Coconut ade, Banga ade, Ginger ade: A Critical Analysis of Political Polarisation in Sierra Leone


By Jonathan Probyn Samai (Joman)

The state of antagonism and deeper polarisation of Sierra Leone politics, has once again laid bare for all to see following the release of  what many have described as a “politically charged”  album, critical of the incumbent SLPP New Direction Government led by H.E President Julius Maada Bio.

The release of the “coconut ade”, album which detailed among other things, the state of the country’s economy, politics and administration, sparked claims and counterclaims from supporters and sympathisers alike of the ruling SLPP Government, opposition APC and media pundits, proffering mixed perspectives to suit their interests. According to SLPP Presidential spokesman, Yusuf Keketoma Sandi, while reacting to the audio, stated that “Two years on, we have made progress. We have listened. We will do our best because we are servants of the people”.

Barometer for Government Performance?

Inevitably, after almost three years of waiting to hear his assessment of the new Government which came to power in 2018, Social Media literally erupted into frenzy on Sunday night, amidst news that Emerson Bockarie, a prominent Sierra Leonean musical artist, had finally made a judgement call on the Bio led Government without much restraint in his lyrical analysis of the composition and functioning of the New Direction.

His songs, in the past, including “Bobor beleh”, “Munku boss pan matches” and now “coconut ade”, are usually seen by most Sierra Leoneans as “barometer”, measuring the performance of new Governments that have come to power in Sierra Leone since 2007. This latest release, which put to rest allegations from various quarters especially from the opposition APC, that Emerson’s previous silence was because he was being paid by the present Government, is now evidently baseless and laid to rest. According to Mr Alfred Kamanda a Sierra Leonean commenting on Facebook said “We have seen why he was quiet! He needed to observe well and package his songs well! This is a well researched song as he chronicled all the concerns of the people in this one song”.

Triumph of Democracy

Despite the competing Coconut ade, Banga ade or Ginger ade interpretations and political implications, Emerson’s latest song “coconut ade ” cannot stand the rigours of objective scrutiny as overtly monofocal and unconsciously biased against the glaring achievements of the New Direction Government. This is especially so, when one considers the endemic problems including battered economy, poor infrastructure, abject poverty, high youth unemployment and more, the New Direction inherited from the former corrupt and nepotistic APC government, which is still bent on wrecking havoc in a country they have plundered for 11years (in recent history), despite their loss in the general elections in 2018.

Nonetheless, it is fair to say that Emerson’s political expression, which is digitally wrapped in the cultural soft power of the nation of Sierra Leone and its people, is emblematic of a free society, which harnesses free speech without fear of political reprisals. This is therefore a “win win” for Sierra Leone Democracy under the SLPP New Direction, which has made the country proud that its institutions are independent and functioning within democratic ambits.  The significance of free expression under the New Direction Government, is directly juxtaposed with the iron fisted approach Mr Bockarie received under the then APC Government of former President Ernest Koroma when he released “Munku boss pan Matches in 2016, which was perhaps less critical compared to “coconut ade”.

Accordingly, the Makoni Times (Online) reported then that Emerson was given a stark warning shortly after the release of his “munku boss pan matches” album by State House Communication Director Jarrah Kawusu Konteh. Mr Konteh is reported to have said the APC would ensure that the album, which was critical of his Government, would not be sold by the music sellers in Freetown as the traders are all supporters of the APC Government. Mr Konteh is specifically quoted as saying:

“Sama, ar always lek Emerson in music dem. E sabi sing but there will be no impact as usual. Nar we Pipul dem dae sell music. So, we nor go sell am. We nor buy am back. Una wait normoh.”………

said Jarrah Kawusu Konteh.

Participation in Political Discourse

Furthermore, analysis shows that unsurprisingly, his song has aroused the national consciousness and set alight political discussions about the state of Sierra Leone, it’s economy and challenges the Government must work to overcome in various areas. Some of these areas including jobs and political appointments, Agriculture, Health ministry’s etc were identified as needing improvements. The fact that this is widely discussed in Sierra Leone political circles, is a mark of people’s interest in governance, its operations and impact on their lives. This is a measurement that the nation’s democracy is rapidly growing.

Transparency, Accountability and Fairness

Additionally, Accountability, Transparency and Fairness are also considered as implied and these are vital for the growth of effective governance. Emerson’s reference to the Anti-Corruption Commission and its fight in uprooting the infested corruption in society, is evident of his perception but most importantly, mirrors that of his fan base and well-meaning Sierra Leoneans too. It means, as much as the ACC is working hard to rid corruption, particularly that this is a flagship manifesto policy of the New Direction. The Government should be proud, but there is a tacit reminder that there is more to be done to win over public perception that the Commission has fairness as its basis, in the pursuit of justice. This will assure public perceptions and attitudes, while dispelling the APC myths that ACC is biased and politicised.

New Direction Manifesto Pledge

It is also clear that the SLPP New Direction Government needs to revisit its manifesto pledge of “democratic war on indiscipline”. One does not need to conduct a survey to know the level of indiscipline left behind by previous governments that has now firmly established under the present. There is an urgent need to re-establish SLPP as a disciplined Government of Law and Order. The SLPP Government’s continuous lapse in this area, has played well into the hands of opposition APC, who are openly or surreptitiously plotting to undermine security and state administration as recent events at Pa Demba Rd Prisons, Tumbo, Lunsar, Mile 91 and Makeni have shown.

Monitoring & Evaluation

Meanwhile, active monitoring and evaluation of Government’s activities are key to forestalling  the growth of similar criticisms in future. Although it is hard to avoid criticisms in governance, the New Direction should put in place monitoring and evaluation structures in Ministries, Departments and Agencies. Feedback from these institutions would be utilised to provide advice and early warnings  regarding the administrative trajectory of the Government. This will greatly assist in minimising issues like those raised in Emerson’s song as problems can be detected and dealt with before they are brought to public notice.

On  that note, the issues encapsulated in Emerson’s “coconut ade” album highlights  microcosms of what is happening in Sierra Leone for which there is no doubt that the Government is listening and expected to take practical steps to remedy.  The manner in which the identified problems have been observed and communicated, underpinned the fletching democracy in Sierra Leone where citizens have rights to freely exercise and hold their elected government to account. And this is a reassurance that despite the ample achievements of the SLPP Government under the New Direction, there is appetite that much is still expected from its citizenry. Challenging it may be, but all have to be hopeful and trust that the Government will deliver on its manifesto promises and transform Sierra Leone for the better and enjoyment of her people.

About Author:

Jonathan Probyn Samai is a Political Journalist, Occupational and Enterprise Risk Analyst

MSc Safety & Risk Management

PGD Safety & Risk Management

PGC Safety & Risk Management


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