Mahmud Tim Kargbo
Potentially, stakeholders in Sierra Leone active in incumbent political parties ruled by authoritarian leaders like former President Ernest Bai Koroma should acquire a thorough understanding of potential “succession dilemmas” in order to be geared up to react to a variety of political risk scenarios which could affect their interests.
This article explores why former President Koroma’s regime type was more exposed to succession risks and lines out the potential negative impact which succession struggles may have on the political and business environment.
The former APC led government of President Koroma was one party where succession issues have been venomous and might pose a serious political risk in the near future just as it happened during his era. The country’s importance derives from its wealth in natural resources, notably iron ore, diamond, Gold, Rutile, Timber, Bauxite, Titanium, Ilmenite and recently oil and gas etc and its critical financial role for the West’s engagement in supporting regimes that are making it easy for them to loot our wealth successfully in collaboration with rogue leaders.
BAI KOROMA PLAYING POLITICS AS A ONE MAN SHOW
In the past ten years, President Koroma firmly ruled Sierra Leone in an authoritarian manner by narrowing the political landscape and made himself bigger.
At the same time, the recent history of the “After You Na You” the “More Time” and “Chairman and Leader for Life” campaigns quite clearly exemplified the political risks that succession issues in fake democratic systems might entail. Already in 2015, then president Koroma through his irresponsible APC Youth Wing attempted to extend his democratic mandate, and thus contributed to a hostile climate in the country. Later, his handpicked successor Mr.
Samura Mathew Wilson Kamara faced a violent internal uprising caused by popular discontent as a result of nepotism and corruption and was successfully sabotaged by former President Koroma himself as he ensured all critical political players within the party that has the required knowledge and experience for the winning of the APC in the previous elections were fired or sidelined during the campaign process.
If we are to properly understand the implications of the succession issue for the political future of our country, it is crucial to look at what really characterises his regime type, namely authoritarian power mechanisms. Despite some formal legal-rational and bureaucratic structures, all power was derived directly from former President Koroma.
This was a leader that earned his legitimacy not from ideology and even less from democratic processes, but rather from a patriarchic cult of personality and effective patronage networks. In his patronage networks, then President Koroma exercised power by appointing people close to him, family and friends, to official positions in key ministries, state companies, Agencies or sovereign wealth funds, typically surrounding the Rutile, discovered oil, Diamond, Iron Ore or Bauxite industry, which they can then use to advance his interests at the expense of the nation. Nepotism, corruption, sycophancy, bootlicking and massive poverty were pervasive in his regime.
In exchange, privileged elite groupings supported his presidency, often by securing votes in their constituency in the form of foundations and support groups and opposing anyone who is threatening the president’s authority.
Administrative and economic structure were built on the loyalty and dependencies of personal networks woven around former President Koroma.
Moreover, as the leader, he was ready to use greed and rivalry within the elites to play different groups off against each other and to thereby strengthen his own position.
Former President Koroma was a proven master of balancing the interests of different elite groups in the country. At the same time, the balance of power within his regime was extremely precarious given that it hinged on the vitality and survival of a single leader. This made the question of succession to the then autocratic leader in his pseudo democratic regime such a fundamental issue.
With no democratic institutions and established rules in place to secure a transparent and accountable transition of power from one elected government leader to the next, the risk of violent revolution or elite power struggles was always present in his pseudo democratic regime.
THE APC “SUCCESSION DILEMMA”
Former President Koroma as an authoritarian leader was to a certain extent aware that his way of ruling within the APC Party and the country at large was based on favours and fear and that when fear is gone, there might be repercussions. One important goal for him was to secure favourable terms for himself and relatives.
A very obvious succession strategy was the clear designation of a hand-picked successor by himself. But, this is not a very popular strategy either. So he made a safe deal with the then main opposition SLPP Party leader.
One reason for the then President reluctance to ensure his party succeed him in governance might be what Robbins Burling called the “succession dilemma” in his book Passage of Power published in 1974.
According to this concept, an authoritarian leader will be reluctant to nominate a successor while he is still fit enough to rule because if he does, this would weaken his own position.
Elites would start responding to the second man, anticipating the imminent end of the incumbent. Furthermore, political enemies of the incumbent would rally around the second in command hoping to oust the former.
The leader in waiting might see his chance come to shorten the wait.
APC ELIT NEGOTIATIONS AND INFIGHTING
It is always the case when an autocratic president leaves the stage and there is no clearly designated successor, or the incumbent picked someone who is unacceptable to powerful forces within the elite, particularly if they believe that the new leader will not honor the established patronage arrangements, there will be negotiations about a successor between the different elite groupings.
In these negotiations, elite factions rally around potential successors, hoping to end up on the winning side. Negotiations can appear to be successful openly, but inwardly they are not and it gave clean opportunities for the very deceitful and autocratic former President Koroma to succeed in his dangerous mission of dishonesty against political party comrades.
In some instances, however, existing political cleavages between elite groups bear the risk of future infighting.
In the APC currently, the cleavage runs right between family and friends of former President Koroma.
A faction of the rogue beneficiaries from the most important elite faction within the APC family surrounding Ernest Bai Koroma’s deceitful actions, others, mainly represents the new idea of reforming the party to meet with the test of time, while long-time friends of Ernest Bai Koroma make up the old guard, mostly found in high administration offices during his corrupt regime.
The latter are supported by other groups, particularly from the rationally minded youth and the oppressed majority during his regime, who favour genuine political party reforms from outside Ernest Bai Koroma and family.
These two main elite factions have differing views of APC future. While the business elite favours further economic and hence, political opening of the country to win genuine investors and move the country forward concretely, the old guard supports a more cautious approach.
Succession struggles threaten foreign stakeholders in two ways. Elite infighting after the end of a leader causes political volatility and unpredictability and bears the risk of violent clashes between the supporters of opposing factions.
Moreover, succession may result in a new leadership that often goes hand in hand with a transformation of the overall elite structure. Foreign stakeholders must be careful not to become entangled in the succession struggle and be prepared to face a new leadership.
Stakeholders with a good relationship to the former leader, for instance, or those suspicious of having supported the losing side in the struggle might be subject to reprisals.
A thorough analysis of our political landscape can help making informed decisions based on various succession scenarios.