Sierra Leone neocolonial politics will never be same with launch of APSP and its tenacious leadership!

The following article appeared in the Standard Times Press News Sierra Leone on October 7, 2009 in its Media and Society section as well as in Torchlight, New Vision, and Premier News in Sierra Leone speaking about the challenge the newly forming African People’s Socialist Party of Sierra Leone will pose to the existing order of neocolonial lapdogs who hand over all of Sierra Leone’s resources to U.S. and European imperialism.

Since the 1950s to 2009, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the All People’s Congress (APC) – with the brief military interregnums of NRC, NPRC and AFRC juntas – have been exclusively interchanging governance batons at State House in our country.  With these two largely regional/ethnic-powered parties in power, there have been brief periods of bounty. But, mostly, though it could NOT be the fault of either of these two parties, life for Sierra Leoneans has been long stretches of deprivation that has earned one of the most blessed country in terms of natural resources a permanent bottom position in the UNDP’s Human Development Index.  Over a 50 year period, new political parties would rear their heads to wrestle power from the SLPP/APC – the PNP; NUP, PDP, UNPP, GAPP, PMDC, etc.  It has been a largely futile effort, as almost all these other parties would be disgraced in the polls, and slink into oblivion.  A new political party, still in its embryonic stage, is determined to challenge this SLPP/APC dominance.  Until a Congress of the party slated for November 2009, the tentative name of this new party is the “African People’s Socialist Party” of Sierra Leone (APSP).  Recently, I met with the Interim Leader, and soul, of the APSP, 31-year-old Chernoh Alpha Muhamed Bah.

Chernoh’s Socialist political party idea has stemmed from his founding of the “Africanist Movement” less than seven years ago.  The ideology of the Africanist Movement is freedom for ordinary people; organizing them into a political force to ensure that the resources of the country are controlled by them, and equitably distributed; what Chernoh term as “real people’s democracy”. Over the past five years, the Movement, based in Makeni, Bombali District, has established branches all over the country.  And, significantly, it has spread out to other countries like Guinea, the Gambia, Senegal, and Mali. It was the fervor of Chernoh, and his proven ability to organize what is known here as ‘the masses’, that attracted the attention of big time global Socialist groups like the African Socialist International (ASI), which is based in London.  In 2005, Chernoh got invited to London, and met with the Chairman of the ASI, Omali Yeshitela.

Yeshitela is the only surviving member today of the radical black liberation movement in the United States in the 1960s.  That was when radical groups like the Black Panthers, and uncompromising Socialist-slanted radicals like Malcolm X, advocated for violence as the only option to free oppressed blacks in America (antithetical to the beliefs of non-violent Mahatma Gandhi-influenced people like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.), and sent chills down the spines of the then largely racist U.S. Establishment.  Yeshitela was clearly impressed with Chernoh. Yeshitela invited Chernoh’s Africanist Movement to become one of the dozens of African organizations which are part of the coalition of largely radical Socialist-oriented organizations that is called the “ African Socialist International (ASI)”.  Chernoh agreed to this.  Also, Yeshitela seeing the potential in Chernoh, his passion, his impressive uncompromising fervor for the liberation of the African peoples, convinced Chernoh to take up a position in the mainstream ASI.

Today, Chernoh is the Director of Organization in the ASI, based in Florida, United States. He is also Regional Director for Africa of the ASI.  This puts him at almost No. 3 position in this global organization with thousands of members in Africa, Europe, South America and North America; offices on all those continents; radio stations and newspapers; the capacity to organize dozens of conferences and workshops around the world every year; and respect from powerful Socialist leaders like Venezuela Hugo Chavez and Brazil’s Lulu de Silva. So well positioned, Chernoh literally criss-crosses the globe several times a year.  He regularly gives speeches in top universities; also addresses workers’ meetings, intellectual groups in the U.S., Europe, South America and Africa. Chernoh’s passion and intellectual incisiveness in arguing the case for Socialism has projected him forcefully into the global limelight as almost the new Socialist Guru – with CNN interviewing him on Socialism. It could be possible that the sheen of Chernoh is his independent-mindedness; his intellectual courage at challenging and doing aggressive intellectual combat with established thoughts.

Chernoh not only denounces the heinousness of Capitalism, but is equally dismissive of “European Socialism”.  Chernoh is insistent in showing the sharp dividing line between “African Socialism” and what can be termed as ‘classical Socialism’, which has its roots in Europe.  Having observed Chernoh over the past two years, this is my take on him.  There is a ‘Christ-like’ aura about him, a profundity and sincerity in his diction, a certain fire in his eyes, and vehemence in his diction, that commands attention, and respect.  And inspires!! Hear him: “European Socialism was borne from the workers/peasants’ protest at the excesses of Capitalism.  Capitalism itself was sired, and has been nurtured by, the crude exploitation of African and other peoples in the Southern Hemisphere by Europeans/Americans.  European Socialism has largely been about the fight for equity for “workers”, workers that would not have existed if there had been no exploitation of African peoples.  When we talk of ‘African Socialism’, we are talking about the holistic emancipation of people for the first time in history….”.

In the game of intellectual fencing, Chernoh is proving himself a ‘Master’.  Clearly, this is gravitating the radical Socialists world towards him, and Chernoh could be perceived today as the ‘new Socialist Savior’.  But, sometimes, even radicals would not anticipate what words would flow from Chernoh’s radical lips. Like in 2007, when Chernoh was invited to address a group of veteran Soviets, proud of their Socialist heritage, he denounced the unequivocal failure of “Socialism” as practiced for decades within the former Soviet Union.  He was almost stoned and shoved out of the hall!!!  Chernoh’s boldness, his independent thinking, has been learned almost from his cradle, due to the quirks of growing up without a father at the age of five, when his father (a fervent APC member in the 1970s), Allieu Mohamed Bah, mysteriously died, after earning a degree in Political Science in the Soviet Union, and taking up a senior government position in Makeni Town.

That tragedy in Chernoh’s life, when he was just five years old, made him extremely vulnerable; especially as his mother, Lirwan Bah, who lived in the Lokomassama area of Bombali District, was just a subsistence cattle herder, and could barely eke a living for the several children she had. .  He was abused by those who were supposed to — in the African context, especially in Fullah tradition — replace the father Chernoh had lost.   In the residence of one of his uncles, Chernoh had to do all the sweeping, all the washing of dishes at the tender age of about eight years, so much so that he would often be late for school, at the St. Francis Primary School, and be beaten by the teachers. This continued even when he was in Form Two at the St. Francis Secondary School – and Chernoh who would always come first in class, started dropping to fifth position.  As Chernoh would periodically run away from home, he would be caught by his uncle and a crowd of relatives, frog-matched to his house, severely beaten (“Once, I was sure I was given 100 lashes with a cane; after ‘pumping’ 1,000 times; and I fainted”, Chernoh said, pain etched on his face), and locked up in a small almost airless store room where they kept rice, unions, and other such condiments. (“I would cry out, ‘I want to piss…I want to poopoo…!’, just so that they would let me out, and I would breathe fresh air”, Chernoh told me, his smile barely able to disguise the anguish he was reliving.

After going through such regular torture sessions, as he grew older, Chernoh made a decisive runaway break, and successfully hid from his relatives who went in pursuit of him — with Chernoh dramatizing for me the guerilla-type evasive tactics he engaged in as his uncles would send their children to look for him.   To move far away from his callous relative, Chernoh went to mine gold in the gold fields of Masanga, where he also survived through peddling cigarettes.  For three years he learned how to live by his wits; and how to live tough. He used profit from his hawking to re-enter secondary school.  It was then that he learned that he would have to start school all over again in Form 2, because the schooling system had changed to the 6-3-3 one. Chernoh was informed by a friend that he could circumvent formal school by taking his WASCE exams as a private student.  To get the money to register for that exam — Le40,000 — Chernoh became an apprentice for a petrol supply tanker driver.   He passed his WASCE with flying colours, and entered university, Fourah Bay College. “That meant I had taken just seven years in all my schooling, from primary through secondary to enter university”, Chernoh chuckled.

A voracious reader of heavyweight philosophical and political books, Chernoh is dismissive of what ‘education’ he got at FBC. “I learned nothing at university.  I would be absent most of time, doing many overseas tours. And it was easy for me to get ‘As’ in my assignments because of my wide reading.  The funny thing is that the lecturers didn’t even notice I would not be attending classes 90% of the time”, Chernoh mockingly said. And added derisively, “FBC proved to me that it was possible for you to be a ‘ghost student’ and still graduate with a First Class degree” – like Chernoh did in 2007.

Hardened by his early life experiences, nurtured by wide reading and impressive international exposure, Chernoh is poised to challenge the SLPP/APC who he described as “unqualified failures”, responsible for all the “miserable statistics that shows the degeneracy of a political class that is entirely subservient to global capitalism”.  Chernoh bemoans the 3% of revenues that Sierra Leone gets from the sale of its diamonds.  Chernoh is preaching hope with a new group of men and women who he claims are completely unblemished by the decadence of the past half a century in Sierra Leone. 

It was there that I took the opportunity to also dismiss Chernoh’s words as so much “empty theory” that is likely to be dismissed by the Sierra Leonean:  ‘We don yeri dem buk talk ya before.  Gee dem power, and dem sef go kam corrupt, en grab grab for themsef’.  That would never be, Chernoh assured me, calling names of world-class intellectuals, with decades of experience in Socialist South America — like one Dr. Hindowa Kaikai, who is a senior person in the foreign ministry in Mexico, and has been a strategic consultant to several Latin American governments; and one Dr. Fatmata Conteh, a formidable intellectual, heading a Socialist tertiary institution in Latin America: both of them with over 35 years experience each in theory and practice of Socialism — who would form part of the Steering Committee for the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP). 

I still stressed that no matter what vast experience and knowledge how compatriots from the Diaspora would have, they have not been tested in Sierra Leone, or Africa, yet; and they can only become credible when tested in the treacherous political terrain of Sierra Leone, and all its opportunities for intellectuals to become instant dollar millionaires with a flourish of a pen.  The youth of Chernoh (with an experience in adversity which can resonate with the majority poverty stricken youth in Sierra Leone), his inexperience in politics in Sierra Leone, appears to be, paradoxically, his great strength and weakness.  No matter what, the political space in Sierra Leone is going to be dramatically gingered up by Chernoh and his APSP.  (You first read about the APSP in this Column).


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