Map of Sierra Leone. (Source: C.I.A. World Factbook)
Take a snap look at the upcoming 2007 presidential election in Sierra Leone and it appears to be leaning toward the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (S.L.P.P.). Although the All Peoples’ Congress (A.P.C.) is reclaiming its political stature with alacrity, for now, the political scales seem to be tipping in favor of the S.L.P.P. Sierra Leone’s recent violent past, which was fueled by excessive greed, autocracy and the political marginalization of students under A.P.C.-affiliated former presidents Siaka Stevens (1971–85) and Joseph Saidu Momoh (1985–1992), caused much apprehension among the very same voters that are in part responsible for it. This may seem a left-handed compliment, but the current president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, of the S.L.P.P., has not made significant changes either. Yet, a population grown weary with marginalization, despondent poverty, deprivation of knowledge and war now appears to be looking at the S.L.P.P. as the lesser of two evils. But this may change quickly if Charles Margai launches a new political party.
Political allegiance in Sierra Leone is divided between the north, which supports the A.P.C., and the south, which supports the S.L.P.P. Because of the predominance of northerners in Freetown, the A.P.C. has enjoyed many political victories there in the past. This is also true of the Kono district, where politics have been influenced by a large northern immigrant settlement. Freetown and the Kono district have always been the tiebreakers of the north/south political divide. These two non-aligned political districts used to be the most populated, and leaned more toward the A.P.C. before the introduction of the single party system in 1978. Current census data indicates that while the population of the western area has almost doubled, the population of the Kono district has suffered a considerable reduction. But the statistical record cannot be taken at face value. With the end of the war and the recovery of the diamond mining industry, the population of the Kono district has the potential to start growing again. As well, there has been much stress on provincial people to return to their towns and villages, which may lead to an increase in the population of the district by 2007.
Although the pro-S.L.P.P. south remains largely undivided politically, the north is a different matter. In recent years, the north has witnessed the growth of several new parties. The S.L.P.P. has been able to muster some support in the north by capitalizing on this political division. The division in the north may be due to its heterogeneous nature (the south is homogeneous). Further, internecine struggles within the A.P.C. compounded its uphill battle to unite its northern base into a solid political force. The only explanation for this is that many people are skeptical to be associated with the A.P.C. because of its past record. As the proverb goes, “Success has many parents but failure is an orphan.” And indeed, the A.P.C. failed the nation so miserably in the past that its late president, Joseph Saidu Momoh, once admitted in a state of the nation speech that he had failed the nation.
Following what many have called a premature S.L.P.P. convention recently, the new leader and presidential candidate of the S.L.P.P., Vice President Solomon E. Berewa, now faces the very important responsibility of looking for a presidential running mate amid the wreckage of war and corruption.
According to the Constitution, the vice president is just a breath away from becoming the president. Because we have seen how President Tejan Kabbah is preparing to leave us a political litterbug in the person of Vice President Berewa, this tells us without a doubt that the selection of a presidential running mate, for civic-minded citizens, is an important factor in the politics of Sierra Leone.
Traditionally, a running mate is selected based upon two important factors: what political fortunes such a person is capable of bringing to the presidential ticket and his political timbre — his ability to take on the mantle of the president in the event of an emergency. The most important question at hand now remains whether Berewa will abide by this tradition of selecting a running mate based upon both of the aforementioned reasons or deviate from the norm to select a running mate based on political fortunes alone or simply upon instruction from his boss, President Kabbah.
Presently, on the political radar, there are three candidates: Momodu Koroma, who is President Kabbah’s blue-eyed boy, and who has gained some national and international experience while he served as the Minister of Presidential Affairs and in his current post as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Corporation; Bobson Sesay, who is also very influential with Kabbah; and Umaru Bundu Wurie, who until recently served as the Sierra Leone ambassador to Germany.
Koroma and Sesay are Kabbah’s trustworthy cabinet members. That is to say, they are not just members of his cabinet. President Kabbah has used the trustworthiness of his cabinet members not for the good and advancement of the nation, as would a trustworthy surrogate in a democracy, but for the building of the political hegemony that we saw in Makeni earlier this year when Berewa gained over 300 percent of the votes at the S.L.P.P. convention, as if the other contenders did not exist. In this way, Kabbah and his cohorts have built a political culture not of “well done is better than well said,” but well said is better than well done.
All three men are highly educated individuals, which is a plus. But education alone does not make a good manager. Sierra Leone is in need of managers who will break away from the culture of boasting of new international aid packages and bring forth innovative ideas that will create the conditions needed to improve the lives of the ordinary man — to help Sierra Leone stand on its own. Sierra Leone needs managers who will come into politics for the love of politics and for the love of serving the people, who are willing to live the moderate life of a politician, who will go about their daily business of serving the people and enjoy full gratification for doing just that.
If Charles Margai succeeds in pulling the ground out from under Berewa’s political aspirations, by dividing the S.L.P.P.’s southern voters, the political fortune of Berewa’s running mate will matter a great deal. This had been the cutthroat factor for the A.P.C. in the past election, as we saw in the action of the late Taimu Bangura, who delivered the election of 1996 to Kabbah through transactional politics when he fell short of votes. (To win the election, candidates need a 55 percent majority.) Berewa is catching much dissension because of Charles Margai, who is gradually becoming a formidable challenger in the upcoming election. If the S.L.P.P. does not cash Margai out on the barrelhead, a technique the S.L.P.P. leadership has mastered to have in power who it wants, he will continue to be a threat. But what Berewa and his camp may not know is that 100 percent of the votes in the southeast, where the S.L.P.P. is strongest, will not be enough to give Berewa the needed 55 percent overall to win. The trouble with the Charles Margai factor, however, is that he has avowed his determination not to return to the S.L.P.P. The possibility of winning becomes bleaker for Berewa only if Charles Margai does not relent.
Berewa must become “his own man.” Because Kabbah and Berewa have attracted much criticism for running a corrupt government, Berewa must turn away from his boss’ politics of neglect. Choosing Koroma or Sesay, however, will not do the trick. Berewa must show willingness to rock the boat. It is a tradition that politicians do not like to rock the boat around election time, but it is inevitable that this boat needs serious rocking if it must regain the confidence of its passengers.
There is nothing to lose by rocking this boat, because many people do not like Berewa, Koroma or Sesay anyway. The S.L.P.P. is likely to be the winner in 2007 because voters see it as the lesser of two evils. A new kid on the block, therefore, will only help the ticket.
It is also important to look at the history of the Wuries inside the S.L.P.P. This northern family has helped very much to increase the S.L.P.P.’s presence amid hostility. If Berewa chooses Wurie, it will be difficult for the S.L.P.P. to lose its northern voters, many of whom are disgruntled because of the Kabbah and Berewa presidency. Wurie has a little bit of an edge over Koroma and Sesay in the way of political fortune, but he also brings hope for change to the ticket, and the voters seem more likely to listen to such a tune.
Although, Koroma and Sesay may have more national experience than Wurie, it is limited to running a failed nation that is dependent on foreign aid without any contingency plan for when the aid money runs out. International experience is also an important factor in running a country, and Wurie stands out here because he brought international attention to the plight of Sierra Leone in many ways during his ambassadorial appointments.
Now that rumors indicate Berewa has reduced our choices to these three men, I dare every Sierra Leonean to look at them under a microscope and make a good choice toward reclaiming our country from the Kabbah and Berewa hegemony. Otherwise, we must shed our postwar apprehension of the A.P.C., or even consider a third political party for a change.
Karamoh Kabba is the author of “A Mother’s Saga,” “Lion Mountain” and “Morquee—A Political Drama of Wish over Wisdom.”