The APSP of Sierra Leone: An assessment

The Editor of Torchlight newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Mohamed Sankoh, wrote last week that the newly-launched African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) of Sierra Leone are either “jokers”; or, they are “con men.”

To give beef to his derision, he pointed out the discordance between biology and legality even as the APSP is being born—in time for the next presidential election in 2012, the 30 year old newly-elected “Leader/Chairman” of the APSP, Chernoh Bah, will be 33 years old, far from the constitutionally-required age of 40 for one to contest the presidency in Sierra Leone.

Maybe, Sankoh was at his neutrally objective norm in that appraisal of the APSP. But in that dismissive critique of the APSP leader, there could also be a tinge of peer competitiveness or even sheer envy—at 30, Chernoh Bah (photo) has been able to travel around the world several times, has built up confidence among ideologically-strong and highly educated people, and won some recognition from powerful and rich socialist countries, and has been elected the leader of the political party he is the main brains and force for.

Sankoh, in his early thirties, is at the lower rungs of the societal ladder as Editor of a newspaper in a Freetown which is the capital city of one of the poorest countries on earth. (‘Jehlosie’?!). If Sankoh had been at the British Council on November 20, 2009, when the “Steering Committee” of the APSP was called to the stage, he would have been incredulously repulsed: by their looks, 98% of the committee introduced looked like youth under 33 years of age. That could be the strength of the APSP.

They are the same age category as over 60 percent of the population of Sierra Leone. This age bracket largely comprises of unemployed and near-unemployable youth, illiterate or mal-educated youth, with the males hooked on to European football video and the females drugged on Nollywood soap opera. They are potentially volatile. And Mutable. If the new song of “Socialism is the panacea for your poverty….Capitalism is the Monster that must be defeated…” is sang with intensity and conviction it might strike liberating chords within the majority youth, give fire to their collective dreams of escaping from their grinding poverty into sustainable wealth and human dignity. And the youth could shock traditional parties like the APC and SLPP who could be easily stigmatized and lumped together as ‘same soup’. There is also the ideological solidity, and international dimension of the APSP, which could burnish its credence—or, confuse its message.

At the APSP launching recently, a diminutive white lady in a conservatively-cut turquoise Hillary Clinton-type pant suit, railed at her own Caucasian race, who she accused for the crime of the Atlantic Slave Trade, followed by crude exploitation that was worse than slavery, with the use of Africans in the U.S. as “chattels” and “inconceivable violence” being meted against them. Penny Hess, who is the Chairwoman of the African People’s Solidarity Committee (APSC), brought tears to my eyes as she vividly told the crowd of mainly youth in the hall that as late as the 1960s, Africans would be tied up in public places in the U.S. and slowly burned to death— with white children and white grandmothers, white males and white females, in cheering holiday mood, watching the spectacles of horror. “Actively or passively,” Penny Hess said, the entire white race is “complicit” for centuries of genocide and exploitation of Africans. She implores whites to “stand on the side of Justice” and undo centuries of wrong done to Africans.

The Chairman of the African Socialist International (ASI), Comrade Omali Yeshitela, in a group session at the British Council spoke of a planned People’s Tribunal to try the Western World, and demand “Reparations” for centuries of crude exploitation of African peoples, including incalculable damage done to Africans during the era of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Chairman Yeshitela calls white people to begin to open themselves to seeing the world as African and other oppressed workers experience it, and to recognize that the genuine interest of all white people lies in abandoning allegiance with white power and standing in solidarity with the movement for one united and liberated Africa.

As a political party that has to operate in the local Sierra Leone environment, bringing in such very international and controversial concepts, and using language which U.S.-based Sierra Leonean, Foday Morris, once described as “obsolete….1960s- type Black Panther hate of white people,” the APSP could be lending credence to words of people like Mohamed Sankoh that they are jokers, or, they could be easily dismissed as sublime idealists, out of touch with harsh realities on the ground in poverty-stricken Sierra Leone. Maybe, cognizant of this, the Socialists are evolving a ‘development arm’ of their political party.

One of the about ten internationals (mainly from the U.S., U.K., and Guinea) who came to Freetown for the APSP launching was a youthful, beautiful, round-faced African-American lady, Dr. Aisha Fields, who has a doctorate degree in Physics from the Alabama (U.S.) Agriculture and Mechanical University (2004). Dr. Fields has been the Director of the All African Development Empowerment Project in the U.S. since 2007. The aim of her project is to organize Africans with skills and knowledge all over the world to get involved with diverse developmental projects. In the Gbanelol, Kaffu Bullom area of Port Loko District in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, an inexpensive technology has been developed with local materials and local skills, and has been put in place by Dr. Field’s project to “harvest rainwater”.

In the Olushoru, Murray Town slum area amidst the affluent district of Freetown, Dr. Field’s project is helping the poor people there to identify and prevent water borne diseases. This development thrust is part of the political strategy of the APSP. This blending of development and politics appears unprecedented in Sierra Leone for a political party just being born. The norm is that political parties not in power would promulgate what they would do should they get power—not begin to actually implement development projects, which, traditionally, has been the brief of governments and non-governmental organizations. “All politics should ultimately be development,” APSP Chairman Chernoh Bah said matter-of-factly. Development at the micro level for now could be a strategic thrust by the APSP to grab all power in the country with their “socialist” ideology as a vehicle.

After the fall of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) twenty years ago, socialism as an ideology lost its sheen. Socialism is generally defined as a form of government in which the state operates under a one-party system, and declares allegiance to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. The constitutions of these countries claim “all power belongs to the world class,” that a “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat” would exist within country borders. The reality has been dramatically different within those countries which have experimented with Socialism. They include Burma, Cuba, China, North Korea, Laos, Afghanistan, Benin, Bulgaria, Angola, Vietnam, Hungary, German Democratic Republic. Kampuchea, Finland, Mozambique, Mongolia, Poland, Yemen, Romania, Bangladesh, Libya, India, Tanzania, Syria, Egypt….In nearly all of these countries that would tag themselves as “socialist,” the hope of a ‘socialist utopia’ would be ellusive. Power would be wielded by a few people who would tyrannize the majority of their compatriots to maintain themselves in power. Living standards would drop significantly, and there would be massive brain drain. The APSP leader cited Cuba and Venezuela as successful socialist countries. The data available to the world conflicts the propaganda of these two countries. (These figures would be examined later)

Cuba for several decades was merely a client state of the former Soviet Union, propped up by the Soviets to be nettlesome to its super power rival, the United States. There is a level of egalitarianism in Cuba which is admirable. In Cuba, there are assurances of cheap medical and educational access for the majority of its citizenry; and Cuba is said to have the largest doctor-citizen ratio in the world; and Cuba even exports many of its doctors around the world. However, if these things were so rosy in socialist Cuba, hundreds of thousands of Cubans wouldn’t be risking their lives to brave the oceans every year as they as they attempt to cross the ocean in quest of a better life in the United States.

When I interviewed the APSP leader about a week ago, he spoke determinedly of “nationalization” of the mineral exploiting industries of Sierra Leone—imitating what Hugo Chevez in Venezeula has done in recent years. I pointed out that oil-rich Venezuela can afford to nationalize its industries because it can easily raise capital to purchase machinery and man them; but, should the taboo word “nationalization” be even whispered in Sierra Leone, it would frighten just those Western investors that the APC government of President Koroma so desperately has been trying to attract to come and invest in Sierra Leone. Therefore, the APSP would be inexorably heading for a “violent ideological clash” with the APC. To that, the tall gaunt Chernoh Bah thundered, “Violence is when too many Sierra Leoneans are prematurely dying because they lack access to medical attention. Violence is Sierra Leonean sitting on a bed of gold, diamonds, rutile, yet, our people are the poorest on earth…We will be violent if we don’t resist this type of exploitation of our lands.”

It will take many newspaper articles to touch on the relevance or irrelevance of a “socialist” party in Sierra Leone at this point in time. No matter what, it would be folly to buy the logic of people like Mohamed Sankoh that the APSP is a joke. Sierra Leoneans should be reminded how in 1961, when the APC was formed by Siaka Stevens, most of the cream of the elite in Freetown dismissed the APC as ‘rahray boys’ with hardly any education—yet seven years later, the APC was in power. We must be reminded as to how lightly the RUF was taken when they struck in Bomaru in 1991, and demanded that the government of General Saidu Joseph Momoh should resign from office—and the RUF was indeed the catalyst for Momoh being kicked from power in a military coup in 1992. Surely, we would not have forgotten SLPP’s Secretary General trying to ‘borborize’ the PMDC leader, Charles Margai, a few months before the Presidential elections of 2007—look how JJ Saifa has been ‘borborized’ today, with the SLPP out of power. The APSP will very shortly establish a broadcast radio station in Makeni, Bombali District. They aim to establish an ‘ideological college’ in Sierra Leone before the 2012 elections. The APSP is a profoundly serious political party. My humble advice is that all political parties take the APSP deadly serious.

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