Digging in the Wreckage for a Running Mate

28 October 2005 at 22:51 | 646 views

This is a critical article by US-based Sierra Leonean writer Karamoh Kabba. It is an analysis of the choices and decisions Sierra Leoneans would have to make as the country prepares itself for yet another election.

By Karamoh Kabba

A snap look at the upcoming 2007 presidential election in Sierra Leone is appearing to be leaning towards Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). Although the All People’s Congress (APC) is reclaiming its political stature with alacrity, for now, the political scales seem to be slanting in favour of the SLPP. Sierra Leone’s recent violent past that was caused by excessive greed, autocracy and political marginalization of students under the watch of its presidents Siaka Stevens and Joseph Saidu Momoh caused much apprehension amongst voters that is may be partly responsible for this trend. This may seem a left-handed compliment, but indeed, the SLPP’s president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah too has not made any significant change, yet a population wearied by marginalization, mass poverty, deprivation of knowledge and later war appears to be looking at the SLPP as a lesser of two evils. But this may change quickly if the SLPP dissident Charles Margai launches a new political party.

Like the United States’ blue and red states divide, Sierra Leone’s is a regional one between the northern and southern provinces. Notably, there is a strong southern and northern political allegiance to the SLPP and APC parties respectively. Because of the predominance of northerners in Freetown, the APC enjoyed much political victory there in the past. This is also true of the Kono District whose politics has been influenced by large northern immigrant settlement. Therefore, Freetown and Kono Districts have always been the tiebreakers of the north/south political divide. These two non-aligned political districts of the regional/ethnic divide used to be the most populated political districts, and they have leaned much more towards the APC before the introduction of the single party system in Sierra Leone.

Current census indicates that while the Western Area has almost doubled it population, the population of Kono District has suffered a considerable reduction. Kono District is no longer densely populated. But the statistical record may not be taken for its seeming worth, because the population has the potential to grow since the end of the war and the normality in its diamond mining industry. As well, there has been much stress [from within and without] on provincial people to return to their towns and villages, which may lead to an increase in the population of the district by 2007.

While the south remains hardly undivided politically, the SLPP has mustered some support in the north by capitalizing on the political division there. The sprouting parties in the north also may be due to its heterogeneous nature, unlike the homogeneous south. This is evident in the break up of the north into too many parties. Further internecine struggles in the APC compounded its uphill battle to unite it northern base into a one solid political force. The only explanation for this is that many people are unwilling to be associated with the APC because of its past record. As the proverb goes, success has many parents but failure is an orphan. And indeed, the APC failed the nation so miserably in the past that even late president Joseph Saidu Momoh once admitted in a state of the nation speech that he had failed the nation.

Following what many have called a premature SLPP convention recently, Berewa is now faced with a very important responsibility of looking for a presidential running mate, in the wreckage of war and corruption in Sierra Leone.

According to the Constitution of Sierra Leone, the vice president is just a breath away from becoming the president. We saw how President Tejan Kabbah is preparing to leave us a political litterbug in the person of vice president Solomon Berewa. This tells us without doubt the presidential running mate, for civic-minded citizens, is an important factor in the politics of Sierra Leone. Do we now lie around for Berewa and Kabbah to have absolute control over the selection of the next vice president? Although Berewa has the constitutional right to choose his running mate, highlighting whom he chooses is a civic duty.

Traditionally, a running mate is selected based upon two important factors; what political fortunes such a person is capable of bringing to the presidential ticket and his political timbre to take the mantle of the president in the event that the president dies, resigns or is removed from office on constitutional grounds. The most important question at hand now remains whether the SLPP presidential candidate, vice president Solomon Berewa, will abide by this tradition of selecting a running mate based upon the aforementioned reasons or will deviate from the norm to select a running mate based on political fortunes alone or simply based upon instructions from his boss, President Tejan Kabbah.

Presently, on the political radar for a running mate there are reportedly three people, Momodu Koroma who is president Kabbah’s blue-eyed boy, who has also gained some national and international experience while he served as the Minister of Presidential Affairs and now Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Corporation. Then Bobson Sesay who is also very influential with President Kabbah and Umaru Bundu Wurie who until recently has served as the Sierra Leone ambassador to Germany and many other countries.

Mr. Koroma and Mr. Sesay are not just trusted members of Kabbah’s cabinet; they are his trustworthy cabinet members. President Kabbah has used trustworthiness of his cabinet members not for the good and advancement of the nation, as would a trustworthy surrogate in a democracy, but for the building of a political hegemony that we saw in Makeni when Berewa gained over three hundred percent of the votes in the convention there, as if the other contenders did not exist. In this way, Kabbah and his cohorts have built a political culture not of ’well done is better than well said, but well said is better than well done.’

However, Berewa’s victory in Makeni was so overwhelming that we should not be talking of corruption. We may not know fully what happened and how that landslide political victory was accomplished. Those who are intending to carve new political parties on an account of perceived malpractices in the convention are themselves expressing their right of political participation. I personally believe that they are acting retrospectively and that their actions are not sagacious at all. For the sake of civic competence, it is every capable Sierra Leonean’s duty to help educate the public on the trio, one of which is about to step into the second in command position. Such a trustworthy surrogate of the society must give analysis, which conscious minded and other civic competent citizens can rely on to make wise decisions.

All three men are highly educated individuals, which is a very good plus for them. But education alone does not make one a good manager. Apparently, Sierra Leone is in search of a good manager or a team of managers who have what it takes to run it as a corporation. Sierra Leone is in need of managers who will run it as if it is their personal investment in the interest of children unborn. Sierra Leone needs managers who will shake her and get her out of the handicap culture for which she is now known worldwide. Sierra Leone needs managers who will take advantage of the present post-war flow of international aid to develop its own capitalists who will take over much of the responsibility of hiring and paying the salaries of the pool of jobless youth, who fueled the decade-long atrocious war, in the first place for lack of something to do. Sierra Leone needs managers whose assistant managers will break away from the culture of boasting of new international aid packages that they put together, but bring forth innovative ideas of making more money, more money and more money to improve the lives of the ordinary man. Sierra Leone needs managers who will come into politics for the love of politics and for the love of serving the people, who are willing to live the moderate life of a politician, who will rebuff attacks on them and go about their daily business of serving the people and enjoying full gratification for doing just that.

Are these men capable of delivering what Sierra Leone needs in these deplorable times? Who among them is Chinua Achebe’s Okonkwo of Things Fall Apart in Sierra Leone? Who among the men has a political culture that states that the only thing he sees or hears is the good of his community, who will rather die than join the pack of money-grubbing and dead wood politicians if he cannot change them by persuasion? Who amongst these men is capable of truly becoming the complement for change and not just another compliment of Solomon Berewa as he was for Kabbah?

If Berewa must focus on the political expediency to the ticket, all the three men are northerners, and it will seem that they all have the same advantages under their political belts as to how many political credits they can bring to the ticket. If Berewa was to cut to the bone, appointment of running mate in the present presidential system in Sierra Leone has never been based on political fortunes.

Will it matter this time around?

The answer to this is most likely a yes only if Charles Margai does not abandon his motive of cutting the ground under Berewa’s political aspiration by creating a divide amongst the SLPP southern voters. This has been the cut-throat factor for the APC in the past election as we saw in the action of Thaimu Bangura. And Berewa is catching much dissension from Charles Margai, who is gradually becoming a formidable challenger in the upcoming election, if the SLPP does not cash him out on the barrelhead, a technique the SLPP leadership has mastered to have in power who it wants.

This brings us to the question; will Berewa ever get the 55% that is needed to win the election? In the election of February 26, 1996, we saw a similar situation when president Kabbah fell short of the 55% percent. Then, late Thaimu Bangura delivered the election to Kabbah on March 15, 1996 based on transactional politics. What Berewa and his camp may not know or may be taking for granted is that 100% of the southeastern votes, in the stronholds of the SLPP, will not be enough to give Berewa the needed 55% to win. The trouble with the Charles Margai factor is he has proclaimed his determination not to return to the SLPP. If one is to look at the factor that the SLPP needs more than just the southeastern votes to win, then the possibility of winning becomes bleaker if Charles Margai does not relent.

Will Charles Margai be the spoiler for Berewa in 2007? And if so, do we know the party with the potential to become the benefactor of the transactional politics that may likely be repeated?

Based on the frailty of the political situation, it suffices to say that Margai can easily deny Berewa the presidency especially that many southern voters are uncomfortable with Berewa because of the Special Court negotiation that led to the arrest and incarceration of Chief Sam Hinga Norman. What we know also is the southern voters may likely not kick out the SLPP for the APC in the absence of another southern party. What we do not know is whether the southern voters will retain their SLPP loyalty once Margai launches another party. This does not look good partly because many voters are not highly politically educated on the fact that a divide in the south may cause SLPP the election, and whatever party Margai may form may not win the election as well, on the other hand. Apparently, it may not translate into a 55% votes for the APC, but will surely open the country up to the repeat of the 1996 situation of transactional politics or at worst the 1967 election. George Santayana said, ’Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.’ The 1967 general election is about to repeat itself.

Now, coming back to Mr. Koroma, Mr. Sesay and Mr. Wurie, Berewa has to make a decision to become his own man.Some will attempt to slant this to fit a metaphor for Al Gore’s failure when he became his own man in the United States presidential election, but I will argue ahead that Al Gore’s boss, president Bill Clinton, was a good leader, unlike Kabbah who has failed the nation so miserably on fighting corruption. Now, we have no choice, but to channel Berewa, who is most likely the next president, on a path different from his boss’s for the love of the country.

Since president Kabbah and Berewa have attracted much criticism for running a corrupt government, Berewa could redeem his neck if he shows that he is ready and determined to cut out the dead woods under his watch by cutting and running away from his boss’s politics of neglect. And choosing Mr. Koroma or Mr. Sesay will not do the trick.

Many of us in the diaspora have been fervent critics of Kabbah and Berewa because stopping or reducing corruption in Government has not been their priority and indeed, corruption reduction has not moved an inch forward on their watch.

Following Berewa’s avalanche victory in the SLPP convention, we are not going to sit back in a semi-recumbent position and cry over spilled milk, but help him understand that a neutral person, with solid political timbre, who has not been tainted by the reckless way corruption is practiced in Sierra Leone will be a way forward for him and for the nation.

In fact, there is greater fear among voters that Mr. Koroma or Mr. Sesay will just be a continuation of the boat, and an indication of a shade on any prospect of Berewa’s willingness to rock the boat. It is a tradition that politicians do not like to rock the boat around election time, but it is inevitable that this boat needs serious rocking if it must regain the confidence of its passengers.

There is nothing to lose, because not many people like Berewa, Mr. Koroma or Mr. Sesay anyhow. The SLPP is a likely winner in 2007 because it is being looked at as the lesser of two evils. Therefore, a new kid on the block will only help the ticket.

It is also important to look at the history of the Wuries inside the SLPP. This northern family has helped very much to increase the SLPP presence amidst hostility, in a position as a desolate tree in an SLPP desert. That means that it will be difficult for the SLPP to lose its northern voters, many of whom are disgruntled voters because of the Kabbah and Berewa presidency, if Berewa chooses Mr. Wurie. It does not only mean that Mr. Wurie has a little edge over Mr. Koroma and Mr. Sesay in bringing forth political fortunes, but also bringing him into the ticket as a mustered hope for change, and Sierra Leonean voters seem more likely to listen to such a tune.

There is enough reason to choose Mr. Wurie if Berewa must capitalize on experience. International experience is a very important factor in running a country. Mr. Koroma and Mr. Sesay may have more national experience over Mr. Wurie, but very shady ones. They have been a part of a system that has not done any good for the people. How do we begin to capitalize on their experience in politics when they run a near to a failed nation that is dependent on foreign aid to pay its workers’ salaries without any contingency plan for when the aid money will run out? How do we begin to capitalize on their experience when they are so comfortable running a state in deficit spending that they cannot provide the basics of life for its people?

Mr. Wurie’s ambassadorial appointments have many accomplishments during and after the war when he stirred international attention to our plight in many ways. Although I do not know all these three men personally,((but I do not need to know them), looking at their political accomplishments from the diasporan Sierra Leonean point of view, Mr. Wurie seems to be the better of them all. Notwithstanding, the viewpoints of those on the ground in Sierra Leone are even more important, therefore their own assessments of the men could be more plausible. Now that rumours indicate that Berewa has reduced our choices to these three men, I dare every Sierra Leonean to look at them under a microscope and make a good choice towards reclaiming our country from the Kabbah and Berewa hegemony. Otherwise, we must shake off and shed off the post-war fear of the APC party or even consider a third force political party for a change.

Karamoh is the author of A Mother’s Saga, Lion Mountain and Morquee-A Political Drama of Wish over Wisdom