By Mohamed Sankoh (One Drop)
Osman Tarawallie aka “Salone Donald Trump”, who is at present masquerading as a would-be Presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP-Sorbeh), is merely a symptom; the virus itself will soon spread to other parts of the body politic of Sierra Leone.
To focus on Osman Tarawallie’s eccentricities is very entertaining like watching comedian Sara De Great in one of his low-budgeted Concert-on-DVD; but taking a serious look at his bravado of even foraying into national politics shows how Sierra Leone’s politics is fast cascading to its nadir.
But looking further at the history of the PDP-Sorbeh itself, one is not surprised at such buffoonery as that party has been producing some sort of below-the-belt leaders in the last ten years.
SALONE DONALD TRUMP
Thaimu Bangura, the founding father of PDP-Sorbeh, was not an admiring figure in the eyes of right-thinking politically-correct Sierra Leoneans. He was only respected in the cutthroat thuggery world of politics because of his exploits at Sanda, in the northern part of Sierra Leone, in the 1980s. Even the political asset of the gift of the garb he lacked. It was even said that during the run-off of the 1996 Presidential Election, he had to go to the United States of America for speech therapy. His trademarked unkempt beard and bushy hair always gave him the looks of a frightened bushman who suddenly finds himself in the PZ area of downtown Freetown.
And the late Osman Kamara, who took over PDP-Sorbeh after the death of Thaimu Bangura, started off as a political demagogue who believed that political dividend would only come through making loud noises. Like his mentor, he too fell through the sieve of political opportunism at the first shake when he accepted ministerial appointment from the late Ahmad Tejan Kabba(h?)’s SLPP as Trade Minister. And like his mentor also, he was used, dumped and died broken-hearted.
Since then, PDP-Sorbeh has been producing one clown after another. But the clownishness of Osman Tarawallie, aka “Salone Donald Trump”, beats all the core principles of Clownism (is this another One Dropian dropped word?). Everything about him is sure to provoke laughter even where laughter would be out of place. Even when he is silent; his silence evokes deafening laughter either because of the way he sits or stands. And his gait; facial expressions, and gesticulations are all reminiscences of “Foday Valium”, a character in the local “Wan Pot” comedy.
Osman Tarawallie is a man who has now given the serious business of politics a comic colouration. He has the ability to blend fantasy and reality in the same sentence whenever he is being interviewed on television. But his inability to distinguish between “a garden” and “a farm” is tragically irritating as his half-baked propagation of feminism. And whenever he is given the opportunity to sit before a microphone or camera, he exudes the aura of an ill-mannered boy who suddenly finds himself the centre of attraction.
But his political eccentricities aside, who Osman Tarawallie really is? Well, his personal life is as interesting as his political. He came to Freetown, from the northern part of the country, around 1998-99 as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP). He squatted in a single room on the ground floor of the Old Elections Building (when it was a gigantic dilapidated “Bod Ose”. And those of us who grew up at “Soja Tong” still remember that Building as a place where, as children, we were getting elections marbles from to play “Marble” at the nearby Akibo-Beths Primary School or the “Dorti Box” area around the then Paramount Hotel) at Tower Hill. At that time, he seemed to be a devout Muslim as he was one of those who were calling the faithful to prayer at a nearby mosque. He was so pious that he was known to other IDPs as “Sheik Tarawallie”.
At this time, the yoghurt business began to boom at the Old Elections Building because it then fell within the area where there was uninterrupted electricity supply. So, “Sheik Tarawallie” with his petty-trading instinct saw an opportunity. He teamed up with other IDPs, particularly one Pa Turay, to form a loose cooperative and they put together a project proposal. The proposal was approved (by either a government agency or an NGO dealing with IDPs at the time—I must have eaten that with Potato Leaves so pardon me here), and each partner in the loose cooperative came out from the project with a freezer which the IDPs called “Deep Freezer”.
With Leones now bulking the pockets of his kaftan, “Sheik Tarawallie” decided to take a wife. He married a Fullah woman who later gave birth but the kid died in its infancy. This marriage only lasted for a year-and-half. He remarried a Susu-Themne woman who seemed barren. This second marriage lasted a year. And as his business grew, he decided to leave the yoghurt business and try his hand in something else. He started selling clothes, called “Guinea-Guinea” in local colloquialism, at Wilberforce Street around the Ali Colisee area in downtown Freetown.
With his clothing business booming in his own little way, “Sheik Tarawallie” decided to try his mouth in politics. He dropped the “Sheik” and contested with the name Osman Tarawallie as an Independent Candidate in the 2012 Local Council Elections. After losing woefully, he came to the realisation that he could only gain prominence through an established political party. That’s how he found himself in the PDP-Sorbeh.
But how could a whole political party downgrade itself to the level of a circus? How could a party that was once regarded as a Third Force in Sierra Leone allow itself to reach the level of a spent force? How could a clown like Osman Tarawallie, aka “Salone Donald Trump”, even has the audacity of mooting the idea of leading a national political party and eventually Sierra Leone?
The answer to those questions, above, is that party politics in Sierra Leone has reached or is fast reaching its lowest point. And Osman Tarawallie is symptomatic of all what is wrong with budding political parties that are built on personality cult. Once the founder dies or loses interest in party politics; the party either dies with him or is left in the hands of those who stray from the party’s core ideology. Had it been either the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) or the fragmented main opposition the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), a personified comic-relief like Osman Tarawallie wouldn’t have dared to aspire for a councillor.
But be that as it may, Osman Tarawallie aka “Salone Donald Trump” is an interjection into our national political narrative just like the Porter Scene is in Shakespeare’s play: Macbeth. And very soon, he will come to pass and Sierra Leone will once again face the serious business of politics without any interpolation of comedy.