Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 October 2017
It has become an all too often familiar expectation that whenever Sierra Leone makes the world news, it is for all the wrong reasons, thanks to ten years of the Koroma led All Peoples Congress party leadership, that has transformed what was fast becoming a promising young democracy in West Africa to a banana republic.
Lawlessness, impunity, corruption and the sheer lack of respect for civil liberty and democratic principles, are making it difficult for credible foreign investors to support existing industries and establish new businesses that could help address the country’s more than 70% unemployed adults get into work.
With almost all major public procurement contract decisions and matters of constitutionality and judicial outcomes, decided by president Koroma at State House, through what has become known as ‘orders from above’, good governance has been thrown out of the window.
Elections in Sierra Leone are less than five months away and the people of Sierra Leone are quietly nursing their desire for a change in government.
But president Koroma who has assumed the position of lifelong chairman and leader of the party, is making sure that his ruling All Peoples Congress party stays in power by all means necessary, including rampant electoral malpractice.
Delegates attending the party’s national convention last weekend, were rudely treated to what many say is a classic Machiavellian trick conjured by president Koroma, when he unilateral decided to hand pick the party’s presidential candidate and running mate.
The president wants to hang on to power after leaving office in 2018. He wants to keep control of the running of the country, despite ten years of failed leadership and economic disaster. Hence his decision last week to bypass the democratic will of the hundreds of delegates at the convention, denying them the right to decide on who leads them into the 2018 presidential and general elections.
Yesterday, 20 October 2017, the UK Guardian Newspaper reported on this story, in a featured article titled: ‘President’s iron-fist methods raise fears for future of democracy in Sierra Leone.’ This is what the Guardian says:
A unilateral decision by the president of Sierra Leone to choose his successor as leader of the ruling All People’s Congress has raised fears about the future of democracy in the country.
Civil society organisations, including the government watchdog group Institute for Governance Reform (IGR), have voiced concerns that Ernest Bai Koroma’s failure to allow party members to vote for their new leader echoes the actions of former dictator Siaka Stevens, who on standing down in 1985 ushered Joseph Momoh into office. (Photo: President Koroma’s choice for 2018 elections: left is Mohamed Chernor Bah with the foreign minister Samura Kamara).
The nomination of Samura Kamara, Sierra Leone’s foreign minister, was announced on Sunday, a few hours before Julius Maada Bio – former leader of the military junta that ruled Sierra Leone at the dawn of its 11-year civil war – was chosen to lead the country’s main opposition party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
Both appointments have rekindled memories of past authoritarianism, with some questioning the integrity of what is to be Sierra Leone’s fifth presidential race since the country reclaimed democratic status more than 20 years ago.
“Koroma came to power by promising a new APC, whereas the reality has been a clear reversal back to the old ways of thinking,” said Andrew Lavali, the IGR’s executive director. “At the convention we had delegates that, in reality, had no authority. The decision was ultimately the president’s.”
Having taken office in 2007, Koroma is nearing the end of his second and last five-year term. The ruling party’s constitution allows the president the option to call a delegate election to choose his successor, but Koroma took matters firmly into his own hands.
“In the end, the party is bigger than everyone,” the president told a crowded convention hall in his hometown of Makeni. “People say I am a nice man, that I am a gentleman, and I agree. But do not cross my path after I have made a decision.”
Former junta leader Julius Maada Bio at a campaign rally in Freetown before the 2012 election. Maada Bio, who ran against Koroma in 2012 and vied for the SLPP leadership in 2007, has long been the anticipated opposition candidate, despite claims from opponents within the party that he has used intimidation to secure votes.
He has maintained a strong cult of personality in Sierra Leone’s southern provinces since his military rule, and has even erected signs across the country proclaiming himself Sierra Leone’s “Father of Democracy”.
It was under Maada Bio’s military regime that Kamara was first appointed to government. A long-time supporter of the president, he was installed as governor of Sierra Leone’s central bank in 2007 and promoted to finance minister two years later. When Koroma was re-elected in 2012, Kamara became foreign minister, a role in which he has drawn criticism for his perceived inaction towards the country’s growing human trafficking problem.
Kamara, who has been at the forefront of Koroma’s push to strengthen the country’s economic ties with China, claims to hold a PhD in economics from Bangor University. According to the Welsh institution’s website, however, his 1986 graduate thesis was never accepted.
More than 25 people declared an intention to run under the APC symbol, creating an air of uncertainty around Koroma’s selection. The APC convention was twice postponed, and leaks to local press ahead of the convention suggested Koroma’s preference was at odds with that of certain party members.
Kamara, a largely unknown figure in both the public and political spheres, came as a surprise choice to many supporters of the ruling party. Among the most popular candidates were John Bonoh Sisay, former CEO of the country’s largest rutile mine, and John Fitzgerald Kamara, justice minister and head of the country’s anti-corruption commission. Both ran exuberant and expensive campaigns, whereas Kamara did not publicly campaign for the position until September.
Sierra Leone’s foreign minister, Samura Kamara, was Ernest Bai Koroma’s surprise choice for leadership of the All People’s Congress.
“I would like to congratulate Dr Samura Kamara,” Sisay said on Facebook following the announcement. “I assure you that [my supporters] and I will do all within our power to give [him] the utmost support for the betterment of our party and Sierra Leone in general.”
Other camps were more disgruntled, but most voiced support for Koroma’s decision. The president’s supporters encouraged party members to back his judgment regardless of the outcome. Sisay has been haunted by a bribery scandal since August, and Fitzgerald Kamara has long been accused by his opponents of running a corrupt Anti-Corruption commission.
“I never heard of him before but I’ll always stand with the president,” said Abraham Bangura, a supporter from Freetown. “[Samura Kamara] has a clean record, which I like, and we were expecting [Koroma] to give us someone from the north. But it could have easily been someone from somewhere else. We have a problem with tribalism and there should be a kind of balance I think.”
Kamara and Koroma are both of the same tribe and hail from the country’s Bombali district, of which Makeni is the capital. Makeni underwent rapid development over Koroma’s 10-year presidency and now boasts the country’s only 24-hour electricity supply. Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, still suffers from power outages.
“Koroma has been somewhat of a lame duck president,” Lavali said, “and so we see him hiding behind a character that is weaker than him, that is tribal, as opposed to a strong personality that can drive the election himself. That’s why he went for someone less known, so that even after he’s gone he can keep everything about himself. He couldn’t do this with a strong or established personality like John Sisay or Fitzgerald Kamara. This way, Koroma himself is the ticket.”
Sierra Leone’s presidential election is scheduled for 7 March 2018.
You can read the full story in the guardian Newspaper here: