By Mohamed Idriss Kanu.
The Temne tribe is the single largest tribe in northern Sierra Leone and also the largest in the country as a whole. In politics, such is their voting strength that they can easily determine the way the pendulum swings in any keenly fought election between the two major parties, the All Peoples’ Congress (APC) and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). Amazing though it may sound, the Temnes have no political party they can call their own.
Historically, they have followed leaders, not parties. Once they accept a politician as leader, whether he is real Temne or not, they will follow him wherever he goes. The crucial point here is that they must accept the person as a leader and in return the leader’s fidelity to the tribe must remain unquestioned.
Perhaps a few examples will suffice. In the early days of modern Sierra Leonean politics, the Temnes accepted as their own political leaders personalities like Paramount Chief Bai Farama Tass of Kambia; Kande Bureh, Temne Tribal Headman of the capital, Freetown; P.C. Alikali Modu and P.C. Bai Koblo Pathbana of Port Loko District; P.C. Bai Bairoh, P.C. Almamy Sorie and P.C. Bai Masakma, all of Tonkolili District. Dr. John Karefa Smart, a Loko by birth, was accepted by the Temnes as one of them. These personalities were the opinion makers and movers of the Temne tribe and when they decided to join the SLPP, even though led by Dr. Milton Margai, a Mende, their kinsmen followed.
Of these Temne leaders, the most prominent political figure was Karefa-Smart. After the death of Dr. Milton Margai in 1964, the SLPP came under the leadership of his younger brother, Albert Margai. The manner in which the succession was done left a bitter taste in the mouth of Karefa-Smart. He had been seen by many as the anointed successor to Dr. Margai and felt cheated when he was passed over for Albert Margai. So he crossed over to the APC. By this singular act of Karefa-Smart crossing over to the APC, the Temnes followed him, enabling the APC to win the General Elections of 1967. This was the first time the Temnes as a group voted for the APC. They did this not for love of the APC or its leader; rather they followed their own leader, Karefa-Smart.
However, not long after, Karefa-Smart and Siaka Stevens parted company. Karefa-Smart was irked by what he regarded as betrayal and ungratefulness by Siaka Stevens, who was then beginning to develop a high propensity for dictatorship. Consequently, Karefa-Smart left the APC and formed his own party, United Democratic Party (UDP). Again the Temnes followed him to his new party. That Party had also brought together prominent Temne personalities like Dr. Mohamed Fornah, former APC Finance Minister; Ibrahim Taqi, former APC Information Minister; Alusine Beddor Kamara of Lunsar, Ibrahim O’Toole, Borbor Kamara, Ahmed Bundu-Kamara and Abu Lakko, all of Port Loko District; and P.C. Makaray N’Silk of Tonkolili District. The mass of the Temnes were not far behind.
Siaka Stevens immediately felt threatened. He proclaimed a state of emergency and banned the UDP. Karefa-Smart then left the country. Siaka Stevens found a pretext to bundle the other prominent members of the UDP into prison, followed by trumped-up charges of treason. Dr. Fornah, Taqi, Beddor and several others were tried, found guilty and executed. With Karefa-Smart relocating overseas, the Temnes once again became rudderless. It was at this point Sorie Ibrahim Koroma (popularly known as S.I.), a Madingo by tribe, seeing the void, found a niche. He moved from his Central I Constituency in Freetown to Port Loko Central where he relocated as his new political home. S.I.’s main objective was to fudge a tribal nexus with the Temnes. He wasted no time in surrounding himself with a coterie of notable Temnes, including A.B. Kamara, Sheka Kanu and Abass Bundu from Port Loko District; Thaimu Bangura and Edward Turay from Bombali District; and Idrissa Fofanah, Abdul Karim Koroma and James Funna from Tonkolili District.
So, because of S.I., the Temnes, for a second time, agreed to associate with the APC. This association blossomed though without much effort on S.I.’s part, because by then a one-party Constitution had come into being, making the APC the only legal party in Sierra Leone. In 1985, President Stevens announced his plan to retire and almost immediately the fight for succession to the presidency ensued. Many who had assumed S.I. would be gratefully rewarded for having worked so tirelessly to promote and protect the hegemony of the APC for more than a decade and half, were shockingly disappointed. S.I. was ditched by the APC in favour of Major-General Joseph Saidu Momoh. Momoh was a military man, not a politician. He was also a Limba by tribe. Apart from this, Momoh had no other qualities that put him above S.I. After this incident, the support for the APC by the Temnes began to wane.
The Temnes had planned to demonstrate their displeasure in the ensuing presidential election of 1986 but that election had Momoh as the sole presidential candidate on the ballot. Their chance came in the 1996 elections. The bulk of the Temnes divided their votes between Karefa-Smart’s UNPP, which got the lion share, Thaimu Bangura’s PDP-Sorbeh and Abass Bundu’s PPP. They certainly did not vote for the APC. Despite having ruled Sierra Leone uninterruptedly for 24 years, the APC could only score 38,316 (5.14%) votes in the presidential election of that year. The APC presidential candidate then, Edward Turay, despite being a Temne himself, did not get the Temne vote. The fact that the Temnes concentrated their vote among the three non-APC Temne candidates signified they wanted little to do with the APC and that they were yearning for a political leader they could call their own.
The opportunity came in 2002 during the presidential election. A lot of Temnes voted for the APC candidate, Ernest Bai Koroma, believing that because Ernest hails from northern Sierra Leone and can speak Temne fluently, he was one of them. Indeed Ernest too had presented himself to the Temnes as one. So the Temnes voted massively for him, enabling the APC to increase its vote to 426,405 (22.4%) from the pitiful figure of 38,316 (5.14%) in 1996. This belief that Obai was Temne permeated the entire Northern region, reinforced five years later when he was elected President in 2007.
This historical account, albeit brief, speaks eloquently about the Temnes and their place in the APC. Over the years they have tended to follow leaders, not parties. They voted for the APC in 1967 because of Karefa-Smart; and also in the period from 1973 to 1982 because of S.I. Koroma. They voted overwhelmingly for Karefa-Smart in 1996 because he accepted him as a Temne leader. In the 2002 election, because the Temnes felt abandoned by Karefa-Smart due to his long absence from the country, they did not vote for him. Karefa-Smart scored only 19,847 (1%) compared to 168,666 (22.6%) in the first ballot and 414,336 (40.5%) in the run-off presidential election of 1996. Instead the Temnes turned their attention to Ernest Bai Koroma, believing he was their new-found Temne leader. But this belief by the Temnes was misplaced. After benefitting from their vote in 2002 and 2007, Obai rewarded the Temnes by turning his back on them and declaring himself a Loko by tribe.
Once again the Temnes have become rudderless. For the first time they have really become mightily conscious of their place, or the lack of it, within the portals of the APC; they know now that a proper Temne politician has little chance of ever being accepted as leader in a Limba-dominated APC. Edward Turay’s momentary sojourn as a presidential candidate of the APC in 1996 was an aberration. With the Government of President Joseph Momoh overthrown by the military junta of the NPRC, which was then in power, and the country in the midst of the destructive rebel war, arguably only the foolhardy would dare to venture under the banner of the APC and Edward Turay was one such person.
To illustrate this more vividly, i.e. that the Temnes have no place in the leadership of the APC, we need go no farther than 1991, when the APC expelled 10 of its prominent members. All except one were Temnes. They included Sheka Kanu, Abass Bundu, Thaimu Bangura and Hassan Gbessay Kanu. Their only crime was that in the debate in Parliament on the draft 1991 Constitution, they had the temerity to challenge the proposal that would have discountenanced President Momoh’s seven years in office (1985 -1991) in any computation of the number of terms served by him. Momoh wanted to be treated, after the entry into force of the 1991 Constitution, as if he was starting with a clean slate. That Constitution introduced for the first time in Sierra Leone a two-term limit as tenure for the office of President. The expelled members had piqued at the proposal, supported overwhelmingly by the rest of Parliament; so it did not pass.
What conclusions can one draw from all this? First that the Temnes have been yearning for a political leader they could call their own, is not in doubt. Second that the APC has no tolerance for any prominent Temne politician, is also amply illustrated. Third that a Temne politician is highly unlikely to be accepted as a presidential candidate of the APC, only few would disagree. Lucky aspirants for APC leadership are usually kicked out of office almost as fast as they entered (e.g. Kemoh Sesay and Serry-Kamal) or dispatched abroad to ambassadorial appointments (Edward Turay and Abdul Karim Koroma); the unlucky aspirants are accommodated six-feet below after going through a trumpery charge of treason (Fornah, Taqi and others).
The present APC Cabinet bears another salient confirmation. It started with three Temne Ministers in 2007. Kemoh Sesay, Minister of Transport and Aviation, fell victim to the cocaine-gate scandal of 2008, while Serry-Kamal got dismissed unceremoniously as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. Today, Alpha Kanu, is the sole and lonely Temne survivor in a Cabinet of 24 members compared to at least five Lokos and seven Limbas. After this, only a foggy mind can still argue that the New APC is a Temne Party.
The latest pronouncement, attributed to President Ernest Bai Koroma, and published as a front page headline in The Torchlight Newspaper edition of 2 April 2012 and captioned “I am a Loko by Tribe”, is all the more remarkable. The Temnes voted overwhelmingly for Ernest Koroma in the elections of 2002 and 2007 believing he was one of them. By the same token, his many previous pronouncements, such as the one at Victoria Park in 2008, that he hailed from a Temne parentage had given the Temnes high hopes. Therefore this latest declaration by Ernest must have come as a bolt to the Temnes, obliterating any lingering doubt, if one had existed, about Ernest Koroma’s true tribal identity.
Temnes everywhere scarcely hide their disgust and disappointment. They cannot understand the rationale for President Koroma’s declaration, especially in an election year. It’s like saying to the Temnes your votes don’t matter to me any more. Moreover, coming in the wake of the appointment of Kadi Sesay as Running Mate to the SLPP Flag Bearer, it looks like Koroma is bitter with her and with the Temnes for embracing her. The name Kadi Sesay is now on everybody’s lips, not just the women, and, with her vigorous promotion in the North by Abass Bundu, Bobson Sesay, Momodu Koroma, Chief Somaneh Kapen and Obai Kabia and others, all very prominent Temnes in the SLPP, she is most likely to fill the Temne leadership void. Add to that the South-East’s historical voting record for the SLPP and its presidential candidates, you need no clairvoyant to tell you which way the 2012 presidential election will go.
The only major challenge for the SLPP now is whether the elections would be devoid of violence, intimidation and illicitness. From its numerous press statements, the SLPP is gravely concerned about this, and rightly so, because where violence rules justice moans.
The alleged deployment of ex-combatants by the APC Government in certain strongholds of the Opposition SLPP in the South-East where they registered to vote, is as much cause for public concern as is the recent clandestine and extravagant importation of heavy weaponry for the Police Force. Developments such as these severely curtail the prospects of a “clean” election under the superintendence of the APC. These apart, the growing desperation of the APC for re-election of its leader has forced it into engaging the nefarious practice of vote buying, as exemplified by recent press reports of a donation of $65,000 to the youth traders of Lightfoot-Boston Street, Freetown, (aka Belgium). So, the worries of the SLPP seem justified. All the more so, as the pending November elections will be the first democratic elections ever to be conducted under an APC Government. Previous elections under APC superintendence are replete with a history of violence and intimidation, as exemplif! ied by the elections of 1973, 1977, 1982 and 1986. And it is unlikely the story would vary this time around. So, for a party not accustomed to superintending elections in a democratic environment that is violence and intimidation-free, doing it for the first time may prove a daunting task.
Equally important is the United Nations injunction on the present Government to ensure that the elections take place in an environment that furthers the consolidation of peace and security and national cohesion in the country. This means the environment for the November elections must be violence and intimidation-free, transparent, credible, free and fair. It also suggests that the United Nations Security Council is unlikely to turn the other way in the event Christiana Thorpe’s National Electoral Commission decides to rig the elections in favour of any party as this would definitely impact on the country’s fragile peace and stability and bring the UN into yet another deeper involvement in Sierra Leone. Such a situation should be avoided at all cost.
The Security Council injunction is most welcomed. But much more is needed from the international community. Preserving the divided of peace and democracy for Sierra Leone, after 11 horrible years of RUF brutality, demands of the UN a role greater than being a mere fire brigade. If the UN is to properly respond to the yearning of Sierra Leoneans for permanent peace and security, it has to be more robust and proactive; sitting and waiting until the fires have been stoked up is definitely not a viable option. Besides, ex post facto solutions are seldom the best and usually prove more costly than preventive action. More especially, as the moral guarantor of Sierra Leone’s peace and security, the UN should insist that all incumbent Governments and Opposition parties scrupulously respect the electoral laws and allow only for an electioneering process that is devoid of illicitness, violence and intimidation. Moreover, incumbent Governments should be held bound, upon pain of pr! osecution before the International Criminal Court, to allow the democratic institutions to function properly so as to cause people to not want to resort to extra-constitutional means as a viable alternative for addressing political grievances.
The Police is another factor presently arousing deep concern. Their conduct since the 2007 election has not only undermined public confidence but has also severely compromised their impartiality. In some instances they are perceived as a handmaiden of the Executive. As if that is not bad enough, the recent re-arming of the Police by an incumbent Government ever so desperate for re-election against the backdrop of a Force that is increasingly perceived as too trigger-happy ( witness the Bo and Bumbuna shootings at unarmed civilians), has definitely raised fears within the public to alarming levels. Little wonder the Opposition SLPP is apprehensive about its security and the safety of its leaders. If the Police must be deployed at all in the November elections, they should be unarmed; alternatively, their deployment should be done alongside a UN Police Force, if the Opposition parties and the public are to have any confidence in the credibility of the elections.
To conclude, below is a simple deduction from the relationship between the Temnes and the APC:
Action by the Temnes Reward by the APC --------------------------- ------------------------- 1. Karefa-Smart helped APC to win 1967 elections- Ungratefulness
2. S.I. used the Temnes to help the APC win many Elections from 1973 to 1982 - Ungratefulness
3. Temnes voted for Ernest Bai Koroma in 2007 - Ungratefulness
4. Temnes welcome Kadi Sesay for 2012 elections Ernest Koroma says he is Loko by tribe
5. Temnes vote in November 2012 for Kadi Sesay to be Vice-President of an SLPP Government- Losing Temne vote spells eternal doom for the APC.
Photo: Alpha Kanu, also known as Alpha Khan.