By Sheka Tarawalie (Deputy Minister of Information & Communications) :
When recently I decided to take up some journalistic paraphernalia to write an article, I did not use a pseudonym. I never use pen-names or hide behind editorials when I want to express myself. And so ever since I joined government, I made it categorically clear that I would steer clear of the day-to-day running of the newspaper I founded, The Torchlight. Ever since its re-emergence, the paper has had a string of editors, including but not limited to Tatafway Tumoe, Mohamed Sankoh (One Drop), and now Mohamed Sannoh – all of whom are qualified journalists and/or degree holders. Ever since I stopped writing in The Torchlight, it is obviously noticeable that the style of the paper changed – because all writers/editors have their style. But why would someone sit down and think that I would be editing The Torchlight with all the work-load of being Deputy Minister in the challenging and work-load-infested Ministry of Information & Communications? Why would anyone in their right senses think that it is MIK Bayoh that dictates the writings of Global Times because he owns it?
But that’s just an aside. I have noticed that, having lost all credible points and debates in the political discourse, the SLPP and its propagandists would now want to use one tribe against another in getting at President Koroma. It is no more the economy (because we have deflated their flag-bearer’s ego); it is no longer the youths (because we have exposed their candidate’s shallow-minded ‘new direction’). It is now tribe (I laugh my sides out). They will not succeed. They cannot succeed.
PRESIDENT ERNEST BAI KOROMA :
For simple reasons.
The issue of tribe does not really have any foothold in the politics of Sierra Leone (but it does in the politics of the Sierra Leone People’s Party – and I would come to that soon.) If tribe were a political factor in Sierra Leone as a nation, then Siaka Stevens would not have led the APC and the country for decades. If tribe were a factor, then J.S. Momoh and even Tejan Kabbah would not have had landslide victories in elections – the referendum for the former and the 2002 elections for the latter as there were many question marks as to the authenticity of the 1996 elections.
Everybody knew that President Tejan Kabbah was a Mende-Madingo, but when he went to ‘Soso country’ and started speaking their language to give the impression that he was their kith and kin, it did not matter. When Siaka Stevens, a Mende, used to flag around some northern ethnicity, it did not really mean much. So why would anyone really want to make a mountain out of a molehill if President Koroma, so much impressed with the turn-out of his Loko compatriots at a Loko ceremony, decided to associate himself with the Lokos and give them a boost by saying he was also Loko. What is the big deal? In fact the President did not say he was Loko full-stop. And I can quote from The Torchlight newspaper of 2nd April 2012 which gave the context under which the President made the statement. “On Saturday 31st March 2012, the National Landorgor Union of the famous Loko tribe of Sierra Leone were enthused in showing regard and expressing thanks to H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma for the good works he has been doing for Sierra Leone and for making the Loko tribe to be recognized and occupy enviable positions in this country. In respect of this, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma stated with a pleasurable, admirable and enthusiastic smiling face that he is Loko by tribe. Amidst cheering applause from the audience President Koroma asked the question of whether he is not fit to be a Loko man,” wrote reporter John Baimba Sesay who himself is a Loko by tribe. He then quoted the President as saying, “I am impressed with the Loko people; I accept the invitation to your chiefdoms. We are working on the right path to development, so I accept your invitation. When the election [campaign] was taking a hot momentum, people say I am a Loko. Therefore I am a Loko.”
In all literary works, including Journalism, there is the common adage that says ‘You don’t judge a book by its title’ or ‘you don’t assess a write-up by its headline.’ This is a very simple, elementary truism. So for anyone to start to twist the story in The Torchlight just because its headline had said ‘I Am A Loko By Tribe – President Koroma States’ is not only mischievous and misleading, but a pull-him-down-syndrome exercise in futility.
People, Presidents, or politicians can associate themselves with many groups and facets in society, but it does not necessarily mean they belong to such groupings. When President Barack Obama recently endorsed same-sex marriages, does that make him a homosexual? Do we not know that Obama is married to Michelle Obama and that they have two kids? When the SLPP crowned former British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone as a Temne Chief and went on to give him the title of Paramount Chief Komrabai, did that mean the Caucasian white Penfold had suddenly become a black Temne? When the same SLPP – having a penchant for an inferiority complex in the face of white people – repeated the same for Tony Blair, did that make Tony ( whom in actual fact had said he felt like a Sierra Leonean because his father taught at Fourah Bay College) a Sierra Leonean? On June 10 2008, Awareness Times newspaper actually had this headline ‘Tony Blair To Meet Temne Colleague Obais Up North In Sierra Leone’ – did that mean Tony Blair had become a Temne?
If the SLPP has run out of ideas so soon, if they are trying to deflect attention from the public relations disaster that their flag-bearer ignited at Chatham House in London, then they have again chosen the very wrong topic.
Who can doubt that President Koroma is a Temne? Even if President Koroma had said he were a Krio, would anybody in their right senses accept that he is? I remember at one time in Kenema District when President Koroma tried to trace his links to the Mende people through a marital relationship of a relative; does that make him Mende?
Well, if you want to know a Temne man, check out President Koroma’s genealogy. But I would restrict it to his father. Pa Sylvanus Koroma (of blessed memory) was the most fluent and native speaker of the Temne language I have ever come across. He would engage you in a Temne conversation for hours on end without including a single word of any other language – no ‘if’, no ‘but’, no ‘well’, clear straight-forward Temne through and through. The man’s village ‘Yoni’ by its name alone (a model of the big ‘Yoni’ in Tonkolili) shows it’s a Temne conclave in the Makarie Gbanti Chiefdom of Bombali District. The surrounding villages of Mafonkay, Masimera, Mabanta, Sanda, Kunsho, Panlap and the whole Makeni know how Temne Pa Sylvanus was – because when Wesleyan missionaries came to the area and needed a consummate Temne interpreter, the lot fell on him. Thereafter, when the missionaries wanted to translate the Bible into Temne, they found a willing worker in the quintessential Temne man, Pa Sylvanus who was already one of the most distinguished Temne teachers at the Gbendembu Bible School.
So, no way, President Koroma is not a Loko. Just because a man swims in water does not make him a fish. And have you ever heard President Koroma speaking Temne? A replica of Pa Sylvanus. The President can even read and write Temne! Did you hear him speak at the Sewa Grounds, back of State House, when the Temne association, under the auspices of veteran politician Hassan Gbassay Kanu, organised a similar ceremony like the one the Lokos organised? He spoke Temne through and through!
So what the heck is this preposterous hanging on the thin thread of tribal politics? What is all this backwardness in thinking in tribal lines? The reality is that President Koroma has conducted the affairs of this nation so well that any tribe, including the Mende, would want to accept him as their son. The rolling out of major programmes like the road construction, the free health care, the small-holder commercialization programme, the construction of schools, the provision of electricity etc etc has been done for all and sundry without recourse to tribal lineage or association. Even this government’s most ardent critics cannot deny this except if they are self-delusional. President Koroma does not think on tribal lines – that is why all tribes and all regions are represented in his government. He is a patriot. A very nationalistic leader who thinks out of the box, and cannot be placed in a tribal box!
The APC is not a tribalistic party. Only the SLPP is. Yes, you heard me clearly. It was the former SLPP Ambassador to Guinea, Dr. S.B. Saccoh, who made this more pronounced when he told his Loko tribesman in Kalangba that he had decided to leave the SLPP and join the APC because there’s a secret bond stating that only someone with Mende blood should lead the SLPP. And then he started counting – Milton Margai: 100% Mende; Albert Margai: 100% Mende; Tejan Kabbah: 50% Mende, 50% Madingo; Solomon Berewa: 100% Mende. And then Pa S.B. Saccoh swore that it would only be a Mende man that the SLPP would choose for the 2012 elections. Do I need to remind you how it came to pass in the most atrocious circumstances, with delegates being held hostage and their families threatened with death, accompanied by phone calls, if Maada Bio (100% Mende) even with all the havoc he has caused to this country, were not elected
Look, let’s mellow down this issue of tribalising our politics and talk about serious issues. After all, John Karefa-Smart, to his grave, had the greatest conviction that Sir Milton Margai was poisoned/killed just so that he who was a non-Mende would not be given the leadership of the SLPP.
See you over the weekend at the MOBA celebrations in Magburaka where President Koroma, a Makeni man, would give the impression that he is at home!
(The views expressed in this article are not official; but are solely the author’s. The use of his title is merely for identity purposes.)