Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabba as president of the Republic of Sierra Leone did not only compromise with corruption, he contributed to corruption. That is Kabba’s real legacy, and that is how he should be remembered. Political Analyst and Assistant Editor-In-Chief of Cocorioko Sekou Dauda Bangura zeroes in on Kabba’s legacy.
On Thursday June 21 2007, at Sierra Leone’s House of Representative, His Excellency Dr. Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabba made his last speech as Head of State; as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. It was indeed a very comprehensive speech that touched on all facets of government – on all areas of socio-economic and political development in the country. If for no other reason, President Kabba must be commended for taking the time to put together such a detailed document for posterity, and for even having the time to read it to us in order to enable us make a very fair and objective assessment of his stewardship. Without doubt, he succeeded in painting a very bright picture of his achievements thereby making a compelling case for a continuation of SLPP rule. He prides himself and his government as being the most open, tolerant and democratic. ”It is also noteworthy that during our ten years in office, no publishing house has been attacked or vandalized by government agencies nor any journalist detained for criticizing the government.”
Since there is not enough time and space for me in this installment to dwell into the litany of failures under the leadership of Kabba during his ten years in office, I will only focus on that short statement. I will endeavor to bring that statement under my microscope for closer scrutiny. Gone are the days when leaders think they have a monopoly when it comes to telling the truth. We are now in the 21st century; the age of the internet, the information age – a time in which the views and opinions of the people cannot be stifled. If we are honest and do not want to involve ourselves in any political trickery then one can say in no uncertain terms that President Kabba was telling a blatant lie. Under his leadership journalists were not only brutally attacked, they were murdered in cold-blood. As a matter of fact more journalists were arrested, detained, jailed and even forced to seek sanctuary in neighboring countries during the ten-year rule of the Sierra Leone People’s Party than in any other government. The repressive and oppressive reign of Kabba – when it comes to the treatment of journalist who failed to toe the party line – made even the military leaders we have had in Sierra Leone look like angels.
For commenting on the brutal and public execution of 24 soldiers including a female nurse in the military Major Kula Samba by Nigerian soldiers of fortune in 1998, I was threatened by Ambassador Dabo, a trained lawyer, who is supposed to uphold the rule of law and defend the rights of the individual. For predicting the dire consequences for the inhumane manner in which those 24 soldiers were executed, Dabo had the temerity and brazen audacity to say: “Count your blessing you’re in the US… you’ll be a dead man by now.” What Dabo said (then deputy permanent representative to the United Nations) in reacting to my comments, is a clear reflection of the attitude of many in the SLPP. Instead of just taking the time to listen well and do what is right, they become very agitated. When one does not look at things the way they see them, he/she becomes an enemy, and must be exterminated. It is this parochial and myopic way of thinking that is responsible for the rather sad state of affairs in Sierra Leone. Because of the shortsightedness of many in the SLPP, innocent lives were lost in the wake of the so-called restoration of Democracy. The Kamajors were given the license to kill and eat human beings by the SLPP. These facts were documented by Human Rights groups and were brought to light at the United Nations Tribunal. This explains why Hinga Norman, the arch-defender of the SLPP, was eventually arrested and made to stand trial before a United Nations War Crimes Tribunal, and he ended up dieing a prisoner. Need I say the wages of sin is death!
And this brings me to the much talked about openness, tolerance and democracy under Kabba’s SLPP rule. Whatever level of tolerance and democracy we see in Sierra Leone today is not out of Kabbba’s own volition. The man has been a spineless political character from the outset, and he proved to be the quintessentially alienated leader Sierra Leone has ever had. Instead of steering the ship of state, he drifted with the tide. He completely lacks that steady application of the mind that goes to make an effective leader. He listened more to those in his party who heap encomiums on him while behind him they dip deep into our national kitty. He was surrounded more by sycophants whose only intention is to fatten their pockets at the expense of the over five million people of Sierra Leone. This is why things went so bad. Not that he was a bad man; he was just a weak leader who had to dance to the tune of a bunch of corrupt individuals in the SLPP.
Because of this bunch of greedy politicians, Hinga Norman became the sacrificial lamb. For them to continue to receive those foreign handouts to finance their lavish life style Hinga Norman was made to take the blame for all the bad things the SLPP did during the rebel crisis. Vice-president Berewah was honest when he asked the rhetorical question “What is better – failing to handover Hinga Norman and risk losing all the final support we have been getting from the international community?.. It is better for him to go down alone than for us all to go down.” From Berewa’s remarks, it is clear that whatever the SLPP government has been doing in the name of democracy was just a way to make sure that the core members and their bootlickers continue to get the money they need to enrich themselves. Thus the democracy we see under SLPP rule is a façade one. What we see especially after the January attack in which Kabba was told to sit down and talk with Foday Sankoh, is mere window-dressing.
Let us take a look back at the events in Sierra Leone between 1997 and 1998 – The AFRC coup and its aftermath. Outraged by the execution of 24 renegade soldiers for their role in the May 25 1997 coup d’etat that toppled the less than two-year old SLPP government of Alhaji Tejan Kabba, Amnesty International released a statement condemning the extra-judicial trail and executions as “An unfair trial and a blow to national reconciliation in Sierra Leone.” Amnesty’s statement following that Monday Shock captures the mood not only of the International Community but the majority of patriotic Sierra Leoneans who have been striving for genuine and lasting peace. The Monday executions that sent shockwaves throughout the world were seen by many of us as a severe setback to the peace process that was set in place by the Abidjan Peace Accord and the Conakry Peace Accord. Some of the officers executed were crucial in the effort to bring about sustainable peace. Brigadier Hasan Conteh, Colonel James Max Kanga and Colonel Abdul K. Sesay, represent the finest in the Sierra Leone military. They were the crème de la crème of our men in uniform. Had it not been for their presence in the AFRC/RUF junta that was formed, Sierra Leone would have experienced the worst.
Unfortunate though the 1997 coup was, Kabba should have used the lessons from the coup to put an end to our differences and work toward a better Sierra Leone. The grisly executions, unprecedented in the history of Sierra Leone, did not send a clear message as argued by proponents of the death penalty. The executions only succeeded in setting in motion an endless cycle of violence that ended up claiming the lives over 3,000 people in Freetown. The Liberian and Rwandan experience should have served as a sobering political lesson. As a trained lawyer Kabba should have taken cognizance of what lawyers refer to as “mitigating circumstances.” The desire for national reconciliation to ensure genuine peace should have been considered as a mitigating factor or extenuating circumstance in the case of the 24 condemned soldiers. But President Kabba and his cohorts in the SLPP, determined to eliminate any future opposition to their rule, determined to cling onto power indefinitely decided to go ahead with the executions without yielding to the voices of reason. Yes, the SLPP government of Kabba should send a clear message, but the message sent boomeranged disastrously as countless innocent Sierra Leoneans ended up losing their lives, thousands were maimed and wounded while Kabba was hiding somewhere under the heavy protection of Nigerian soldiers of fortune. Kabba’s extra-judicial trial and execution of those 24 gallant soldiers was a far cry from the political sanity he promised to bring. What Kabba and his SLPP government did proved to be the worst in the history of Sierra Leone. For that, he will ever remain in the minds of Sierra Leoneans. The SLPP government that came into being after the 1996 elections was supposed to be a healing government after all the wounds inflicted over the years by previous regimes. Unfortunately, it degenerated to the worst form of authoritarianism.
Many Sierra Leoneans who joined in the cry for the restoration of the SLPP government, in the wake the 1997 coup, were neither Kabba loyalists nor SLPP supporters. But fired by a feeling of patriotism and nationalism, propelled by the desire to nurture and maintain the fledgling democracy, they all joined in condemning the AFRC coup and demanded for the restoration of the constitutionally formed government. Ironically, many of the SLPP supporters who rejoiced and celebrated when the APC government of Momoh was overthrown, were not only condemning the AFRC coup, they publicly called for the use of force to restore the embattled president. What a glaring case of double standards! Many called for the use of force to restore the SLPP government even if it means razing Freetown to the ground. They even worked themselves to believe that Sierra Leone will get a “Marshall Plan” from the United States of America for the reconstruction of the damaged city! What many failed to realize was the fact that Sierra Leone was of no strategic or economic importance to the United States of America. They were convinced that money will be pumped into the country after the war. Indeed money was pumped into the country and Jona who was at the forefront of those calling for the shelling of Freetown became Finance Minister. These facts must be brought to light so that people will understand how avaricious and selfish people like Jona, Lee, and many others were in the SLPP. Today, in the midst of filth and squalor, castles abound. What a paradox? Whilst the majority of Sierra Leoneans are living in abject poverty, we see corrupt SLPP politicians driving gleaming Hummers and other very expensive utility vehicles. It is unbelievable! The country considered to be one of the poorest has the most expensive vehicles you can think of. That is Kabba’s real legacy; that is progress and development SLPP-style!
President Ahamd Tejan Kabba would have emerged as the world’s most respected leader if he had commuted the sentences of the 24 soldiers to life imprisonment. Alhaji Tejan Kabba would have earned the admiration, love and support of a majority of Sierra Leoneans if he had lessened the penalty for those 24. Judging from the ethnic configuration of the soldiers executed Kabba succeeded in alienating the support of all the major tribes in Sierra Leone. That anger will come into play in the 2007 elections. The people have not forgotten and they are surely going to externalize that anger by not voting for the SLPP for a third time. For one thing, Kabba never had the full support of SLPP members. And to make matters worse, the executions were carried by Nigerian soldiers. Prior to the coup, Kabba was surrounded by Nigerian soldiers- soldiers of fortune whose only interest in Sierra Leone is to expand their net of corruption. The presence of these Nigerian soldiers was one of the contributing factors to the 1997 coup. Kabba trusted them more than his own men in uniform. It was this troubling situation that brought about the unholy alliance between the rebels and the soldiers. They saw the Nigerian presence as an erosion of the country’s political sovereignty.
Before the 1997 coup, Kabba brought in Nigerians to investigate and give a report on two coup plots that were uncovered. At the house of all houses, state house, Kabba was glaringly surrounded by Nigerian soldiers. The very presence of these soldiers and the fact that the Kamajors had taken over the role of the national army, were causes for resentment. The Sierra Leonean soldiers felt marginalized under SLPP rule. This is why when the coup was staged by renegade soldiers (sobels/lootants) and RUF rebels, no one from the Sierra Leone Military came to the rescue of Kabba. At best, they became passive observers, and at worst willing collaborators. Instead of addressing the grievances that led to the coup, instead of trying to placate the embittered soldiers, instead of providing a concrete solution to what was a national malaise, Kabba, swollen with self-conceit, decided that execution by firing squad was the best solution.
If Kabba had only listened to the voices of reason he would have averted the national calamity that gripped Sierra Leone after those gory public executions, Nigerian-style!
The renegade soldiers and the rebels used those executions to justify their January attack which wreaked incalculable damage on Freetown. Kabba was once again forced out of Freetown. He had to take political cover at Lungi, while he called for more mercenaries from Nigeria. In the aftermath of the January attack that saw president Kabba shaking like a leaf, Freetown was turned into a police state. Nigerian soldiers, who were just like the rebels and the Kamajors – when it comes to looting and savagery – set up their kangaroo courts and embarked on a killing spree. For quite a long time Kabba could not travel freely within the country for fear of reprisals for his heinous crimes against humanity. What a price for democracy! Democracy cannot exist where the leaders devote ninety percent of their time thinking of ways and means of staying in power. The execution of those 24 soldiers on Monday, October 19, 1998, and the unprecedented rate at which the death penalty was imposed on Sierra Leoneans under Kabba’s SLPP government raises the question of the Rule of Law. In a nutshell the Rule of Law is the mark of a free society. A government cannot claim to be democratic if it does not uphold the rule of law or does not have any regard for the sanctity of life as provided for in the United Nations. The Sierra Leone constitution makes provision for the Rule of Law. Fundamental Human Rights are enshrined in our constitution: freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom of speech.
If we examine the ten-year of Kabba’s SLPP government, we can say with all certainty that there was neither democracy nor the rule of law. Kabba’s SLPP government eroded the rule of law when he arrogated upon himself the power to arbitrarily arrest and detain anyone suspected of having ties with the AFRC/RUF junta. The rights of the individual were trampled upon when for serving under a de facto government, they were arrested, detained, tried without due process of the law and sentenced to death without the right to appeal. That was butchery the mind cannot comprehend! For publicly taking a stand against the use of force to restore a government that never genuinely won the general election of 1996, Sierra Leoneans who had served their country remarkably, were arrested and sentenced to death by firing squad. Thanks to the January attack, the lives of many innocent prominent Sierra Leoneans would have been wasted by Kabba.
The electorate must be reminded that Kabba, Jona and many others in the current SLPP Government served under a de facto government. Out of sheer opportunism, greed, avarice and personal aggrandizement, they served under an illegal regime, the NPRC junta headed by Valentine Strasser, a high-school drop-out and a former disco-dancer. Kabba and Jona positioned themselves to take over the leadership of Sierra Leone after NPRC rule. They even made sure that, officers who had presided over Sierra Leone’s ruin were provided with UN scholarships to study abroad. What a shame to Kabba and Jona, who consider themselves to be intellectuals with a wealth of experience in good governance! Determined to hold onto power even if it means completely destroying Freetown, Kabba and his associates, mortgaged the country to a businessman with dubious and shady dealings. Rakesh Saxena, the Indian-born Thai Banker, bankrolled the Sandline Operation to the tune of $10 million in return for $150 million diamond concession. This action by itself is a crime of stark enormity for which Kabba will soon stand trial for – now that he is no longer president. Kabba as president of the Republic of Sierra Leone, did not only compromise with corruption, he contributed to corruption during his years as president. That is Kabba’s real legacy, and that is how he should be remembered!
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