Meet the Minister of Mineral Resources and Political Affairs

10 March 2009 at 03:25 | 1007 views

By Sekou Dauda Bangura, USA.

When His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma put together his grand coalition to turn Sierra Leone around following the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections he came under heavy criticism from disgruntled and frustrated politicians who described his cabinet as heavily tilted to the north. Following his cabinet reshuffle a week ago, His Excellency came under criticism again for putting in place a cabinet dominated by northerners. This, obviously, is not something new in Sierra Leone politics in particular and politics in general.There is always a tendency for leaders to appoint those they trust and to reward those who worked tirelessly for the success of the party. The present Obama administration has a heavy dose of democrats.

Following the death of Sierra Leone’s first Prime Minister Sir Milton Margai, the SLPP cabinet under Sir Albert Margai was largely dominated by southerners. Sir Albert, in his futile bid to consolidate power, did not only marginalize northerners but even punished those who dare to question his authority. For being vociferous critics of Sir Albert (after succeeding his brother as Prime Minister), Kutubu Kai-Samba and L.A.M. Brewah were denied the SLPP symbol in the 1967 General Election. PC Songo Mbriwa of Kono and PC Bai Koblo Pathbana of Lunsar, for failing to toe the party line, were not only suspended as Paramount Chiefs, but forced into exile.

In his bid to sell the one party, the late Siaka Probyn Stevens, first executive president of the Republic of Sierra Leone, put together a government of national unity in 1978 - a government that reflects the ethnic configuration of the country. As a matter of fact, he even appointed more south-easterners to senior cabinet positions. For Siaka Stevens, appointing more south-easterners at the time was a matter of practical and political necessity. The one party constitution needed the support of political heavy weights like Salia Jusu Sherif, Francis Minah, and P. C. Jaiah Kai Kai. Siaka Stevens had to do what he did to consolidate his authority and to ensure an indefinite stay in power. After all, the end justifies the means!

When Alhaji Ahmed Tejan Kabba came to power following the controversial 1996 election victory of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, he put in place a government that was dominated by south-easterners. It did not come as a surprise to political observers, considering the fact that the grand old party - the SLPP - drew support mainly from south-easterners. This was not only reflected in his cabinet but the civil service and parastatals. Northerners were once again seriously marginalized. The few who were co-opted were the chameleons; the political turncoats. Undoubtedly, there are SLPP diehards from the north, but they are persistently seen as less SLPP because they do not speak Mende!

Those individuals still crying down His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma should realize that politics in Africa is a zero-sum (or winner-take-all) struggle for access to scarce state resources. That is how it is played out in the politics of the most advanced democracies: Great Britain and the United States of America. Let us endeavor to accept the rules of the game. Folks from the New People, the SLPP political mouthpiece, should learn, like our traditional hunters that “Every day is a hunting day. If the animal escapes today, tomorrow is still a hunting day!”

The goal of any newspaper is to make a positive contribution to the socio-economic and political development of a nation through the dissemination of information. In carrying out that important role, a newspaper must show maturity and objectivity. But when a newspaper goes out of its way to misinform the public and take delight in character assassination, then it becomes a dangerous vehicle of news dissemination. The unending smear campaign will not earn high marks nor is this going to augur well for the SLPP in 2012.

And this brings me to the recent cabinet reshuffle that has generated a long and sustained discussion in political circles. In keeping with his promise to lead an open, honest and transparent government that puts a high premium on performance, His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma came out last week with the result of his first performance appraisal.Those ministers who failed to measure up to the president’s expectations were dropped. Those who performed with average diligence and ability were asked to stay, and the few who performed over and above average, were politically catapulted. A case in point is the elevation of former Minister of Presidential, Public and Diaspora Affairs to the enviable position of Minister of Mineral Resources and Political affairs.

Prior to his appointment as minister, Alhaji Alpha Bakar Sahid Kanu(photo) was a successful entrepreneur. A mining engineer by profession, he was one time lecturer at the Engineering Department, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. During the 2007 General Election Campaign, he became the public spokesperson of the All People’s Congress. His stoic endurance throughout that period infused strength and direction to the enterprise - bringing the All People’s Congress back to power! With charm, grace and confidence, he was able to defend the party, and to convince the majority of Sierra Leoneans why they should elect Ernest Bai Koroma as the next president of Sierra Leone. Because of his invaluable contribution, and profound commitment to the party, he was appointed Minister of Presidential and Public Affairs.

Throughout the time he served in that capacity, he performed to the best of his ability. Both in Sierra Leone and out of the country, he represented the president on countless occasions. An eloquent and fascinating speaker, he speaks French with a high degree of proficiency; a smattering of Arabic and Russian! Aside from being a compelling public speaker, he demonstrates a depth of understanding on a wide range of issues that is quite unmatched. This came out clearly while he represented the president in New Haven, Connecticut last year for the annual celebration of the Amistad Revolt. The president could not attend because of the urgent need to be present at the United Nations while United States President George Bush delivered his address to world leaders on how to tackle the unfolding global economic crisis. Under short notice, Alhaji Sahid Kanu was called upon to fill the president’s shoes.

Standing next to a statue of Joseph Cinque - known in Sierra Leone as Sengbe Pie - hero and leader of the Amistad revolt, Alhaji Alpha Kanu said Cinque’s legacy will forever tie New Haven to Sierra Leone. “To the great people of Connecticut, I would like to take this opportunity to beseech you to translate this experience of our heroes of freedom into a positive intercultural and political union. We must try to build upon the heroic and historic connection and strive to forge valuable economic and social ties.”At Western Connecticut State University, Danbury, where he later addressed faculty, staff, a mammoth student body and many Sierra Leoneans, the soft-spoken, handsome, modest and unassuming politician informed his enthusiastic listeners about the meaningful strides the Ernest Koroma administration has made since it took over the affairs of Sierra Leone - a tiny country in West Africa that was once dubbed “the Athens of Africa” because of its leading role in the promotion of Christianity and Western education. Aside from the historic synopsis he gave about Sierra Leone from its foundation as a home for freed slaves in 1787, he demonstrated his versatility when he spoke on economic, political and legal issues. Not having known him, one is tempted to believe that he must have had a background in political science, history or law. Surprisingly, the venerable minister has a strong background in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. And he has spent a greater part of his adult life as a businessman.

Sierra Leoneans who were opportune to hear him speak at the East Franklin Firehouse in Somerset, New Jersey on November 23 2008 were fascinated by his deep understanding of matters relating to Agriculture, Energy, Mining, Healthcare, Housing and a whole lot more. During question and answer time, he remained calm and confident to the end, even when the intention of the individual posing the question, was to embarrass the APC government. He was unruffled by the plethora of questions. Without a script, he gave statistics on how to turn Sierra Leone around by first of all boosting the agricultural sector, which is the major employer of the majority of Sierra Leoneans in the rural area. He talked lengthily, with figures to back him, on how mechanized farming can generate the much needed revenue and foreign exchange to embark on a host of projects aimed at infrastructural development. After explaining the president’s Open Government Initiative and his goal of “Harnessing the Diaspora,” he appealed to all Sierra Leoneans to take a more active role in the economic recovery of Sierra Leone - underscoring the fact that “the Diaspora is an engine of economic growth.”

Do you now see why he has been elevated to the much-coveted position of Minister of Mineral Resources and political affairs? It is not just a matter of being a northerner, an APC supporter or a friend of the president. It is a matter of one having what it takes to turn Sierra Leone around. Honorable Alhaji Alpha Kanu traveled widely and extensively before going into politics. He has that global perspective that is needed to make Sierra Leone more productive. He embodies what it takes to move Sierra Leone from a recipient of foreign hand outs to self-sufficiency; an active participant in today’s global economy. In him we see a Sierra Leonean that is both hard working and creative in tackling the enormous economic problems we face at a time when the whole world is experiencing a serious economic meltdown.

Married with three children, Alhaji Alpha Sahid Kanu was born in Port Loko in the northern region of Sierra Leone. He was educated at the Sierra Leone Church School in Port Loko, Collegiate School in Freetown and the Saint Francis Secondary School, Makeni. He did his sixth form at the CMS Grammar School in Freetown, and he taught (literature) briefly at the Schlenker Secondary School, Port Loko before proceeding onto England where he received both a bachelor of science and master’ s in Engineering from the University of Nottingham. Before going into politics, he worked as a mining consultant.