By Kelfala M. Kallon
Professor Jimmy Kandeh’s essay, “Kabba Cooked the SLPP’s Goose,” and the subsequent exchanges between him and Professor Patrick Muana have finally convinced me of what I had long suspected about the PMDC partisans – that they are fully cognizant of the fact that the only way they can make a case for their unelectable presidential candidate, “Prince” Charles, is to resort to misinformation regarding the SLPP’s record. Professor Kandeh’s arguments and innuendos constitute a brilliant manifestation of this PMDC affliction. Therefore, my first reaction to his piece was to relegate it to my mental rubbish bin as just another act of PMDC desperation. However, as Dr. Sia Tiyaama has wisely noted in her essay in Cocorioko, titled “A PMDC Wild Goose Quacks in Desperation,” Professor Kandeh “occupies a very respectable place among Sierra Leonean intellectuals.” Hence, his recent pronouncements should be put under serious intellectual scrutiny to determine whether they are borne out of the dispassionate intellectual analysis for which we know him or out of the PMDC predisposition for “deliberate misinformation.”
Like Dr. Tiyaama, I do not wish to get into an insult-hauling contest of the type that we have seen between Professors Kandeh and Muana. And as Professor Kandeh knows from our Leonenet days, I am prepared to engage in honest intellectual debate with anyone on any issue. However, I reject labeling because it removes intellectualism from debates by forcing people to defend themselves against labels rather than discuss the intellectual merits (or lack thereof) of the labeler’s case. In this respect, I view labeling as evidence of intellectual desperation.
My goal in this essay is to critically evaluate Professor Kandeh’s wild (goose?) assertions and, thereby, provide the reader with an alternative perspective to the serious claims that he made in his original essay and in his subsequent rebuttals to Professor Muana’s own rebuttals.
The gist of his essays can be aptly summarized as follows:
(1) President Kabba and the SLPP capitulated to the RUF by signing the Lomé Peace Accord which gave amnesty to the RUF;
(2) The SLPP government has brought privation to the people of Sierra Leone;
(3) The SLPP has morphed into the APC and therefore the people of the South and East (a politically-correct term for Mendes) will desert it and vote for Charles Margai because he “never joined the APC.”
(4) Vice President Berewa is “is widely perceived by the public as one of the most corrupt and unpopular politicians in the country.”
On the basis of these four maxims, Professor Kandeh predicted that the people of the Southeast (the politically-correct term for Mendes) will desert the SLPP in droves and vote for the PMDC’s “Prince” Charles. I will now interrogate each of these premises in the rest of this essay. Because of the seriousness of Professor Kandeh’s propositions, I beg the readers’ indulgence, in advance, for this rather lengthy rebuttal.
1. Capitulation to the RUF
On the first issue, I think that Professor Kandeh knows fully well that the the Lomé Peace Accord was rammed down our throats by the Clinton Administration and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. After being criticized for paying more attention to Kosovo than to Sierra Leone, and the obvious racial undertones that involved, the Clinton administration wanted to be seen to be doing something constructive in Sierra Leone. Hence, it put pressure on the Sierra Leone government to make a power-sharing deal with the RUF.
My best evidence for this comes from my participation as a member of a delegation of the now-defunct National Organization of Sierra Leoneans in North America (NOSLINA) that went to Washington, D.C. in 1999 (soon after the rebel invasion of Freetown) to lobby Congress and the Clinton Administration on behalf of Sierra Leone. Our first rude shock hit us when Congressman Donald Payne, then ranking Democrat on the House Africa Subcommittee, showed us a letter he had written to President Kabba telling him that he had to share power with the RUF or risk losing the financial and diplomatic support of the United States. Everything went downhill thereafter as Congressman Payne went as far as to insult our intelligence by claiming that Foday Sankoh and the RUF had a lot of support in Sierra Leone.
Our meeting with the folks at the State Department was even more revealing; the career diplomats at the Sierra Leone desk made it clear to us that they had made recommendations similar to ours to the Clinton White House but that the latter was not listening. It soon became apparent that Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was then President Clinton’s Special Ambassador for Democracy in Africa, had apparently convinced the President that a power-sharing arrangement between the government and the RUF was the only way to bring peace to Sierra Leone. (I am sure that many readers still remember Rev. Jesse Jackson’s description of Foday Sankoh as a freedom fighter in Sierra Leone in much the same way as Nelson Mandela was in South Africa.)
Personally, I was much dumbfounded by the support Foday Sankoh and the RUF was receiving from the American administration, which I initially ascribed it to the triumph of diamond diplomacy over commonsense. It was only after I learned that Congressman Payne was an old college friend of Charles Taylor and that the congressman and Rev. Jesse Jackson were also friends that I concluded that it was perhaps this triangular Payne-Taylor-Jackson relationship, not diamond diplomacy, which had conspired to sell Sierra Leone’s interests down the proverbial river.
At that time, Sierra Leone relied for the most part on Nigerian troops to keep the rebels at bay. But even this was no longer guaranteed after the death of General Abacha. With the return of civilian rule to Nigeria, President Obasanjo was eager to withdraw his troops from its erstwhile open-ended commitment in Sierra Leone. Therefore, he also saw the American-sponsored power-sharing arrangement as the quickest way to effect this withdrawal.
I believe that Professor Kandeh is aware of the fact that Sierra Leoneans from all walks of life, wishing to forestall any power-sharing with the RUF, held a massive demonstration in Freetown during the week that the government delegation was to leave for Lomé. In his address to the crowd, President Kabba clearly stated that he was not in favor of sharing power with the RUF, but that he favored the reconstitution of the RUF into a political party to seek power through the ballot box.
An astute student and observer of Sierra Leone politics, Professor Kandeh is undoubtedly also aware that over half of the President’s cabinet threatened to ask Parliament to impeach him if he signed a power-sharing deal with the RUF. He also remembers, I am sure, that President Kabba and the Sierra Leone delegation initially failed to show up at Lomé; they claimed that the plane that was to take them there had not shown up. Rev. Jesse Jackson then sent the plane that was assigned to him to take President Kabba (alone, without the rest of the delegation) to Abuja, not Lomé, for a three-way mini-summit between him, Jackson, and President Obasabjo before proceeding to Lomé.
I am not privy to what was discussed at the Abuja tripartite meeting. However, I think that it is reasonable to conclude from President Kabbah’s transformation from a principled objector to power-sharing to a reluctant supporter following the Abuja meeting that much pressure was put on him in Abuja to either accept a power-sharing deal with the RUF or perhaps lose the support of the Nigerians. As any sensible Sierra Leonean knew, the pullout of Nigerian troops from Sierra Leone at that time would have made our worst national nightmare (the capture of power by the RUF) a reality.
Our people say that a drowning person would grab at a sharp blade with his/her bare hands in order to save himself/herself. I believe that President Kabba did just that on our behalf in Lomé when he signed the Lomé Accord. He did so not because he relished sharing power with the RUF but because he knew that doing otherwise posed the threat of the country falling into Foday Sankoh’s bloody lap. We know now, with the advantage of hindsight, how that singular act of courage on the part of President Kabba (which exposed him to the possibility of impeachment) is largely responsible for the peace that we have today.
Professor Kandeh claims that it was British pressure – particular the decisive way in which they dealt with the Westside Boys (not the SLPP government) that ended the war. I think that he should be reminded that the war started in 1991 and that the British got involved only after Sankoh and the RUF showed their contempt for the Lomé Accord. Would the British have intervened as they did if President Kabba had obstinately refused to sign the U.S.-brokered Lomé Accord? Would they have intervened if Sierra Leone had lost the diplomatic support of the United States (their close ally) and the military support of Nigeria? In my opinion, no sensible Sierra Leonean, including the learned professor, would answer this question affirmatively because both the Americans and the British were ardent supporters of the Lomé Accord. Therefore, even if we, like Professor Kandeh, ascribe the cessation of hostilities in Sierra Leone to the British involvement, we cannot reject the hypothesis that the British intervention was itself caused by President Kabba’s courageous signing of the (imperfect) Lomé Accord.
We must also remember that even Professor Kandeh’s new “messiah” for Sierra Leone, “Prince” Charles, was a member of the cabinet that approved the Lomé Accord. To the best of my knowledge, he never publicly raised any objections to it; nor did he resign to protest any aspect of the Accord. Therefore, for Professor Kandeh to point to Lomé as one of President Kabba’s three deadly sins can be most charitable attributed to intellectual naivety or just a manifestation of the same old PMDC affliction of deliberate misinformation.
2. The SLPP as an Alleged Cause of Privation in Sierra Leone
Perhaps the most ridiculous of Professor Kandeh’s claims is that the SLPP has brought privation on the people of Sierra Leone. In its milder form, the criticism is that the SLPP government has not been able to provide basic amenities (clean drinking water, electricity, health care) and social goods (education, skills training for youths). Here also, Professor Kandeh, like anyone who gets bitten by the PMDC bug, is willing to ignore the impressive economic growth that has taken place in the country since the SLPP came to power just to make his point. But more importantly, he is willing to dismiss the fact that the problems for which he is blaming the SLPP were caused by 26 years of APC misrule and the resultant brutal civil war which destroyed much of the country’s economic and social infrastructure.
In an article that appeared in the January 9, 2007 issue of Cocorioko (titled “Debunking the Anything But Berewa (ABB) Propaganda: A Reply to Karamoh Kabba”), I showed that the policies of the SLPP government regarding engendering long-term economic growth in Sierra Leone are consistent with current thinking among development economists on the best strategies for promoting long-term economic growth and development. I also cataloged the SLPP’s very impressive economic achievements. Hence, I will not repeat them hear in the interest of brevity. I will merely reproduce below the key conclusion in that piece, which is an apt rebuttal to Professor Kandeh’s critique:
[T]he SLPP government has achieved much since it regained power in Sierra Leone. However, much remains to be done and this requires that people with a proven track record remain at the helm of the Sierra Leonean state. Moreover, if the 2007 elections were a referendum on the SLPP’s management of Sierra Leone, the electorate would need only one question to guide them as to whom to elect, namely, whether they are better off today than they were when the SLPP came to power in 1996. An honest answer to this question would be overwhelmingly affirmative. Finally, if Sierra Leoneans seriously value the peace and social tranquility that they now enjoy, recognize the economic progress that the country has made after a decade-long brutal civil war, remember that it was APC misrule that caused the war in the first place, and, finally, understand that the PMDC’s Charles Margai has no record of leadership (even within his own profession), they would realize that the SLPP remains the only viable alternative for the long-run prosperity of Sierra Leone.
The above conclusion should in no way be seen as a suggestion that Sierra Leone and her people are not facing serious economic hard times. They are, but this is to be expected in a country that has emerged from a decade-long brutal civil that saw the destruction of much of its economic and social infrastructure. However, things could have been much worse had the SLPP government not wisely abandoned “the first-city syndrome” and prioritized the rural areas in its reconstruction efforts in order to reignite the rural economy, which is the key pillar that holds up Sierra Leone’s trade-dependent economy.
The SLPP’s detractors are in the habit of using the social dislocation in present-day Freetown as fodder for their attacks. However, as I pointed out in my earlier essay, many of Freetown’s social problems can only be adequately tackled after a carefully planned, well thought-out integrated rural development program is successfully implemented in Sierra Leone because only this will reverse the flow of migration back to rural areas and, thereby, reduce the demand on Freetown’s dilapidated infrastructure. Until this is done, Freetown will never be out of the proverbial woods in terms of sanitation, access to clean drinking water, and other amenities. In my opinion, the current decentralization strategy that is being put in place by the SLPP government, the rebuilding of schools and primary health centers in the villages and, especially, the planned construction of secondary schools in every chiefdom headquarter are all necessary ingredients in any integrated rural development strategy that would be capable of reversing the current stream of rural-urban migration.
Finally, we should all remember that the role of government in the economy has changed everywhere from activism to one of supporting and enabling markets to solve many societal problems that were once deemed solvable by only governments. In this vein, the SLPP government has courageously avoided economic populism (which the PMDC apparachiks see as “progressivism”) in favor of providing a stable economic environment for the private sector to flourish in the country. To see the sense in this approach, Sierra Leoneans are well advised to remember that at Ghana’s independence in 1959, her per-capita gross national income equaled South Korea’s and exceeded Ivory Coast’s. Ghana, under Nkrumah, followed the so-called “progressive” route of active government control of the economy while Ivory Coast and South Korea followed the same market-enabling policies that the SLPP government is now implementing in Sierra Leone, which Professor Kandeh and his PMDC mates are caricaturing as “unprogressive.” Although the so-called “unprogressive” policies of the latter two states did not wipe out poverty and privation among their people overnight (as those of the SLPP have not done in Sierra Leone), in the long run, the economic fortunes of their people have outstripped Ghana’s. More recently, China has been transformed into an economic super-power at lightening speed after its new rulers wisely chose to dump Maoist “progressivism” in favor of the allegedly “unprogressive” market-enabling development strategy.
The lesson to be learned from these historical examples is that Sierra Leoneans should be very wary of economic populism for the simple fact that we have already tried it under the APC and it only wrought us economic disaster and a brutal civil war. Finally, I find it patently dishonest for PMDC supporters who are living comfortable lives in countries where most of the basic amenities they enjoy are provided by markets (not governments) to hypocritically lambast a cash-strapped Sierra Leonean government that has doggedly pursued the same policies that got the Western World to where they are today. Perhaps these critiques need to spend a month in Cuba or North Korea in order to appreciate the wisdom of this SLPP government’s policy of steering the economy away from the type of insidious, poverty-generating, populism that the APC institutionalized in the country over its 26-year reign.
3. President Kabba’s “Appeasement” Policy
Professor Kandeh put his finger on the key hot-button issue that has fueled the erstwhile Charles Margai wing of the SLPP since 1996, which is that President Kabba has bartered Mende interests in return for national reconciliation. The strand of their argument which I first heard in 2001 from a key supporter of Charles Margai’s failed challenge to President Kabba in the 2002 elections went like this:
For 26 years under APC rule, the Mendes were marginalized and brutalized by the APC’s Northern-hegemonic politics – to the extent that the APC even threatened the very existence of Mendes, as evidenced by the late S.I. Koroma’s alleged threat that after the APC shall have finished it program, ‘only the history books would one day say that there were Mendes in Sierra Leone.’ Now that the SLPP had finally gained power, President Kabba chose to reserve the plums of their political victory for Mandigos, Fulahs, and the Aku – groups that had abandoned the SLPP during its 26 years in the political wilderness. Thus, the argument concluded, Mendes were bound by group interests to replace Tejan Kabba with a “true” Mende who would seek Mende interests.
In a visit to Sierra Leone in December 2005, a friend who had become an active campaigner for Charles Margai tried to convince me to join them by parlaying similar nonsense. During our discussion, he repeated the now-well-rehearsed litany of President Kabba’s sins against the Mendes. As recent evidence of those sins, my friend pointed to the fact that although the war had started in Mende country, the government started its rehabilitation program in the North while the Masiaka-Bo Road, the main artery through “Mende country,” remained a death trap. Tongue-in-cheek, I pointed out to him that President Kabba had a Mende mother and could therefore not hate Mendes. He responded that the president’s actions have made it clear that he is not a “true” Mende. Not to be outdone, I suggested to him that he should then be happy with the SLPP because Vice President Berewa is a “true” Mende. His response was that the Vice President is too wedded to President Kabba to be trusted to protect Mende interests if he became president.
Based on the above, I have concluded that only the de-Northernization of an SLPP government, in much the same way the APC de-Mendenized key government institutions following its rise to power in 1968, would satisfy members of this group. Indeed, the recent attacks by PMDC partisans on Madingos, Susus, and Fullahs (the key groups that have allegedly robbed Mendes of the spoils of political victory during the Kabba presidency) in the just-concluded voter-registration exercise should cause all serious-minded Sierra Leoneans to carefully reflect on what would lie in stock for these groups should the PMDC be empowered by the July 28th elections. We already know what the APC did to the Fullahs circa 1968-73.
Given what I know about the hidden agenda of this core group in the PMDC, I am flabbergasted that Professor Kandeh would get into bed with them and still have the unmitigated gall to accuse those who have consistently rejected the odious notion of ethnic hegemony (regardless of source) as “Mende chauvinists.” In fairness to Jimmy, I can say that based on the little I know about him, I do not think that he would ever knowingly join a group whose core membership holds such an unequivocally detestable notion. Therefore, I can only explain his apparent co-habitation with a group whose grand plan for Sierra Leone should offend all decent Sierra Leoneans as a sign of either his ignorance of that plan or his political gullibility.
In his sensitization tours, Vice President Berewa has made reference to the PMDC’s “veiled ethnic campaign” (even before their recent harassment of Madingos, Susus, and Fullahs) and urged Sierra Leoneans to resist it. We are all witnesses to the catastrophic violence that de-Baathification has wrought on post-Saddam Iraq. We should, therefore, do all in our power to prevent any ethnic hegemonists, regardless of ethnicity, from ever getting near the corridors of power in Sierra Leone and thereafter plunge us into another crisis just so that they could settle old “ethnically-driven” scores.
4. On the Issue of Corruption
Like Professor Kandeh, I care deeply about the problem of corruption in Sierra Leone – deeply enough to spend three years of my professional life on a book on the topic. Knowing about the corrosive impact of corruption on Sierra Leone’s body politic and institutions, I urge Professor Kandeh to publicly reveal all the documents he claims he has about the Vice President’s alleged corruption so that Sierra Leoneans can make informed decisions on July 28th. To wait to incorporate that material in a future manuscript, as he plans to do, will be a disservice to the country, especially since revealing them now would expose his evidence to the filters that careful academic research requires.
More generally, I count myself as one of the most strident critiques of the SLPP government on the issue of corruption. In my book, I faulted Vice President Berewa for his poor record (as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice) of prosecuting cases that were to referred to his office for prosecution. However, I placed the most blame on President Kabba, as demonstrated by the following passage:
The importance of political leadership in the fight against corruption is evident from the negative impact of Siaka Stevens on the level and incidence of corruption in Sierra Leone. However, just as Stevens was able to promote a culture of corruption-with-impunity in Sierra Leone, a political leadership that is committed to fighting corruption can likewise reverse the situation with some degree of success… Unfortunately, while President Kabba has made forceful noises about his desire to reduce the level of corruption in the country, his record leaves much to be desired. When he has had opportunities to show his resolve on the issue, he has given mixed signals at best. For instance, when he could have made a clean break from the past by selecting a cabinet that was not tainted by past years of APC corruption, he appointed men who had been part and parcel of the most reprehensible era of APC rule, to the dismay and chagrin of most Sierra Leoneans. This recycling of spoiled political wines in new bottles has reinforced the view among many Sierra Leoneans that, like President Momoh before him, President Kabba is more interested in elite accommodation than in putting together a political coalition that would fight corruption and other social ills [pp. 359-60].
The reader might now be wondering why I would still support the SLPP for a third term given the Kabba administration’s failing grade on the issue of corruption. I have several reasons for this seeming inconsistency. First and foremost, my research on corruption has taught me that Africa’s “reformers” generally tend to be more corrupt than the people they replace in government. One has to just re-read the APC’s 1967 Election Manifesto to see the wisdom in this observation.
Secondly, I have no confidence in the anti-corruption credentials of the current opposition parties. We have learnt from 26 years of APC misrule that it is not to be trusted with power under any circumstance. And given what I know about the dynamics that caused the erstwhile Charles Margai wing of the SLPP to metamorphose into the PMDC (the idea that it is now time for Mendes to enjoy the spoils of victory) and Charles Margai’s own revealed preferences for corruption, I do not see him as a “Messiah” on this issue.
Furthermore, although I care deeply about corruption, it is not the key issue for me in this election. I am impressed with the SLPP government’s economic record, which has brought much international support for and confidence in the country. As a result of this international confidence, we have seen foreign direct investment (the stuff that catalyzes long-term economic growth and development) start trickling into the country, and I wish to see more of it. Therefore, I am not willing to risk these good things just for the sake of change, especially since the alternatives to the SLPP in the current elections cannot inspire the confidence of any thoughtful Sierra Leonean, let alone that of the international community. But most importantly, my hope and aspiration are for a Sierra Leonean leader and government that will not target any group of Sierra Leoneans for the sort of state-sponsored brutality that the APC visited on the Mendes and Fullahs.
The current SLPP administration has already demonstrated that it is committed to the philosophy that Sierra Leone is One Country with One People. On the other hand, the APC’s hegemonic history taught us that it subscribed to the opposite philosophy, its electioneering rhetoric not withstanding. Also, given the catalyst in the rebellion of the Charles Margai wing of the SLPP, which is the core group of the PMDC, the PMDC has all the markings of an outfit that would practice the APC creed, albeit in reverse order. Therefore, for now, history (especially the recent PMDC-APC harassment of our Fullah, Madingo, and Susu compatriots) and my gut instincts tell me that only the SLPP can guarantee the freedom and security of all Sierra Leoneans regardless of ethnicity. Because my interest in seeing that we never revert to our recent history of violence, which was partly caused by APC’s Northern-hegemonist policies, is my paramount consideration in these elections, I think that it is wise to hedge my bets with the SLPP, in spite of their poor record on corruption.
I must state that, like Professor Kandeh, I joined the SLPP in 2004. I did so because I believed in the SLPP’s core philosophy of national unity (One Country, One People). However, unlike him (and his new political maestro, “Prince” Charles), I do not see a political party as something one changes like one’s underwear whenever one disagrees with its leadership or a specific policy. For example, in the United States, I have not seen Republicans jump ship to the Democrats because they are embarrassed by Bush’s war in Iraq. Instead, they are assiduously working in the background to make the best of a bad situation, hoping to eventually form the critical mass to capture the leadership of the party in the next general elections. Should they succeed in winning the elections, they would then be able to steer the party to the core ideology that they think the current administration has abandoned. Similarly, although I am very disappointed in the SLPP’s record on corruption, I believe that the only responsible course of action for me is to work within the party in order to form a critical mass of anti-corruption reformers to push this issue to the forefront of the party’s agenda during its third term.
One of Professor Kandeh’s key gripes with the SLPP, and the basis for his prognosis that it will be abandoned by the Mendes, is that it has welcomed former members of the APC into its fold. Being a brilliant political scientist, Professor Kandeh obviously knows that political parties are voluntary civic organizations whose raison d’etrè is to win elections because without this, they cannot effect their programs. Hence, in the interest of winning elections, political parties make strange alliances, such as what we are now seeing between the PMDC and the APC – even though their respective ethnic-hegemonic intentions are diametrically opposed to each other. I, therefore, find it rather curious that Professor Kandeh would lambast the SLPP for accepting former APC members while he joins a political party that is joined at the hip with the APC. Is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?
Finally, did President Kabba really cook the SLPP’s goose as Professor Kandeh claims? Based on the superb economic performance during the President’s stewardship and, especially, his dogged attempts at reuniting the country, Sierra Leone is now viewed by the international community as a country that is at last putting its once-chaotic house in order. Although we are not out of the woods yet, we are well on the way. We should therefore stay the course rather than repeat the mistakes that our parents made forty years ago by entrusting rogues with power. In view of the above, I believe that if the people of Sierra Leone are fully educated about what is at stake in the forthcoming elections and if they, thereby, vote wisely on July 28th, the only geese they would cook would belong to the ABB’s (Anything But Berewa) caboodle. What will be on the menu for the Berewa inauguration? PMDC geese, of course!!!