Tejan Kabbah’s last pangs may have just begun

10 October 2007 at 01:07 | 869 views

By Sheka Tarawalie (Shekito) in Manchester,UK.

Those who were recently having sleepless moments day-dreaming (and night-dreaming too) for a continuation of “continuity” have had their dreams transformed into nightmares (and ‘daymares’) by a catalogue of surreal and inter-related events. I mean the apologists who, after the resounding and historic election of the APC government, thought that President Koroma would appoint former SLPP ministers and their cohorts in his cabinet, have got their hopes tumbled and shattered. It was like in the old children’s rhyme of the king’s men being unable to put Humpty Dumpty together again after his great fall.

It all started from an unlikely event. I would call Sorie Fofanah, the outgoing Information Attaché at Sierra Leone’s High Commission in London’s recent open letter to President Koroma as an unlikely event to precipitate or herald the final demise of out-gone President Kabbah - or even the SLPP - because it could not change anything. But it is important, not because Sorie clearly broke the diplomatic code of ethics (not sure he knew about that!) by flouting and bypassing his seniors to make a public statement as to even addressing the president in a most un-diplomatic language, but in the sense that it reminds us of lessons in History.

I am not writing here about the ineptitude of a High Commission which does not know how many of its citizens are living in Britain, not to mention knowing about their safety (when poor Zainab Kaloko was gunned down at a party in London, the British police were surprised that our High Commission never made any contact with them about the case); no, I’m not writing about the incompetence of a High Commission whose website has had for several months running now the message “this page will be updated soon”, with its latest news published last April about John Benjamin collecting some donor money or something.

It was Adolf Hitler’s last moments, crouched in a bunker in Berlin with allied (particularly Soviet and American) forces pounding the city, but still surrounded by his loyalists who dreamt that their fears would not come to pass. When Heinrich Himmler wanted to acknowledge the reality, he did not inform his bosses but rather went through journalists (Reuters were the first to report it) to offer to surrender to the western Allies.

This brought outrage, especially when Hitler had always regarded Himmler as his “loyal Heinrich” (compare Sorie’s own words, “I am one of President Kabbah’s best friends and loyalists”) who would die where his boss would die. Himmler was head of the Reichsfuhrer-SS with the motto “my honour is loyalty” (similar also to Sorie’s “politics is all about loyalty”), and his proposed defection - which was actually rejected by the Allies - was seen by Hitler as “the most shameful betrayal in human history”.

Indeed Sorie’s jaundiced offer to serve the APC is of incomparable and perhaps insignificant proportion to the situation of World War II drama, but it is also a story of betrayal of loyalty. As Hitler perceived Himmler’s action, so Kabbah (well, as reflected in the writings of Kabbah’s Adviser, old Sama Banya) would perceive Sorie: that you wouldn’t have headed an organization (Sorie was chief SLPP propagandist) which cussed and cursed your opponent to the last minute and then offer to serve him to save self. Of course, as it happened to Himmler, nobody would ever take Sorie seriously anymore. Yet, after Himmler’s action, which brought confusion in the bunker, the once-feared Fuhrer was not destined to live long. He took his own life!

President Kabbah may not be at the point of taking - he may not even take - his own life, but it’s apparent that the future holds doom. I would not be surprised, in order to try to put up a face, if he soon announces his intention to re-marry - like Hitler did with his long-time mistress Eva Braun. But that would certainly not diminish the fog of uncertainty encompassing the former president’s future. The thin thread of hope that members of his cabinet would be retained by President Koroma has just been dealt a devastating blow with the release of the names of a new cabinet. I am not too sure about how John Benjamin would feel now after attempting a last-ditch self-seeking reconciliation with his long-time friend whom he never wanted to see become president. I am not sure about how Kabbah is trying to find some consolation here and there about having brought peace - or peace having brought itself during his regime (at an avoidable high cost anyway) - but it’s a moment of deep thought for the ex-president and his men.

In his speech at the state opening of Parliament last Friday, President Koroma had a swipe at Kabbah when in the only line that he made mention of his predecessor by name, he quoted his infamous statement of Sierra Leone having “no business being poor,” but yet we were poorest under his regime. Koroma nailed Kabbah and his SLPP’s political coffin by saying, “when a government fails in its principal duties of good governance, reneges on its promises to effectively serve the people, and neglects to provide for the basic needs of its people, that government is destined to be rejected by the people.”

But if the story had ended there, then it would have still been fine for Kabbah - after all, it was really Berewa that lost the elections. Alas, there’s the bad news that Kabbah is facing a legal tussle with Mohamed Kamal Wanza about human rights violations and the purchase of a gun-boat. This could be disastrous for Kabbah. But it would not be as disastrous as the snowball effect such an issue could have by igniting a string of legal challenges that could possibly see Kabbah where he first sent Hinga Norman - the Special Court, or even beyond.

Kabbah had tried to shield himself from prosecution by grabbing some presidential immunity. The only snag is that immunities don’t last - especially when your chosen successor has been defeated. Augusto Pinochet of Argentina is an example. Frederick Chiluba of Zambia is another. Heads of State who try to protect themselves for bad things they might have done while in office have no guarantee of this after they have left office. The ECOWAS court is waiting to see if Kabbah would try to run away. But where would he go? There’s no hiding place for corrupt or corrupted politicians in this global village anymore.

News filtering in indicate that Kabbah is up against insurmountable odds. The Sandline issue may soon crop up. Just a reminder: this was the issue of Kabbah doing business with a UK-based mercenary company (Sandline International) to break UN sanctions and launch an attack on Sierra Leone for him to be restored to power. At the time, the British government was deeply embarrassed, and it’s former High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Komrabai Peter Penfold, was recalled for his role in the affair. Although the issue of the legality of Sandline haunts Kabbah, as the then British Representative to the UN Sir John Weston questioned about who gave the mandate for the operation, the sword of Damocles that could immediately undo Kabbah would be the alleged mining concessions given to some companies in return for the weapons and personnel supplied by Sandline. In 1997, Lord Avebury of the UK House of Lords asked if Kabbah had not literally mortgaged the country’s diamond resources. In 2007, with the APC government up and running with a view to reviewing all mining arrangements, the depth of this mortgage would be exposed - if found to be true, the people and government of Sierra Leone will not agree to the terms of any self-serving arrangement; and the mining companies in question, if they feel hoaxed, will have to sue Kabbah for the agreement’s termination. You see...

And if this new Parliament decides to lift Kabbah’s presidential immunity, which is more likely to be done than not, then Hinga Norman may well be turning in his grave to see Kabbah subpoenaed to the Special Court to at least answer to questions relating to those who bore the greatest responsibility in the war. And remember that Kabbah’s most trusted lawyer, Solomon Berewa, cannot be relied on anymore - the former Vice President has reportedly severed relations to the extent that he rather moved to Goderich instead of going to Juba where he could have been seeing his former boss.

Well, in 1967, the Beoku-Betts Commission warned Sierra Leoneans, after finding Kabbah who was only a Permanent Secretary to have stolen more money than Prime Minister Albert Margai, not to ever trust the man with public office. The hullabaloo now surrounding Kabbah’s activities when he was given a second chance could well prove Beoku-Betts right.

I salute President Koroma for breaking with the past and refusing to take Kabbah’s henchmen in the new cabinet. Certainly, this is new APC. That courageous outspoken lady Zainab Bangura is fit for the post of Foreign Minister, Serry-Kamal (despite the understandable rumblings over his appointment for having been elected an MP) would be a better Justice Minister than all of Kabbah’s combined, we will be pleased to try David Carew than continue with John Benjamin as Finance Minister, there couldn’t have been a better Information Minister at this time than veteran journalist I.B. Kargbo. But of all President Koroma’s appointees so far, the one I admire most is Alpha Kanu. I have never met the man; but the way he managed the APC’s campaign as spokesman, with his wits around him in handling Sierra Leonean journalists, was exemplary. I can say, after the president himself, Kanu is a pronounced reflection of the new face of the new APC.

Which only makes ex-President Kabbah sadder. I tell you, Kabbah’s death pangs have just begun. O how are the mighty fallen! From the unlikely letter of a loyalist, to former henchmen holding closed-door meetings with the new president, to the case of Mohamed K. Wanza, to the announcement of a new cabinet, it would seem “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again”.

God bless Sierra Leone!