Septimus and Ernest in ‘The Contest’

28 July 2009 at 01:13 | 1156 views

By Oswald Hanciles, Freetown.

Oh, yes, Prof. Septimus Kaikai (“Septimus”), the first ever Presidential Spokesman of cabinet rank in Sierra Leone, is involved in ‘The Contest’ with President Ernest Bai Koroma (“Ernest”). It is a firstly, a cerebral contest within each of the august men; then, a contest between them; and, both men are in fierce contest with many other men. And women. Most of humanity, apparently, are not aware of ‘The Contest’. It is a Contest as natural as man breathing air, mating, laughing. Let us examine The Contest in the sphere of Septimus.

You Mad?!!!: Leave America and Come to Sierra Leone in War

“To return…or not to return?” To Sierra Leone? : that could have been the contest Septimus Kaikai had when he was asked to leave his tenured job in a tertiary institution in the United States to come to a Sierra Leone, where in 1998, the democratically-elected SLPP government had just been toppled by its own army; an army that teamed up with the RUF rebels who had been waging a scorch-earth policy for almost ten years. In 1998, even with democracy restored, the AFRC/RUF merely retreated into the provincial bushes, still a potent fighting force. Why should Septimus leave his home in a leafy suburb in the U.S., a home equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, a home cocooned in hundreds of miles of security circle where even a stray dog would be easily detected and nabbed….; abandoning his cultured Americanized children, to hazard life in a country where murderous rebels would coming kicking down one’s door? Without notice!! Love of country?!! Or, the ultimate male aphrodisiac: a daunting challenge?

So, Septimus had come. To Sierra Leone. He ‘conquered’. Septimus was the first ever Presidential Spokesman in Sierra Leone in President Tejan Kabbah’s government. The AFRC/RUF rebels were kicked out by ECOMOG-led forces in February, 1998. They retreated into the bush, but, within months, started a steady advance through Northern Province districts into the capital city of Freetown. Presidential Spokesman, Septimus, would hold weekly Press Briefings at State House. In those live T.V. and radio encounters, Septimus regaled Sierra Leoneans with the essence of what it means to be a Spin Doctor. American style.

Septimus: the Virtuoso Presidential Spokesman

Septimus was so suave; so erudite; so articulate; oozed so much confidence…. Even as the local press by the middle of 1998 crescendo-ed with information of imminent rebel invasion of Freetown, Septimus would calm down mounting fears. He lulled the country into a false sense of security. Septimus was in the unenviable position of a ‘war time Spokesman’, a situation where “truth” was massacred to ensure the survival of the state. With alluring panache, the always immaculately dressed Septimus (whether in well-tailored American suits, or, flowing ‘Kabbah Mandingo gowns’) would fend off the most piercing questions with wit or feigned honesty. Even when he would be bombarded by journalists who would be versed in committing genocide against the English Language, Septimus would not wince, would not be condescending, and would respond in a way that would leave the dignity of the questioner intact.

What was the contest Septimus had as Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the SLPP government after 2002? Was he guilty of the ‘Crime of ‘Silence’ that got the SLPP government to be derided as ‘Mumu Government’? I once brought up the matter with Septimus while he was still information minister. He had bemoaned the low financial appropriations to his ministry; the near absence of equipment. At that time, some of the gurus of the media in the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) – Isaac Massaquoi, Mustapha Brima, Joshua Nicol – had all fled the SLBS because of the appalling salaries and conditions of service. Probably, underestimating the power of information, failing to empower and fully utilize the brilliance of man like Septimus (what impactive foreign minister Septimus would also have, instead of that dour and tongue-tied Momodu Koroma), Septimus’ party, the SLPP, lost the 2007 General Elections.

To Go Back to America or Not to Go Back?

“To go back, or not to go back…?” To America? : another contest Septimus could have had. Apparently, Septiimus has not gone back to the U.S. Going back to the U.S., with his C.V. beefed by his high profile ministerial positions in ‘media sexy’ “Sierra Leone” (a Sierra Leone made famous with Hollywood movie, “Blood Diamonds”; a Sierra Leone whose war victims with amputated stumps were emblazoned in all major media in the world), Septimus would easily get a job in many top universities in still the most prosperous country on earth; or, he could earn twenty times more money than he earned as a minister in Sierra Leone doing the Public Speaking circuit in the U.S. Why has Septimus stayed in Sierra Leone? Because he has won another contest not to gravitate towards base material satiation in the U.S. over giving service to his motherland (The opportunity of luxuriating on the idyllic beaches of Freetown, or, eating ‘saki or njola gbetai’ in his native Pujehun, are just ancillaries to his sacrifice, really).

To Speak Up or Go Into ‘Mumu Mode’?

Having won that contest, there was another one: “To keep silent, or, to speak up and out”? To cower in the shadows, fearful of being roped in by the ACC, or, to ‘knac chest’, and contribute to national discourse like the now celebrated “Pauwii”, Dr.. Sama Banya? Septimus is now a regular columnist in THE GLOBAL TIMES newspaper in Freetown – his writing tone, like his speech, is restrained, reflecting his incisive intellect. How does all of these contests sync in with ‘The Contest’ of Ernest, the President?
Unlike Septimus who spent nearly four decades in the U.S., Ernest has been an unmovable ‘Home Based’ throughout his life. What Ernest says or does would influence Septimus, like it would some six million Sierra Leoneans. Ernest has to consciously, and strategically, create ‘space’ for men like Septimus: a well-educated ‘returnee’ from the Diaspora who, whether he goes into ‘mumu mode’ or is vociferous, can tremendously influence the entire process of ‘rebranding’ Sierra Leone.

Ernest in Rebranding of Sierra Leone

The process of rebranding Sierra Leone should not merely involve trumpeting to the entire world that “Sierra Leone is ready for business”. This rebranding business is not just marketing Sierra Leone as a country that is giving the best incentives – ten years tax free holidays; easy repatriation of profits, etc. - to businesses in the sub region. Rebranding Sierra Leone, of course, would involve showing there is Law and Order in our capital city, and hawkers, beggars, and hustlers would not swamp every white-skinned visitor or investor. Rebranding Sierra Leone, given our retrogression from the 1980s to the present, would mean seeking for massive financing to construct new bridges, roads, dramatically improve our electricity and telecommunications systems, giving a face lift to our capital city Freetown…. For such financing to get attracted to Sierra Leone, the Presidency, Parliament, the Judiciary, different tiers of Civil Society, must be conscious that the Foday Sankoh-led rebel war gave us a grave ‘Image Problem’.

Over the past five years, still, in every mention of “Sierra Leone” in world class magazines like NEWSWEEK and TIME, on CNN and BBC, it almost always ‘Sierra Leone as one of the most lawless and violent-prone countries in the world. Sierra Leone, with the ongoing Charles Taylor war crimes trial hitting all the cyberspace sites, is being ‘branded’ again as that country where Charles Taylor instigated the amputation of thousands of men, women and children. Sierra Leone has been consistently classified by the UNDP as the poorest nation on earth – a nation within the African continent ridden with people who could infect an unwary Westerner with HIV or Ebola virus’. How do we win this global branding contest in which we are armed with bows and arrows doing combat with enemies equipped with drones and atomic weapons?

Ernest: Winning Contest with APC Extremists

Ernest has to win the contest over the extremists in his own APC party. Between 2001 and 2006, I wrote many articles on the “Civil War Mentality” in Sierra Leonean politics. That is, politicians win power at the center, and, in their reckless abandon to loot the state treasury, strive to suppress most opposition, and see it as normal in restricting the best part of public jobs, access to the country’s resources, to their political partisans, or, those who hail from their region, district, village……Ernest has to open up to quality brains like ‘opposition Septimus’, who - if with his resonance can do a repeat of what he did for Tejan Kabbah, “My President, Your President, Our President” - would work miracles marketing a rebranded Sierra Leone.

There is a U.S.-based programme called “DENI”, which is being spearheaded by a Sierra Leonean, one Amadu Massally. DENI aims to mobilize significant financial capital among global Diaspora to come and invest in businesses in Sierra Leone. Such initiatives, and billions of dollars annual remittances, are part of the secret of the relative meteoric surge of the Ghanaian economy. Ghanaians in the Diaspora have built up enough confidence in their country to move back there in large numbers, and/or, invest millions of dollars in their Motherland. We can replicate this model in Sierra Leone. When the governing party competes with the political opposition, but, not smolder all those with opposition tag. That should include both Ernest and Septimus winning and losing ‘The Contest’.

It is the likes of Septimus in Sierra Leone, freely moving and speaking, working closely with government where necessary, who will ginger up the confidence of our compatriots in the Diaspora. (I haven’t set eyes on Septimus, or, spoken with him on the phone, since June of 2007. I am including my telephone number to this article so that when Septimus calls me to protest my embarrassing him, I would remind him that I used to do just that when he was a very powerful government cabinet minister….)

Tel: 077-632-167; e-mail:

Photo: Professor Septimus Kaikai of "Your President, My President, Our President" fame.