9.10.2012

Creating a Non-Partisan and Accountable Government in Sierra Leone

Property Tax for Development Sign in Bo, Southern Sierra Leone
Enhancing Political Governance in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone held a development conference late last year to discuss the next 50 years of development plans for the nation and to discuss the current political and economic issues which hinder development.

Various discussions were held on how to improve political governance in Sierra Leone. These discussions and the papers that were subsequently released highlighted the shortcomings of the present political landscape and suggested various solutions to the current problems.

Ethnic Politics: A Growing Problem
A problem plaguing politics in Sierra Leone - and most other post-colonial states for that matter -  is ethnic group loyalties which encroach into the political realm. Although ethnicity is not perceived as particularly salient in Sierra Leone when compared to its other African counterparts, it does in fact play a large and often unseen role.

Sierra Leone is cited as being the 15th most ethno-linguistically diverse country in the world, being comprised of about 18 different ethnic and linguistic groups in a population of only 6 million. This political diversity, although beneficial for creating of a diverse civil society, is often a hindrance in the creation of non-partisan politics. 

For example, studies show that in the 2007 Presidential elections, 86% of Sierra Leoneans claimed they voted for the political candidate of their own ethnic group. The problem associated with this ethnic-based voting is that it can prevent a more qualified candidate from being elected as long as another candidate has a larger ethnic support base, which practically eliminates the success of any independent and non-ethnically aligned candidate. 

A background note on political and economic governance put out by the conference explains the issues inherent in ethnic-based politics:
Two common concerns about the role of diversity in development are: one, that ethnic divisions interfere with local cooperation and the  ability to produce public goods; and two, that ethnicity-based politics encourage clientelism, corruption and even violence in governance.  Looking across countries, research evidence suggests that ethnic fractionalization can slow economic growth by making it difficult for people to agree on productive public policies by encouraging corruption, by impeding people’s ability to sanction low performing members of ethnic groups other than their own, and by encouraging clientelist as opposed to public goods-based appeals during campaigns. While Sierra Leone does not conform to these stereotypes of poor cooperation across ethnic lines, the country does face lingering risks posed by the salience of ethnic identity in politics.

In essence, ethnic divisions can impede collaboration between various ethnic groups and can encourage clienelism, corruption, violence, and economic deterioration. Although these are not a significant problem at the moment, if ethnic-based voting continues, then it could become problematic.

During my most recent trip to Sierra Leone I was told that the North (specifically the city of Makeni) was home to more infrastructure improvement and development projects due to the fact that Sierra Leone’s current President, Earnest Bai Koroma, is from Makeni. So what can be done to combat these negative aspects of Sierra Leonean politics?

Implement an Audit Lottery and Politician Score Cards
Various suggestions were made at the conference as to how politics can become more non-partisan and fair. One such suggestion was to audit politicians through score cards and disseminate the results via mass media.

The government audit could either be performed by civil society organizations (CSOs) or NGOs and would involve reporting on how public funds are being spent and what the politicians have done since being elected to office. This would hold politicians accountable to the political platforms upon which they ran.
Sample MP Scorecard.

Another suggestion was to have a politician score card which would score MPs on their performance, actions, attendance to meetings, spending, etc. in hopes to once again hold politicians (more) accountable to their constituency. NGOs or CSOs could then hold workshops and information sessions to explain the results, which would also be announced through mass media, such as on the radio, which many Sierra Leoneans have access to regardless of their location and income.

Information regarding politicians’ performance should be easily accessible and understandable to the general Sierra Leonean populace given the many languages and widespread illiteracy. Although these ideas would take time, dedication and hard-working individuals to create and implement, I believe they would positively influence the national government performance.

If CSOs were to create these scorecards, do the tracking and data gathering, and collaborate in disseminating the information, it would be a constructive way for civil society to be a part of their politics and to feel more empowered in a government that far too often neglects their needs. 

These ideas, if implemented, would have the potential to encourage equal development across provincial, linguistic, generational, and ethnic lines and thereby begin to transform national politics all the while empowering the average citizen and encouraging them to take part in the future development of their country. 

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