Politics in Sierra Leone – the dangers of partisanship

Yusuf Bangura

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 November 2017

In my paper entitled ‘Why We Need Change : The case for a Developmental, Inclusive and Democratic Party’, I discussed the contributions of Tejan Kabbah’s SLPP government in the field of stabilisation, humanitarian relief and rebuilding, and Ernest Koroma’s APC government’s attempt to break with Tejan-Kabbah’s stabilisation and humanitarian approach and put Sierra Leonean on a development path.

I reviewed Koroma’s record, which saw improvements in roads, electricity and agriculture, even though what has been achieved is just a fraction of what needs to be done.

I argued that the biggest problem of Koroma’s development agenda was its over-reliance on the mining sector, which experienced a deep recession in 2015, when the growth engines of the economy, African Minerals and London Mining, collapsed because of the sharp dip in global iron ore prices in 2013-15.

I laid out a triad of development challenges that Sierra Leone needs to confront, if it is to become a successful country: an employment-generating growth strategy, quality education and health systems, and infrastructure development.

In the final part of the paper, I assessed the chances of Samura Kamara, Maada Bio and Kandeh Yumkella in advancing this development triad. I ruled out Kamara and the APC because of the party’s deep-seated patronage and corruption, its profoundly authoritarian character, the likelihood of Kamara playing second fiddle to Koroma, and Kamara’s aversion to change.

I found Bio (Photo) unfit for the presidency because of his highly questionable behaviour during the rule of the NPRC and his current practice of paopa politics in the SLPP.

I opted for Yumkella and the NGC because I share their commitment to break the APC and SLPP grip on our politics, their commitment to national unity, and Yumkella’s knowledge of, and passion for, development.

In his paper entitled ‘Yes, We Need Change, But not the Fishy Type’ Kelfala Kallon is obviously angry with me for dismissing Bio as unfit for our highest office. He makes a number of assertions and insinuations while trying to rewrite popular understanding of our recent history and reinvent candidate Bio as the best thing that has happened to Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leoneans are now expected to accept that the NPRC was better than Kabbah’s SLPP and Koroma’s APC. I will first clear the petty stuff before addresssing his main arguments.

Petty assertions and insinuations

Kelfala states that I was all for Koroma as a ‘developmental president’ five years ago; and that I would  have followed Yumkella if he had opted for the APC and made the argument for ‘continuity’. Only someone with a blinkered view would not recognise Koroma’s effort to chart a development path, especially in his first term.

I am not aware of Yumkella’s flirtation with the APC. However, the insinuation that I follow leaders is sadly infantile and irresponsible. Those who know me will confirm that I follow ideas and values.

I’m attracted to Yumkella’s (Photo) candidacy because, unlike the other candidates,  his ideas and values are closer to mine. He is the only politician out there that understands the development challenge and is ready to effect the kind of change that I believe can move Sierra Leone forward.

Similarly, even though I was never a member of the APC and will never become one because of its past history, I felt Koroma was trying to move the country in a development direction during his first five years in office.

I also campaigned for Kabbah’s restoration to power when he was overthrown by the military, and believed he was a better candidate than the opposition in 2002. Even in football, which is my favourite sport, my children can confirm that I am not a permanent fan of any team. I support teams that play the brand of football that I like, and drop them when they don’t perform.

When politicians’ ideas, values and practices diverge from mine, I have every right to re-evaluate them. That is what rational minds, including voters, do. Only diehard fanatics of the paopa type don’t do re-evaluation.

The NPRC’s record

I turn now to Kelfala’s main arguments on why Bio is the best candidate, based on the NPRC’s  record. He touts the NPRC’s record on electricity consumption, control of inflation and economic growth as a feat that demonstrates better ‘economic-leadership ability’ for Bio than Yumkella and Kamara.

Kelfala’s reading of the NPRC’s record in these areas is highly superficial. Let’s start with electricity. According to Kelfala’s own figures, it is very clear that it is Koroma, not the NPRC or Kabbah, that registered an increase in electricity consumption.

A one percent increase in household consumption for Koroma, and half a percent drop for the NPRC and 2.8 percent drop for the Kabbah government are huge differences in terms of the number of people affected for a population of seven million. With an estimated 1,250,000 households and an average household size of 5.6, a 1% increase in household consumption means 12,500 households or 70,000 individuals regained access to electricity under Koroma; and a 2.8% decline in consumption means 35,000 households or 196,000 individuals lost access to electricity under Kabbah.

It is lazy to argue that the war prevented the NPRC and Kabbah from improving electricity consumption. There are many war-torn countries, including Ellen Sirleaf’s Liberia, that prioritised electricity even when they were dealing with war and post-war reconstruction. This reminds me of the popular saying about US President Gerald Ford that he could not chew gum and walk at the same time.

But any serious analyst will not restrict assessment of regime performance on electricity to household consumption. An additional, and indeed useful, indicator for assessing effort is electricity generation.

This is because a regime may register high electricity consumption because of the efforts of previous regimes in electricity generation. In 2006, a year before Kabbah left office, Sierra Leone had 39 megawatts of installed capacity to generate electricity at Kingtom, and 4 megawatts of installed capacity at the hydroelectric dam at Dodo in Kenema, which was built in the 1980s by an APC government.

Seven generating machines accounted for the installed capacity at Kingtom. The NPRC contributed only one machine of 5 megawatts of that capacity. Astonishinlgy, out of the 39 megawatts of installed capacity, available capacity was only 12 megawatts in 2006.

In 2007, when Koroma came to power, available capacity was a tiny 14 megawatts for the entire country, including the Dodo hydroelectric plant. By 2011, available capacity was raised to about 80 megawatts.

Again, the argument that 90 percent of the Bumbuna work had been completed wont bite. Various governments contributed to the development of the hydroelectric dam, with the pre-NPRC APC government having started the project.

The Kabbah government’s energy plan of 2006 promised the nation that Bumbuna would be completed by ‘the third quarter of 2007’ after securing a loan of USD10 million from OPEC to complete a 161 kv transmission line between Bumbuna and Freetown. It turned out that more investment and far greater political commitment were needed to finalise the project, which Koroma did. Kelfala should not distort the truth because the change agent at the time is not in his party.

The larger problem for me is that we still have a long way to go on electricity.  Less than 13 percent of households have access to electricity. Rural access is estimated to be only 1%. Sierra Leone is still largely dark. Yumkella’s international work and what he wants to do in this area holds promise if he wins.

Kelfala also credits the NPRC with sound macroeconomic management, especially with respect to inflation control. Again, here, I find Kelfala playing with the data to burnish the credentials of his candidate. Inflation did come down from the profligate years of Momoh’s APC of 65% to 26% in the last year of the NPRC. But a 26% inflation rate is not something to celebrate. People were still hurting badly, especially when incomes remained relatively unchanged.

The truth is that it was Tejan-Kabbah’s SLPP that stabilised Sierra Leone’s macroeconomy, which I acknowledged in my previous paper, even though incomes did not improve in any meaningful way. His government brought inflation down to 11%, and it was Koroma’s government that brought inflation to single digits, before the government’s economic programme unravelled in 2015.

What Kelfala has done is compared the relative drop in inflation among the three regimes. But this is misleading. Consumers will be better off with an 8% rate of inflation than a 26% rate of inflation, even if the 26% rate is a drop from a higher level.

Kelfala also credits the NPRC with better performance in the growth front. Again, here he uses a dubious method of comparison. The truth of the matter is that only Kabbah and Koroma registered positive growth rates.

The NPRC reduced the decline of the economy under the Momoh APC government from minus103.6 percent to minus 33.6 percent. But the economy still contracted under the NPRC by 33.6 percent. Kelfala touts the 70% reduction in contraction as better than the positive growth rates registered under Kabbah and Koroma because the rate of reduction of the Momoh freefall is higher than the rate of positive growth rate in the other two regimes.

This view can be likened to Bio offering to rescue a man trapped in a 100-foot hole for a fee. Even though Bio only succeeded in getting the man up by 70 feet, he collected the fee and expected gratitude from the man who was still trapped 30 feet down in the hole.

Kabbah’s government returned Sierra Leone to a growth path.  And this growth has been very volatile under the Kabbah and Koroma governments. It is very easy to move from negative growth to positive growth for an economy such as ours that is small and based on mineral activities and foreign aid.

Kabbah’s government experienced a surge of 26% growth in 2002 just after the war and the infusion of much capital into the country through the large UN presence.

This dropped to 9% in 2003. Similarly, Koroma exprienced two growth surges in 2013 and 2014 because of one-off  iron ore investments. Growth dipped in 2015 to minus 21percent, but recovered to 4% in 2016. There is not much to choose between the Kabbah and Koroma governments on growth, especially as the impact on employment and living standards is unimpressive.

Corruption, crime and cheap shots

I want to address three other issues before I conclude: Tejan-Kabbah’s corruption allegations against Bio, the NPRC’s human rights problem, and Yumkella’s development work in Sierra Leone.  Tejan-Kabbah made three concrete allegations against Bio: that the NPRC paid out ‘hundreds of billions of leones’ on dubious transactions with top NPRC officials; that Bio’s brother, Steven Bio, was given the sole authority to conclude ‘all and any military contracts..’, which resulted in contracts ‘running into tens of millions of dollars’;  and that Bio himself ‘casued the government to pay into his private firm, P. Banga Investment Limited the sum of Le. 235,000,000…for replacement of helicopter engines which did not belong to the government’.

The important point here is that the charges were concrete, and came from a president who belonged to the party Bio is now leading. The fact that Tejan Kabbah did not prosecute Bio does not exonerate Bio.

We know from the memoirs of Solomon Berewa (Tejan-Kabbah’s attorney general and vice president) that Tejan-Kabbah was soft on corruption even though he established the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Berewa reports that Tejan-Kabbah (Photo: Berewa and Kabbah in 2007) exerted pressure on him as attorney general to drop corruption charges against a favourite member of his cabinet. Kabbah himself had a cloud of corruption over his head as revealed in the Foster Commission report in the 1960s. It is also instructive to note that Bio and the NPRC boys negotiated a deal to exit State House, and Kabbah might have been wary of upsetting that deal by initiating a trial.

For me, the important point is not the failure of Kabbah to try Bio; it is the failure of Bio to exonerate his name through court action when Kabbah was alive. This issue was raised in 2011-12 when Kabbah was still active and he never denied or condemned it in writing even though he campaigned for Bio.

The NPRC’s human rights record has been exhaustively covered. Bio is on record in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report that he witnessed the torture of the 29 citizens who were executed. The key question has always been: What did he do to prevent it?

Kelfala may brush this question aside because the event took place more than 20 years ago when Bio and his mates were in their twenties. Bio can be a free man, but occupying the office of the presidency is a serious issue.

I want to stress that even if the NPRC had done well on the economy as Kelfala claims, Kabbah’s allegations of corruption and the NPRC’s  despicable human rights record should disqualify Bio from holding the post of president. His candidacy is a throwback to the dark days of our sad history.

Kelfala should be reminded that it was under the NPRC that Sierra Leone achieved the notoriety of an archetypal state in Robert Kaplan’s influential 1994 Atlantic Monthly article ‘The Coming Anarchy’. It is not surprising that Sierra Leoneans, including paramount chiefs in the war-torn areas, were fed up with the NPRC as the phenomenon of sobels (soldiers by day, rebels by night) took root.

This was clearly expressed during the Bintumani conferences as Sierra Leoneans called on the NPRC to organise elections and hand over the reins of power to civilians. Let me also add that Kelfala’s assertion that Bio’s immigration problems with the US will not affect US-Sierra Leone relations is laughable and does not deserve a comment.

Besides, Bio’s militarist background still looms large in his current paopa politics, which frustrated many aspirants for the SLPP’s presidential ticket, with droves leaving the party. Paopa, which is a Themneh word that has been incorporated into the Krio language, has an element of compulsion or force.

In the context of SLPP politics, it means Bio will be leader of the party whether his opponents or the general membership like it or not. Today, the SLPP is just as violence-prone and authoritarian as the APC.

The SLPP’s National Publicity Secretary, Lawrence Leema, is currently facing charges of ‘assault occasioning actual bodily harm and threatening language’ for his altercation with staff at the national broadcasting station.

Kelfala claims that I erred in my judgement five years ago that Bio’s ascendancy to the leadership of the party might pose a threat to our democracy. By the way, I did not say his election was a ‘call to arms by the party’.

But let me say this. Bio and the SLPP did not initially accept the election results and threatened to boycott state institutions, which would have resulted in chaos. I think three things changed their minds: SLPP members who won seats in parliament and councils wanted to enjoy the rewards of office;  the balance of domestic and international forces was against Bio and the SLPP; and a refreshed APC with a compelling mandate was not the same as the ossified APC  that the NPRC crushed in 1992.

Finally, Kelfala dismisses Yumkella’s candidacy because when Yumkella was at UNIDO, Sierra Leone’s manufacturing value added as a percentage of GDP contracted; and when Yumkella was the chief spokesperson of the UN on sustainable energy,  Sierra Leone’s access to clean energy was ‘stuck stubbornly at 2 percent a year’. Well, I never thought I would read such trash from someone of Kelfala’s academic standing.

This is the stuff you are likely to hear from the uninformed or the diehard partisan. Was Yumkella the president of the sovereign state called Sierra Leone when he was at UNIDO and working as sustainable energy chief for the UN?

Perhaps, Kelfala does not know that UNDO’s regular budget is about USD170 million a year, which is about 40% of the Sierra Leone government’s budget (The UNIDO budget rises to about USD550 million when extrabudgetary technical asistance is added; and UNIDO funds are to help 168 countries).

I will not hold brief for Yumkella, as he is very capable of defending himself against such cheap shots. The best Yumkella could have done is what he did – by engaging the government to source UNIDO and other funding for specific projects, such as the Bankasoka hydroelectric project in Port Loko, Charlotte and Moyamba; agro-processing centres in many parts of the country; and creation of barefoot solar engineers, a meteorological laboratory, and a marine training school.

It is only if he gets into State House in March 2018 and our manufacturing and sustainable energy indicators are still poor that he can be held to account.

May I also point out that Kelfala does not understand the UN rules that govern staff behaviour in relation to national politics to allege that Yumkella had the right to participate in Sierra Leone’s politics and failed to do so. UN staff rules do preclude participation in national politics.

To conclude, I do not wish to engage Kelfala in multiple exchanges this time as we did five years ago. I have learned during this period that Bio’s supporters are fantastically fanatical, and would not yield even if the evidence shows that their guy is unfit for the presidency.

I hold no opinion on who will win the election in 2018, but believe that Bio will be bad news for Sierra Leone’s progress. He is clearly not in Yumkella’s league.

6 Comments

  1. To be honest with my fellow Salone People, one big positive effect that is already arising from Yumkella’s candidacy, is that the grandies in Sierra Leone politics – SLPP and APC, are being forced and challenged to talk about development and structural changes that will truly benefit our beloved Salone.

    Changes which are backed by profound and well thought out solutions, that will spearhead our country’s development. Check the acceptance speeches of SLPP and APC, nothing like a wake-up call for change but BUSINESS as usual. Now Bio and Samura must deliver what they are planing for us and we shall see. We don’t need thuggery or violence, but well calculated development programs that will benefit the average Sierra Leonean. Hope we are on the right track.

  2. As interesting as this article may seem, I see a fundamental contradiction in the writer’s arguments. Dr. Yusuf Bangura warns about the dangers of partisanship in the headline of his article, but goes on to display an egregious level of partisanship in the rest of the article. Is it not clear that Dr. Bangura supports Dr. Kandeh Yumkella over Dr. Samura Kamara and Mr. Maaada Bio?

  3. In my opinion,the only time other than 29 June 1992 when according to the Guinness book of records the youngest world leader in history Captain Valentine Esegrabo Melvin Strasser together with Retired Julius Maada Bio will be glorified in Sierra Leone will be after their death, or converted to the APC as in the case of late Tom Nyuma who was humiliated and almost killed by the APC before he finally converted.

    Just like the AFRC revolution in June 4, 1979 to September 24, 1979 in Ghana that saw the execution of Gen. Acheampong, Lt. Gen. Africa and Lt.Gen. Akuffo with other senior officers who were corrupt and were executed by a Junior officer Lt. Jerry Rawlings, always reminds me of what the NPRC did in order to clean up the country after almost 3 decades of misrule and corruption by the APC government under the leadership of the handpicked military dictator late Brigadier Joseph Momoh ( coward) who ran for his life instead of defending his compatriots or so called comrades.

    The current APC government is now engaged in reverse psychology in painting only Mr Bio as ” Paopa”” which relates to violent practices that was not proven during the SLPP convention. Instead the threat president Koroma made to his party members that he is still the commander in chief of the Armed forces was tantamount to sending a message to anyone who dare to openly oppose his handpicked stooge Samura Kamara and “PAOPA TOLONGBO “especially for the Temnes who sometimes tends to react spontaneously was immediately imposed within the region – especially Port Loko.

    To some extent even candidates like Mohamed Kamaraimba Mansaray of the ADP who was denied privileges from the APC decided that” PAOPA” he will alone be the flag bearer for his party and so is Kandeh Yumkella who told the SLPP delegates that ” PAOPA” whether they like it or not he will be a flag bearer for the March 2018 elections and eventually he is the leader of the NGC. So it makes no sense for the kettle to call the pot black since all the political parties are now practicing “PAOPAISM” which in my opinion is the new form of partisanship.

    Speaking of the economic situation of the three governments of NPRC under Valentine Strasser , the SLPP under The Leadership of late Tejan Kabba and currently President Earnest Bai Koroma, fortunately the common denominator to all these regimes is Samura Kamara who is still under intense care trying to recover from the shock since he was handpicked, but I believe whenever he fully recovered he will be the best person to analyze and clarify the economic situations that he masterminded that made us one of the least developed country on the planet earth.

  4. This is my understanding of being objective and facts oriented. Partisan journalism in our underdeveloped country with so many, many structural problems is becoming the ORDER of the day. Development is a process that can only be powered with good governance und accountability at all state levels.

    If there is one thing that I’ll wish for my country today is, to FREE us from the grip of APC and SLPP politics. NGC with Dr. Yumkella alone won’t solve the problems of our country, but their formation and FOUNDATION will be very vital for our future GROWTH.

  5. How Sierra Leone can be supplied with electricity? This is the question I have never been able to answer. What about the millions of dollars spent on Bumbuna project? Where is that money in private hands and pockets? Is the incumbent government waiting for the donor countries to build the dam?

    Oh Sierra Leone! People are rich in the country but the state itself is bankrupt and fighting to stand on foot. I am sure the next government will do all they can to fight corruption and the illness it causes. Thanks very much brother.

  6. This is made of sterner stuff. i only wish we had more journalists or writers of such calibre. maybe, just maybe, we could be saved from the ravages of misinformation. i take my hat to you brother. using simple and staright forward analysis, you have taken the torch to those who feel that they can fool all the people all of the time. Keep it up brother and if any takes you to task, I am confident that you can return them to sender. I love this analysis. You seem to have beaten them at their own game.

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