Why president Koroma of Sierra Leone is finding it difficult to announce election date

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 1 February 2017

The decision of Sierra Leone’s ambassador to China – Alimamy Koroma (aka Petito) to abandon his duties in Beijing while receiving full pay, and now back in Sierra Leone engaging in promoting his presidential aspiration, rather than resign his job, has once again called into question the moral and legal compass of several government officials who are also guilty of similar abuse of office.

Elections in Sierra Leone are due in February 2018. According to the country’s constitution, all public officials intending to contest those elections, must have resigned their government jobs at least twelve months prior to February 2018.

This therefore goes without saying that aspiring presidential candidates such as the attorney general – Joseph Kamara, the minister of mining – Minkailu Mansaray, and several others, should have by now resigned from their jobs or handed in their notice.

Last week, one of the key contenders for the presidency – John Bonoh Sisay, poured scorn at his senior colleagues in the ruling APC that are campaigning for the presidency, yet are refusing to resign their jobs, while continuing to claim government salaries.

Sisay had himself resigned from his job as chief executive officer of the mining company – Sierra Rutile Limited, in order to prepare for the 2018 presidential elections.

And despite calls by civil society groups, the national elections watchdog -NEW, opposition parties and the media, the president himself continues to flout the will of the people and their demand for an announcement of the date of the elections. (Photo: John Sisay).

According to policy analysts, president Koroma is in serious quandary as to who the party should elect at its forthcoming national convention to carry the mantle of presidential candidacy for 2018.

President Koroma was hoping for a peaceful, smooth and consensual decision by the party’s executive in advance of the convention. But the process has been fraught with difficulties.

There are very deep internal divisions and disagreements about the party’s choice of presidential candidate. And it is understood that the process has been further complicated by the Chinese Communist Party making clear its preference to president Koroma when he visited China last December.

The degree of interests among the candidates varies from the very keen – Haja Zainab Hawa Bangura, John Bonoh Sisay, Alimamy Petito Koroma and Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara – to the ambivalent, if not unwilling participants such as the minister for foreign affairs Dr Samura Kamara, Bank Governor Dr Kelfala Marah, and the APC party Leader in parliament Ibrahim Bundu.

The party’s choice will be determined in large part by President Koroma’s preference, but also by the degree of electability of the person the opposition SLPP chooses to be its candidate.

It is an open secret that president Koroma is torn between his two favourite candidates – attorney general Kamara and the multi-millionaire businessman – John Bonor Sisay, who last year handed a $25 million cheque to president Koroma to help run the government, including payment of teachers’ salaries.  And now its payback time.

According to a senior APC source speaking to the Sierra Leone Telegraph, the ruling party believes a like-for-like contest with the SLPP will be to the disadvantage of the opposition.

For example, the retired military brigadier Maada Bio as the SLPP’s choice will give the APC wider room for discretion on their choice of flag-bearer.

“The party stalwarts are convinced that we have several candidates with a very good chance against Brigadier Bio than would be the case against other candidates like Dr Yumkella and Andrew Keili. Defeating Brigadier Bio is our basic strategy. Our strategy against Bio proved very effective in the past, despite the fact that SLPP is still in denial over the outcome of the 2012 presidential race.” the source told the Sierra Leone Telegraph.

The APC is expected to hold its delegate convention next month – possibly Friday, 31st March 2017, where it may or may not decide who should be the party’s candidate in the next presidential polls.

Is president Koroma hoping to contest another term should no clear winner emerges at the APC convention?

In mid 2016, after a rancorous national debate over his intentions to seek an extension to his current mandate, President Koroma made it crystal clear that he would leave office at the end of his current mandate.

His mandate ends on November 17, 2018. This declaration came shortly after the launch of a multi-donor funded program to support accelerated implementation of a clearly defined and costed prioritized post Ebola recovery plan – “The President’s Recovery Priorities” (PRP).

A high level Presidential Delivery Unit/Team (PDT) was set up with £50 million grant funding from the UK government to provide technical assistance and staffing cost.

According to a UK government document on the program, dated January 2016, the PDT will act as “the primary mechanism for driving delivery, problem solving, monitoring results and supporting line ministries in implementation.”

The document further added that: “There is strong political support from the President to ensure the ambitious targets set out in this plan are delivered over the next 9 to 12 months. He recognises a need to demonstrate swift progress against the targets in order to restore public confidence and encourage ongoing international support.”

It is understood from unconfirmed comments by a British expat member of the PDT that the strong donor support for the PRP – what he calls Sierra Leone’s “Marshal Plan” – was in return for President Koroma ostensibly dropping his bid for a term extension.

However, halfway through its implementation, only about a third of the total envelope earmarked for funding the PRP has been disbursed by donors.

Donors’ support has been skewed understandably towards the social services sector: Health, Education, Water, and Social Safety pillars.

The growth enhancing pillars – economic sectors – Electricity, Infrastructure and Agriculture have received far less than the anticipated level of support.

President Koroma is said to be deeply disappointed at the slow funding for the PRP. He feels somewhat betrayed by his Western partners.

The World Bank and the European Union are the country’s main multi-lateral sources of development financing, while the UK government remains its main source of bi-lateral aid.

An unhappy relationship with the country’s main donors will pose a risk to the 2018 elections – either for lack of adequate funds, or worst case scenario – an APC reversal towards a term extension for President Koroma, in reaction to unfulfilled promises of financial support for the PRP.

His supporters say the ethos of President Koroma’s presidency is to achieve high economic growth rate and “national transformation”. He is said to be concerned that a failure of the economy to fully recover from the Ebola outbreak and commodities price shock might be regarded as a blot on his legacy.

The economy has shown modest signs of recovery. Real GDP is projected to grow at 6% annual average in 2017 and 2018. That’s barely the rate needed to bring GDP to its pre Ebola level (2014).

But president Koroma cannot go back now on his word to leave office upon expiration of his final mandate.

Doing so will not only cause a fallout with the donors – particularly the EU, UK and the World Bank;  at best it will be to the advantage of progressives in the ruling party (a voiceless minority) in deciding who becomes its flag-bearer.

At worst it could provide ammunition to the opposition’s call for a change in government in 2018 by “any means” – implying, if necessary, by promoting widespread disaffection and civil protests.

It seems for now, Alpha Kanu (Photo) who now dubs himself as “the apprentice”, is the only APC member to have publicly declared his intention to be his party’s presidential candidate in 2018. But that’s unlikely to happen.

Many more party bigwigs are also on the campaign trail. Among these, former ministers Haja Zainab Hawa Bangura and Alimamy Petito Koroma, the Attorney General and former Anti-corruption Czar Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara (JFK), and the former CEO of Sierra Rutile John Bonoh Sisay have respectively come the closest to declaring their interest in succeeding President Koroma in 2018.


JFK, as the attorney general (Photo) is fondly known, has quickly gained ‘rock-star’ popularity in the ruling APC party, while many Sierra Leoneans will agree that Mrs Zainab Bangura’s international popularity and respect is perhaps second only to the SLPP’s Dr Yumkella.

But both JFK and Zainab are said by critics to lack the business or economic management expertise and experience of John Bonoh Sisay, Dr Kelfala Marah or Dr Samura Kamara.

John Sisay who likens himself to the US president Donald Trump for his wealth and business experience, lacks public sector and political experience, but has enough money to buy votes and pay his way to the top.

President Koroma knows too well the serious economic challenges awaiting his successor.

But for now, the people of Sierra Leone and the international community will have to wait and see if that will be a key consideration in the ruling party’s choice of flag-bearer. And that choice, may well be out of president Koroma’s hands.

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