointment of many Western Area residents, the Kabbah-led government failed to build upon offsetting the initiative introduced by multilateral institutions.
Pervasive poverty and rampant corruption in the public sphere and poor electricity supply in the capital city caused public resentment against the SLPP party.
In the 2007 and 2012 elections, the SLPP lost all the parliamentary seats in the western area to the APC. Under the reign of President Koroma, the APC consolidated its popularity in the Western area with the construction and rehabilitation of roads and the provision of reliable and uninterrupted electricity to the capital city.
The APC Party also overwhelmingly dominated the two local councils in the Western Area Urban and Western Area Rural.
The APC, the country’s main opposition party, takes pride in the influential mayoral position in Freetown municipality and the Chairmanship of the Western Area Rural District (WARD-C).
Despite Freetown`s cosmopolitan outlook, the APC continues to maintain its popularity only surrendering two parliamentary seats to the ruling SLPP in the 2018 general elections.
Hon Tawa Conteh of the SLPP won the parliamentary seat in Lumley, west of Freetown and its surrounding neighbourhood.
It is believed that many Lumley residents voted for Hon Tawa because he deserted his party of origin after he was denied the APC party symbol in the primary elections.
The Lumley constituency also housed the private residence of President Bio.
Therefore, it is predictable for the SLPP to carry the Lumley constituency.
The Aberdeen touristic area is also represented by Hon Mohamed Sheriff of the SLPP because residents became disenchanted over a demolition exercise that was conducted by the APC government.
As it stands, Constituency 110 in Goderich, Lakka and Hamilton remain un-represented following an election dispute and a re-run is yet to be re-conducted there.
The APC is a party that is politically savvy; it is determined to dominate the political landscape of Sierra Leone.
Despite losing the presidential race to president Bio, the APC dwarfed the ruling SLPP by ten seats in the parliamentary elections.
In the aftermath of the March 2018 elections, Osman Yansaneh, the APC Secretary General, congratulated APC supporters.
“We have won the elections because we are the majority party in the Legislature”. Yansaneh assured.
In 2017, the APC enacted the Rural Act that altered the political map of Sierra Leone.
The National Electoral Commission (NEC) is the legitimate institution mandated to delimit constituency boundaries in preparation for general elections.
However, the function of NEC was usurped by the APC with the enactment of the 2017 Rural Act.
The blatant Gerrymandering favoured more constituencies in the northern stronghold of APC. After winning the 2018 presidential elections, the SLPP was entrapped in a state of political dilemma. As the minority party in Parliament, it controversially imposed a Speaker in Parliament after forcefully evicting members of the opposition, APC from the well of parliament.
In a desperate move to equalise the number of SLPP parliamentarians with that of the main opposition, APC, the former waged a legal warfare against the latter.
In the end, the SLPP succeeded in unseating ten members of Parliament for legal contraventions. Automatically, nine members were immediately replaced by the SLPP candidates who trailed second in the March 2018 elections.
A re-run was ordered in Constituency 110, which remains unoccupied till date. As it stands, SLPP seems comfortable with the parliamentary configuration, with the APC represented by 47 members whilst the SLPP has 48 members.
Civil society groups and members of the diplomatic community have originated the present political tension, in the squabbling over which political party should dominate Parliament.
The advent of COVID-19 and its attendant economic consequences has further made the SLPP unpopular in the eyes and estimation of many Western Area voters and the country at large.
The consequence of such an SLPP rebuff by the electorate has placed the APC on an enviable pedestal, making it the only available political alternative in the in 2023 polls.
By Mohamed Juma Jalloh