When Kabbah is History...

24 January 2008 at 10:47 | 876 views

Editor’s Note: This article was first published last year.

By Fayia Sellu.

Come rain or shine, His Excellency Alhaji Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kabbah will have to leave or vacate office by or before early 2007. The very African and particularly Sierra Leonean practice will play out-nasty. Kabbah’s worshippers would denounce their ‘god’ and blame and/or curse him for all the woes that have befallen the nation while he occupied the throne.

Yes, you can imagine that whoever it is would put photographers in business, big time, doing framed poster-size photos of him (at least one knows better now to safely ignore the ‘her’) to display at every senior Government officials office. Even the so-called private businessmen who rely much on contracts from public funds would be on the customer lists. They will be switching switches, doing whole re-wiring to State Lodge or wherever the new guy chooses to operate from. And those giant portrait billboards at Cotton Tree, Congo Cross etc? It depends on who takes power. An SLPP person would allow for a reasonable and respectable (short though) period before replacing them. Anything else would see them rudely brought down. What am I saying? That is if they are not put down during the campaign.

The people? As usual. They will be coining new jocular phrases-albeit demeaning of the past era. I trust their talent for phraseology...their mastery of vacillation.

It’s only then that too many people will come out of their sycophantic, opportunistic, subservient and hypocritical cocoons to criticize Kabbah and his era.

What would be the Kabbah legacy? The obvious. Plus or minus Bumbuna, EU and World Bank supported road projects there will be little to point at. There are those who would spurt at calling me an ingrate-at least for now. Did not Kabbah bring us peace? Well, as much as I would hate to hurt them, Kabbah did nothing to bring peace that the western powers did not ordain-period. His utterances about the period of negotiations were not helpful either. The same president that said to his citizens that he was all geared up to prosecute the war less than a month before the capital was attacked and thousands killed...that he did not believe in compensating rebels for wreaking mayhem etc. had been whisked off from Accra to sign a ceasefire he did not discuss with cabinet and which one doubts is a product of cognition...that...please! Gen. Mujakperou left Abuja with a different mandate from what Kabbah and his western pals were up to and had to leave prematurely. Jonah and others have a not-to-good story to tell about their experience during the whisk-off in Accra.

Sierra Leone then became a laboratory ever since our president espoused the policy of multi-colonialism. Too many things happen despite the wishes, control or discretion of the president. The fact that we had the largest UN peacekeeping force ever, the very especial Special Court for Sierra Leone among others. Somebody had to be there for formality and better still the president.

During a West African youth peace conference in Monrovia late 2001, I happened to meet (President Charles Taylor?) at his Executive Mansion. One thing he said to our delegation is that at the previous ECOWAS summit he told President Kabbah that the British had re-colonized Sierra Leone. He was not far from the truth. Bilateral relations are a far cry from re-colonialism- and people should know the difference. A British Accountant General, Inspector General, British judges etc. explain this better. The colonial legacy can’t quite be called an anachronism -thanks to Kabbah. Disappointment yes, surprise no. Kabbah himself is a product of the magnanimity of the colonial operatives who in search of a quick fix exit strategy decided that the Kabbahs should see a meteoric rise in the civil service. A little more thanks to an equally favored, but capable in-law in the person of Dr Peter Tucker. As a product of the colonial government which postured the Indian and Syrian/Lebanese business class well above any other local business group, one can understand the questionable Morkazel and co. in Beoku-Betts Commission report. The chicken only came back home to roost. There will be a time when street corner video centers will be playing the SANDLINE documentary...will fully understand certain concessions the Kabbah government gave to certain mining interests, or why Ambassador John Leigh (for the TGS NOPEC oil prospecting affair) or environmentalists criticizing Koidu Holdings endured the wrath of Kabbah himself overt and covertly. I wonder why Paul Kamara chose not to wait till Kabbah exits power. Then diction, tone or persistence would not have caught the attention of judges that are currently beholden and jostling for contract renewals, in their dispensing justice or interpreting the law.

But still on concessions and why Kabbah will not get a peaceful and respectful retirement (please don’t tell me that I am giving him ideas because the people of Sierra Leone have more than it takes to reject an Eyadema scenario) he managed to get everything from duty free concessions to civil service transfers and promotions to be hanging on the mercy of State Lodge. The Chinese who renovated Bintumani have a contract that is awesome, even ridiculous to imagine. Paolo had a better deal and hence built a hotel in the Gambia while keeping an expensive lease in Sierra Leone that every so-called government official thinks it is their right to keep a chalet at Cape Sierra. Yet every power drunken joker or so-called politician can summon the temerity to belch out garbage about how journalists are preventing investors to come to Sierra Leone.

We are sure to have people coming up with things that Kabbah has achieved in attracting international community attention. I would vehemently disagree with most. I would actually be peeved with simple minds that would baselessly mention: He worked for the UN. So what? What would the likes of Kerefa-Smarts or James Jonahs say? People like Sorious Samura and the vivid picture of madness and havoc on defenseless people in the face of an apparently hapless and hopeless government galvanized the International Community into action. Ask what happened to the Trust Fund for reconstruction or the 90-day reinstatement plan from the Guinee` exile. Penfold seemed to have returned (was recalled) with that plan. Elizabeth Lwanga the UNDP resident representative who pushed a few elements of that plan was declared persona non grata. Among other things she wrote a report commenting that Kabbah had leadership deficiency. For that and other reasons related to love affairs, she went back and left a major vacuum in the UNDP’s office of resident rep that only a legendary character like Alan Doss (whom I think should be given some award not Kabbah’s godfather Albert Margai) much later, and detrimentally so, filled to pushed through our development projects. But it was not Lwanga alone that thought so at the time, then ECOWAS leading figure John Jerry Rawlings publicly expressed the same view of a colleague president...even a little man like me. I wrote: Wanted: Expatriate President in the DEMOCRAT newspaper. That paper was later castigated with deflection-oriented jibes linking the papers stance with the recalling of C.P. Foray of blessed memory as High Commissioner to UK. That was evasive tactics. The truth alone will last.

When Kabbah was signing the Lome’ Peace Accord he had no control over things outside the dictates of the sponsors. The addendum about the amnesty being applicable only to local jurisdiction was added because ironically Mary Robinson UN Human Rights Commissioner was in the country to sign the Human Rights Manifesto at the same period of the signing. Dr. Kadi Sesay had to be hauled in to the negotiations to provide assurance- and got her ministerial chit for that. Just like Timbo and others from the quickly formed Civil Society Movement told Sierra Leoneans to resist the peace deal, only to serve in the same cabinet with rebels or praying for the peace the next day. The culture of sycophancy has to be documented as will Kabbah’s legacy. Let history be written or re-written. Then, and only then, we can learn from our mistakes as a nation. We lost a lot with the war years. We might want to talk of the collapse of family and community values, educational standard, etc. What also got up with the flames of war is our reading and writing culture. Where are all the libraries and bookshops we used to know? Do they factor in whatever we have for SABABU education programme to save us the disrespect of buying knowledge from the floor at street corners? We allowed Siaka Stevens to write his own history with ‘bought’ intellectuals (Rising Sun; What Life Has Taught Me). I hope that PEN and Sierra Leone Writers Series would do everything to prevent a replay of that. Let Sierra Leoneans with independent perspective record history before we forget what crises just happened to that country, inclusive successive bad leaderships.

That incidentally brings me to Veep Solomon Berewa and as I hate to believe is still going about his chancy business of succession. That is the same Berewa who baby-sited the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). I was one of few Sierra Leoneans who worked on selling that idea to the country-worked with No Peace Without Justice and SCSL. I know a thing or two about the trip to Rome. Kabbah as usual, in his ‘left handle’ fashion asked the International Community to ‘punish’ the evildoers. I would also hate to think that is the same Berewa of the treason trial and court martial fame-a hard sell any day to the citizenry who have not the sophistication to review the righteousness of that episode in our history.

By the way, we are not even talking about right or wrong. One of the two or three times Berewa held press conferences at Law Officers was to talk about the articles the press writes about corruption opening with the fact that a Cameroonian journalist was imprisoned then and was to be deported for an article about human sacrifice and restoration efforts. The Anti-Corruption Act was itself a product of persistent donor quizzing about what is being done about fighting corruption. Berewa, a no doubt witty character did what he could do to please the donors. The Act was verily beholden to his offices. Today the commission is a lame duck no matter what. And Berewa will complete what he’s started once he is president. Look at the jokers flocking around Berewa now then you would know that he would not be better as president. His desperation for power has led him to court people like MIK Bayoh, Hons. Tarrawally, Tunis etc. These people merely became MPs or joined the SLPP to get contracts. I know for a fact that his in-law whom he most detested initially until the daughter stood her ground was manager for Lilian Lisk’s Grafton Spring Water before the AFRC coup. The stories abound. But Berewa still wants to be....

For the SLPP I will never trust its destiny to the fuddy-duddies. I don’t trust them rising up to the occasion at conventions. Those who are supposed to know and act better are bad news. SLPP Secretary General Prince Harding who was all over the place complaining Kabbah and how he is destroying the party was used a weapon against Charles Margai simply because he wanted to be minister. He knows that people like us would never respect him. Berewa’s current vantage position makes many people just ‘yes sir’ men.

Anyhow Kabbah will one day be history. My granddad Puawui? That will be time to FINALLY retire I guess. And me? I will return to my country. The American Embassy will be always open to fly and in and out of that country at will witout much hassle. The people of Salone? Same old, same old. I am yet to be optimistic.

Photo: Former president Kabbah.