“Moses law” - “You do me, a do you”
Many of us grew up citing “Moses law” as the generally accepted law of revenge. How despicable this was, when you could justify slapping your class mate harder if he had also slapped you or if he “bazzed” you on the football field, you would “bazz” him even harder-some would even break legs! What bad examples we thought we picked from Moses! But poor Moses was misunderstood and we will come back to him.
Much has been written and said about the unfortunate altercation between Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyer and Deputy Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Philip Tondoneh. I will spare you the details which have been extensively discussed.
The Minister accused the Mayor of sabotaging the monthly cleaning exercise by putting needless bureaucratic red tape into the process which had prevented many of the truck drivers from participating in the exercise. The statements to the Mayor by the Minister were very accusatory and mostly disrespectful.
There have been reactions by the public to this debacle and it is apparent that overwhelmingly more people are in the Mayor’s corner. The Minister, and by extension the government has come in for some roasting from various quarters and the altercation has brought to the fore the deep cracks in the country.
Overwhelmingly, comments suggested the Minister had showed gross disrespect to the Mayor and instead of apologising had reiterated over radio that he was right in his actions. One commentator opined that this was “a despicable behaviour possibly emanating from a deeply ingrained misogynistic attitude! Especially so because the Mayor was simply insisting on accountability and transparency in the process”. Many blamed the government for subjecting the Mayor to “undeserved unnecessary harassment over the past few months”. Some groups claiming to represent Krios joined the fray on the side of the Mayor, claiming the government was “isolating Krios”. It would seem Tondoneh was losing the war on the political, tribal and gender fronts. Civil society and the media also to a large extent pilloried the Minister and some major players and organisations in their ranks came out stoutly on the Mayor’s side.
The Minister was not without his supporters. One wrote: “The Minister did not do anything wrong, neither did he say anything offensive. He was just being a 'foot soldier' of the New Direction. In an inflammatory statement that will not go down well with women politicians, he added: “Gender games are for the girls not for women in politics”. Some government supporters insisted the Minister was right as he had direct responsibility for carrying out the President’s mandate.
This incident has not however gone down well with most people and it would seem the government is losing out on various fronts.
On the gender front, in many people’s opinion this is a great dampener to the participation of women in politics. One female commentator remarked-“Who wants to give public service under such circumstances!? Certainly not me!!”
On the accountability and transparency front, Tondoneh’s disregard for procedures and processes suggested by the Mayor in terms of determining which truck drivers to pay and his insistence that he does not care for procedures and processes-only for results, are in the view of many an ill-informed statement for a Minister of a new government that brandishes transparency and accountability as its mantra to make.
On the political front both the APC and NGC have come out squarely on the side of the Mayor. An NGC press release mentions the need for “upholding the principles of accountability and transparency as exemplified in the fight, he (the President) has launched against graft and corruption and civic responsibility (including civility) as seen in his decision to establish the National Council for Civic Education and Development”. The NGC continues-“We therefore expect to see all these values and principles, discipline, accountability and civil behaviour, displayed not only by the people but also by the President’s men and women”. Many APC commentators have come out swinging against the Mayor as well.
Tondoneh sounds like a voice crying in the wilderness even with corporate institutions. Berating the Mayor for money ostensibly requested by the Mayor from Orange for cleaning and having this rebuffed publicly by the Mayor who clarified the issue by stating it was Orange who contacted her would seem to indicate (Orange has not made any statement) corporate institutions probably prefer dealing with the Mayor instead of the Ministry because of what one commentator said were “transparency and accountability issues”.
A much more dangerous side of this issue is the tendency for it to be symptomatic, in the eyes of many, of the government’s heavy handedness in dealing with people who are not of the same political stripe. Some have stated this is in the same vein as recent comments made by the Speaker of Parliament in justifying the ratification of some appointments made which are deemed by the opposition to be unconstitutional on the basis of “following precedence”. In other words, the impression given is that the government would justify actions deemed unjustifiable merely because the previous government also took this line of action.
Those purveyors and practitioners of this theory are right that the APC was also not a “band of saints”. The C4C parliamentary head, then Mayor of Koidu was ousted from his office for no good reason as even audit reports had exonerated him from accusations levied against him. Kenema town was punished ostensibly because of Mayor Keifala’s intransigent attitude towards the APC. These are many other unjustifiable acts of the previous government. These are however hardly a justification for embarking upon the same practices.
It is the business of “Moses law” that paints a wider and clearer picture in this whole exercise. But should we always have an “eye for an eye”. Where does it stop? Let me bring you back to the misunderstood “Moses law” and preach a short sermon to provide some explanation.
The Law of Moses is the name assigned to the whole collection of written laws given through Moses to the House of Israel, as a replacement of the higher law that they had failed to obey. It is a common belief of Christians that it was a law of revenge and retribution, and that Jesus Christ did away with it in order to fully replace it with a law of love and civility. This idea is false. The Law of Moses is not a law of retribution. Leviticus 24:17-22 has come to be regarded by many as the substance and summary of the Mosaic law: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” ( v. 20 ). This misunderstanding is unfortunate because it makes the law appear cold, unbending, and revengeful. The key to the Law of Moses however is restitution, and that is an entirely different thing. Unlike our own legal systems which punish the transgressor of the law and give little help to the victim, the Law of Moses was organised to compensate the victim and move the transgressor on to repentance.
These laws provided protections for the accused that were unheard of in the pagan societies of the day, providing for the fair treatment of servants, the protection and eventual freeing of slaves, the protection of widows and children, the protection of property, the nurturing of the poor, and the protection of the morality of society.
This is the end of the sermon! In the case of the Mayor it is surprising in fact that she is working in many positive ways with this government. The FCC is cooperating with many MDAs on joint projects on various developments in the city. Her work with the SLRSA and the Transport Ministry amongst other MDAs has been well documented and MDA heads have largely been cooperative. The problem is that some government operatives are stuck in “reverse gear” and only see “reds under the bed”. In fact, because of her cooperation with central government and her seemingly neutral political posture, she has had a raft of criticism from her own party for not being “red enough” and not beating the war drum.
This is however a fight Minister Tondoneh and those of like mind are likely to lose for various reasons. The Mayor has proven that she is no pushover, is tenacious and savvy. Her rise to head the Presidential delivery team and getting the Mayoral symbol within the APC amidst heavy opposition is testament to this.
Hitting at a prominent woman politician may sometimes be unproductive as many local and international groups now eschew this and view it as unprogressive. A recent study in the Guardian indicated that many women in politics have faced serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault, according to a global survey conducted ahead of a summit on increasing women’s political participation. 44% of women surveyed at the conference said they had faced abuse of violence. But most women reported “psychological rather than physical abuse: a daily ritual of sexism and misogyny, sometimes from family members as well as from the community and political colleagues”.
Mayor Aki-Sawyer’s measured reaction not only on camera but with her press releases indicate that she is ready to cooperate with the government. Her press release reads: “I remain fully committed to supporting the President’s vision for national cleaning day and to working with central government as I have been doing all along. FCC will ensure that the city is cleared before the day ends.”
The Mayor is good at mastering her brief and forging alliances. You can’t help but be impressed with how much she is on top of technical, social and financial issues encompassing FCC related projects and how she nudges others into action-even private sector operatives to engender their cooperation. Minister Tondoneh or any others may find it difficult painting her in a bad light to donors and the public and there are already some MDAs that regard rapprochement with the FCC as a win-win situation.
I am reluctant to go into the merits and demerits of the positions taken by both antagonists as it is obvious that for the monthly cleaning, which is a special project initiated by the President, functions of various players are prescribed which may not necessarily be in line with their normal functions. In this particular case, the FCC seems to have been given an implementing role and responsibility for managing the finances and the Ministry a supervising role, and with little documented clarity on functions they seemed to tread on each other’s turf. The real issue is not however who is right or wrong. It is the public altercation and the seeming schism and suspicion between top central and local government officials, the political posturing and misogynistic statements and actions that have unfortunately ignited all kinds of dangerous societal divisions that are the real issues here.
A sage advice in this case would be to leave well alone. Too much anger and wanting to invoke “Moses law” may be counterproductive-and this, to many is appearing to be a pattern. The government has a good agenda and some very good people, but should rein in its extremists and not be mute when there appears to be a faux pas which results in an own goal in order to succeed. The government should pay particular attention to parts of the Campaign for Good Governance press release on this issue which states: “This act goes strictly against public service values and ethics…… CGG views this as a moment of opportunity to END Violence Against Women in Politics (VAWIP) which is one of the most devastating abuses that keeps women from aspiring to public offices.”
Tondoneh and “Moses law” proponents are losing this fight but on the side of the government there seems to be no “adult in the room” to urge temperance in the light of such negative reactions from various quarters.
“Moses law” is indeed dead! Let’s wake up to that fact for the good of Sierra Leone. Perhaps a code of conduct for Ministers and elected politicians should be in place for such infractions, with strong sanctions for any breaches.
Ponder my thoughts.