From the Editor’s Keyboard

Not Everybody Can Become a Minister

2 August 2017 at 19:56 | 2557 views

Editor’s Note: This editorial written by Gibril Koroma, was first published October 16, 2007.


Since the naming of a cabinet by president Ernest Bai Koroma in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, there has been some hue and cry over the academic credentials and ethnic or regional origins of his nominees from within the country and in the diaspora.

While others have frantically pointed to the lack of “academics” in the to-be cabinet, others decide to complain that the cabinet is ethnically or regionally biased.

The postulated arguments in the case of the latter included that the country has just emerged from a devastating war hence the uncontested need to have "regional balance." The former on the other hand, mostly academics, seem to hold the view that the only good governors are the ‘academics”.

While both arguments cannot be dismissed by a wave of the hand, yet they become problematic when good leadership is ascribed to just academics or intellectuals, the sort of individuals that remind one of Plato’s "Philosopher King".

We cannot, however, forget that during the political hey days of the late president Siaka P. Stevens of the All People’s Congress Party (APC), many academics, mostly PhD holders, who were vociferous in criticizing the former trade unionist were “imported” mostly from the West, lavishly induced to come home and help govern.

Rather than using the education and the western values of democracy, good governance, the rule of law etc, they had seemingly inculcated to assiduously work in order to salvage the country from chronic dysfunction and rescue the people from abysmal poverty, the so-called academics exploited the gullibility of the electorate and blatantly enriched themselves and their political cronies from state resources.

The cry to have academics or intellectuals govern the state also gained currency during the presidency of late Joseph Saidu Momoh. He, in a very unpalatable way, yielded to the call and loaded his cabinet with PhD holders so much so that the state virtually stopped functioning.There were too many "book people" coming up with with all sorts of ideas and constantly condemning and fighting with each other. Those were the days of "Constructive Nationalism", "Economic State of Emergency" and "Green Revolution." A lot of sound and fury, signifying and delivering nothing.

The consequence was the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) coup of 1992. Later, the people’s rejection of the Sierra Leone People’s Party government, another "book-loaded" government, was due to the fact that in spite of the many “academics” in the cabinet, corruption thrived with impunity, reaching heights that had never even been reached by the Old APC.

Also, intermarriage is one of the attributes of Sierra Leoneans with the Temnes, Mendes, Fulas, Lokos and Krios, to name but a few, socially and politically cooperating and interacting with each other since independence. This attribute becomes problematic at times, with the infusion of tribal, ethnic and regional sentiments in the electorate by the political elites.

Indeed history has shown that being a good leader does not mean the accumulation of academic degrees. In Ontario, Canada, for instance, one of the most successful ministers of Education, Gerard Kennedy, only has a first degree in Economics and Political Science but was able to make a positively enormous difference in public office.

The same could be said of the late John F. Kennedy who graduated with a first degree and joined the military. Today, his days at the White house were remembered not because of his clarion injunction during his inaugural speech to the American people that: "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,” but because of his courage to serve his people with dignity and pride.

While it is so soon to pass judgment on a cabinet that is yet to start functioning, the point should however be hastily hammered home to astute APC insiders and supporters to understand the hard political reality that not everybody can be a minister; in the same way,the detractors of the country’s nascent government should understand that having Master’s and PhD degrees is not the only indicator of good leadership. Good character, patriotism and an excellent work ethic are also extremely important.

So,what Sierra Leone urgently needs at this time in her political history is a government composed of competent and credible persons who can use their local and international exposure to continue to engage the people and the international community in order to redeem the image of the country from being at the bottom of successive United Nations Human Index Development reports as one the least developed countries in the world.

We need a government that can deliver the goods so that the people cannot go to bed hungry, create jobs and ensure security for the people.Of course we need people with good education to run the country, but that’s not the only qualification.

Ethnic balance is important in a third or fourth world country like ours, with very high illiteracy, but not at the expense of good leadership.It should not matter where a person comes from, what matters is whether the person can do the job.We observe an attempt by the president to have all the regions represented among the nominees. He should continue to do that in all future appointments. But not at the expense of good character, an excellent work ethic and good leadership.The people voted for change. They want to see results, not too many qualifications or ethnic ambassadors.

Photo: President Ernest Koroma