The Race for State House: Who will be Sierra Leone’s next President?

6 December 2006 at 23:11 | 1262 views

"What our nation needs is honest leadership. For far too long, we have been deprived of a true patriot, a leader who has love, and concern for his people. We need someone who will think and feel the pain of the masses. I desire to see a leader that will carry the burden of his people. In any case, we have to do with what is at hand, so the choice is going to be the least evil of the contenders. And just who is this one eyed-king in the blind man’s land? Is it Berewa, Margai or Ernest? You tell me."

By Edie P. J. Vandy, USA.

“It is not the question of how but when I become President”, the PMDC Interim Leader blows his own horn, to a cross-section of Sierra Leoneans in Indiana - US. To his Diasporan base and critics alike, whilst reaching out to the International community for support, Margai is stumping one message; “Positive Change”.

Media analysts have placed his debut tour as a huge success. The planners of this tour demonstrated competence and good organization skills, for which they must be commended. Feedbacks pouring out so far indicate that Margai succeeded in energizing the Diasporan base, winning over new converts, some of whom have been away for a long time, and yearn to return home. These men and women were mesmerized, by Margai’s words and vision for dear Salone.

PMDC reports also point to some cross carpeting by other party faithfuls into their rank and file, a situation they describe as signs of victory. On a more personal note, Margai can take home with pride the conferment of an honorary Georgian citizenship bestowed upon him by the Georgian Deputy Secretary of State.

From New Jersey, to Atlanta, Washington, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Philadelphia, the PMDC campaign slogan has been loud and clear: Change the Course; we can do better. Margai says he has solutions to the many perennial problems the country is grappling with; from providing electricity, to job creation, poverty alleviation, free trade, good governance, access to healthcare, education, water and sanitation delivery systems; the very basic of necessities the SLPP government failed to provide. Margai’s preference for a female Vice President, a Northerner and a Muslim, and his cabinet composition of one third of women, is a strategic move to court female electorates, who form the majority, and are a potent force?

Many however, see this rhetoric as lofty promises, throwing wide open the debate over reality and empty promises (or mere campaign slurs). Win or no win, Margai will be held accountable for every promise, and commitment made to the electorate. Now that he has set timelines on his deliverables, it will be easy to hold him accountable, and damn him when those pronouncements are not met.

The fact of the matter is that these agendas are really not different from that of SLPP flag bearer - VP Solomon Berewa, and the APC Presidential hopeful, Hon Earnest Koroma. They have all promised moving the country forward to another level, if voted into office.

Political analysts are really not impressed with these chimes. What is at stake goes beyond mere problem statements, familiar to every aspiring compatriot. Empirical solutions to these problems, is what is demanded. Sierra Leoneans are genuinely interested in the “How”, not the “What”. This election is going to be defined by how the many issues are dealt with and resolved, by each of these contenders. Again, our Presidential hopefuls are telling us that our problems will be dealt with by external intervention, through deals and negotiations on our behalf, as a way of honoring on their campaign pledges. These kinds of solutions do not strike a chord with a good number of us.

What our nation needs is honest leadership. For far too long, we have been deprived of a true patriot, a leader who has love, and concern for his people. We need someone who will think and feel the pain of the masses. I desire to see a leader that will carry the burden of his people. In any case, we have to do with what is at hand, so the choice is going to be choosing the least evil among the contenders. And just who is this one eyed-king in the blind man’s land? Is it Berewa, Margai or Ernest? You tell me.

Election 2007 will see yet again, campaign promises read as mere scripts. Our politicians tell us what they want to do to improve out lot. But, they do not usually deliver, do they? Why? Momoh’s vision (May his soul rest in peace) for a greener economy was never accomplished. Strasser (and the NPRC) dream of a corruption free Sierra Leone was short lived and destroyed by greed and selfishness. They became tangled in the very corruption they set themselves to curb. What happened with Pres. Kabbah’s promise of food security to all by 2007? The railway was to be revived, and a bridge linking Lungi and Freetown? Just what happened with those inspirational visions? And corruption and poverty were to be fought with vigor, but these wars are yet to be defeated. Damn these politicians for their vociferous speeches, talking the talk but not walking the walk. Sierra Leone politicians disengage themselves from the people quickly when they assume power. Instead of being servants, they become masters and demigods, answerable to yours truly?

Answers are now demanded. Questions are being asked and will be asked in the future. We are now an enlightened society. Our ears are propped for answers and specifics, not vibes! Sierra Leoneans are asking for timelines on every commitment, or policy. Give us an agenda framework, with measurable indicators, to enable us measure your performance. Those aspiring for leadership have to be accountable at all fronts.

That is why in one of Margai’s open house question sessions in Indiana, he was asked to state in clear terms, what he’s got that the others do not have, and why he thinks he is the most fit for the job. “Integrity”, he said. “I will bring integrity to the Presidency, which the current administration lacks”.

Integrity! Read my lips. Where is the proof? Don’t give me that answer that contracts provided to your wife and cronies were not wrong or illegal. Something definitely was not right. There was a conflict of Interest. Don’t you see it? This is nepotism at its worst. Your wife’s performance or non-performance as far as the award of contracts goes is not the issue. I beg to differ on this, and so do many. What guarantee do we have that it will not re-occur when given the coveted position of an elder statesman? Where is the guarantee? A simple admission of some mistake will have closed the issue long time ago. Your stand as at now does not connote Integrity. Is this your measurement of Integrity? Anyway, many have already excused you for political witch hunting, as this practice is ingrained within the current administration. Not one SLPP Minister or Government official will be left off the hook in a contract probe.

If the PMDC stands for ‘Integrity’ as Margai puts it, then the singular thing that will leave some of us convinced, will be for PMDC to make public all funds raised from their leader’s Trans-Atlantic Tour for Positive Change (T-AT for Positive Change). You want leadership, then lead by example. Party faithfuls should be asking their leadership to be a beacon of accountability and transparency. Do not turn back on this. If SLPP and APC fall short on an opportunity, be innovative here.

Pundits have started asking questions over Margai and his party’s overconfidence on victory in 2007. Are we not seeing the same spirited confidence exuded by Margai going down the SLPP leadership contest? Margai maintains that victory was stolen from him at the last minute by some political gimmick from Solo Bee, blotting his chances of victory. Politics is about advantage. Berewa has got political capital, and he is going to use it, to maintain a strong grip on power. I wish I could bet on this, but Berewa is not going to sit by and allow a defeat, not from Charles Margai. All what I am saying is that, Margai and his PMDC (with Ernest) should desist from underestimating an incumbent, leading a traditional party, with a very loyal constituency.

Solomon Berewa is bestowed with an incumbency power, and in African politics, we know exactly what that translates to. The VP commands the respect of every state institution, and he does wield control over them. Time and again, the police have demonstrated loyalty to the GOSL, and have used the public order act to suppress every discontent. In the guise of public security, repressive laws are implemented to ban even peaceful demonstrations. Don’t you know that the IG has his job to protect, like the army boss? Neutrality is compromised when there is conflict between duty and loyalty. The voters are now caught between a would be biased police and a partial judiciary. Are you saying that the Judiciary is independent? Hell No. This judiciary is broken. Real broke, with key judicial appointments bankrolled upon Kabbah’s retired buddies, answerable to him alone. Growing number of people are now saying that they can’t bank on the army and police staying clear and being neutral in Election 2007.

Many have said that this judiciary is anti-people. Every case brought before the Appeals or Supreme Court has been adjudicated on behalf of the Administration. From the Norman and the SLPP leadership saga, to that of the PMDC vs. SLPP, on to the Biriwa Chieftaincy election; have all gone contrary to Sierra Leoneans expectations. The Special court has not helped to lighten things either. What was the reason for blocking Kabbah’s appearance to be 1st defense witness in the ongoing war crimes tribunal?

And who do you think the NEC chairman will salvage, when desperation sets in? Don’t tell me it’s Margai or Ernest? Every Election Chairman, all around the world, particularly in Africa, has sworn loyalty to the powers that be. Christiana Thorpe will play act neutrality, make noise; but deep down, she will play ball with SLPP, in due course.

Did I hear correctly that PMDC/APC will be relying on international observers for a free and credible election? Election monitors should not be trusted, from experience, so why are you underpinning your hope on them? Don’t you know that monitors have never seen election results differently from the incumbency? Hear what they will report: “There were irregularities in the election process, but not on a scale to impact the overall outcome”. It becomes history the sooner this is said. The judiciary will add salt to injury by dismissing genuine claims as unfounded. Whoever thought that the Feb 2006 elections in Uganda will return Musheveni to power, when pundits had it polled for Kizza Besigye? In Zambia, the opposition front runner Michael Sata tipped for victory was defeated by incumbent Levy Mwanawasa in Sept. 2006. These election machinations are happening under the watchful eyes of Election monitors. There is really no level playing field in African politics. The Carter Foundation, neither Election Monitors will stop the SLPP from playing games, should they wish. The only assurance the APC or the PMDC should fight for and hold dear is the voters’ loyalty. This election will be salvaged by the voters’ resolve and will.

A PMDC or APC victory has to be a clean sweep to avoid any unforeseen unpleasantries. Anything other than that, particularly a close outcome will swing the polls in Berewa’s favor. A huge voter turn-out naturally depicts gloom for the incumbency. And if the clarion call for change is heard, it will mean Berewa’s demise. Only an emboldened electorate will change the country’s political landscape.

Right minded compatriots are now asking whether the much anticipated change is in fact a reality or speculative. Is the country indeed poised for a change? And is this change inevitable or a media blitz from the PMDC camp? How prepared are we to embrace this change when it comes, and which party, or crop of men and women should lead that momentum? Is it PMDC or a third force, yet unidentified? Or are we saying that PMDC is in fact the third force? And lastly, does PMDC have what it takes to mobilize the people in solving Sierra Leone’s problem?

Depending on who you talk to, messages could be mixed. Ardent SLPP supporters will hint of victory, much like the APC, as is it with the PMDC. Our disagreement of course lies in how we want to move the nation, and in which way. What is being manifested is a polarized electorate, engaged in partisan politicking. Voters are hibernating along party idiosyncrasies. Regionalism, sectionalism, religion, and cronyism are variables impacting the change concept. The nation is 80-90% split along party and tribal lines. Primitive loyalty to parties and individuals have overshadowed constructive and informed dialogue bordering on socio-economic issues affecting us all. The choice is ours to change the political goal post, by voting PMDC for change or SLPP for continuity.

Sierra Leoneans yearn for a change. But when it comes to take that bold step in effecting the change, people develop cold feet. The nation is also divided at all strata. And we have a civil society movement that has not helped either in galvanizing this change. Donor money is being spent in building their capacity, but it seems for now these efforts are in vain. What we have instead is a civil society making empty noise, and barking without biting. Tell me what these organizations have accomplished since their formation? As long as their leaderships are having a jolly good time, receiving free money, and gallivanting around the globe for “talking shops”, they will not act. The Charles Mambus and Minahs are mere talking points. Imagine, a civil society movement adjudicating for public flogging as punishment for corrupt officials? If these guys have nothing to offer as solutions in fighting corruption, then they better be silent. Who ever told them that Sierra Leone is under Sharia law? We have laws, Mr. Mambu. Laws that are not enforced and many are archaic. Concentrate those energies in re-affirming the rule of law. Be the voice of the voiceless in its true sense.

Engage the intellectual mind frame; those considered enlightened, and hear their responses. Most of them are party brain-washed. They will vote the way of their party and not by their conscience. SLPP Diasporans, will tell you on how they see their party spiraling downhill, and headed for the wrong route, but there is nothing they can do, at least for now. They will not desert the party, not at this critical time when the party is being threatened from a cancer within, called PMDC. To them, Berewa is not the issue, as he is on the verge of passing out; SLPP is what matters most to them. They will rather stay put and make adjustment internally, than jump ship and put on new party colors. One thing they agree on is that PMDC is a spoiler; a party born out of frustration, with a leadership who is nothing more than a loser, a flip flopper, and he will be defeated hands down.

So what is Margai talking about when he brags that the entire Southern province has gone Orange or PMDC? These are blanket assumptions, far from reality. PMDC is not being realistic here. 100 percent victory in the traditional heartland (southeast, with Kailahun being an exception) of SLPP is just hard to swallow. 15 out of 21 seats in the west, is near realism. On the contrary, Freetown (if one can go by the last local government elections) should be an APC home turf. Men and money does lie, but numbers don’t. The Temnes make up some 41 percent of the Western Area (The running mate wahala, by Andrew Keili - The Patriotic Vanguard - Oct 03, 2006), and by implication, majority will vote Red or APC, just like the Mendes will most likely vote Green (with some going Orange). Even as SLPP (or PMDC) continues to make some in-roads in the north, this region by design will go APC. Nobody can question this fact. One must be a fool to do that. Regardless of the gains made by the Southern-based parties, APC should definitely get the North. Do we all agree on this?

Sierra Leoneans within and in the Diaspora, the United Nations, and International community see Election 2007, as a milestone election; a political hot potato, that will make or break the country. Political analysts are saying that this election is a referendum on Pres. Kabbah and his administration. It is “Decision Time” and tough choices will be made by voters come 2007. It is about “staying the course” or “a new direction”. Those on the fence have between now to July 2007, to answer these tough questions, and vote on the issues that impacts their lives. If it turns out that the change chorus rhymes with the voters, then Berewa will be voted out. Freetown, Bo, Kenema, Makeni and Port Loko are frontline cities/towns that will determine who clinches the Presidency. Any candidate pulling 3 of these 5 frontiers will be our next president. Election 2007 is going to be a very tight and close race, and PMDC will give the ruling party a run for their money.

As we march forward to the D-Day, many Sierra Leoneans are yet to be convinced that Berewa, has nothing to do with Kabbah’s failed policies. Spent Politicians continue to be re-cycled. Cronies compensated at tax payers’ expense. Corruption and contract gate is driving the Administration’s agenda. When there is a price hike, high level of youth unemployment, and dismal social and economic conditions of the people it becomes difficult to exonerate Berewa. These pictures are not presented for criticism’s sake. Even the UN Sec Gen. (reported by the UN Service Dec 1, 2006; with Annan requesting a 1-Year Extension of UN Office because of remaining challenges) has weighed in on this.

And most recently,Victor Angelo - Executive Rep. Of the UN Sec. Gen. could not help but throw in some punches over the administration’s sincerity in the war on corruption (Thursday Nov. 23, 2006). What has Berewa got to say, on the position of Sierra Leone coming last again, (175th out 176 countries) on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) report for 2006?

For argument sake, let’s say that Berewa had no leverage on Kabbah, knowing the kind of man he is; but he (like every one of us) had God’s gift of free will in his own hands to have opted to stand down on principles. He would have resigned when his ideology clashed with the Presidency. But no, Berewa will not do that, just like most of us. Only very few Sierra leoneans have called it quits, when they knew it was not worth it working for such a presidency, considered a “failure”, at least in the eyes of many. Bu the World Bank sees it differently. Frankly, these two world bodies (UN & World Bank) must sit down and talk, and harmonize their metrics, for they cannot be sending different messages. Which report do they want us to believe?

President Kabbah is definitely out of touch with his people. Reacting to the clarion call from many sections of the public for the IG to stand down, our President belched that he was not crazy to sack the IG, and instead asked for evidence. You want evidence; look around, Pres. Kabbah, for hard won evidences are littered all over the place. The security situation is still fragile. Ask the UN Scribe, as time and again, he has hinted on the matter.

There is fear and concern lingering on the people’s mind, Mr. President. Criminality is on the rise. People are having sleepless nights. They are asking questions on how and where these armed rubbers terrorizing them are getting guns, police uniforms and equipment from? Two high profiled daytime robberies (one at Murray Town Village Tuesday, November 21 2006 and 2 weeks before at Sanders Street) have occurred, and you keep asking for evidence?
Why do the Police always find a scapegoat for their shortcomings?

We have witnessed a plethora of wars between the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and NPA, with one blaming the other for incompetence. And before that SLP was pitched in a fume of verbal exchanges with our Judiciary, slamming the courts for letting loose hard core criminals through unethical means. Mr. IG, have you taken the time to ask the question of whether your own men might be aiding and colluding with these criminals? How many times have the public not grown suspicious and registered these concerns? Sierra Leoneans are rigid tired of these slumpy excuses. Over the past two years, we have witnessed three prison breaks involving some 66 hardened criminals in very mysterious circumstances, and you expect us to be happy and not be concerned?

The IG should stop complaining and do the job for which he is paid. If the tools and instruments to help secure our nation are not within your purview, be a man and call it quits. I bet you can’t do such a thing. I am sure you will be counting your luck for having a President who gives praises where they are not due. The public outcry over your institution’s handling of Private Sesay’s escape had you cornered.

For people to come out in defense of Pa Kabbah and the IG, with such fury as happened recently have left many to wonder whether there are no ulterior motives. Sierra Leoneans’ perception of President Kabbah could be summed in one word, “disappointment”. This President is a liability. When we voted him to power in 1996, and then in 2002, no one envisaged it to be a vote for absolute power, or a system more interested in monetary considerations than the good of the nation. His UN clout elevated our expectations. He should have been recalled long time ago. Why did we wait so long to come to this realization?

No amount of praise singing will obliterate this ingrained impression about his Excellency. His policies have accelerated poverty, and made Sierra Leoneans paupers by the day. More than 90% of our compatriots are poor, living below a $ 1 a day. The war and rebuilding efforts is no longer a tenable excuse. Who ever told Pa Kabbah to have Sanpha Koroma indicted in the first place? Who told him to slam this guy? Only his cohorts of ill motivated advisers could have done so. For this the President does not give a hoot to press or public outcry. Sending the ACC investigators was a decoy, for own political capital. If pres Kabbah was in tune with the grass roots, Sierra Leone would have been a better place than it is today.

Now that Pres. Kabbah has made a public apology to Sanpha Koroma, he should be asked to make similar apology to the nation. This President should not be allowed to walk free without accepting failure. We demand an apology from Pres. Kabbah for the many wrongs he has meted against each one of us. And quite frankly he has made some very bad decisions. And these should be repelled, and de-activated on his exit. Kanji Daramy should be relieved of his new appointment as Chairman of the Telecoms commission, as he does not deserve such accolade. Every other illegal appointment and imposition made by this President should be overturned. The Parliamentarians who aided and abetted this President in his schemes should be rejected at the upcoming polls. They do not merit your representation. These are the issues, civil Society should be championing, not agitating for corporal punishment for fraudsters. Granted we have been misled and abused, and made fools, but we cannot be fools all our lifetime.

Despite what has been said about Berewa, even where his critics call him a chain smoker, a sleeper (who sleeps during important meetings), a supporter of corruption; a man with blood on his hands, and one of the architects responsible for setting up a special court that now holds one of Sierra Leone’s finest heros - Chief Hinga Norman; he goes into the race as the front runner. He is the strongest contender of our Presidential hopefuls. Berewa may win the elections, in 2007. Indeed a grim reality, but it is reality. His incumbency status and resources at his disposal will help him (if not already) conduct an effective campaign. To win, all what Berewa needs doing is open more markets, court barrays, schools, clinics, and roads, and present them as a government package.

The “gullible” population, those suffering the most in rural communities, will see those interventions and projects as SLPP and Berewa funded programs. NaSCA’s presence is visibility for the ruling party. Every micro-credit money provided to empower a Sierra Leonean head of household is a vote for SLPP and Berewa. Our illiterate folks do not know that NaSCA supported projects are donor commitments aimed at peacebuilding and rebuilding efforts, with or without SLPP. And you guess what; the SLPP is fully preying on these donor support efforts. Berewa is all over the country; he is every where, opening these projects, and using the occasions as campaign stunts. Earnest Koroma and Charles Margai will never mobilize the kind of funds Berewa has to undertake such tours.

Seven months is still enough time for Berewa to do damage control, and break free from the Kabbah’s political brouhaha, for which SLPP is indicted. Some SLPP stalwarts continue to sit out, hanging to the party, praying and hoping for their flag-bearer to make some amends and get them re-energized. Berewa does not need another division within the party on his running mate saga. Dumping Pres Kabbah’s preferred Vice Presidential nominee - Momodu Koroma, could be a starter. It is a tough call to make, but it will strike home with critics and supporters alike. The nation would also have seen him for who he is. But I’m not sure whether Berewa would bite the finger that feeds him, much as he did not resign when Pres. Kabbah was directing affairs, that has come to haunt him. It might be even too late, as reports indicate that Momodu has already declared himself as running mate, sending some sort of signal on his official endorsement.

Berewa could actually win votes by ensuring Freetown to be powered 24 hours each day. It will be a political present, accorded to Freetown voters, at a time least expected. SLPP campaign strategists know that Freetown could be won, if this critically ailing sector is revamped. Pressure is now being brought on the Moroccan Engineers (currently in Freetown) to live through their promise of fixing the perennial city ‘black-out”. SLPP and Berewa will be nailed in Freetown if this is not done fast. Time is not on their side.

SLPP’s flag-bearer could also bring to the table USD 600 M off our nations debt; funds that could be used to upgrade our basic social services, and help improve the lot of many. Berewa (and Momodu?) will also bring to the campaign platform, the World Bank progress report cards in the area of home-grown poverty reduction strategy, good governance, security and peace, pro-poor sustainable growth for security and job creation, and human resource development.

Sierra Leone is at a crossroads, and the issues are many. One growing concern is the assumption that PMDC is playing the piper of a Third Force? What is worrying to many is having PMDC and Margai become fused into one and the same thing, with no clear line of distinction between the personality and party. Somehow there has to be a process to provide the checks and balances. And if it becomes evident that without Margai, PMDC is dead, it will be a disservice to all who are crying for change. With all fairness to Margai, PMDC should be bigger than one individual, for sustainability. True, Margai is the architect of PMDC, but he should not own it. Come on, the Third Force is not about a single personality. What drives such a force is the people, and having a system structured to accommodate these divergent entities and shades of interest. Authority should not reside with a single individual. Do we know whether the PMDC base is soul searching on the possibility of a PMDC without Margai? Or is it unthinkable to ask what the self-acclaimed PMDC leader will do in the event he is snubbed for another face, to lead the party? By the way, where are the much talked about party heavy weights? Why are they all in hiding? I’m not sure whether the Femi Hebrons, Bamidele Thompsons, Emmanuel Grants and others are the true faces representative of a third force? These men have issues, at least that is what is reported.. The third force ideology is really about making a clean break from the past.

People are so scared in Sierra Leone, or selfish to make sacrifices. PMDC loyalists in the Diaspora, continue to give excuses on behalf of their so-called heavy weights, about having their job to protect? Wait a minute, what are they saying here? Don’t tell me that PMDC are packed with a bunch of cowards? Having their jobs to protect is that what “Integrity” is about? Say something, PMDC? These so-called anonymous heavy-weights of your Party should be challenged to come forward, if they sincerely believe in their party’s true aspirations. Columba Blango should be commended for making official his severing links with the SLPP for PMDC. A Columba Blango led PMDC could be spicy to voters, you never know.

Even as the opposition APC and PMDC claim victory come 2007, many do not think it is as simple as put. But one thing is clear, and that is, SLPP and Berewa will be returned to power by the opposition failing to win. Another fact though is that not one of the contenders will return the more than 55% of total votes needed to avoid a run-off. Berewa is jittery on that and has challenged his party strategists to work overtime to ensure there is no run-off. He knows that with a run-off, defeat is definitive. There will not even be a run-off with a PMDC and APC merger. Victory will be assured with Charles Margai as Presidential flag bearer and Ernest, as running mate. Nothing is simpler than that.

These are words of advice for the PMDC and the leadership, if they have ears. Involve the PMDC Diaspora planning committee into the overall campaign strategy to fix the loop holes and weak processes on the ground where the battle is. Walk the extra mile to defeat Ernest Koroma and be poised for a re-run, with your old pal Solo Bee. For a fact, we know that an ardent Temne APC stalwart will vote PMDC, and not SLPP. APC will be happy and will do anything to have SLPP and Berewa exit State House. On the other hand, if it comes to a match-up between Ernest and Berewa, the change momentum will be diluted. SLPP runaways will either hold on to their ballots, or go Green, as they would not bear to witness another misrule of APC, not even under Earnest Koroma.

Sierra Leone’s next President in 2007, fill in the blank. I will tell you who our next president is going to be, when I come back again.

About the author:
Edie Vandy(photo) studied Chemistry at the University of Sierra Leone and later did post-graduate work in China. He now lives in the United States. Edie was a regular contributor to Freetown newspapers when he was in Sierra Leone.