From the Editor’s Keyboard

Some thoughts on President Koroma’s cabinet

9 November 2007 at 22:25 | 1784 views

Commentary

By Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, Guest Writer.

As I said elsewhere, most ministers appointed by President Ernest Koroma have since passed Parliamentary screening, and taken their positions in government, while other nominations continue to stream in.

Since the APC draws its support largely from the North and West, it was clear this was going to be reflected in the appointment of top government officials following the party’s election victory. There is always what we call the president’s men, and it is very unlikely for a newly elected president to look beyond his party’s constituency when looking for people who he would entrust with responsibilities that would help achieve his set objectives as father of the nation. That is the nature of politics where ever you go.

At least President Koroma was grateful to the PMDC for helping him achieve the election victory over a common opponent by appointing some of their key leaders into at least four cabinet positions while others have been nominated for deputy ministerial positions. And when you take a closer look at the recent nominations for deputy ministerial positions as well as resident ministerial positions, you would see that the president is not far from his promise of forming an all inclusive government.

I have picked out for special mention in this article some of the ministers I believe, based on their distinguished backgrounds, and in some cases my personal experience with them, are the right people in the right places. These are Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo (Information); Alhaji Alpha Kanu
Presidential and Public Affairs), Alhaji Abu Bakar Jalloh (Mineral Resources); Zainab Bangura (Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) and finally William Smith (Eastern Province).

Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo’s appointment to the position of Minister of Information is in my opinion the most popular appointment among President Koroma’s cabinet ministers. He is arguably the most respected surviving senior journalist in Sierra Leone today. I was lucky to have briefly worked for him as a freelance reporter at his newspaper, the New Citizen, in the late 80s during the early years of my journalism career.

IB, as we always call him, has always tried to put his profession above his political leanings although of course he has for long identified himself with the aspirations of the APC party, particularly since the New Order reign of President Joseph Saidu Momoh who by way of compensating him for his role in ensuring his succession to the throne nominated him as a Member of Parliament in the mid 80s. He never used his position to victimise his colleagues; he rather used it effectively to make a strong case to the government for the need to help create a level playing field for journalists to practice their profession without fear or favour. A clean departure from colleagues like Frank Kposowa of the pro-SLPP Unity Now newspaper who was effectively manipulated by the Kabbah government to deal with perceived ‘trouble shooters’ like us while he was serving as SLAJ president.

I still remember how IB personally used to intervene on behalf of his colleagues such as Feyi Ogunade, Bernard Sawyer, the late Franklyn Bunting Davies, Roy Stevens and Siaka Massaquoi etc. when ever they ran into trouble with the then APC authorities, mostly acting on the obnoxious 1965 Public Order Act. Since we considered him as our own man in government, his word carried a lot of weight among his colleagues, and I must say that he used this advantage to ease tensions not only between journalists and government but also sometimes between colleagues engaged in press wars.

I still remember when he was one of those senior colleagues who intervened between the late Bunting Davies and I (then editor of the New Oracle Newspaper) when we were locked on in a bitter press war in the early 90s. In fact the last years of the APC were far less problematic for journalists compared to the years following the NPRC junta in 1992 and there after. During the Momoh years, most of the isolated problems of harassment and imprisonment journalists faced were not necessarily directly sanctioned by State House but by the then all powerful Inspector General of Police Bambay Kamara, or some government institutions that largely enjoyed his support.

A case in point was my first encounter with the authorities in February 1992 when on the orders of IG Bambay Kamara, I was picked up and detained for five days for publishing allegations of fraud in his office. For all you know, the situation was worse under the NPRC junta and thereafter since here most of the problems of long term imprisonment and trials under the Public Order Act were directly sanctioned by State House hence why they were taken so seriously.

Even outside Parliament in the mid 1990’s, especially during the Tejan Kabbah regime, IB continued to mediate between colleagues and the government. I still remember sometime early in 1997 when he facilitated a meeting between President Tejan Kabbah and I immediately following my release from prison where I was detained for six days for my publication in the Expo Times of what was considered sensitive information.

And yet when the AFRC junta was forced out of power by the Nigerian led ECOMOG intervention force and the government of Tejan Kabbah restored in March 1998, IB was thanked with imprisonment under treason and subsequently sentenced to death among other colleagues such as Gipu Felix George and Hilton Fyle for allegedly collaborating with the AFRC junta. It was only by miracle that I escaped into exile and thus escaped being arrested to face a similar fate. All calls by the international community, including human rights organisations, to have them released on presidential amnesty fell on deaf ears and IB and others were set to face the gallows; this was only prevented by the notorious RUF invasion of Freetown that temporally dislodged the Kabbah government as they were able to escape in the chaos.

IB’s success in transforming the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) into an association that succeeded in restoring public confidence in the profession during the last three years makes the timing of his appointment to manage the affairs of his colleagues and profession no less appropriate. There are of course few unfinished businesses-the 1965 Public Order Act that criminalises libel and bringing the Yansaneh alleged murderers to book-that he left still to be resolved by SLAJ but it is hoped that now that he has got what it takes to directly engage his colleagues in the profession and in government, the sky is bound to be his limit. Thank God he echoed the urgent review of the Public Order Act as his first priority when facing the grilling of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Appointments.

Among other things, SLAJ’s role in the last elections under the stewardship of IB-the hosting of the presidential debate and the deployment of its members as election monitors-is unprecedented in the history of the association and I would like to encourage colleagues to continue in this direction.

Alhaji Alpha Kanu’s appointment as Minister of Presidential and Public Affairs did not in my opinion come as a surprise considering the outstanding role he played as the President’s official spokesman during the campaign period. Alpha Kan as he is popularly called shot to prominence as one of the key fire brand APC opposition MPs alongside Victor Foh and President Ernest Koroma, the then leader of the opposition. His pro-active style of intervention to clear the air on issues affecting the chances of an election victory for the president was exemplary. His role largely contributed in seeing the APC faring far better than the incumbent SLPP government in the propaganda war despite all the advantages of incumbency then at the disposal of the latter, including the complete denial of access of the opposition to the state communication paraphernalia.

Nephew of the late Dr Sheka Kanu, former Minister of National Planning and Economic Development, and later Minister of Finance, Alpha Kan also scored tremendous success as a businessman, especially in the airline industry. He famously established Afrik Air Links in the late 80s shuttling in the West African and Mano River sub-regions. During the heydays of the APC, he is believed to have effectively used his international contacts to attract investors to Sierra Leone. From his base in London, his company was also involved in tourism, organising tours for European tourists to West Africa, especially to Sierra Leone and the Gambia. With his new ministerial role, he is expected to bring all these advantages to the job.

Alhaji Abu Bakarr Jalloh’s appointment as Minister of Mineral Resources also came as no surprise to me considering the fact that he is by far the most experienced and qualified geologist among the APC hard core. My first encounter with him was when he was serving as Managing Director of the defunct National Diamond Mining Corporation, which used to be one of the nation’s biggest employers. Those were the days when diamond mining operations were much more regulated to the benefit of the nation.

Alhaji Jalloh started on a sound note when, in fielding questions from the Parliamentary Select Committee on Appointments, he said his priority will be to encourage the setting up of diamond processing factories. I am sure that his recent exposure to some of the new challenges facing the diamond mining and processing industries while in exile in the US will prove very useful in his new job.

Zainab Hawa Bangura’s appointment as the country’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is also one of the most popular not only because of her being a household name for being a grass root civil society campaigner, especially for Women’s rights, but more so because of her firm position on issues of good governance and accountability. Her outstanding achievements in these areas traced as far back as the early years of Campaign for Good Governance, a local NGO she helped set up in the early 1990s, have earned her an enviable international reputation which she is set to effectively use in her new job.

William Smith’s appointment as the country’s new Resident Minister, Eastern Province, did not also in my opinion come as a surprise since it was clear that his role as National Publicity Secretary, and in particular in making the APC make some significant inroads in the traditional SLPP strong holds of Kenema, Kailahun, Bo, Moyamba and Bonthe was exceptional. He is arguably the most loyal and consistent APC strongman based in the SLPP traditional strong holds in the east and southern regions of the country, which makes his appointment as the new political boss of the east one of the best in President Koroma’s dream team.

Smith was one of the few APC heavy weights who continued to steadfastly hold on to his loyalty to the party even when it was removed from power in 1992 by the NPRC junta; even when his former mentor J.B Dauda, one time Second VP and Minister of Justice under the APC government of Momoh, abandoned ship to join the SLPP; and even when the APC lost two elections to the SLPP (1996 and 2002).

In fact this largely explains why most people in Kenema now simply call him ‘APC Smith’. I have no doubt in my mind that because of his long lasting commitment to the ideals of the APC, Smith will leave no stone unturned in making sure that his government delivers on their pledges to restore the eastern province to its former glory as the bread basket of the nation.

I still remember how Smith and his colleague of the then We Yone newspaper, Saidu Moscow, and I, among others, were constantly pilloried by the so-called Kabbah democracy FM radio 98.1 accusing us as AFRC junta collaborators for simply condemning the deadly bombs by Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers based at Lungi that were killing innocent people in Freetown and the surroundings. Now Smith has got the opportunity to prove himself of been able to do more than been a mere party spin doctor.

Let me also take this opportunity to share my thoughts on two of President Koroma’s recent nominees for deputy ministerial positions, namely Dr Lansana Nyallay (Education) and Vandy Minah (Foreign Affairs) as the most politically correct as far as the politics of inclusion is concerned.

It is clear that some APC activists would not be happy with the appointment of Dr Nyallay for his role in the US-based Tegloma which allegedly provided part of the funds that bankrolled the notorious Sandline-backed Nigerian led ECOMOG intervention that restored the Kabbah government to power amidst widespread human rights violations, with the so-called AFRC junta collaborators reaping the lion share of the whirlwind. Make no mistake about it that most of those that were targeted as AFRC junta supporters were perceived by some SLPP fanatics to be members or sympathisers of the APC. Sheik Mushtaba, Sakoma, Alhaji Musa Kabia, etc. who were burnt to death as so-called AFRC junta collaborators by SLPP fanatics readily come to mind.

However, because Dr Nyallay fell out with the SLPP and Kabbah for the manner in which Pa Solomon Berewa was imposed on the party, he is seen by most smart thinking APC stalwarts as another heavy weight to help sell the party to the Southern and Eastern strongholds of the SLPP, especially in Kenema and Kailahun, and at the same time help appease the people of those regions that after all the APC government is reaching out to them in terms of representing their interests.

The appointment of Vandy Minah, son of the late Francis Minah, one time VP and minister of Justice under Momoh’s APC-led government in the late 80s is indeed a welcome move that is bound to win the ruling party a lot of sympathy from the Southern Province, especially in Pujehun where most people still seem to be very bitter with the APC for letting one of their greatest sons (Francis Minah) face the gallows in the alleged coup led by Mohamed Kai Kai. At least the people in that region would be happy to hear that the son of one of their greatest heroes is now happily part of the new APC government and that, whatever you may say, Vandy Minah is set to be a very strong voice of his people who will be anxiously waiting to see what he will do for them.

In all when you take a look at the quality of the people President Koroma nominated for ministerial positions, you would not help but agree with the delay that characterised the selection and screening process. All but Hindolo Trye (Tourism and Culture) are new faces in politics. Some critics may not be happy with Hindolo’s appointment because of his being part of the NPRC junta that committed widespread human rights violations, including mass murder of APC politicians and officials, but the President might have decided to gloss over all this to pitch tent with him as part of his reconciliatory overtures to the South and East, his vision to form an all-inclusive government, and above all the desire to woo into the APC camp one of the most admired folk heroes of the Sierra Leonean young generation for his historic role in leading the largest ever student demonstration against the old guard APC in 1977.

I understand new Minister of Finance David Carew is a much disciplined accounting expert but I have my reservations over the merging of the Development ministry with that of Finance considering the different dynamics that run through them. With Sierra Leone’s Human Development Index at its lowest ebb in the last six years, one would have thought that separating Economic development which focuses on human development rather than economic growth from the Ministry of Finance, which traditionally handles the latter, should have been the way forward. But it is better to hold our breath, at least for now, to see whether the merger would deliver the much needed human development which the current government needs to demonstrate that it means business. The formation of a separate Defence Ministry headed by former military hand and security expert Palo Conteh on the other hand is a welcome move. This is a clear break from the traditional pattern of centralising security of the nation in the Presidency, which I think would give the new Commander-in-Chief time to concentrate on other more serious national issues.

Ibrahim Seaga Shaw(pictured)is the editor and publisher of the EXPO Times(www.expotimes.net). He is also a Postdoctoral research fellow at the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK.

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