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Sierra Leone

Berewa's Squandered Opportunity

Karamoh Kabba, October 25, 2006

Sierra Leone's Vice President Solomon Berewa arriving in Havana, Cuba, last month to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit. (Photo: Luis Acosta / AFP-Getty Images)

On Sept. 18, as part of a fund-raising trip to the United States, Sierra Leone's Vice President Solomon Berewa was in Maryland, where I met him.

"Some lawyers are not as eloquent as U. N. S. Jah," Berewa confirmed, after Sierra Leone's ambassador to the United States, Ibrahim Kamara, expressed admiration for U. N. S. Jah's eloquence. But Berewa's performance that night turned his insinuation into self-examination. Indeed, despite more than 30 years experience practicing law, Berewa is no match for U. N. S. Jah in terms of eloquence. In fact, Berewa went off on a tangent for close to two hours, lullabying his eager audience with boastful utterances, erroneous reasoning and madcap sense of humor.

"Whether you like it or not, I am the vice president of Sierra Leone," Berewa uttered, further stating that "I have come to present myself" to those whose imaginations have been running wild that "I am a feeble old man with baldhead and protruded tummy." It was quite a stunning start for a man who many expected had little or no sense of humor. But that would be the climax of Berewa's art of influencing people and persuasive public speaking — he diminished forthwith into mundane nothing expressions, leaving his expectant audience with nothing but slumber time.

Berewa promised his audience that while presenting himself as the vice president, he would mix it up with some politics. Here, he failed more than in anything else he said that night. He seemed extremely obsessed with Charles Margai's political leaps and bounds and looming victory in next year's elections. Berewa, in his speech, subconsciously delved into Margai's presidential political aspiration innuendos without mentioning Margai's name.

In one badly placed anecdote, Berewa said, "Not everyone can be a leader." He was referring to a poor teacher in Pujehun who told his people of his aspirations to become the president. But when Berewa asked the people if the poor teacher had what it takes to be a president, he condescendingly told his audience that the people made fun of the teacher and told the teacher to go away: "You cannot be our president."

In his speech, Berewa had admonished his audience and host earlier, telling them that they could not stay in the U.S. and help the country. Now here he was making fun of a poor teacher who had expressed an unadulterated desire to help.

Berewa had also told his audience that he had come to "seize the moment," but his poor logic and egocentric disposition could not allow him to seize the moment. He could not draw a sensible analogy between the poor teacher in Sierra Leone and the Sierra Leoneans in the U.S., who he had accused of having "no moral authority" to comment on the social ills of Sierra Leone.

A good politician or a good thinker would have seized the moment: I want you all to have a burning desire for leadership in your country just as the poor teacher I met in Pujehun who expressed his aspirations of becoming the president of Sierra Leone. He also could have been out here like you, pandering to the success of others, but he stayed either by choice or by chance to help with the process of rebuilding the nation. I admire his courage regardless of his economic situation. That could have tapped into the emotions of his audience. But Berewa squandered the moment with many other madcap analogies and anecdotes.

Ambassador Kamara was rash with the audience during the question and answer time. He stated, in an unprofessional manner, that Berewa would not answer questions with preambles. Thus, I was forced to ask my question in a straightforward manner:

"Vice President Berewa, you and the president have made frequent visits to Cuba: What are we gaining from Cuba? Having just returned from a non-alignment conference, who are we non-aligned with in this post Cold War era and global economy?"

Before Berewa gave his inadequate answer, he rebuked me for asking such a question saying, "Don't even let the Cubans hear you ask such a question." Then his answer: "Cuba has given us 17 doctors and there are twenty more on the way." He went on to deny that the president and vice president's visits to Cuba in a year were not frequent. He flatly dodged the non-alignment question.

I am sure nothing could unnerve Berewa enough to pinpoint those that we are non-aligned with while in the warmth of a hall made possible for a hardworking Sierra Leonean by the American dream.

The intended background to my question, for the benefit of readers of this article, is that our Western partners for peace in Sierra Leone are not going to jumpstart us out of poverty properly if our leaders fly to Cuba for coffee breaks and frivolous discussions with the Castros.

When Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf set out to ensure that Liberia had electricity in the first 150 days following her inauguration, it could not have been accomplished through non-alignment — she had her Western partners in mind.

The Castros and the Muammar al-Qaddafis own the national bank vaults and the people in their countries. Because our [Sierra Leone's] leaders are corrupt, they align themselves with these so-called benevolent dictators for the simple fact that they give aid that is intended to directly benefit the country, but without accountability. Only God that knows what happens after such goodwill.

While many of us blame Western capitalism for many of the wars in Africa over natural resources, we still cannot stand up to them even though the time has come for them to clean up their messes. A wise man understands without counseling that he would end up with a punctured nose, swollen lips and black eyes if he dared to fight the heavyweight champion of the world even if he asked for it.

Certainly, Berewa will be another disappointment for Sierra Leone if he is elected in 2007. The signs of a transitional government from President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah's failed policies to Berewa's boastfulness and forgetfulness are quite apparent.

For the first time in many years, Liberia has taken the high road to Sierra Leone's retrogressive narrow path. The elections next year will determine whether Sierra Leone takes the high road with Liberia or stumbles down the narrow path, just as the first two elected postwar leaders of Liberia and Sierra Leone — Charles Taylor and Kabbah — did. Ultimately, they failed their people.

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