By the death yesterday of veteran politician, Dr. John Karefa-Smart, Sierra Leone has lost not only a distinguished son of the soil but a captivating, colorful , influential, historic ,enticing , enigmatic , brilliant , outstanding and legendary politician and public servant who has definitely left indelible footprints on the political landscape of the country and the academic bastions of the world.Some men are born great while others achieve greatness. In Karefa’s case, it was both. Dr. Karefa -Smart snatched the limelight even before he entered politics in 1957 ( when he was elected to Parliament) . He was one of the most highly and best educated Sierra Leoneans and Africans of all times . He earned a B.A degree at Fourah Bay College in 1936 ; a B.S. from Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, United States in 1940. From Otterbein, he got his Medical degree and C.M. in 1944 and from McGill University in Montreal, a Diploma in Tropical Medicine in 1945 , followed by a Masters degree in Public Health from Harvard University in Boston in 1948 .He was a man of impressive letters yet remained the most humble person imaginable.
With his fascinating education, Dr. Karefa-Smart passed on his rich learning to students in many universities all over the world, including Ivy League U.S. institutions of higher learning like Columbia University and Harvard , in various positions as a Fellow or Professor.
As a high-flying politician, he served as Minister of Lands, Mines and Labour , Minister of Defence and Foreign Minister , while also acting as Prime Minister on many occasions.
He was tailor-made to be President of Sierra Leone but was cheated off his biggest prize by the gestapo politics of yester years in Sierra Leone. After the death of the first Prime Minister ,Sir Milton Margai in 1964 , he was constitutionally next in the line of succession but the then ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party ( SLPP ) Government manipulated the constitution and had the PM replaced instead by his younger brother, Sir Albert Margai. Karefa remained undaunted .
Dr. Karefa-Smart’s problems with gutter politics in Sierra Leone continued in 1970 when with the solid backing of other political icons like Dr. Mohamed Sorie Forna and Ibrahim Bash-Taqi who had resigned from the All People’s Congress (APC) Government headed by Dr.Siaka Stevens , he formed a strongly-supported grassroots party, the United Democratic Party ( UDP) , which was on the verge of eclipsing Siaka Stevens from the political stage. The UDP was the fastest growing new political party ever founded in Sierra Leone after people became disenchanted with Shaki. Realising the waves of support the UDP and Karefa-Smart had stirred up in the nation in so short a time , Dr.Stevens banned the UDP , accusing it of spreading chaos in the country , arrested its leaders and forced Karefa to flee abroad into exile.
Though he remained in exile for long, Dr. Karefa-Smart did not give up. He resurfaced in Sierra Leone to contest the war-time 1996 Presidential Elections when he defeated the eventual winner , the SLPP’s Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah , in the first round of the polls but could not win clearly enough to avoid a runoff. He was a victim of undisputed cheating and dirty political wrangling and subterfuge with the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP SORBEH ) forming a coalition with the SLPP to add to the problems that thwarted Dr. Karefa’s United National People’s Party (UNPP) from clinching the Presidency , which had come ever so close yet so far. Though born great and though he achieved greatness, yet greatness could not be thrust on him by the rascals that passed for politicians. Unbelievably, he was the first man the SLPP had tapped to be their presidential candidate but as if he had a jinx for the presidency , he refused the offer , which was then made to the outsider, Pa Tejan Kabbah, who ended up winning and becoming President . If Karefa had accepted the SLPP offer, he would have become our next President after Maada Bio. But for the sake of his moral principles , Karefa-Smart refused to accept an offer from a party that had manipulated the constitution in 1964 to deny him the Premiership. He also contested and lost the 2002 Presidential Elections to President Kabbah.
Dr. Karefa-Smart will be remembered for his fiery contributions in parliament and his tough , principled stand on matters of national interest. He was noted for being unwavering and unbending when it came to issues he considered matters of principle. He was not afraid of pursuing any battle which, by his thinking, hinged on principles.
He was the last surviving member of the breed of political warhorses of the old order who once dominated Sierra Leone politics, including some others like the late H.C. Bankole-Bright, I.T.A .Wallace-Johnson, Ibrahim Taqi, Mohamed Sorie Forna, L.A. M .Brewah, Salia Jusu- Sheriff, Siaka Stevens, S.I. Koroma , Teacher R.E.S. Lagawo , Mannah Kpaka etc.
Dr. Karefa-Smart will also be remembered for his biting wit , humour and words of wisdom . He was an engaging speaker and debater and not even his advanced age made him lose his sound thinking and sharp observation. I remember when I interviewed him for his 90th birthday six years ago. He was so meticulous over even petty details he stopped me many times in the middle of questions to put things in their right perspectives .
The diamond of Sierra Leone politics did lose its lustre yesterday when Dr. John Karefa-Smart died. Dr.Karefa-Smart has left a vacuum that will never be filled. The irreplacable politician will forever remain in the minds of those he has left behind.
May his soul rest in peace.
WATCH KAREFA-SMART SPEAK : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCIjZxIkgtQ