What is Jambodi’s ‘Secret’?‘

17 June 2011 at 22:57 | 1584 views

By Oswald Hanciles, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Jambodi’ must have a secret!! ‘Jambodi’ is the pop name for the 69 year old ‘political pop star’ - his antagonists would deride him as the quintessence of a ‘political chameleon’ - Joseph Bandabla Dauda, born in Bambawo, Nongowa Chiefdom, Kenema District. What is the ‘secret’ behind ‘Jambodi’, also popularly known as ‘JBD’, being Minister of Finance in the SLPP government between 2002 and 2005 – and today, 2011, the same JBD is Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in the government of the rival political party, the APC?

What is the ‘secret’ behind JBD hailing from a region which traditionally has the fiercest political opponents to the APC, becoming, firstly, Minister of Trade and Industry (1989 to 1991), and, secondly, reaching the near-dizzying heights of Second Vice President and Attorney General and Minister of Justice in the same APC government between 1991 and 1992? What is the secret of JBD? In 2005, I was among journalists in the rugged bare cement floor hall on the top floor of the SLPP headquarters on Rawdon Street in Freetown as JBD, in declaring his intention to contest for the presidential standard bearer position of the SLPP, traced his ‘SLPP pedigree’ to the 1960s, when he was a law student in the United Kingdom.

To unravel the secret of JBD one should seek answers to these questions: JBD held cabinet positions in the first APC which had kept the SLPP in a political wilderness for 24 years, yet, when the SLPP came back to power, JBD became its finance minister - why didn’t the SLPP treat JBD as a ‘political traitor’? Why hasn’t the APC snubbed JBD for running back to his ‘native SLPP’ after the APC had trusted with a vice presidency in their government; but the APC is not only re-embracing JBD today, but, putting him on one of their highest pedestals, and hoping to use JBD’s magnetism to magnetize votes in Kenema District for the APC in 2012? On Saturday, June 11, 2011, Hercules-like President Ernest Bai Koroma, with almost equally hulking JBD clad in brilliant APC-red T-shirt sitting by his side, heard JBD gladdening his heart as he declared at the Kenema Town field that “Kenema is no longer a stronghold of the SLPP”.

President Koroma was certainly energized by the ‘show of strength’ in the numbers that JBD was able to influence to jubilantly parade along the streets of Kenema the about three miles distance from Trinity Hall to the Town Field. President Koroma could have had his political adrenalin flowing as 120 mainly youth groups publicly declared their support for the APC. Throwing a political gauntlet down, President Koroma challenged the SLPP to show to the people of Kenema what development they took to their district after eleven years of governing the country between 1996 and 2007 – and he juxtaposed this challenge with his own developmental strides in Kenema: construction of new roads; development of the Smallholder Commercialization Project that is empowering rural farmers; the Free Medical Health Care Scheme. He promised the SLPP a “straight fight for Kenema” in the 2012 elections. Wow!!! Some five years ago, I had a newspaper debate with the late Olu Gordon, publisher of PEEP newspaper.

I argued that so fanatically attached are south easterners to the SLPP that the SLPP is like a religion to them. In 2007, Charles Francis Margai’s PMDC was the heretic, the equivalent of Martin Luther King’s challenge to the Catholic Church in the 15th Century – which spawned the ‘protestant’ churches. If the SLPP is a ‘religion’ of the south east, precedence does teach us that when dissidents within the ‘SLPP religion’ break away in spasmodic emotional anger – like in 1967, when SLPP parliamentary winners, Anthony, Brewah, and Kai-Samba abandoned the SLPP for the APC; and in 2007, when Charles Margai sapped SLPP solidity in the south/east with his PMDC - they are likely to severely emasculate the ‘central SLPP religion’. The intrinsic lesson is this: south/easterners can disengage themselves from the psychological hold of the ‘central SLPP religion’ in response to a clarion call from a charismatic leader like L.AM. Brewah or Charles Margai. JBD? In the 2007 presidential runoff, the APC’s Ernest Bai Koroma polled 16.89% of votes cast (32,777) in Kenema District – as against 83.11% (160,699) votes for the SLPP’s Solomon Berewa.

A foreigner would read that result as a clear sign that no way would JBD influence any significant electoral changes in 2012 elections in Kenema. But, take another look at the 2007 election results in two other south/eastern districts. In Bonthe, Ernest Bai Koroma got 41.42% of the votes cast – as against 58.58% (28,313) votes for Solomon Berewa. In Moyamba, Ernest Bai Koroma clinched 34.68% of votes cast as against 65.32% for Berewa. Put that in perspective: in nearly all previous free and fair elections, the SLPP would get an average of 93% of votes cast in those three districts. The electoral shift in 2007 was because of ‘The Charles Margai Factor’ – the charisma of Charles Margai, whose biological uncle and father were the founding members of the SLPP. Will we have ‘A JBD Factor’ in 2012, especially as the APC floodlight its developmental surge in districts like Kenema?

About three months ago, I was part of a team of agriculture ministry/FAO journalists who inspected progress in the agricultural sector in Kenema and Kailahun districts. The Smallholder Commercialization Project which President Koroma raved about last week in Kenema is NOT ‘ba nya fakie’ gimmick, but, ‘ba reality’ in Kenema. Farmers are grouping themselves into groups of five persons and receiving support from the agriculture ministry – to thresh their rice, package them, market them, to receive pesticides, etc.: significantly adding value to their agricultural sales. There is now greater hope that farming no longer would remain a hand-to-mouth subsistence activity, but, farmers can get rich through farming. In addition to this, farmers, and local are being financially empowered. In Boajibu in Kenema, a brand new bank has been constructed; and its shareholders are the rural farmers themselves. There are also new financial services associations sprouting. This again encourages farmers to become members, and secure loans.

I spoke with one such beneficiary of the scheme in Boajiba, Sebatu Ganda, who was born in 1971. She had taken a loan of Le500,000. She invested it in the palm oil business. She would buy the palm oil at Le65,000 for a ‘batta’, and transport them to Freetown, and sell for Le90,000 for a batta – making a profit of Le15,000 for each batta. She said it was almost impossible to get such a loan anywhere in her village before the financial services system was set up. She has started making the monthly repayment of the loan. Sebatu Ganda is typical of thousands of people in southeastern districts like Kenema who were scarred by the war, which pauperized them. Now, what ordinary south-easterners want more than anything is peace, and stability, to pick up their lives glowing with hope.

They are very unlikely to be eddied into the whirlpool of intense partisan politics in 2012 in support of any political party, and risk violence flaring up. Ha!! The APC should not rest easy…. ‘Development’ is still largely an amorphous project in the minds of most Africans, except the results are really dramatic!! For ‘development’ in the not-too-distant-future to have meaning, the APC has to imaginatively ‘construct images’ of that future. Also, there is the reality that no matter how significant development is, ‘rural people are more likely to follow their leaders’ and NOT to ‘follow development’, when it is time to make electoral decisions. In 1967, with Sir. Albert Margai as Prime Minister, the country was experiencing one of the highest economic growth rates in the world, at 6% - and with a burgeoning Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLMB), there was visible development all over the country. Yet, Sir. Albert lost 1967 elections….!! Charles Margai really had NO ‘development’ to point out to in 2007.

Yet, Charles Margai’s new PMDC stymied SLPP victory…!! The question could be: how do the leaders of the southeast perceive the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma? These leaders are not just those who are ‘knacking their chest’ for the APC today, but, ordinary NGO, and public sector workers – as directors, permanent secretaries, etc. – who have the greatest potential to credibly influence the political thinking of their people. There is a groundswell of opinion that southeasterners in government have either being sacked over the past five years, or, where they maintain their jobs, have been severely marginalized.

There is lurking bitterness being nurtured. Charles Margai and his PMDC have apparently squandered a wonderful opportunity to spotlight such probable injustice, and, through dialogue with President Koroma, bring redress to those south easterners aggrieved. JBD can pick up this Justice Cause. Maybe, more than all the development projects the President is pointing out at, the people in the southeast would be better politically convinced if it is seen that their ‘sons and daughters’ in government jobs are not losing their jobs or being made impotent.

The ‘SLPP religion’ of the south-east, as history teaches, does not necessarily listen to the command of an ‘infallible pope’ (a presidential candidate); but, can be swayed by ‘local priests’. It was a lesson Solomon Berewa did not learn in 2007 when on a visit to Bonthe Island he publicly threatened a ‘local political priest’, Osmond Hanciles, then Principal of Bonthe Technical College: ‘I will have you sacked if you don’t stop campaigning for the PMDC’ – the APC won an unprecedented 40% of votes cast in the runoff in Bonthe, a district where normally the APC would at best gain TWO PERCENT of votes. In a telephone interview with me on Saturday, June 11, 2011, JBD told me his “people would always follow” him because of his “integrity”, and the “trust” they have in him for “development”. The ‘secret’ of JBD can be more impactive, and relevant for the APC, if he can be a champion of not only development, but, of the Justice Cause of people in the south east.