Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For

Ex-President Kabbah
Seasoned diplomat
I heard that former Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah has not been well lately. I wish him all the best and many will keep praying for him.

Well meaning Sierra Leoneans will always remember President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah for dragging Sierra Leone out of the mouths of hell. A veteran UN diplomat, Tejan Kabbah took over power from the Julius Maada Bio led National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) government and ruled the country over a tumultuous period, from 1996 to 2007.

A seasoned international diplomat, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, a civilian, was able to end the long running civil war that both the All People Congress (APC) and NPRC governments under three military leaders, Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, Captain Valentine Strasser and Brigadier Julius Maada Bio had been unable to end, by marshaling immense diplomatic skills and engaging the international community to help end the war, disarm the militants, put the main perpetrators of the mayhem on trial and ensure a thriving democratic environment.
Starting to Miss Me?

President Kabbah was a model African democrat. Pressurized on one side by the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and on the other by mutinous members of his own military who were not comfortable with his style of leadership, Tejan Kabbah survived one failed coup and another successful coup and was the first Sierra Leone leader to maintain a government in exile, when Major Johnny Paul Koroma of the Armed Forces Ruling Council and members of the RUF overthrew his Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) government, forcing him to take temporary shelter in neighboring Guinea for a protracted period, while the country descended into atrocious anarchy. It was only through a combination of people's resistance and external military intervention that chased the murderous AFRC bunch out of power and restored democratic rule once again.
Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma

The period of return from exile was the darkest in Kabbah's otherwise stellar legacy, as he was pressurized to put on trial and sentence to death some of the prmary characters responsible for the wanton killings of the AFRC period . The civilian population of Freetown also embarked on revenge attacks on some of the main supporters of the coup. Some or our friends had to escape from Freetown with men disguised as women.

Bio-Kabbah Handover
Tejan Kabbah maintained a rocky relationship with some sections of the country's press.This sour relationship is today touted by  some of his historical detractors, who try to use the legal prosecution of some of the journalists in the country at that time to somehow paint the picture that he was an intolerant leader. In context however, with the country still  at war,  some members of the press had aligned themselves with an AFRC junta that was hell bent on derailing the democratic gains in the country.  Some of the journalists referenced had not only collaborated with the coupists, but had gone all out to paint bad pictures of Kabbah's government in a concerted bid to give legitimacy to the Johnny Paul-Sam Bockarie led coup that was totally  unnecessary and just succeding in plunging the country once more into months of hell, with the backing of Liberian human rights convict Charles Ghankay Taylor.

RUF Battle Group Cmdr
Sam Maskita Bockarie
The tolerance of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah is only now being appreciated in Sierra Leone. Under Tejan Kabbah, freedom of expression was a treasured commodity available to all. Musicians came out weekly with popular songs comparing his government to squirrels, rats and ground-pigs (a big rat found in the sewers of Freetown)

I can still remember a popular song at that time which goes as "the short wan nar squirrel, the tall wan nar gron pig, the fat wan nar arata", which was meant to describe the traits of the leaders at the time. Musicians like Emmerson Bockarie made references to officials as Swegbe and some were giving the government notice of vacation of State House

Under President Kabba the opposition parties were licensed to own and operate radio stations that were devoted to criticizing his government 24 hours a day and play music critical of his government, yet he made sure the musicians were free to explore their creative talent even though some saw it as an excuse to castigate his government and sow disaffection among the masses.Even after all the initial nonsense with Johnny Paul Koroma and Foday Sankoh, Kabbah allowed these men to become part of the peace process and government and they only fell by the folly of their own ways.

Now that the Ernest Koroma government has embarked on a crusade of sanitizing journalists and muzzling Freedom of speech, Some of us are left wondering whether Sierra Leoneans are not now saying to themselves, "be careful what you wish for as."
The Sanitizing Crew
"She has my full Support"

Opposition radio stations have been banned, music now has to be censored before release, press houses in Freetown are now subject to random raids by the country's increasingly trigger happy police. Opposition leaders are arrested for public statements and their homes and offices raided on the smallest pretext. The police have morphed from agents of law and order into agents of harassment and intimidation. The President's Special Assistant now gives edictslike an Islamic Fatwa and to show that she is untouchable, she has even warned the Information Minister Alpha Kanu that if he interferes in her case she will drag him before the Anti Corruption Commission.
Jonathan Leigh Victim
of Official sanitizing

While this is going on, Sierra Leone has once more started to see negative trends as government officials take their eyes of the economy to concentrate on a campaign of harassment and pettiness. The World Food program reports that Sierra Leone now has the highest inflation in Wast Africa with inflation rates at 11.5 and 10.9% between the months of April and May recorded. Food inflation rates remains above 10% essentially converting over 35% of  the population into scavengers. The World Food Program estimates that the average household now spends approximately 63% of their income on food, with approximately 52% of the population. The UN body warns of serious food insecurity in the country if these trends continue, but who is listening. The government's solution has been to bring in large scale commercial venture to displace small scale farmers in a bid to boost food production. The question of how these displaced farmers will earn their future livelihoods is still up in the air, as President Koroma's economic policies are orientated more towards short term popularity than long term development impact.
Koroma's Leadership

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalist seems to be the last body standing between Koroma's growing ambition to rule beyond his mandate be setting his attack dogs on those sections of the population that he has not already bought over. But as the history of African leaders show, tyranny is may be harsh, but always ends badly. Many members of even the APC party are wondering at the temporary insanity that seems to have descended on State House.

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