Lessons from Guinea-Bissau

4 March 2009 at 18:02 | 732 views

By Anthony Kamara(Snr), Winnipeg, Canada.

Barely a week after my call to our President , His excellency Ernest Koroma and the entire membership of the Sierra Leone Parliament on the need for a modern and heavily secure Presidential Palace, disturbing news broke out on the assasination of the Guinea-Bissau President and the Army chief. If President Koroma has not given serious thought to that article, events of March 2, 2009 in one of our troubled West African states should make him and his government think again about the urgency of this idea.

There should be no divergent thinking on this matter. It is the most important single concern to confront the current government. President Koroma is at present a darling president to the vast majority of our people and must do his best to do something for which he will be remembered when he quits office in eight years. Yes , I say eight years because he is a man with a vision for his country and I have no doubt that he’ll do a second term to finish the unfinished job of steering the country and do something for which he will be remembered when he retires. But the few malcontents at home and abroad are still active and alive waiting to foment trouble. Our economic problems have been there for generations and will never go away. A government can only try to minimise them but not expel them outright. No Sierra Leonean can raise a finger to commend the economic performance of any past leader, be he Prime Minister or President: and with all candor, apart from Sir Milton Margai, no leader deserves to be remembered to this day for his general performance while in office, or his economic performance during his tenure.. It has always been the same ’deja vu’ explanations. Let us all not forget that it was a Liberian national Kekura Kpoto whom the enemies of the Country and APC used to smuggle arms into Sierra Leone in rice bags into Pendembu in the furthermost border District of Kailahun. The rebellion was launched when they had enough to start with in 1991. That Kailahun-Liberian border must receive 24 hour survellance by our security personnel.

President Joao Bernardo Vieira was assasinated as he was leaving his private home in Bissau, the capital ; the point I’m making here is that private residences for the Head of State are not to be a substitute for an official residence. The soldiers did not attempt this outrage while the president was in his palace in Bissau which has a heavy security presence, but instead waited to ambush him outside his private home. This further strengthens my point on the need for new security-tight modern palace.

Some may argue that economic problems are more pressing for the country. To some extent they are right. But since no president has ever performed impressively on the economy of the country for our people, it would be somewhat unreasonable to continue to put emphasis on an issue which would just produce the same failed results. We can measure the success of the economy by the increasing numbers of the employed, the regularity of salaries for government workers and reasonably good pay for all employees. But all these have been non existent for nearly four decades or even longer. As far as I can recall, there have been salary delays for most schools throughout my secondary school days in the mid sixties, with the exception of Catholic Mission schools which have always managed to pay teachers in their schools. In those days there was never ’Go Slow’ in Catholic schools, and this earned them the envy of many Inspectors and Supervisors of schools. ’Go Slow’ was for UCC schools, a poorly managed group of small christian run schools scattered all over the country and paid teachers every other month.

This piece of writing is to once again draw the attention of both President Koroma and his Minister of Defence Palo Konteh, to continue to be on guard for those implacable enemies of progress and change who believe they stand to benefit amidst chaos and anarchy. The president’s personal safety and the general peace and security of the country should stand paramount. If these are neglected, the price for such negligence would be catastrophic to the nation. The enemies of peace and stability are around, and since an ugly political upheaval in one country can have a powerful impact on a neighbouring state, my call here is to keep monitoring the activities of those political and military malcontents and dreamers of mischief especially the so called DREAM team, be it real or bogus. Treat any rumour with all the seriousness it deserves. All their prayers are for chaos and assassinations. They will keep on trying their diabolical schemes. As a people, we learn from the lapses of others and try to prevent occurrences of similar events in our country. This is a no joke matter. Some people don’t just care about international embarrassment for their country.

The construction of a modern security-tight presidential office and home must be prioritised now or never. The palace is not any president’s personal property, but that of Sierra Leone’s president irrespective of who the occupant is. That was why I called on the President and all Members of Parliament not to try to do politics on this matter, but to work with the president if this proposal should ever come up. With such a home and office in the same place, our president will no longer have to shuttle miles to and from work like the ordinary Sierra Leonean, and as such, ambushing, sniping and even bomb explosions along the president’s route will be a thing of yesterday. The very fact that our preident has to shuttle every day of the week to and from his office, is enough proof that the present Fort Thornton has become too small for the modern presidency . This being the case, why not replace it for the present and future presidents of our nation?Let us learn from the lapses of others and convert them into advantages.

If the government can spend billions of leones rebuilding police stations, prisons and offices of government damaged in the civil conflict in Freetown and the provinces, how about the office and residence of the ’excellent’ citizen of the land? do we watch it continue to decline until it collapses some day? the very president’s office space needs an expansion to be able to hold a delegation of between fifteen and twenty. Many who have had the privilege of visiting the office of the president will agree with me that there is need for an expanded area to accomodate a larger number of a visiting delegation.

Events in Guinea-Bissau are politically troubling in our sub region. We know that country has a checkered political history, punctuated by assassinations of military leaders and presidents. The assassinations of President Kumba Yalla and army chief Ansumane Manneh believed to be a Gambian in 2000, are clear examples.
We have been in a similar mess for some time, and now is time to ’watch our footsteps’ and let only good news come out of Sweet Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leoneans must also be reminded that when there is political upheaval in any poor country, that global organization called the United Nations, does nothing beyond condemnation and issuing a call to restore the legitimate government and the threat of sanctions, which they know will not happen. The United Nations headed by the USA are more interested in the oil-rich countries of the Middle East, and narcotic states like Afghanistan, not in the struggling poor of Africa where local armed conflicts always put their peoples on the move seeking asylum in neighbouring states. If the UN does not care what can the poor African Union do? All they do is to cry ’foul play’ and the next step is to send an AU delegation to go and beg the new leaders to relinquish power which they know will not happen. They may threaten the imposition of sanctions on the country-, sanctions which only affect the poor but never the rulers.
Has the regime in Guinea-Conakry not come to stay? what else can the UNO or the AU do about it? Nothing! The newly installed parliamentary speaker in Guinea-Bissau is in a caretaker position, until the military change their uniforms for civilian attire and stay in power.

The month of March is one to be remembered in Sierra Leone; it was in March that David Lansana tarnished our nation;s history by his coup of 1967 with Hinga Norman, then attached to state house. We must all therefore try to ’beware the ides of March’. The personal security of our Head of State and the general peace of our country is in the hands of those who govern, and there must be no oversight of this. If the president had not given serious thought to this, my advice is, ’THINK AGAIN’.

Needless to remind President Koroma that as an Executive president, his tenure does not depend on the fluctuating opinions of the people or opponents. The executive president has every power to do whatever he considers good for his people. That is why the state constitution confers on his person all the Executive powers of the land including , Head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces of his country and fountain of honour. He can issue orders to every state functionary and groups within the territory of Sierra Leone but takes no order from anyone. All the people who voted to give President Koroma power want to see him succeed first and foremost: but success implies that his Excellency must not forget his personal safety, and if he is mindful of this, then he must treat as very urgent the need for a modern palace for the presidency and all the security it needs to protect the Head. It was mistrust for the Sierra Leone army that made Late President Siaka Stevens form an Internal Security Unit (ISU), later Special security Division (SSD). Defence Minister Palo Konteh has a great responsibility for the security of both the President and himself and the state in general. While most peace-loving Sierra Leoneans pray for peace and security from external and internal enemies, others pray for chaos to make the country a laughing stock in Africa. Let us therefore try to prevent this in our country,