Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Fresh challenge to Siaka Stevens

by Ben Mensah

In 1971 Sierra Leone recorded Africa's singular honour of changing a government through the ballot box. Ironically President Siaka Stevens who was the beneficiary of this electoral exercise has since 1978 turned his All People's Congress (APC) into the sole political party in the country. SIERRA LEONE has a new party, Sierra Leone Democratic Party to challenge the sixteen-year old government of seventy-nine year old President Siaka Stevens. This party which is committed to multipartyism was officially launched in London at the Africa Centre, on Monday July 30, and according to its leaders simultaneously in Freetown. In Freetown, however, the launching had to be done secretly because since 1973, the country has been under a one party system of government.

Members of the Party's interim central committee are Messrs. Adewole John, Edison Gorvie (chairman), Naufal Din-Gabisi, Olufemi John, Irene Hamid and Kadijatu Bayoh. Mr Olufemi John was a former member of President Steven's Congress Party and High Commissioner in London who later founded the United Democratic Party. Their first step in pursuit of their aim to organise and maintain in active operation a branch of their party in Sierra Leone is to demand the immediate repeal of the 1973 constitution which does not allow the right of association.

Leaders of the Sierra Leone Democratic Party at the launching of their Party at the Africa Centre.
The other short term demands of the Sierra Leone Democratic Party are the immediate repeal of the emergency powers and an end to rule by coercion, scrapping of the newspaper amend- ment act which places an intolerable strain on the reporting and informing of public affairs, an end to racist laws which currently discriminate against certain sections of the community, and an inquiry into financial malpractices, in particular the sale of crude oil to South Africa. CHANGE The party's long term aims are full of promises whose implementation will lead to a change in the Sierra Leone status quo.

An analysis of this status quo by the organisers of the Democratic Party concludes that President Siaka Stevens' government is practically bankrupt. Their conclusion is based on the government's own projected annual revenue for 1984/5 which is 317.1 million leones against an expenditure of a staggering 507 million leones.

Other evidence of bankruptcy quoted from the latest budget of Finance Minister, Salis Jusu-Sheriff on 29 June 1984, is that the export of palm kernels, cocoa and coffee for the first nine months of 1982/3 amounted to a mere 13.7 million dollars. For the same period, exports of diamonds and gold which account for about half the government's foreign exchange proceeds yielded just 61.4 million dollars. This budget, contends the Democratic Party, confirms the New York Times' report of 30 June 1984, that as much as 75 per cent of the country's economic activity takes place outside legal channels and that Sierra Leone owes many tens of millions of dollars to foreign companies and that borrowing money commercially is no longer possible.

Sierra Leone gained its independence from the British in 1961. In 1971 it recorded Africa's singular honour of changing a government through the ballot box. Ironically President Siaka Stevens who was the beneficiary of this electoral exercise has since 1978 turned his All Peoples Congress (APC) into the sole political party in the country.

Opposition to this state of affairs has been met with either executions or the hounding of the regime's opponents into exile. In 1981 a state of emergency was declared following a general strike over demands for socio- economic reforms. A press bill of 1980 gave the Minister of Information powers to seize or stop any hostile publications.

But the most authentic and recent indictment of the Siaka Stevens regime came on July 4, 1984 from the Amnesty International which, while expressing concern over the deaths of nineteen political detainees noted that "they were among 100 people arrested as a result of political violence which has occurred in the Pujelun region since May 1982."

The launching of the Sierra Leone Democratic Party at this time according to its leaders has been necessitated by the fact that life in Sierra Leone has grown from bad to worse and that it can no longer be tolerated.

The leaders would not comment on a possible change of government through a military coup but they welcome any action taken by Sierra Leoneans to effect the desired change.

A defence pact signed in 1969 with Guinea may have been rendered inoperative by the recent death of the Guinean President, Ahmed Sekou Toure. What does this portend for President Siaka Stevens? Will he endeavour to prevent a repeat of the Guinean experience where a coup Occurred after the death of President Sekou Toure by liberalising his regime? The leaders of the Sierra Leone Democratic Party want to achieve their objectives immediately but they also have no reason to doubt that the Guinean experience can be repeated in Sierra Leone. "And when that happens it would be the responsibility of Pres- ident Stevens who after composing a melancholy song for the people of Sierra Leone waited to listen to its bitter end, from his grave," concluded the leaders of the Sierra Leone Democratic Party

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