Njundu Drammeh

Our elections cycle has now come full circle, ‘debilitating, internecine ‘wars’ fought in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Must be draining, exhausting, expensive, tumultuous, divisive and polarising for the Smiling Coast. Imagine a forced smile in a war.

After the last ‘war’, we can count our losses, celebrate our victories even if Pyrrhic, nurse our grudges, plot the next Machiavellian moves. But, we must not forget that the ‘battle’ begun immediately the last war ended.

After the war for votes, the battle for development is now upon us. The ‘battle’ to transform lives, cities and regions; to make good on one’s election promises and manifestoes; to stay true to the cause. These ‘battles’ cannot be fought on partisan grounds, cannot be won singlehandedly by any particular political party. Collaboration

Elections, though important element of participatory democracy, do not keep and necessarily guarantee development, good governance and respect for human rights. These are kept, protected, preserved and guaranteed by ordinary men and women who are aware of and believe in their sovereignty and its sanctity and know that all powers reside in and derive from them.

Human rights is defended by people who know that they are rights holders and the Government is the primary duty bearer; that governors are answerable to the governed and that the respect, protection and fulfilment of their rights is not charity or favour from the Government but obligations to be demanded.

‘Eternal vigilance’, they say, is the price the people must pay to keep their liberty. This also means that they have to stand up when the right of any member of the society is threatened, curtailed or violated. It is in that collective, communal solidarity against violations that freedom from fear is assured. Human rights and human rights-based approaches must define the basis and become the foundation of our development. There cannot be peace, security and development without respect for human rights.

From the Councils and councillors the people must begin to demand accountability, transparency, probity, due diligence and good governance. Civil society, acting as facilitators, must strengthen the capacities of the Village and Ward Development Committees as a means of promoting and entrenching community participation and ownership of local development efforts as well as grassroots democracy.

Financial prudence and accountability can be assured when the people ‘follow the money’ by monitoring the national and Local Government budgets and their implementation. Budgets of councils must be easily accessible to the people. Weak accountability mechanisms, bureaucracy and information hoarding promote corruption, mismanagement and abuse of office.

Citizenship demands though that rights holders also fulfil their responsibilities or duties- paying taxes, rates and other dues on time, actively participating in village and ward development initiatives, reporting administrative malfeasance, obeying laws. We would ceased to be ‘free’ when all we want is freedom from responsibility’. Power without responsibility is the prerogative only of the feckless.

Despite the good intentions of governments, both national and local, the people must remain wary and not create lords and masters over them or Frankenstein monsters. The road to abuse of office is paved with good intention. Constraining that power becomes necessary:

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”–Alexander Hamilton

Congratulations to the UDP for its victories in the Local Government Elections. It is effectively in charge of governance at the local level. No mean feat. This places on it, as never before, huge tasks and expectations, of transforming lives and strengthening grassroots democracy.

The Central Government must begin the process of full decentralisation as envisaged in the original Local Government Act 2002. There is no other way if power is to be returned to the people. Time will tell.