Analysis

Charles Margai Speaks at Howard University

17 November 2006 at 01:50 | 1208 views

“Twenty-five years ago, my father, Sir Albert Margai, second prime minister of Sierra Leone, gave a speech here in the Houston Hall of this great institution. He was then probably the only African leader in power who had lost elections to a political rival. He admonished the then government of Siaka Stevens to elevate the economic status of the poor or they would rise up to demand what they deserve.”

By Karamoh Kabba

The Interim Leader, Charles Margai(photo) of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (P.M.D.C.) of Sierra Leone, who is on what party officials refer to as Trans-Atlantic Tour for Positive Change (T-AT for Positive Change) in the United States was honoured by Rizwan Pureshi,the Student Bar Association President and Joshua Senavoe, the President of the International Law Society to speak and take questions from students at the Houston Hall of the great historic institution of Howard University Law School in Washington DC recently.

The meeting was arranged by a former student of Howard University Law School, Ms. Yolanda Thompson, who is a Sierra Leonean American and the daughter of Raymond Bamidele Thompson, National Chairman of the PMDC Media Committee.Mr. Kurt L. Schmoke, the Dean of the Law School, who was in attendance, delivered the closing remarks.

Rizwan spoke briefly about Mr. Margai as a graduate of the University College of Dublin, Ireland, where he obtained a Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) degree, leader of the P.M.D.C. party of Sierra Leone, son of late Sir Albert Margai, the second prime minister of Sierra Leone, father of three children and added, “Mr. Margai is of a good pedigree.”

Joshua, the second speaker who introduced Mr. Margai, demonstrated remarkable knowledge of the decade-long rebel war in Sierra Leone and the judiciary system that he said “is controlled by the government.” He asked his fellow students to “imagine themselves with opposing views in a country in which the judiciary is controlled by the government” before he introduced the keynote speaker, Mr. Charles Margai.

After a brief history of Sierra Leone and its precise geographical location on the world map, Mr. Margai, in a somber mood, reminisced that on a winter day of December 1980 his father gave a speech at the same Houston Hall, where he was now honored to speak.

“Twenty-five years ago, my father, Sir Albert Margai, second prime minister of Sierra Leone, gave a speech here in the Houston Hall of this great institution. He was then probably the only African leader in power who had lost elections to a political rival. He admonished the then government of Siaka Stevens to elevate the economic status of the poor or they would rise up to demand what they deserve.”

Mr. Margai told the students that the great grandfather on the maternal side of the champion of civil rights in the United States, late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was from Sierra Leone amidst thunderous applause.

“We have great historical links,” Mr. Margai told the students. “And I will ensure, when I become the next president of Sierra Leone come 2007 elections, that those links between us are strengthened through a student exchange program between the Howard University and the University of Sierra Leone,” he promised.

I was able to confirm Mr. Margai’s statement through a Howard University Law School student of the early 1980s, who was the then Student Bar Association President that, indeed, Sir Albert Margai gave a speech at the law school in December of 1980 before he died on December 18 of that same year. The former law student told me that Albert Margai was introduced to the students by late S.E. Darammy another Sierra Leonean. The former law student who is now a prominent Washington lawyer went on to recall Sir Albert Margai’s words; “He was a great fighter for economic parity for the poor,” he told me. “He articulated his foresight for Sierra Leone in that speech as follows; ‘If the government, (referring to the APC government of late Shiaka Stevens) ‘does not do something to elevate the lives of the have-nots,the poor, they would one day rise to demand from the have, the rich, their own share of the economy,’.

The old Lion retired to his home afterwards that winter, and died in his sleep on December 18, 1980,” he added. “His prophesy came through the decade-long rebel war that was characterized by the abduction and the forcible conscription of children as warriors by rebels and the government - a gross human right crime against children on both sides,” he concluded.

And Mr. Charles Margai drew the students’ attention precisely on his father’s prediction of that winter day at Howard University when he linked that prophesy to the decade-long “...rebel war that was characterized by some of the most gruesome war crimes against humanity in recent history.” He spoke briefly of the unattended limbless Sierra Leoneans, whose limbs had been hacked off by machete wielding rebels that are now walking the streets of Sierra Leone.

In Richard Klukir’s book, “Simple Justice” I confirmed that Mr. Margai was right when he told the students that the late Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall, a graduate of the Howard University Law School and the first black Supreme Court Justice’s great grandfather on the mother side was from Sierra Leone.

Notable questions amongst many brilliant questions the students asked during question time, were two that stood out: “... What will be your position on the ongoing discussion on the all Africa citizenship for African Americans in Africa when you become the next president of Sierra Leone?” The student explained that he is interested in the discussion for African Americans to be citizens of Africa regardless of which country they may want to go because the African American should be able to have a home anywhere in Africa and also be able to help with the development programs of his/her country of choice.

Mr. Margai answered; “Thank God we are already ahead in that in Sierra Leone,” referring to the dual citizenship bill that has recently been passed in the Parliament of Sierra Leone. He stated that, “I am fully in support of dual citizenship for African Americans in Africa in a way that would not infringe on the nation"s sovereignty.” He stated that; “the P.M.D.C. government would streamline the procedure for acquiring dual citizenship to make it less cumbersome than is currently proposed.

The other question was about Mr. Margai’s position on women: the student asked what Mr. Margai will do about women who are the most marginalized people not just in Sierra Leone but also in many countries in Africa. Mr. Margai reassured the student without hesitation that women would make a third of his cabinet, and even more if more qualified and willing women come forth to sacrifice for public service to their country.

He stressed that his government will have zero tolerance for corruption and that “there will be no sacred cows in Sierra Leone as far as clamping down on corruption is concerned.” He reiterated on the point that “public service would become a sacrifice to serve and not to amass wealth through corruption.”

In his closing remarks, Mr. Kurt L. Schmoke told Mr. Margai; “We know your schedule as president would be very busy, but remember that we have extended an invitation to you to come back to Howard University Law School when you become the next president of Sierra Leone.”

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