February 11, 2016 By Joseph Dumbuya
Imagine a highly educated person who has lived most of his adult life in the United States of America and seen politics at work in that part of the world tells you not to focus on ‘Personality’ but on ‘Issues’ – policies, programmes and manifestos – in choosing your leaders. I take ‘Personality’ to mean the character, private life and also track record.
Well, if you had listened to the Radio Program 101 moderated by veteran Journalist David Tam-Baryoh over the weekend, this was what Alie Kabba alluded to. It was the most used phrase in his interview. He promised us that his campaign for flag-bearer will not focus on personalities.
As the heaven could have it, the closest Tam-Baryoh came to asking a question bothering on Personality was to say he was not going to ask questions relating to the bigamy case against Kabba so as not to prejudice justice.
The reason for doing this piece is chiefly because this statement is coming from someone who is highly educated, exposed and more importantly aspiring for the highest office in the country.
Even though his comment on Personality caught my attention, it is important to note that he offered some useful insight into his vision for the country, which I must confess sounds good from face value. He spoke on a host of issues including social justice – ensuring every Sierra Leonean has the opportunity to a bright future – and corruption.
I will explain later why there is no certainty that the vision of the SLPP flag-bearer – talk less of the other aspirants for this position – will be included in the SLPP manifesto.
On the contentious issue of ‘More Time’ for President Koroma he suggested we keep an eye on four institutions – National Electoral Commission, Statistics Sierra Leone, Constitutional Review Committee, and the Political Parties Registration Commission – which could make this possible without interference from the President Koroma.
I must hasten to say this is not the first time of writing on this issue. I have argued several times that in the context of Sierra Leone having the right Personality to steer the state ship is equally as important as the Issues, if not more important.
After all, Constructive Nationalism under Joseph Saidu Momoh of the APC, Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper I and II under Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP, and the Agenda for Change and Prosperity under the current APC Government of Ernest Koroma are all excellent on paper. The problem has been with the personalities implementing these programmes. The challenges involve lack of proper scrutiny of persons driving the programmes in terms of integrity, track record, private life, education, analytic and organisational skills.
The million dollar question will be: “Would Alie Kabba say the same to an American audience?” I doubt it! The reason is this: It is impossible to hold a public or elective office in the United States without passing the Personality test. When you veer into public life you should expect to be subjected to rigorous scrutiny by the people, the media and congress. You have to pass it first and then all the others will follow, including the Issues.
In the 2008 presidential election in the United States, which Kabba participated in, Barack Obama’s race, his citizenship, religion and upbringing by a single parent were topical issues in the campaign. In fact, even after he had produced his birth certificate, we still have millions of Americans who do not believe he is America. Questions about his religion still linger on, with millions of Americans believing he is Muslim. His wife was described as an angry African American.
In the ongoing primaries in the Democratic Party in the United States, questions are being asked about Hillary Clinton’s close relationship with Wall Street, ethical issues around donations to the Clinton Foundation, extra-marital affairs with a partner in the law firm she worked with while his husband was Governor of Arkansas.
In the election of May 2010 in Britain, the Labour Party under Gordon Brown – in a bid to portray itself as the party of the poor and the working class – made the aristocratic background of the leader of the Conservative party, David Cameroon, a centerpiece of their campaign. They were quick to point out that because Cameroon was born to a rich family and enjoyed going to one of the most expensive private schools, he does not understand what ordinary people go through to eke a living.
I have no reason to doubt that Kabba knows these issues better than I do. So, why is he prescribing something different for his country? This is something that has left some of us wondering. Is it because the Personality Test is Kabba’s weak point?
Kabba has a lot of explaining to do bothering on his personality and track record, including the bigamy case he is currently standing trial for. As a voter who takes serious everything that has to do with anyone aspiring to become president of Sierra Leone, I will certainly demand answers to questions bothering candidates’ Personality.
For Kabba, I would like to put his record at Fourah Bay College to test. He is the only presidential candidate to go unopposed in a student union election in the long history of that institution, and this is not for lack of opponents. In fact, Ibrahim Sesay withdrew from the race at the eleventh hour after he was subjected to an unprecedented level of bullying by a cult group loyal to Alie Kabba. This is despite clear indication that Kabba was by far the more popular candidate and would have won the election hands down had his opponent been allowed to contest.
The issue of a candidate going unopposed not least in a university sets a bad precedent for the country, especially at the time. If a university with hundred percent highly educated people can have a candidate go unopposed in an election, what moral authority has it got to lecture a national government majority of whose citizens are illiterate? Pluralism is a basic tenet of democracy; once it is removed the vacuum that is created is filled by a dictatorship. We saw this under the One-Party system presided over by President Siaka Stevens.
Also, for the first time in the history of the university, a student was flogged publicly on the orders of Kabba’s government in an apparent display of dictatorship and jungle justice. Ironically, these things were going on under his watch while he was busy demonizing the then APC government for doing the same.
There is also the more important issue of Kabba’s alleged role in the RUF, his adventure to Libya and then surfacing in the United States of America. This is an issue Kabba should take his time to explain to Sierra Leoneans. His alleged role in the RUF smacks of opportunism and therefore makes a depressing reading. It is not good for his political career to be silent on them. This is an issue that cannot be swept under the carpet. The RUF committed heinous crimes and anybody who is remotely connected with the outfit has to apologize to the nation like others have done under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
On the issue of the vision of the flag-bearer aspirants as opposed to the party, which I promised to return to, one of the frontrunners in the race to become flag-bearer, Alpha Timbo, speaking on his vision for the country had cautioned that his party would always come up with one to take to an election, which does not necessarily have to reflect all of his vision. He said that in 2012, the committee that was charged with that responsibility was charged by Mr. Andrew Keili and not the flag-bearer.
The point he was trying to drive home is this, he could talk about his vision but at the end of the day the collective vision of the party will take precedence over the vision of the candidates aspiring for positions including the flag-bearer.
So, the best bet for the SLPP flag-bearer aspirants is not to ignore the issue of Personality, at least they have complete control over it. I know this is the weak point for Kabba and a few other aspirants because it puts them on the defensive. But politics is about positioning oneself as the better candidate and this involves taking advantage of your strengths.
Say what you may, the SLPP just cannot afford to ignore the issue of the Personality of their flag-bearer. I assume they have learned their lessons in the 2012 general elections where they spent most of the time defending their presidential candidate. Did you hear Lawyer Gevao talk about excess baggage recently?
What is very certain is that the APC will not ignore this issue especially if they can use it to their advantage like they did in 2012. Assuming the rumours making the rounds are correct and Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara emerges the flag-bearer for the APC, the SLPP will be under pressure to produce a consummate candidate that will match his excellent quality. Otherwise, APC’s ruthless spin doctor, One Drop, will have a field day.