by Dr. Christian F. Sesay, Jr.
Very soon, Sierra Leoneans will go to the polls to elect the person who will continue with the rebuilding and rebranding of the nation of Sierra Leone. And by now, you probably have heard the old proverbial saying “anybody can become a President. But, not everybody was born to be a President” It takes a unique individual, someone passionate, clever, and determined, to compete for the task. It takes still more talent, charisma, and integrity to bear the burdens of occupying State House.
It’s hard to say what the Founding Fathers of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) would think of some of the flag bearers of their party today. But there’s no doubt they’d be horrified by the thought that a certain Julius Maada Bio is aspiring to lead Sierra Leone. In their days, no man worthy of the presidency would ever stoop so low to fight viciously and undemocratically for it. Sir Milton Margai was asked to lead the SLPP. Few years later his successor and younger brother, Albert Margai, took over the affairs of the party when the older brother passed away. And, in 1996, Ahmed Tejan Kabba was given the presidential nod on a silver platter by the SLPP kingpins. This brief presidential history of the SLPP unearths one striking fact – that the flag bearer position, which might turn into Presidency, is not an office to be either wrestled or solicited. It is an office meant for the fittest and the experienced.
Unfortunately, that is not the case today. Maada Bio’s ceaseless wrestling and solicitation of the flag bearer position continues unabated. He will stop at nothing to eliminate any potential challenger. A move that has forced many credits worthy party loyalists to ponder as to why he is filled with such a voracious political appetite. Just because he has been developing grassroots men and women doesn’t qualify him for the presidency. I do agree that there are similarities between the developing a grassroots’ base and the presidency. Both tasks require a candidate to perform well under pressure, communicate effectively, and build a team that trusts you and can function with little sleep and lots of stress. One time political adviser to the Obama campaign, David Axelrod says the cauldron of the campaign reveals the unknown peculiar qualities that you can’t highlight on a CV.
But if good grass root organizers were to make good presidents, by now we’d have had a constant string of national development successes in Sierra Leone. Most past presidents, have been skilled on building grass root support. Yet their talents do not necessarily translate into nation building. Grass root crusades reward fighters and loyalists but governing requires cooperation, compromise, and negotiation for which Maada Bio is unsuitable.
The cheap political critique of Yumkella is that he is not tough and he has never voted in Sierra Leone. Really? Bio points this out as if that’s all you need to know to disqualify him. But pliability is an indispensable value of a good president. Fidelity has a nice quixotic twist to it, but Sierra Leone does not need any leader who sets a course and then refuses to change it no matter what? (Paopa syndrome) It’s more fruitful to examine the specific cases where Yumkella showed flexibility, offered hands of peace compare them with cases as in most recently when Maada Bio arrogantly in an interview rallied for the continuation of SLPP dysfunction, and then decide which candidate wants to embrace peace and which was simply belligerent.
In a thorough examination of Maada Bio’s leadership acumen and behavioral pattern from his days as the Chief Brutality Officer in the NPRC government, I realized that he is missing four leadership qualities that have come to define excellence in a country that is still sniffing its way out of oblivion. Relative to Yumkella and President Koroma, Maada ought to answer these questions for the people of Sierra Leone because the last time I checked, he had none.
First, does Maada have a compelling vision for his presidency? President Koroma embraced a vision of the “Agenda for Change and Prosperity”. As a flag bearer, Yumkella is very serious about transforming Sierra Leone through energy efficiency and to leverage his connections and networks with international investors and governments.
Second, does Maada have the ability to implement a vision when he does not have any? The president has to appoint professionals — devoid of tribal and regional sentiments — to help develop and influence policy in Sierra Leone. The individual has to develop the skill of retail politics, something that is clear now that based on Maada’s utterances and undemocratic behaviors, he is unfit.
Third, does Maada know that any sitting president of Sierra Leone will have to focus on a few major goals at a time? When asked by his interviewer recently what his goals were, Maada dangled, delivering an incoherent message for his support base. In contrast, Yumkella emphasized on three to four major goals he will pursue immediately after his election.
Finally, does Maada understand the progression and consequences of policymaking? To create the conditions for effective decision-making, it’s important for a president to select people who are not only “yes men and women,” but who demonstrates physiognomies of the “gutsy disciple,” somebody who is willing to call things by their names to tell Maada Bio the truth. It seems Yumkella has shown a real ability to do this during his leadership at the United Nations. George W. Bush, who was very decisive, wasn’t as good at examining the consequences of his decisions.
The end objective is not, nor should it be, a decolorized challenge drained of all drama. Different people will reach different conclusions about how much experience or management ability a particular candidate has, and one attribute may overshadow all the rest given the particular demands of the moment. The goal is to help us better re-think about the qualities Maada Bio may actually need once in office. During the SLPP convention, delegates must take a leap. But maybe this article can help them see a little more clearly where we might land if they bargain for him.