Arusha. Former President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma said here today that democracy in Africa should go beyond regular elections, pointing out that democracy should be about good governance and about safeguarding human rights and the rule of law.
Mr Koroma, who served as the fourth President of Sierra Leone from September 17, 2007, to April 4, 2018, was a keynote speaker at the two-day Africa Drive for Democracy conference that is taking place in Arusha.
Described as the continent’s first of its kind, the conference is being convened by the Centre for Strategic Litigation (CSL), MS Training Centre for Development Cooperation (MS-TCDC) and the Institute of Security Studies (ISS).
Taking place under the theme Fighting the Democratic Backslide Through Renewed Action and Solidarity, the conference is slated for 20-21 July at MS TCDC premises in Arusha, with participants from various African countries being in attendance.
“[Democracy should be] about giving hope to the citizens through tangible deliverables particularly on the economy, in access to social infrastructure, services, or in peace consolidation,” Mr Koroma told his listeners who comprised of activists, intellectuals and members of civil society organisations.
Coming to power from the opposition, Koroma’s administration is credited for implementing far-reaching democratic reforms, which resulted in the transformation of Sierra Leone, especially in the area of consolidation of peace, a massive rebuilding of roads, pipe-borne water, all of which were severely destroyed during the 11 years of civil war.
Mr Koroma’s leadership is also credited for demonstrating strong and unifying leadership in rebuilding his country, fighting corruption, strengthening democratic good governance and improving economic stability.
These efforts earned him considerable popularity, acknowledged Mr Koroma, adding that there were calls for him to run for a third term, which would have meant that he had to change the constitution and hang on to power.
“I was not confused by those calls,” the former Head of State of the West African nation said. “Changing a constitution to run for a third term is simply undemocratic and should be discouraged across the continent.”
By the time Koroma left office, Sierra Leone was rated the most peaceful country in West Africa and the third most peaceful in Africa by the Global Peace Index. Recognizant of this fact, the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described Sierra Leone as a storehouse of post-conflict reconstruction and peace-building.
But the current trend across Africa worries Mr Koroma, describing it as “ a considerable threat to peace and democracy.” He lamented that Africa is experiencing a resurgence of the monster of state capture of not only national institutions of governance but also of civil society and the media.
“Rather than building and nurturing strong democratic institutions, we are getting democratic strong men who married to the ignominy of the third term,” he observed. “Democracy is being overthrown not necessarily through the barrel of the gun [but] rather through the ballot box, aided and abated by the very institutions which ought to protect it.”
Mr Koroma acknowledged the presence of a number of efforts taken to fight this democratic backslide, insisting that monitoring and observation should go beyond elections to include governance so that where violations are occurring, early warnings could be signalled.
“We must pile this pressure with undiminishing intensity until it becomes extremely untenable for anyone to derail the democratization process that Africa embarked on in the 1990s,” he urged the participants. “The good news is that there is still reason to be optimistic.”
In her opening remarks, MSTCDC Executive Director Makena Mwobobia, the host of the conference, said that nearly seventy years after attaining self-determination, Africa is still struggling with public service delivery, equitable distribution of resources, violations of rights, and the scourge of corruption that looms large.
“The failure to govern ourselves in a progressive fashion has created opportunity for others to take over, exploit, extract, and indeed benefit from our bounty,” Ms Makena said. “This unique conference provides us with a chance to clean up our image as the poster child of poverty, disease, ignorance, and violence.”
During the two-day conference, participants will have the chance to share experiences and interact with available data on documentation of democratic trends in Africa.
The conference’s major outcome is expected to be an African Democracy Story Book with historical perspectives, trends and future scenarios for Africa.