Titus Boye-Thompson, Communications Consultant
Very few will see the impact that President Koroma brings to such times of very high emotions and grief. This is a sombre time for this nation, a national disaster has visited the people lying at the hills of Mount Sugar Loaf after over seventy years of any comparable loss in terms of scale or magnitude as this one that now befalls our country. Not many again will appreciate how difficult it is for this President to preside over such great calamity but still has to stand firm with an outwardly demeanour, resolute in the outpouring of grief and sorrow. President Ernest Bai Koroma is truly a man of deep courage and strength because otherwise, greater men have been known to capitulate in the face of such disaster.
Leadership takes its toll on those who have volunteered to take on its mantle but in his political dispensation the heaviest toll had fallen on President Koroma in more ways than one. He has ben able though to pull the country together and to lead by example. Assisted by a much admired and energetic wife, the First Lady, Madam Sia Nyama Koroma, his administration has been able to call on the personal stature of the first couple and their altogether empathetic and compassionate stance have always pulled them through the toughest of times.
The spoils of a protracted, bitter and bloody conflict whose signature became the remnants of a war torn poverty stricken economy suffered further damage when its post war government failed to anchor any gains from the numerous international appeals and pledges that came out of the misery of suffering and brutality of Sierra Leone’s civil war. The fledgling democracy remained fragile for a long time because the mechanics of this brutal war took on dimensions never before imagined in these parts. In the event, the groundswell of sympathy that most nations in the international community tried to express through donations and goodwill missions were not given a strong foundation nor provided with a sustainable framework within which to work. In the end, most had to pack up and leave even when the job was never completed and some did not even start. It is these unfinished attempts to reconcile this nation divided in war yet seemingly patched together immediately after is the foundation of the series of catastrophe that is now gripping the country, tearing apart the social fabric and disturbing the natural balance of our ecology and environment.
In a nutshell, the disasters that we witness in the Western Area are not isolated incidents nor are they unprovoked. Most will say that the Gods need to be appeased and they may be right. It was Dr Sylvia Blyden who tipped the scales the other day when she announced that let the questions be asked of the people who know what to do with Sugar Loaf because for it to shed itself in that manner is a foreboding of some grave affront to its integrity and the mountain is calling out for appeasement. When this is said in a traditional setting, it carries a lot of meaning but the Scientists would give it a different meaning that will have to be explained by physical intrusion or the results of environmental degradation. The interesting thing is that both traditional African beliefs and the scientific justifications are one and the same. The only constant therefore is a leader who has managed to hold everything together as he presides over the grave affront to our natural environment, upsetting its balance and causing such wanton loss of life and property at such a calamitous scale.
In the aftermath of these disasters, President Koroma exuded the empathy and compassion that every great leader is expected to command. Cometh the time, cometh the man, President Koroma provides the focus of leadership and understanding that is expected of him and in his own sympathetic fashion, leads the nation in grief and mourning with such dignity and pathos. The First Lady, taking the cue from her husband complements his leadership by acting in that soft display of authority to appeal to Sierra Leoneans, especially the women to engage wholly with the efforts to resettle those displaced by the disasters and those now mourning loved ones and others who narrowly escaped death and destruction that befell others. President Koroma’s visit to the mudslide site at Regent was unannounced but his presence changed everything. His wife’s appeal reached every corner of the country and donations started flooding in from all corners. Most significant was the donation from the Malama Thomas Street Women who brought cloths to wrap up the naked and destitute who narrowly escaped with their lives at Regent. The statistics show that overall, more children are reported dead and also that more females perished than men. This means that the most vulnerable in our communities met the full force of these disasters than others.
In a marked departure from the lines of people streaming to State House to offer donations for victims and survivors alike in such times, and more particularly as what was the case during the Ebola virus epidemic, President Koroma was quick to divest himself from such photo calls this time round and shifted the responsibility to the Vice President. This action is an astute one because it allows the President to continue with the more focussed act of being seen with the mourners and to accord dignity to the burial of the unidentified and unclaimed rather than to be associated with the act of exchanging cordialities in the midst of such suffering and angst. His decision to attend the burial of the more destitute and unfortunate of all victims must be appreciated as his singular honour that the country can grant to its citizens who have fallen victims to such unfortunate circumstances.
Stories abound of miraculous escapes, near misses and the unfortunate loss of lives even in the properties of men in high positions in the country. It is also a mark of respect that the President commands that politicians who have respect for his leadership refused to make a mockery of the situation by being seen publicly making political gains of the sufferings of these people but rather made a conscious decision not to undertake any public act other than to stand behind President Koroma and restrain themselves from talking in his stead. Once President Koroma has spoken, that should be sufficient for the APC, and any aspiring politician in the Party.
Many observers indicate the approval rating of President Koroma and his handling of the events of Monday 14th August as a signal mark of his statesman characteristics, his empathy for the sufferings of his people and the dignity that he has brought to the high level management of these sad events. Most of the families who lost their loved ones would have nothing against such clear understanding the President has given to their loss. The time for recriminations and the period of learning would surely come. The President has however set the tone for these early days as a period for deeper reflection on what has befallen lour compatriots and for the demure and subdued stand that he has taken, he would no doubt have won the hearts of many and the condemnation of only the callous few. There would be those who would capitalize on these events and attempt to put a political hue to it but that action would only cause further smear on them for not understanding that this is a time that this country should come together to bury our dead.
It is however significant to note that the issues raised by the disregard for the environment and the concern for the protection of forest reserves and other catchment areas for ecological viability of this Western Area has for a while been a grave concern for President Koroma who had tasked the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security under the Post Ebola Delivery priorities to respect the integrity of our water catchment areas and installations around the Guma Dams. It is sad that at such sites there now exists sprawling construction and communities, begging the question why the devastation at Motumeh was never contemplated or anticipated.
A the dead are slowly being recovered and given a dignified burial, President Koroma has already received a train of Heads of States who have sent condolence messages and some have even come in person to sympathize with him in person. The signal that President Koroma has been able to evoke such presence in the African regional and World stages is crucial for appreciating his stature as a World’s Statesman. His role in rebuilding peace and security across Africa as Chairman of the Committee of Ten and his successes in negotiating an enhanced profile for the AU in the United Nations Security Council is also a significant pointer to his proven track record as a person of commitment. The Heads of States of the Manor River Union also made prompt alignment with the President, his government and the people of Sierra Leone at this time of great loss in our country. All these commendations and recognition of the pressures that President Koroma face are critical indicators of the very high respect that other World leaders have for him. The Queen of England also sent a special message to the President and the people of Sierra Leone thus emphasising the candour of the British monarch and her affinity to this nation. In all respects, President Koroma has once again stood tall over his peers and absorbed the mantle of leadership and weathered the torrential storms that great men have to unravel. Indeed, our President stands as a true statesman even amidst the death and mourning of the souls lost to such grave catastrophes and disaster.