Monday, May 13, 2013

The Margai Crisis: Why Do Smart Men Say Stupid Things?

Charles Margai at PMDC's Peak
"What a li bam bam ba yay, when the Two sevens Clash" Culture

Almost anybody who has lived in Sierra Leone must have heard the name Charles Margai, unless they lived in a village that cannot be found on a map. Charles Margai is an abrasive, in-your-face and supremely self confident legal practitioner who has been practicing law for many years in the country. His court room skills and antics were legendary among provincial folks. He is also the son of the country's second Prime Minster Sir Albert Margai.

 When I was growing up in the Eastern town of Segbwema, I would never miss a court seating on the days when the District Magistrate Owusu and later Magistrate Tunis came to town. Law proceeding in both the European style legal system and the native courts were held at the Segbwema Court Barrie, a green structure approximately 400 meters from our family house on Lansana Street in Segbwema.
Segbwema Court Barrie

Lawyers impressed me so much in those days. Their fine manners, their rich vocabulary, their seeming endless wisdom and their eloquence were all like magnets that drew me daily to the Court Barrie, when ever the Kailahun District magistrate came to Segbwema town.

 Just to be sure that I always knew when the magistrate came to town, I befriended Magistrate Owusu's driver, who saw me as an efficient and confidential tool to use in his various dalliances.  Whenever Owusu came to town, my friend the driver  would go to our house to let me pass on the message that he was in town. The magistrate's driver was also a big shot in the locality in those days. My benefit from this queer friendship was an occasional ride in Owusu's Jeep and always knowing when the lawyers and magistrate were in town.

Back in those day, Charles Margai was young, vibrant, extremely good looking and in my opinion the best lawyer among the lot that usually came to town, or so I thought. I reached that conclusion on the basis of his court room theatrics, his confident delivery and by the fact that he only came to town on very important cases. On the occasion, he spoke in Latin, a language I had studied for three years in Bo school and God, was I impressed! He would always correct the the court interpreter Pa Bankole, a man who occasionally had the unfortunate tendency to translate Mende into English verbatim.

The lawyers that used to go frequently to Segbwema in those days were Lawyers Navo, P.P.P. Kebbie, J.B. Dauda, Charles Margai, Sam Margai, Quee, occasionally Solomon Berewa.and some others whose names I never bothered to remember, as the aforementioned were the stars. If I had not settled for the study of Chemistry and Biology in secondary school, I would most definitely have been a lawyer.

Back in those Segbwema days, we thought that there were only two great lawyers in Sierra Leone; Charles Margai and the legendary Joko Smart who our brothers from Fourah Bay College held in awe. I never personally met Charles Margai in Sierra Leone. Those days provincial lawyers were in a league of their own, to be seen and admired from afar. I however had the opportunity to socialize with him in USA on a political trip.
Margai and Segbwema Blogger 2007

When leading to the 2007 elections Charles Margai defected from the Sierra Leone Peoples Party and formed the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change, many of my close friends and relatives went with him. Some of these friend convinced me that Margai was the only way forward and one of my friends was so enamored by Charles Margai and talked about him days on end, that he was able to convince me to drive from Minneapolis in Minnesota to Milwaukee in Wisconsin, just to hear him talk. The speech that Margai gave that night in Milwaukee was less than impressive, to put it mildly. He spent almost the whole night outlining his grievances against the SLPP and promising to establish what he called a "benevolent dictatorship" in Sierra Leone.
Margai and I&I

The main points that stood out to me in Margai's speech were the fact that he  never really outlined how he would do anything different from President Tejan Kabbah, and his promise of establishing a dictatorship in a country that had suffered years of one-party and military dictatorships with nothing good to show for it, was too much like a step back into the past. Also, being an avid Second World War history student, I knew how Adolph Hitler had started in Germany by using the democratic process to establish a benevolent dictatorship that almost sent the world into nuclear Armaggedon. The only benefit of that trip was that i got to meet Mrs. Veronica Rogers, who had provided a roof over my head when I was in Grammar school doing Sixth form work.
The Good old Days

In 2007,  when during the presidential elections runoff Charles Margai sided with APC against the SLPP effectively ensuring victory and the presidency to Ernest Bai Koroma, I had the gnawing feeling that the relationship was not going to work.I just had the feeling that Charles Margai would not do well in a relationship in which he was a junior partner and told my PMDC friends so. Theye of course, being under his charismatic spell, denied that that would ever be so. But as it stands, I hate to say it,  I was right.

Forward to 2013, PMDC has lost all the seats they had won in the 2007 Parliament. Charles Margai's support in the last election was insignificant and most of the strong PMDC men who he had relied on in 2007 had either defected to the ruling All Peoples Congress, gone back to SLPP or had become disinterested in politics and had found other things to do. This included the entire top executive of the party. The only people left in PMDC were probably those with strong spiritual faith in miracles or who owed personal allegiances to Charles Margai.

The relationship between Charles Margai and President Koroma which started so gloriously, promising a new era of youthful leadership free of tribalism had deteriorated seriously over the years. Starting with reports in the Awareness Times that Margai was recorded bad mouthing the president and accusing his circle of being tribalists and other such statements,  followed by rumors that the President was displeased by Margai's excessive demands, by the time of the elections in 2012 the good relationship was virtually nonexistent. Margai's former party Secretary General Mohamed Bangura had formed his own UDM Party and taken the rest of the supporters that did not want to openly declare for APC, as Bangura spent more time praising and defending President Koroma than campaigning for his own  UDM party. Today the relationship between Margai and Koroma has been reduced to Margai squabbling with the president's wife over some prime real estate in the tourist areas of Aberdeen, a suburb of Freetown
When Hell was Heaven

Last week things got to a head when Margai became so angry and frustrated with the land issue that he started issuing threats against the president and his wife. Speaking to journalists, Margai detailed incidents of attacks against the caretaker of a land he had acquired from one Basma, now deceased. He said that a warrant was going to be issued for the arrest of the First Lady Sia Nyama Koroma, a popular figure in the country.

The said land had been variously claimed to have been property of the First Lady, Basma, Margai and the government, whoever is to be believed. APC operatives now write that Margai is claiming land to which he has no documents, but given his long legal history, that statement definitely does not hold water and should be taken with a bucket of salt. If also the land belongs to the government, why would be First Lady Madam Sia Koroma be squabbling over it? The first Lady is a very cool, calculated and respected figure and the reports are a surprise to most people, though we are yet to hear her own version of events. But as of now, one would expect that the lands ministry would be the people protecting government land.

The whole Margai imbroglio raises more questions than answers. What however is undeniable is that the statement by lawyer Margai that he has 20000 or more civil defence forces (Kamajors) at his beck and call that he can muster to march down to Freetown and defend him is definitely not one to be uttering in a country that has just gone to hell and back. The memory of thousands of RUF rebels, "Kamajors", "Tamaboros" and other loose vigilante groups wrecking havoc in the country is still to fresh in the minds of people in the country for anyone to be making that statement, let alone an educated lawyer like Margai. If ever the President and his men wanted to manhandle Margai for past statements, he clearly has given them an opening. Also the statement of an arrest warrant being issued for the first lady leads one to wonder what universe Margai is living in. Given the nature of Sierra Leone today, which police officer in his or her right mind would execute that warrant? This is a country in which the president can fire the police as he pleases.

Only God knows why Charles Margai, a very educated and experienced lawyer living in a country in which he knows very well that the police are totally subservient to the executive would make such a statement. As they say, smart men sometimes say stupid things. If he was just bragging, then he has probably made a bluff too far. But he could be calculating something we all don't know, as the fellow is as slippery as Amalinze the Cat in "Things Fall Apart"

The irony here though is that in 2007, the same Ernest Koroma was reportedly by Charles Margai's side when he was again bragging that if the results of the elections were tampered with and rigged in favor of SLPP, he had 100 thousand Kamajors ready to resist the government. Those days President Kabbah let him say anything he wanted. But it seems that he has now sang the same hymn in a different church, and the pastor is not pleased. The Christian reverend it seems has just preached to the Taliban and Mullah omar is not laughing.

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