By Saa Matthias BENDU & Habib T Kamara
Wide ranges of definition have been given for Political tolerance. For this piece we are limiting ourselves to two.
Political tolerance means accepting and respecting the basic rights and civil liberties of persons whose viewpoints are different from one’s own. All citizens, including political leaders, have a responsibility to practice political tolerance not only in word but also in action.
As a clear rejection of “might makes right” political tolerance is the key principle of democracy. It is the willingness to extend basic rights and civil liberties to persons and groups whose viewpoints we disagree with. It is a central tenet of a liberal democracy.
As an ideal, democracy upholds that society should treat people as equals. Underlying democracy is the acceptance of and respect for the other. Democratic life is both the right to differ and the acceptance of such difference by all. Democracy implies respect for the plurality of views and virtues of dialogue as a means of resolving conflict. The individual rights and freedoms that Sierra Leoneans value, encourage a wide array of ideas and beliefs, some of which may offend segments of the population. The expression of those beliefs is protected by another core democratic principle – that of majority rule – with respect for the rights of individuals or groups in the minority. Without safeguards for the free expression of divergent opinions, we risk the tyranny of the majority. In a free and open society, public deliberation exposes “bad” ideas instead of suppressing them.
This is why the open government initiative (OGI), was applauded by many Sierra Leoneans both within and without, as a positive move for citizen participation in their governance. Sadly, however, it has lost its focus and has been transformed into a one-man civil society voice hence the few so-called civil society actors involved in it have ended up joining the gang of hypocrisy and sycophancy ignoring the true voice of the people. All they do is to praise-sing of the powers that be. This is very sad for our nation at this particular time, as many advocates have transformed into bootlickers.
Political intolerance is engendered by a willingness to restrict the rights of a disliked person or group, based on their differing views. It represents a threat to democracy since it discriminates against and may even silence certain parts of the population. Intolerance creates a conformist culture and a closed society, which narrows citizens’ perceptions of politics and shapes their subsequent behaviour.
The protection of individual rights includes those of individuals we dislike, or with whom we strongly disagree. This has often been a struggle in Sierra Leone, for the past 51 years of our political history. Bigotry is to a very large extent responsible for our 11 years of brutal war. Sadly politicians on the different sides of the political divide still refer to each other as “enemies” in Sierra Leone. Negative statements like “we will not empower our political enemies” are responsible for the massive dismissal from job of people believed to belong to the opposition. They are not awarded contract even when they fulfill all the requirements. This negative attitude does not only breed bitterness, it is also responsible for our backwardness. Intolerance has let off the hook many criminals in Sierra Leone, be they economic criminals or perpetrators of politically-motivated violence.
Civil society organizations are charged with developing an enlightened citizenry. Enlightened citizens do more than “lip-synch to the tune of democracy.” Enlightened citizens understand the role of tolerance in a democratic society and are committed to practicing tolerance and respect for minority rights. Taking a tolerant stance is one of the more difficult tasks citizens face in a society. We are not born tolerant, but must learn to be tolerant. Adolescence is potentially a very important time for the development of political tolerance because during this period, most young people are developing the capacity to apply abstract principles to concrete situations, they have a heightened curiosity about social and political issues, and they are keenly interested in their increasing rights and responsibilities as young adults. Sadly, the virus of intolerance starts affecting our young generation right from university and college. Come to think of the heavy violence that mars their elections each year. Most times I wonder how come they are all easily polluted with the contagious virus of violence and prejudice barring, of course, our medical college whose example is worth emulating by other institutions of learning across the country.
Perhaps we should lay emphasis on liberal education, which is meant to prepare individuals to think more clearly about themselves and about their relationship with others to be more tolerant to diversity and to be less hasty in their judgments of the unfamiliar and to get more meaning out of life regardless of where they are or what they do.
As we approach the 2012 general election, let us be more tolerant with a clear understanding that no politician in our country is worth our brother’s blood before, during and after the elections. Remember NO DRUG FOR VOTE!