Who is Alhaji Alpha Kanu, the minister of Presidential Affairs, popularly known as "Alpha Kahn"?
He is a mining engineer by profession, graduating with a Master of Philosophy (M.Phil) in geophysics from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Upon his return home after post-graduate studies, he worked at the National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC) for a short while before proceeding to lecture at the Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, for about seven years prior to his appointment as head of department of commercial enterprises where he spent another four years. Thereafter, he joined the private sector becoming an entrepreneur with the launch of his own mining and geological consultancy. In 1991, he entered the airline business establishing Afrik Airlinks, a regional air transportation that caters to Africa.
Until 2002, when he became a Member of Parliament (MP) representing Port Loko District he has not always been a member of the APC. When he was denied the party symbol for the 2007 elections, he joined president Koroma (then opposition leader) as the opposition party spokes person; a job he handled excellently and is widely believed to be responsible for the confidence that president Koroma enjoyed and the positive message communicated to the electorate that led to his victory in 2007. His persuasive skills were at play during the launching of the APC manifesto on July 11, 2007.
Today, he serves as presidential spokesperson and minister of presidential affairs. The soft spoken gentleman, who in some quarters is labelled a “smooth talker”, is widely admired for his eloquence, one of the many skills needed to function effectively as the face of the presidency. With an ebullient character, he is easy to talk to and invites all to ask him any question about the present administration which he prides in being “an open government” and was elected to serve the people.
Ladies and gentlemen, here is Hon. Alhaji Alpha Kanu in an exclusive interview with USA Bureau Chief, Anthony Abdul Karim Kamara, Jnr held at the Willard Intercontinental hotel in Washington DC.
PV: Honourable Kanu, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit down for this interview.
Kanu: You are very welcome. It is always a pleasure for me to talk to people like you who want to know about our government and the country as a whole. We are an open government and we are accountable to our people.
PV: You are the face of the presidency in that you are the presidential spokesperson as well as the minister of presidential affairs. Why don’t you tell us about the roles you play in president’s Koroma’s administration?
Kanu: As the minister of presidential affairs, my role is really to coordinate between the president and the rest of the cabinet; ministries, commissions that are directly under the president and would normally have to interact with him. As the spokesperson for the office of the president, the fact is I only come in when I am needed i.e. speaking for and on behalf the president Otherwise, the office is staffed with competent people who I think are doing a very fine job conveying the president’s day-to-day activities articulately.
PV: What changes do you hope to bring to your office?
Kanu: My office? I don’t have an office. My office is the president’s office. This means I can hardly bring changes to his office. Instead, the changes that he has brought to the office or would like to see done are those that I am going to work on. Of course, as you would expect, there is always room to offer suggestions and the president is someone who listens attentively. We are an open government. The Open Government Initiative is one of the changes that has been instituted whereby the government goes out and speak to the people about the country according them the opportunity to ask questions directly. Another one is stimulating the private sector such that we can have the input, financial resources to bring Sierra Leone out of her current economic underdevelopment. This we have done by prioritizing the urgent needs of the country beginning with energy, agriculture and water supply, infrastructure and transportation among others.
PV: President Koroma has expressed over and again that he wants to run the country like a business concern. Coincidentally, both of you seem to have had business experience before joining politics. What is this all about?
Kanu: For us, our government is indeed like a business. People have to be accountable and they should have timelines to produce positive results. This is why all ministers have signed a contract; a time based contract in which they are reviewed every year. The truth is they have all been doing very well and we are seeing dividends. However, we want to see positive changes all the time; and this is what we are going to do together to bring our country to the next level. This was why president Koroma was elected and he has plans to change Sierra Leone; that is why he continues to call on all to join in the process of developing our homeland. The challenges are many but we have the resolve needed to achieve what we want for this country.
PV: What can you tell us about your secondary school days?
Kanu: Well, let’s see. I attended Collegiate School which was well known for Latin instruction before leaving for St. Francis Secondary School in Makeni. Actually, your dad taught me at St. Francis. I was a keen student of languages and loved French, Latin and English but by the time I entered St. Francis, Latin was no longer offered as part of the curriculum. So, I had to contend with French. I was a science student but I had immense love for reading. I read widely and in the process picked up a lot of knowledge.
I was very lucky to have a very good uncle, Dr. Sheka Kanu who loved education and encouraged us a lot. He was always very strict with us but the truth is he played a major role in my education. He was indeed a role model. May his soul rest in peace.
PV: I asked this question because I overheard a group of young men arguing over what high school you attended. At least, they all agreed that you did a very good job in introducing the presidential delegation; one of the duties we have seen you perform almost on a daily basis here in the US during the various town hall meetings. One of them said “like him or not, the guy is eloquent.” I am sure he was expressing one of the many gifts or skills that people admire you for? What do you have to tell young people who listen to you?
Kanu: The young people? I don’t know except to say that they should be very hardworking in school and try to the very best they could possibly become. They should seek that which they like and have a passion for. They should remain focus and should have an inquisitive mind.
PV: I know you are on your way to the airport this evening. Thank you for your time, sir.
Kanu: Thank you too for your time and keep up the good work.
Photo: Alpha Kanu (right) and PV USA Bureau Chief Anthony Kamara.