By Abubakarr Bah, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
The Military coup in our next-door neighbour, Guinea has raised mixed feelings on social media to an extent that some ill-willed Sierra Leonean critics of the Bio administration have ignorantly compared the two countries and even went further by attempting to incite our professionally reformed Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) that “what has happened in Guinea could be done in Sierra Leone.” This is definitely the most ridiculous comparism I have ever heard. The differences would be explained shortly to enlighten those with such ideology. Before I proceed, let me make this very clear that I am opposed to any coup in Africa in this 21st century and in as much as I equally condemn the coup in Guinea vehemently, it is clear to state that President Alpha Condé had an opportunity to leave power peacefully in October last year after serving his 2 terms in respect of the constitution of the Republic of Guinea just as former President Ernest Bai Koroma did in Sierra Leone in 2018, but the 82 years old Guinean Head of State refused and tempered with the constitution for an unpopular third term that was marred by deadly protests. This reminds me of the sayings of the current President of Guinea Bissaou, Umaro Sissoco Embaló during an ECOWAS meeting last year that was organised to discuss the Military Coup in Mali. During that meeting, President Embaló told his colleagues Heads of State that while they condemn the coup in Mali, ECOWAS should also condemn the third term crisis in Guinea, adding that a president that forcefully imposes himself for third term is also committing a constitutional coup. However, President Condé did not back off but ran for a controversial third term in October last year and claimed victory of that election which the opposition parties described as fraudulent.
Well, the world was shocked on Sunday, September 5, 2021 when news broke out both in the traditional and social media that the decade long Dictator of Guinea, Professor Alpha Condé has been overthrown by a group of solders known as “The Special Forces of Guinea” who were in fact the Republican Guard charged with the responsibility of protecting the very President they toppled. In the early hours of Sunday, Guineans were awoken by sporadic gunfire in the city as the “Special Forces of Guinea” led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya announced that they have overthrown President Condé’s government, dissolved the constitution and formed the National Committee of Reconciliation and Development (CNRD). The coup leader among other things said they were tired of “entrusting the country in the hands of one man and that in the coming week, the army would form a national unity government and develop a new constitution that would take them into elections in a year or two.” Although there might be other reasons for the coup, it is obvious that Condé’s controversial third term bid is a strong factor that led to the coup.
Now, for some of our Sierra Leonean brothers and sisters that are comparing Guinea to Sierra Leone and inciting the RSLAF to do same, let me first of all remind you that Sierra Leone has had a decade long brutal civil war unlike Guinea and those of us that witnessed this carnage and waited for Colonel Maxwell Khobe in Freetown in 1998 to flush the AFRC Junta “are the original borbor pains” in Mr. Emerson Bockarie’s voice and as such let me tell you that Sierra Leone had the last military coup on May 25, 1997 and those of us that saw it all pray that the dark days chapter would not repeat itself in our beloved country because we now have a stable democracy.
Secondly, Sierra Leone is different from Guinea because we have had 5 democratic elections spanning from 1996 and two consecutive peaceful transition of power between the All Peoples Congress (APC) and the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) in 2007 and 2018 respectively, while Guinea had its first democratic elections in 2010 in which Professor Alpha Condé controversially won a runoff election that he only secured 18% of the votes at the first round against his main challenger and presidential hopeful, Cellou Dalein Diallo who had secured 43% of the votes at the first round of that Presidential election.
Thirdly, Sierra Leone is different from Guinea because our country has functional democratic institutions and local councils in all the 14 districts of the country, while Guinea does not and in fact was on its embryonic stage before the coup. President Alhaji Ahmed Tejan Kabba in blessed memory served as President of Sierra Leone for two consecutive terms under the SLPP ticket and it was during his reign that the Independent Media Commission (IMC), Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission (SLHRC), Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) to name but few were established. President Kabba handed power peacefully to the opposition APC President elect, Ernest Bai Koroma in 2007 at a colourful inauguration ceremony held at the National Stadium in Freetown. Despite the fact that the then SLPP Presidential candidate, Solomon Ekuma Berewa had genuine concerns for the cancellation of 477 polling stations in his strongholds of Kailahun and Kenema, he respected the results and in fact attended the swearing in ceremony of President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House on 17th September, 2007. Guinea on the other hand, was being ruled by Lansana Conté, a dictator and former military junta leader who announced a coup d’état and declared himself President on the 3rd April 1984 following the death of another dictator, Ahmed Sékou Touré. President Conté served as dictator of Guinea until his death on 23rd December 2008 and another despotic military leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara catapulted himself as President of Guinea until he was toppled by the command of his aide-de-camp on December 3rd 2009 paving way for General Sékouba Konaté to serve as junta leader till 2010.
Sierra Leone is definitely different from Guinea in terms of democracy because, former President Ernest Bai Koroma that was elected in 2007 was also re-elected in 2012 for his second and final term despite the fact that his main challenger at the time, Brigadier (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio of the SLPP had issues with the election. Bio did not incite violence, instead he followed the democratic process by seeking redress at the Supreme Court but his petition was struck out on technical grounds. Bio was not convinced with the ruling but he respected the Supreme Court’s verdict because of his regard for democracy and the Rule of Law. Our country is stable and quite different from Guinea because our RSLAF in fact displayed their apolitical professionalism in 2015 when President Ernest Bai Koroma used supreme executive power to sack his Vice President, Alhaji Chief Sam Sumana who was re-elected with him in the 2012 Presidential election. Despite the political upheaval that eclipsed Sierra Leone and in spite of political analysts description of the sacking as a clear violation of the 1991 Constitution, our RSLAF ensured that they didn’t involve themselves into the political hiccups of the country, instead the sacked Vice President sought redress at the Supreme Court. A similar situation occurred in South Sudan in which President Salva Kiir sacked his vice president, Riek Machar and all of his ministers but the sacking of the vice president and dissolution of the cabinet led to a civil war for years.
In 2018, Brigadier (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio won a tightly contested runoff elections and Koroma like his predecessor handed power peacefully to Bio in a colourful event held again at the National Stadium on Saturday, 12th May, 2018. Bio’s main challenger, Dr. Samura Kamara of the APC had issues with the results and his Party petitioned the results of the elections but lost the petition at the Supreme Court.
President Bio has only served for 3 years in office and is expected to seek a second mandate from the people of Sierra Leone in 2023 which he will win at the first ballot Insha-Allah.
So why are some unpatriotic Sierra Leoneans wishing for a reverse of this stable democracy we are enjoying as a nation? My appeal to those trying to incite the Sierra Leone army is that they should stop harbouring such disquieting thoughts. Our RSLAF are professionals and know what the country’s 1991 constitution says about a democratically elected President. As Sierra Leoneans we should not only be proud of our stable democracy but rejoice that we are no longer in the dark days of military coups.
My advice to our military personnel is that don’t listen to the enemies of our nation, keep up the good work in protecting the territorial integrity of our beloved country and continue showing loyalty to the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Brigadier (Rtd.) Dr. Julius Maada Bio, the democratically elected President of Sierra Leone.
About the author: Abubakarr Bah is the Information Attaché of the Embassy of the Republic of Sierra Leone in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia