March 25, 2023

Democracy does not stop at elections; it goes far beyond. It is that notion that prompts political analysts to argue that a democratically elected government can become undemocratic based on how it carries on the business of state governance. Such principles as free speech, political tolerance, respect for the rule of judicial independence, separation of powers, respect for human rights among others, underpin a democratic order.

The current SLPP (Sierra Leone People’s Party) government came to power through an election, but it is undemocratic based on its attitude towards democratic principles. According to the 1991 Constitution, freedom of expression entails expression of one’s ideas or opinions and receiving same from other persons either critical of government or not. To ensure that the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed, parliament should make no law that unjustifiably interferes with that freedom.

Such right is restricted only in the interest of safety and for the protection of members of society. International treaties and agreements that form the crux of international law also recognise and protect the right to free speech. The Universal Declaration of Humana Rights, 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, 1981, uphold the right to free speech. The current government made attempt to respect and enhance such freedom following the decriminalisation of seditious and defamatory offences, but the enactment of the Cyber Security Law in 2021 negates the purpose of the decriminalisation. A number of journalists and social media activists have been arrested since the Cyber Law was passed.

A former senior government official, Kemo Sesay was arrested and detained on allegations of cyber bullying. He was accused of making uncomplimentary statements against President Julius Maada Bio. His incarceration became a subject for debate in several circles especially legal quarters. Other opposition politicians have also shared similar fate.

The SLPP similarly fails in the aspect of political tolerance to opposition parties. The ruling party subjected members of various political parties to inhumane and degrading treatment. No platform where opposition politicians come together in an interactive fashion with members of the ruling party has been created since Bio took over state governance.

Government however made attempt to bring members of other political parties together during the Bintumani-Three Conference held in Freetown. It was a watershed moment for the ruling party as attendees bashed at government for its brutality to opponents and unjustifiable crackdown on the people. Other politicians especially those in the main opposition, All People’s Congress (APC) did not show up. A bad blood was already caused before the conference was held. The rule of law, in all its glory, was thrown out of the window.

Laws were discarded to please the President at all times. The unlawful  removal of 10 APC parliamentarians from the Legislative House, the brutalisation and incarceration of opposition politicians on false charges, the arbitrary dismissals without due procedures among others are clear examples of reckless rule of law breaches.

The judiciary was reduced to a mere puppet as it readily implements whatever order that emanates from the executive. When the judiciary is co-opted to support the executive in whatever it does, questions of separation of powers and judicial independence come into play.

John Locke’s philosophy on separation powers pinpoints that there must be separation of personnel, functions and control. These notions hinge on the independence of the judiciary which is non-existent in Sierra Leone.

It was in 2020 that Chief Justice Babatunde Edwards imposed a one-month ban on judicial trials owing to a suspected case of Corona at Pa Demba Road Correctional Centre. Many questioned the Chief Justice’s judgement at that time. It was a decision that became one of the causes of the April 2020 riots at Pademba Road Correctional Centre.

The ban was later lifted only on President Bio’s request. These bad governance practices render Bio’s government undemocratic although it came to power through an election. It was also owing to the bad governance principles that President Ernest Bai Koroma urged the international community to monitor governance and not only elections.

A prominent APC politician has made it clear that APC will teach the SLPP to recognise governance ethics when they come to power in June this year.