Beloved Ex-President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah Dies in Sierra Leone

Ex President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah
Yesterday was a particularly sad day for me. I was driving on Interstate 94 in Minneapolis, listening to BBC West Africa Service on my phone through my car stereo when I heard the news that Sierra Leone's former President and long term UN diplomat Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, the man who practically dragged the country from the jaws of hell had died after a protracted period of ill health.

Over the course of several months, the health of the ex-president had seriously deteriorated and there were periodical rumors of his demise, especially when he sought treatment in the United Kingdom.
Post Presidential Work

Ahmed Tejan Kabba, a veteran civil servant, diplomat, lawyer and politician will go down in the history of Sierra Leone as one of the most consequential leaders the country has ever produced and by far the most influential. His prime achievement during his presidency was bringing to an end the savage, brutal and senseless civil war that gripped the country from the early 90s to the early years of the last decade. He is survived by two children and his current wife Mrs. Isatu J. Kabbah (IJK)
Mr. and Mrs Kabba

The Sierra Leone civil war, started by an ex-army corporal Foday Sankoh, supported by Liberian rebel leader Charles Ghankay Taylor with the connivance of Former Libyan leader Muammar Ghadafi and Burkina Faso dictator Blaise Campaore, began on March 23, 1991 with an attack on a small military outpost in the town of Bomaru in Eastern Sierra Leone, after a period of threats by the then Liberian based Corporal Foday Sankoh.

The country's leader at the time Rtd. Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, dismissed the attacks as minor skirmishes that will be swiftly dealt with. However, within the period of a few months, the rebels had almost overrun the border district of Kailahun and their momentum was only impeded by the rapid intervention of Guinean forces in response to a mutual defense pact between the two countries and by the resilience of a small band of Sierra Leone soldiers in Segbwema led by the late Lt. Prince Ben Hirsch, who ultimately lost his life in defense of the area.
Late Wife Patricia Lucy Kabbah

With time, the war went into a dangerous stalemate, with back and forth victories between the country's military and the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) that was to last for the better part of a decade and the passing of the leadership of the country in five hands before its conclusion. The five conflict time leaders of Sierra Leone were Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, Captain Valentine Esegrabo M. Strasser, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, Major Johnny Paul Koroma and Tejan Kabba again.

Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh was ultimately undone by the war, overthrown by a group of young army officers led by Captain Strasser. Strasser promised an early end to the war, but was never able to assert the control he needed to fulfill this promise, as he was surrounded by colleagues whose personalities dwarfed the introverted leader. Later, Strasser's men became to big for him.

Valentine Strasser was eventually overthrown and bundled off to Guinea by his own cabinet, in a palace coup led by his then deputy Julius Maada Bio, who ultimately handed the country over to civilian multiparty rule under the leadership of retired UN diplomat Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.
Assumption of Presidency

Tejan Kabbah was ultimately able to use a combination of diplomacy and  his international  influence to appeal for external military intervention that was to finally bring an end to the conflict in 2002 and restore economic order into a country that had practically become a banana republic after years of conflict.

Tejan Kabba was born on the 16th of February 1932 in the Eastern town of Pendembu to a Madingo trader from Gbolon in Kambia, the North of Sierra Leone, Pa Abu Bakr Sidique Kabbah and Madam Damayei from the Coomber ruling family of Mobai in Mandu Chiefdom, Kailahun district. Tejan Kabbah's paternal lineage was from Kankan in present day Guinea. Before the advent of the colony the areas of Kankan and the North of current day Sierra Leone were one and the same.
The Early Days

After his Quranic education, Tejan Kabba attended primary school in Freetown from where he proceeded to Saint Edwards Secondary school, the premier Catholic high school in the country's capital. After graduation from Secondary school Tejan proceeded to the United Kingdom for university studies, enrolling in the Cardiff College for Technology and Commerce, University of Wales.
In 1959 Ahmed obtained a bachelor's degree in Economics. While in the United Kingdom, Tejan Kabba became very active in student politics and eventually became the President of the Overseas Students Society. He also became a member of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, (SLPP) a party allegiance that he held onto his death.

After completing his degree the young Ahmed Tejan Kabba returned to Sierra Leone and joined the colonial civil service as an Administrative Officer and became one of the crop of civil servants that became part of the country's post colonial administration under the  country's first Prime Minister Sir Milton Margai.
On June 12th 1965, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah married Patricia Lucy Tucker who was then an Assistant Secretary at the Prime Minister's office. They had four children and were together until she passed away after his return from Guinea at the prime of his presidency. She was never truly fond of his political aspirations but accepted his destiny and became a mother figure in the country.
Father of Peace

Tejan Kabbah rose through the ranks of Sierra Leone's civil service, but left the country after the army seized power when the Sierra Leone Peoples Party lost to the All Peoples Congress (APC) of trade unionist Siaka Stevens. He went bak to the United Kingdom and studied law, eventually qualifying as a barrister. When Siaka Stevens eventually became president he confiscated Tejan Kabbah's assets in Sierra Leone on the allegation that he had acquired twenty thousand Leones from the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board, even though two commissions had declared him innocent.

After briefly practicing as a lawyer in the United Kingdom, Ahmed Tejan Kabba eventually joined the United Nations as deputy Chief to the West  African Division of the UNDP and was with the organization for 22 years.During his tenure at the United Nations he served as UN head in Lesotho, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. After returning to UN headquarters Tejan Kabbah became the head of UN's Eastern and Southern Africa Division. During his long service with the United Nations Tejan Kabbah held manu senior administrative positions and made many connections that would later prove invaluable in bringing an end to the brutal civil war in his country. He eventually retired from the United Nations in 1992.

In 1995 some members of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party invited Dr. John Karefa Smart to be the party's leader, but he declined. Many turned to Tejan Kabbah as an alternative, as the party was looking for a leader that was not from its southeastern stronghold. Eventually Kabbah won the leadership of the party, in a contest between himself, popular lawyer Charles Margai, among others.

In the first multiparty elections in the country after many years on ene party and military rule, the SLPP led the field of 13 political parties. In the runoff election between Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP and Dr. John Karefa Smart of the UNPP, Tejan Kabba won with 59% of the votes and was sworn in as President on March 29 1996. He later won reelection and survived several military and rebel insurrections.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabba made it the main mission of his Presidency to bring an end to the country's protracted civil war. As soon as he assumed power, he expandded on the overtures to the RUF that had been initiated by Brigadier Julius Maada Bio and worked assiduously to secure a peace deal with the RUF. 
The Long Road to Peace

Unfortunately for President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, the RUF leader Foday Sankoh, a belligerent individual who had control over large swaths of the country only wanted to sign these agreements to give his organization the space and time to rearm and reorganize, after a series of bruising encounters with the country's military and civil defense forces. While publicly signing peace treaties with the government, Foday Sankoh was simultaneously sending orders to his battle group commanders to intensify the attacks on innocent civilians. The war then took a dangerous turn, with amputations, decapitations and disembowelment becoming and adopted pattern of RUF tactic and strategy intended to intimidate the populace and undermine their confidence in the ability of the government to ensure their security.

Foday Sankoh dreamed only of becoming President, as his friend in Liberia Charles Taylor had become. He would disrespectfully reject peace delegations and became increasingly arrogant in the face of the new international recognition, erratic and unpredictable. Eventually he was arrested in Nigeria for gun running.

Even in the face of Sankoh's recalcitrance however, President Kabbah remained steadfast in his peace overtures. Eventually Foday Sankoh returned to Freetown with powers that were almost vice presidential. It was in Freetown at the time that his men opened fire on a group of demonstrators, a serious miscalculation that was to be his undoing. He went into hiding, was eventually captured and imprisoned facing charges of crimes against humanity. He later died in captivity, a dread headed broken man, sick, unsightly to look at and never able to achieve his presidential dream, in spite of all the concessions Kabbah made to him, just to restore peace and quiet once more in Sierra Leone.

In addition to ending the war, President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah went to great lengths to rebuild the civil service, bring about national harmony, reduce tribal tensions in the country, secure the forgiveness of much of the country's foreign debt, reform the country's notoriously corrupt police forces, restart the reconstruction of the much delayed Bumbuna hydroelectric dam, introduce a social security system through NASSIT, secure funding and contracts for the reconstruction of major roads, and oversee the disarmament and demobilization of thousands of armed militias and their reintegration back into civilian life. Much of the foundation of the successes of the present government in terms of infrastructure were acquired under President Kabbah. He was not however a leader that sought  praise, but was only content with carrying out his duties as he had done through all his years with the diplomatic service, a characteristic that makes him markedly different from the current President. However Kabbah also had much international exposure.

In the heat of multiparty political campaigning there were those who had a lot of negative things to say about President Kabbah, including the current crop of the nations leaders. However, most truly enlightened individuals easily regard President as the most influential leader in the country's history. Even though his rule was characterized by problems that were so great that any man with lesser determination and experience would have buckled under the pressure, he was able to restore peace, sanity and some modicum of decency back to a fractured nation. 

Those of us who are schooled in Economics and Public Administration view Tejan Kabbah as one of the most exemplary leaders of contemporary Africa. Drawing on his experience and connections, he was able to take an African economy on the verge of economic and social collapse and bring it back to a decent level of socioeconomic stability.

Tejan Kabba was never able to combat the deep and widespread poverty in the country, consumed as he was by security issues. During his tenure, the mines lay idle, agricultural lands were in rebel hands, the tax base was at a very low level and the country was rocked by insecurity and instability. However he brought hope to many and was instrumental in ensuring that the main perpetrators of the mayhem in the country were brought to justice.

Though a lot of Sierra Leoneans may have mixed feelings about President Kabbah's economic performance, none can doubt the love he had for his homeland and his democratic credentials. President Kabba lost two of his adult male Children after his Presidency and is survived by a son, daughter and current wife Isatu J. Kabbah, another political firebrand he married after the death of his first wife.
I will miss President Kabba and pray that God reward him greatly for all the things he did.

Sheku Sheriff
Saint Paul


Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Objective as usual.

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