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Francis Obai Kabia: SLPP Flag bearer Aspirant opens up in Dallas

By  | 28 December 2010 at 22:25 | 1223 views

No matter where you place yourself on the political spectrum it is hard to turn your face away from what is simply humane and excellent. Francis Obai Kabia has spent the entirety of his career working first as a public servant and later as an employee of the United Nations fighting to install peace in areas craving for serenity consequently blurring the lines of life and death.

Though I was interested in picking his brain, I found it difficult to counter all of his basic principles of peace, governance, economy, politics, creating jobs for youths and protecting Sierra Leoneans from corruption. Anyone who has spoken to Francis Obai Kabia will tell you that although he has a stubborn sensibility, his moral compass is always pointed in the right direction.

During my conversation with Francis Obai Kabia(photo) I took every opportunity to get the seasoned United Nations veteran’s perspective on Sierra Leone’s current image in the international community, President Koroma’s government, the Sierra Leone People’s Party, the fight against corruption, the value of the Leone, the media politics and the future of our economy.

Christian Sesay: Thank you for coming to Texas, the Lone Star State, where everything is big.

Francis Kabia: You are most welcome.

Christian Sesay: You’ve just announced your candidacy for the 2012 Presidential election. Coming from a public service background, what prompts you to want to enter the political arena, especially since you seem to have spent much of your years outside Sierra Leone?

Francis Kabia: Good question, Christian. I was born in Sierra Leone and I come from two very prominent political families in Sierra Leone. My dad was the late Paramount Chief Bai Koblo II of Lunsar, Port Loko District…and my mother was the late Paramount Chief, Madam Ella Koblo Gullama of Kayamba Chiefdom, Moyamba District. My grandfather was the late Paramount Chief Julius Momoh Gullama of Kayamba Chiefdom, Moyamba District. As you can see, I come from a very political family. After seeing what is happening in my country in the last three or four years, and even after seeing what happened before the civil war, the economic, social and political factors that led to that war, I decided that it was time that I come in to help elevate my country from the morass that it has found itself. I think with my family background, education, work experience and affiliations with the UN, I think that I have the necessary tools to help in my country.

Christian Sesay: What difference would you make in the lives of ordinary Sierra Leoneans?

Francis Kabia: First of all, let us go back and study the reasons why we had that devastating war. The founding fathers of our country started off by uniting our country. My political party has a motto which says “One country, one people” Our founding fathers wanted a united Sierra Leone. They wanted economic and social development that every sierra Leoneans would benefit from. But the way things are in the country today, there is such a schism between regions and tribes and to some extent between religions which is not healthy for Sierra Leone. I want to be that bridge that will help foster unity in the country in terms political, tribal, economic and social unity.

Christian Sesay: You have started answering my next question. In speaking to Concord Times sometime in September, this is what you said “My aim is to unify the people of Sierra Leone in a bid to foster national pride and cohesiveness”. Sincerely speaking, don’t you think that President Koroma is a notch ahead in that respect?

Francis Kabia: No! Not at all! The reason why I say that is he indeed reorganizes his cabinet about few weeks ago. I can say categorically that about 85% of his cabinet was from one particular region and one particular district and Sierra Leone has 12 districts, 14 districts some will say, almost about 13 tribes and if the whole country is not represented in his cabinet, then something is wrong somewhere. When I mean represented….I mean full ministers. The majority of his cabinet was from Bombali and the Northern region. Sierra Leone like I said deserves more than that…So every tribe should be represented in the government and I mean in the cabinet.

Christian Sesay: Majority of Sierra Leoneans both at home and abroad gave President Koroma a high-five for the recent cabinet reshuffle. What do you think?

Francis Kabia: Well, he didn’t have a choice quite honestly. As you said, in my recent interview with Concord Times in September, I indicated that his cabinet is northern oriented….Bombali oriented. From the formation of his first cabinet in 2007, he did not change it until few weeks ago after a huge pressure.

Christian Sesay: You call it a pressure others will call it something else. But whatever it is, can we now agree that he responded favorably to it?

Francis Kabia: Yes he did but how long was that district the only district in the cabinet, you figure that out.

Christian Sesay: President Koroma has moved from point A to point B, can we fairly give him a pat on the back for that?
Francis Kabia: No problem… I will give him a little… just a little.

Christian Sesay: With that agreed upon, I will move on to my next question. The suspension of J.B. Dauda and Hon. Tamba Sawyerr by the SLPP boss, John Benjamin, did not make sense to a lot of people including some SLPP politicians. What is your take on that?

Francis Kabia: Well…I was abroad when the suspension was levied. Unfortunately, I have not been able to talk to our chairman. Based on what I read on the paper is that Mr. Dauda and Sawyerr accepted political appointments from the APC government without the blessings of the SLPP. Well, this is a difficult situation for us and like I said I don’t know why our chairman suspended them. If the President has seen faith to bring the country together, that is what we all want in Sierra Leone. And, if these two gentlemen have something great to bring to the table for all Sierra Leoneans then that is what we all pray for. However, if these gentlemen are registered members of the SLPP, then it behooves them to officially inform the SLPP executive on the appointment first before accepting those positions. For the fact that they didn’t inform the party, I guess that did not go on well with the party executives and to them something had to be done. Here in the US, we see all the time other members of the opposing party are appointed to cabinet positions but I am certain they accept such appointments after consulting with their party leadership. A case in point is the present Defense Minister.

Christian Sesay: Mr. Gates?

Francis Kabia: Yes Mr. Gates. He won’t have accepted that position without the blessings of the Republican Party and I think that J.B. Dauda and Mr. Sawyerr would have done the same thing.

Christian Sesay: Now assuming that you were working in John Benjamin’s shoes, how would you have responded to this situation?

Francis Kabia: I would have called the two gentlemen and the party leadership and talk to them because no two individuals or a particular individual is bigger than the party. It is more or else like a slap in the face of the party for the espoused members to do anything willy-nilly. So that is what I would have done.

Christian Sesay: Aren’t you worried that J.B. Dauda’s suspension will dent the SLPP chances of winning the next presidential election as was the case of Charles Margai?

Francis Kabia: I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.

Christian Sesay: Going through your resume, I realized that you have a rich career pedigree that Sierra Leone could utilize. If you are called by the president to serve your nation, will you accept?

Francis Kabia: Call me in what regard?

Christian Sesay: To serve your beloved Sierra Leone.

Francis Kabia: He already did. December 28th, 2006, the APC party sent Mr. Alpha Kanu to my house in Freetown to ask me to be his running mate. We had not gone to presidential and parliamentary elections as yet and we just working on the processes. I was humbled by the fact that they even considered me. But as you said my pedigree and background would not really have allowed me to serve under the APC for many reasons: My late grandfather was a founding member of SLPP. My dad was also a founding member of the SLPP. My mother, Madam Ella Koblo Gullama was a founding member as well. The APC incarcerated my mother for three and a half years at Pademba Road because she was SLPP. She slept on the floor for a very long period of time. She was banished from her chieftaincy for years. And, I do not believe, except they change their philosophy. Probably, they are beginning to change but violence and intimidations are still part of them. A case in point is what happened in Kono, when someone in the APC party, threw human excreta on some SLPP members. Similar incident happened two years ago with the rape case when the SLPP headquarter was attacked. If the party were to change and become civilized to understand and respect other political parties’ ideologies like in true democracies, I can see my working with them. But right now, I don’t think so. Also, I have to see that the APC is development oriented, less corrupt and stay away from the trends that led us to the civil war. With what I see now, I will rather stay in my party.

Christian Sesay: I spoke to Dr Kadi Sesay few months ago, a lady that I have great respect for among other things, her sincerity and this is what she had to say when asked about the president, “He is doing a great job in some areas and not so well in others” What will you say if I should ask you the same question?

Francis Kabia: He is a good man…a very good man. He loves his country and very compassionate, I have tremendous regard for him but by the same token there is a dichotomy. Yes he is great, yes he likes his country but when something happens like the attack on the SLPP party, if he doesn’t come out to reprimand them, then I have difficulties. When his cabinet reshuffle does not reflect the true identity of Sierra Leone, yes I have difficulty. When development programs are not spread evenly across regions, then I have problems with that. When he fires civil servants or private employees because of the affiliations, then I have difficulties. It is like the jacolian heights situation.

Christian Sesay: Mr. Kabia, assuming that you pick up the SLPP presidential nomination, and assuming that your running mate has to be one of the other contenders. Who will you select and why?
Francis Kabia: Well you are already assuming. I want to let you know that I have not yet started to think about it. When I do, I will let you know.

Christian Sesay: Ok! But what do you think would be some of the characteristics of your running mate?

Francis Kabia: Someone who thinks like me…someone who loves his or her country. Someone who is willing to make sacrifices. I want somebody who has the same political values as I do because I want my people to be uplifted from the poor sorry state that the country is in. Take care of the youths; bring jobs, investments, education prospect. I am not looking for someone who is here to make money because government is not the place where you make money. If you want to make money, you go into business because certainly my government won’t be the place to make money.

Christian Sesay: Now that you have all those beautiful and lofty characteristics of your running mates, when will you start looking?

Francis Kabia : I have someone in mind but I have somebody in mind

Christian Sesay: North or south? He or she?

Francis Kabia: You will know when the time is ripe. We will see when we get there. But for now, I intend to keep it quiet.

Christian Sesay: I am curious to know but for now I will patiently wait. Let’s talk a little bit of some of the things you did while serving in the UN. What are the different places you served.

I was a representative for my Country. oh my God, I was proud to serve my nation at such a loft organization. The experience to serve my nation was humbling. I began in New York.

Christian Sesay: Who was the president then?

Francis Kabia: Siaka Stevens was then the president. But when I joined the UN proper, I worked in Lusaka as the Deputy Officer in Charge. It was a huge task. We were the government of Namibia away from Namibia. I stayed in Lusaka where SWAPO’s headquarter was based. I enjoyed it very much because we had good relationship with ordinary Namibians and we succeeded in gaining independence for the Namibian people. After that I came back to New York and was honored to work at the office of the then Secretary General of the UN, Mr. Javier Perez de Cullar at the time. I worked as an assistant to one of his director who was in charge of Afghanistan. We had an office in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I relocated to Islamabad for a while and so we shuttled from Pakistan to Afghanistan. As we were trying to make peace between the Taliban came. We were also deeply involved in Iraq as well. I when my boss resigned, I moved into the department of Peace Keeping operations in charge of logistics and supplies. I was not a military man but I learnt a lot. For a short period, I worked in the office of Outer space. It was very interesting but short because the office was relocated to Austria, Vienna and I did not want to go to Vienna because I had a very young family and I was just moving them all over the place. I wanted a little bit of stability for them and that is when I joined peace keeping. I subsequently joined the situation center…. .We called it the nerve center. We monitor crisis areas and believe it or not Sierra Leone surfaced while I was in there. It was such a tense area because it operated 24 hours a day.

Christian Sesay: As I listen to you keenly, you made mention of your experiences in peace keeping missions, nation building and other areas. How would this experience be used in Sierra Leone?

Francis Kabia: I can build on those experiences. We built the government of Namibia. We were the government. We had manuals, books on how to run institutions, governments. Namibia is one of the most successful states today. We succeeded in solving problems in Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Kosovo, and Western Sahara, Ethiopia and so I have the necessary capabilities to run a government. In the process we spoke to rebels and other opposing factors. So I am really prepared.

Christian Sesay: I want to take you to a hot topic in Sierra Leone now. For some, President Koroma is working hard on the economy. To others he is not doing enough? Which side are you on and what would you do differently?

Francis Kabia: There are so many ways that I can help. Firstly, I don’t think any government has ever really study the real needs of that country. The country is well endowed with resources. There is lack of understanding in approaching the economy. Also, the issue of mismanagement has helped plaque the nation. The country is blessed with a fertile land. I know that in the 50’s and 60’s, we use to export rice, coffee, cocoa, piassava, and other cash crops. We are talking about agricultural development but we are really not doing much. We talk about tractors and do not have mechanisms that will till the land. We are still doing what we are doing thousands of years ago.

Christian Sesay: But, what will you do?

Francis Kabia: We will do something. I won’t say everything here because I do not want others to grab my ideas. But one of the things that I have done is that because of my relationship with my Alma Mater…Penn State University, there are talks in the pipeline on how they will help us once I get the mantle of leadership. We want Sierra Leone to be self sufficient with food. We have a high rate of unemployment. Here we can get folks to go out there and be gainfully employed. Just sit around the Calaba Town area and you will see how much fresh vegetables passes that part of town.

Christian Sesay: Don’t you think it is because of some of these wonderful things about you that the president wants to get you so that together, you can all build Sierra Leone

Francis Kabia: No. I don’t think so. The president only wanted me because of my “pedigree” and not to help the people. It was just because he wanted to use the Koblo-Gullama name brand.

Christian Sesay: You might think that way and I must respect that. However, don’t you think also that the real reason for calling you is that he truly wanted to heal all wounds and make amends for whatever there was?

Francis Kabia: If he had really tried, he won’t have had this cabinet. He got my brother in. A guy who had sacrificed for his nation. This guy was putting things in place to help in the delivery of health care in the country. A well trained medical doctor who is not corrupt. But the president, with the snap of a finger, replaced him at the Health Ministry with someone who was a taxi driver here in Dallas. A man who had no clue….No clue of how to run a government, medicine or administration. This guy lasted for only six months. Decision making was poor.

Christian Sesay: What do you think about the media in Sierra Leone?

Francis Kabia: I believe in freedom of the press. There is no way that I will be part of a government that will muzzle the press. To a very large extent fair. When I get into office, I will make sure that the media continues to be free from any interference.

Christian Sesay: Sierra Leone was moved 8th places. The country is now seen favorably in the eyes of the International community. How did you rejoice with this news?

Francis Kabia: Corruption is a menace in our country and corruption comes in many faces. Nepotism, tribalism, firing people because they come from different tribes is corruption. Allowing people to misuse the law is corruption. People your tribe people in key security apparatus is corruption. Corruption does not necessarily mean that you have to take money before you are labeled corrupt. Sheku Koroma was corrupt and recently, Haja Afsatu Kabba was also found to be corrupt.

Christian Sesay: There was a conviction and a penalty in both cases right?
Francis Kabia: Both of them should have been fined and jailed. A stronger message of intolerance should have been sent out.

Christian Sesay: How many ministers were incarcerated under the Kabba government?

Francis Kabia: I don’t know but if you are found wanting under my administration, you will face jail time.

Christian Sesay: So you are promising the people of Sierra Leone that?
Francis Kabia: Yes!

Christian Sesay: I like the radical approach but we will let the court take care of their own business.

Francis Kabia: That is the only way that corruption will be stopped.

Christian Sesay: Is there any particular message that you would like to send to the people of Sierra Leone through Sierra Leone community in the great state of Texas.

Francis Kabia: There are 23 of us aspiring for the flag bearing position for the great SLPP party. All 23 of us are competent. I don’t know how each one of us is suited to bring the kind of help that Sierra Leone needs and how they will go about it but my message is that, I will help Sierra Leone with my experience because I want my nation to be a shining city on the hill.

Christian Sesay: Ronald Reagan.

Francis Kabia: Absolutely!

Christian Sesay: Well, it has been a very productive evening sir, I must confess. On behalf of Sierra Leoneans in Texas, I want to thank you for giving us this opportunity to not just meet the man but to know the thoughts and aspirations of the man behind the name Mr. Francis Obai Kabia. Good luck and if it is God’s wish for the people of Sierra Leone, may he grant you your heart desire.

Francis Kabia: Thanks.