Opinion

Open Letter to PMDC Leader Charles Francis Margai

22 June 2008 at 18:46 | 968 views

Dear Charles,

Your Future in Sierra Leone Politics As I See It.

Let me begin by offering you my belated congratulations for your wise decision in joining the All People’s Congress in the recent run-off election which saw current president and his party back in power. Indeed it is a victory the APC and all their supportrers owe you. You made history which will go down in history books for future reading. You should be rightly called "Kingmaker of the year 2007" in Sierra Leone politics and will be remembered for generations to come.

I have no doubt that your decision to break away from your ancestral party the SLPP for the second time was a hard one to make, but considering the prevailing circumstances at the time, you had no choice but to quit. Although by your current base the new PMDC is still to become a national party if it can ever have a broad appeal; it hardly stands a chance of ever forming a government, at least not for the foreseable future, but the PMDC can be seen as playing the role of kingmaker. But let me hasten to sound a note of caution that being a kingmaker in itself can be a potential source of trouble especially when the victorious party in the first round of election is made loser in the second. Fortunately in your case , you lent your support to the right candidate by cementing his victory. For now the world sees you as unifier but you can do a better job by a merger of the PMDC with the APC and create a permanent Grand Alliance; with such a merger, the party becomes unstopable in all future elections; I encourage you with all sincerity to seriously consider such a move.

What about run-off elections, are they necessary? Are they not a potential source of post election conflict? This question must concern every Sierra Leonean. In as much as we are a democracy and want to be seen as a democratic people, we cannot practice democracy amidst chaos; we are all encouraged to emulate the democracy as practised in the western world, like the USA and Britain. We must discourage coalition governments as practised in Italy because they have no certain life. They can fall at any time , no certainty of tenure. There have never been run-off elections in these great democracies. One party is declared winner with any majority both in Britain and USA. To encourage the holding of such elections is pushing a country to crisis situation. Why do these powers encourage emergent nations to hold such run-off elections when there are no such elections in their countries? Look at what is happening in Zimbabwe, and what happened in Kenya. Run-off are a recipe for chaos and war and must be discouraged. Let the first winner be the winner. I am appealing to the two major parties in parliament, the APC and SLPP to seriously make this as a bipartisan matter of grave concern. Unless this system is discontinued, it may once again lead to an ugly situation which nobody wants to experience again in our country and strife is the last thing our people want to see again. After all apart from the SLPP and APC, all the rest are mere spoilers who stand no chance of ever dreaming of coming to power. How can a small country like ours have ten political parties? Infact they are really not political parties but political groups in the real sense. The rest simply exist as a matter of right. As the main aim of a political party is to win election and form a government, parties which stand no chance of ever achieving that aim must dissolve themselves and fuse themselves into either of the two major parties and stop this nonsense of competing without hope. I know they hope to be bargaining partners in the event of a close election. My call for all such parties is for them to dissolve and opt for one or the other of the two major parties. Let us not misuse democracy. Let the first winner be accepted as D-Winner otherwise the country might be heading once more to another civil conflict which none of us wish to see again.

Whatever problems you may have had within the SLPP leadership are not of your own making, but the legacy left by Sir Albert. To be honest with you anyone who experienced Sir Albert’s rule will have second thought about trying another Margai especially a son of Sir Albert whose rule was so divisive, tribalistic and regionalised and corrupt that hardly anyone is willing to take the risk. You may be different from Sir albert, but the Margai pedigree is in you and people are not prepared to take a risk to give you a chance. Many understand your problems with the SLPP.

In my opinion, and in the opinion of most Sierra Leoneans at the time, if Dr John Karefa-Smart had succeded Sir Milton as Prime Minister, the APC would have remained a permanent opposition in Sierra Leone. Dr Karefa Smart was seen as unifier and a faithful servant of Sir Milton, and the North and Western area would have been a foregone conclusion for SLPP victory at any election time. Dr. Karefa-Smart’s departure from the SLPP meant that the North in particular was quiting with him. But Sir Albert’s succession brought divisions within the SLPP and he succeeded in making as many enemies as he possibly could- with Dr Karefa-Smart as his political enemy No. 1 along with people like Kutubu Kai-Samba, Salia Jusu-sheriff, Sahr L Matturi, Yankay Sesay, C.B. Rogers-Wright and Luseni Brewa. These were faithful supporters of Sir Milton and weilded great influence in their areas in the country. So that from the moment he took over the reins of government, the SLPP became a divided party.

I must say our country is still to find a leader who rules and leaves office with great praise, because for one thing, they all start well, but soon become part of the same old game of corruption. However the allegations against President Ernest Koroma of corruption and tribalism are too early to make especially corruption which is often very difficult to prove. And it is serious when such allegations are made against a sitting Head of state. I agree corruption has always been a big problem in Sierra Leone politics. Apart from Sir Milton Margai your uncle, all former Sierra Leonean leaders including the military have been corrupt and Sierra Leone political leaders always openly talk about corruption on campaign trail. It is always a word that stirs up emotions wherever we may say it. The only leader without any stain of corruption is Sir Milton Margai; I even wonder if Sir Milton left behind a personal residence anywhere in Sierra Leone.

Instances of corruption of government functionaries are countless. Under the National Reformation Council (NRC) of Juxton-Smith, Sierra Leoneans learnt a new kind of money banking, - burying in the ground trunk boxes stuffed with leones in their parents’ or relatives bedrooms in their villages. Under the APC of Siaka Stevens, did the president not commission himself into being a building contractor erecting magnificent edifices and selling them in hard currency to the government of which he was head? What is more corrupt than this? The reality is they all learnt the vicious behaviour from Sir Albert.

Let me quote from your speech of August 24, 2007 when you said "Let us put all tribalism, sectionalism, regionalism behind us. My desire to unify this nation was one of the factors that urged me to appeal to the membership of the PMDC to lend support to the APC. Never again will the north / southeastern divide raise its ugly head in Sierra Leone". This is one of the greatest speeches you ever made as politician and it’s one for which you will be remembered.

But the reality about Sierra Leone politics is that leaders come to office with a hidden agenda which only surfaces when they have firmly established themselves in office. And by the time the people realize this, it’s late.

The fact of the matter is, if Sir Sir Albert had followed the footsteps of Sir Milton Margai, perhaps corruption would not have been as rampant as it is today. But I still maintain that President Ernest Koroma is too new in the presidency to be branded as showing the ugly head of corruption and tribalism especially as it will be difficult to prove. I know the role of the opposition is to oppose government action, and many a time irrespective of the practical value of whatever government is doing. But when the opposition simply opposes for the sake of opposition, it becomes dangerous; also the PMDC which you lead is not an opposition for now but part of the coalition government of the APC. So you got to be selective in what you utter in public by way of criticism of the party you decided to work with.

In this letter, I’ll try to focus on the man who was seen as dividing Sierra Leone into Mendeland and Temneland and as the architect of corruption in Sierra Leone , the man whose footsteps his successors seemed to follow. From the day he took over the office of Prime Minister Sir Albert strove to make himself the centre of public attention and this earned him enemies especially over his controversial succession both within the party he led and the nation at large. It was Sir Albert who started the practice of using a long cavalcade of police motorcycles and cars with sirens screaming, accompanying him wherever he travelled, and he eventually came to insist on laudatory articles produced in the local press and by the government printer which hailed him "Albert Margai of Africa" as one of the most dynamic leaders of the new states.

This show of power formed a marked contrast to Sir Milton who was only persuaded to accept an escort after being hit head-on by one of Freetown’s reckless taxi-drivers in July 1963 at the junction of Upper Waterloo street and Pademba Road.

Sir Albert compromised with corruption not only by condoning the dubious activities of his ministers in their different ministries, but also with parastatals like the Produce marketing Board. He was a wasteful spender of public funds, generally extravagant for personal aggrandizement and turned a blind eye to his ministers’ nebulous practices in the discharge of their duties.

Tha most blatant case of government’s inaction in the face of apparent corruption involved top executives of the Produce Marketing Board. About thirty employees complained first, to the police, and then to the APC newspaper WE YONE that they had worked on the Board’s time, with Board materials, constructing a number of private houses for the Board’s managing Director and Acting Manager of the Production division. (see WE YONE, Nov.14, 1964, Jan 2 and 9, 1965).

The only action arising from this complaint was the sacking of the employees. After unsuccessfully trying to persuade the police to take action, Lawyer M. E. Yanni, a respected senior member of the Board launched a private prosecution in January 1965 against the former Minister of Trade and Industry Salia Jusu-Sheriff and the Board chairman for conspiracy to conceal a crime. The Attorney-General promptly entered a nolle prosequi charging that Manni had instituted the prosecution for political reasons. The minister Jusu-Sheriff was not sacked, but simply transferred to the ministry of health in September 1964. At the same time Lawyer Yanni levelled a charge of complicity in corruption against the Prime Minister by alleging in WE YONE that on May 9, 1964, after he had at first made his complaints to the police, the prime Minister summoned him to his office. After listening to the gist of Lawyer Manni’s charges and what he had done, the Prime minister told Yanni among other things, "You have done a very bad thing, to have taken the matter to the police", and three weeks later, had called him back again to say inter alia "Now when you go to Bo, don’t bother about what others are doing, you just do your own work". (My dialogue with the Prime Minister, in We Yone of January 9, 1965). A month later, this article was published in We Yone, and the editor and reporter were charged with sedition and defamatory libel. Although the judge in the trial told the jury the article was defamatory in that it purported to show the prime Minister wanted the affairs of the Board covered up, the jury voted 10 to 2 for acquital. At his next press conference on March 30, 1965, the Prime Minister denounced the verdict as "Shameful"; he also insisted that there was nothing to investigate in the affairs of the Board, although this contradicted his Attorney-General’s earlier remark that the law officers were in fact investigating. The government took no action against the Board.

Sir Albert was not averse to using his office for his personal benefit. For example on his visit to Kabala February 15, 1965, he was presented with a gift of 200 cows and a number of other animals at Kabala. When the opposition complained in parliament that the government paid under L1000 (one thousand pounds) to have the beasts trucked from Kabala, Sir Albert gave the following reply, "for the time being, I am prime Minister of sierra Leone, and if I go anywhere, whether to Timbucktu or to Russia or to Tokyo, even if I am given the whole of Tokyo, the government shall be responsible for bringing my luggage home-------No words or any name will ever change my attitude toward that". (House of Representatives Debates, March 30, 1965 / 66).

The Prime Minister also declined to move into his official residence, preferring to remain in his own private residence at Lumley. This necessitated the paving of a mile of road at a cost of L11, 500

(Eleven thousand, five hundred pounds). In October 1965, his home town of Gbamgbatoke became the first to have a new airport since he took office.

Government largese was also spread in other ways. For his first Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in July 1964, the Prime Minister took a total entourage of 16 persons, including three confidential secretaries and hired a British Public Relations firm to publicize his activities while in London (Newsweek, July 20, 1964) and on his return to Freetown the Prime Minister’s office instructed " the public-----line his route from the dock to the PM’s residence about seven miles on that day". Commercial houses and members of the public were also asked to cooperate with government by decorating their buildings. And for the first time large framed photographs of the new prime Minister began to appear in all government offices ( a practice which has continued to the present), and the SLBS found some pronouncements by him for almost every night’s broadcast of the National news.

On his second Prime Ministers’ Conference in 1965, he took with him a delegation of 32 members. This delegation cost the government L12, 748.00 ( twelve thousand, seven hundred and forty-eight pounds) in allowances alone, and the total cost including passages was approximately L20,000 (twenty thousand pounds).

Gradually, it became apparent that the PM was benefitting much more directly from his high office. For example, he had developed one of the largest egg and poultry farms in the country; in 1964, all licences to import frozen chickens were suspended (information provided by the manager of Paterson Zochonis PZ meat department). The Prime Minister also had a substantial share in Sierra Leone’s only Fish Processing Company; in 1965 and 1966, most of the Ghanaian fisherman in the country who sold directly to petty traders were deported, thus creating hardship for the peoiple. One reason for this action was his fear that the APC might register many as Sierra Leonean born, and therefore qualified to vote in the pending March 1967 election, while at the same time the SLPP was believed to be bringing in large numbers of Guinean Fulla into Freetown to vote in the pending election. This led to attacks on Fullas in Freetown and the subsequent deportation of the Fulla chief at Kroo town Road when the APC government assumed the reins of power.

In addition, Sir Albert was accumulating a considerble amount of property, both at home and abroad. A summary of his known holdings in WE YONE of August 1966 included Land worth L46,000 (forty-six thousand pounds) and buildings costing L30, 000, as well as a building in Washington worth L19,000 and one in London of unknown value.( On Aug. 4, 1964, Sierra Leone changed to decimal system of currency with the introduction of the Leone; but the people were allowed thirty months period to change all their British pounds into leones up to Dec. 1967 when the pound ceased to be legal tender).

In WE YONE of August 1966, the article by Ibrahim Taqi concluded that since he became Prime Minister, Sir Albert had made investments totalling not less than L156,000 (one hundred and fifty-six thousand pounds), while his visible earnings during the period totalled L12,502.00. After the military take over of March 1968, the FORSTER COMMISSION OF INQUIRY on the assets of Ex Ministers ( Freetown government Printer) found on the basis of Sir Albert’s own testimony that his income during this period had been atleast L200,000 (two hundred thousand pounds). One interesting aspect of WE YONE’s expose was that it was printed on the SHEKPENDEH press, owned by the former Minister of External Affairs Cyril Rogers-Wright.

A considerable amount of detailed information about Sir Albert’s holdings had come from a source in Washington which suggested that someone in the Ministry of External Affairs had been working against the Prime minister. Rogers-Wright was dismissed from the Cabinet four days later.

Let me also remind you about your political career so far. In 1996, you sought the leadership of the SLPP but failed. Then you quit and joined the National Unity Party and ran in the 1996 parliamentary elections. Two years later in 1998 you decided to return to your ancestral party, the SLPP where you were appointed Minister of Internal Affairs and local Government. Did you realize that this portfolio was of special significance to you? Your dad Sir Albert served as the first Minister of Internal Affairs and Local government, in addition to Education and social Welfare during the first SLPP government of the years 1953 to 1958 headed by Sir Milton Margai. It was a deliberate portfolio to make history repeat itself. Again in January 8, 2002, you resigned your position to take part in the leadership contest at the party’s national convention in September 3 to 4, 2005 in Makeni where you lost to Solomon Berewa again. Finally this time, you decided to break with the SLPP to form your own party the new PMDC. You have the legal right to form your own party, but how viable is the new party?

From what we now know about your leadership, you seem to be another confrontational Margai and if given a chance, you can degenerate into the same dictatorship Sir Albert wanted to impose on this country. There have been so many criticisms within the new party that there is hardly a chance for success. For example, in the Awareness Times of April 4, 2007, Abdul H. K. Daboh, a founding member and interim Chairman in North America, described in his headline "Sierra Leone’s PMDC strongman Resigns and says...Charles Margai is a monster: Accused of corruption and Intolerance". Abdul’s letter went on to say " Any mistake by anyone to make him President will almost certainly cause distress to many of his country men and women, and probably trigger instability and violence in the country". How do you react to this?

Again in January 8, 2008, Awareness Times carried another article captioned " PMDC Tears Itself Apart in Sierra Leone" in which there were calls for your sacking from the party leadership. And on June 6, 2008, you said in Kailahun among other things about President Koroma that "Those who are in charge of the country are messing things up, but: God will pay them". The new government is too young for such an unsavoury language from a coalition partner; how did you feel about all this ? What can you say about Emmanuel O. Grant who resigned from the SLPP to join the PMDC but also quit the party just months after joining you? Charles, if at this early stage of your new party, you start showing dictatorial tendencies, you are heading for failure. Almost all your heavy weights are deserting the party. How would you explain the fact that Lawyer Ansu Lansana your Secretary -General, Lawyer Pa Momo Fofana, Femi Hebron, Moijue Kaikai, Chief Benson Suwu don’t even want to see or talk to you? You got to learn from the mistakes of Sir Albert and avoid a repetition of those very mistakes that caused him the election of 1967.

The fall of the SLPP in 1967 was caused by Sir Albert’s controversial succession which was unwelcome to most SLPP members. if one of Sir Milton’s faithfuls like Dr John Karefa-Smart had taken over , the APC would have been seen today as a joker party. But Sir Albert came to office determined to snub Sir Milton’s loyalists and replace them with his old PNP faithfuls. That caused the debacle of the party in 1967 and it is still struggling.

The people of Sierra Leone fought desperately to prevent Sir Albert have a tenure of office of his own. The three years he served were Sir Milton’s; the fact that a brother was succeeding brother was seen as preparing the way for a Margai monarchy which Sierra Leoneans will always fight against. Sierra Leoneans are never ready for such an institution. The SLPP, in my opinion, will always accept you as member but never as leader. But will you ever consider another return to the SLPP? I hope not; do not let yourself appear like a swinging hammock. The PMDC stands no chance of ever forming a government and this is why I am suggesting a permanent merger with the APC to form a United APC.

In addition to the numerous allegations which tarnished the Margai image in Sierra Leone politics, there are other militating factors that work to your disadvantage for the office of president. One is the Age factor; at age 62, you seem too old for that high office. Your dad was PM at 54 like current president. True there is no age limit in politics, but there is age limit for the highest office in the land. The office of president is a very challenging and stressful one which requires the occupant to be alert at all times. Berewa your arch-rival is too old for the office and some said he used to sleep during debates. You got to give up and start working for national unity by merging with the APC.

Many people still feel sorry for Sir Milton who struggled hard to win our independence only to pass way three years later. Sir Milton became PM at age 65, and died at 68. Can you see age as a factor in Sir Milton’s brief tenure? Another sad memory about the late man was that he was survived by a British White lady who actually came for the funeral ceremony, but returned immediately afterwards because according to some people, she was snubbed by Sir Albert. Sir Milton seemed to have died childless as there has never been any mention of his surviving children. So do you see when I say age is a militating factor against you?

Another factor was Sir Albert’s creation of the institution of Mammy Queens during his three years of misrule. This caused the breakup of many marriages as women who had hitherto been submissive to their husbands began challenging their husbands as they saw themselves playing leadership roles in their communities. These Mammy Queens became the agents of ballot rigging for the SLPP in 1967 as most were given ballot papers to stuff in their drooping breasts and other hidden body parts. Such women showed up at polling stations with super-inflated breasts thus giving polling agents cause for suspicion leading to search which exposed the dirty tricks. Women were publicly stripped naked and beaten by irate party supporters especially in Freetown and the North.

What about the Margai calypso of 1967? In his efforts to further aggrandize himself in the months leading to election, Sir Albert had a piece of laudatory Calypso music entitled "Sir Albert Margai , the Prime minister of Sierra Leone" composed for him: with its chorus of

"Albert Margai must reign, let him reign, let him reign, Albert Margai must rule, let him rule, let him rule". This song, the first to be played at the SLBS after the studio morning prayers, and the last before closing time, not to mention the countless day times, was so monotonous to the ears of listeners, thanks to Ibrahim Taqi who attacked the song in a front page editorial of WE YONE and caused its disappearance from the SLBS music selections and was never heard again.

One may also add the religious factor. Since its foundation nearly sixty years ago, the SLPP has never been led by a catholic apart from Sir Albert. It is by tradition a methodist mission party which saw it a mistake to have allowed Sir Albert in the first place , a catholic to succeed Sir Milton Margai. In short, the SLPP is not ready for another Catholic leader considering how badly the first catholic Prime minister performed and caused their loss of power.

Let me conclude that as the PMDC stands no chance ever of winning a general election in Sierra Leone, partly because of the narrow base of your support, and partly because Sierra Leoneans have not forgotten the divisive rule of Sir Albert, it will be seen as a big risk to try a third Margai be it in the SLPP or your new PMDC. Do not let people see you as a spoiler at election time. Do not be the Ralph Nader of Sierra Leone who simply contests not because he has hope of winning, but wants to be a spoiler of votes and to be remembered as such. Your future therefore lies in your readiness and willingness to effect a permanent merger with President Koroma’s new APC. You will surely be welcome by all progressive forces of the party and make a difference, so that when the history of the new APC shall come to be written a special chapter will be dedicated to you and your role in revolutionizing this party of hope.

Sincerely,

Anthony K. Kamara, Winnipeg, Canada.

Photo: Anthony K. Kamara.

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