March 15, 2016 By Mohamed Massaquoi & Alusine Sesay
It has finally pleased President Ernest Bai Koroma to do the long awaited Cabinet reshuffle or recycle, depending on how one perceives last weekend’s announcement from the presidency. President Koroma had been criticised by many, including the media and civil society, for dallying in filling several vacant Cabinet positions. He finally took action by announcing a major ‘shake-up’ as a couple of ministers were moved from their former ministries to new ones.
23 out of the 43 appointments are filled with already familiar names in the previous Cabinet, while the rest were either serving in some major government agencies or parading the corridors of power in search of appointment.
Much improvement was made in the area of women’s representation in governance as 11 women were appointed, with three nominated to serve in the diplomatic front as either ambassador or deputy ambassador. The decision of the president to appoint more women to Cabinet or ambassadorial positions must have been inspired by International Women’s Day celebration on 8 March, where he promised women more empowerment.
But in living up to its billing as recycled, the president appointed people he had previously sacked as ministers. Alimamy P. Koroma was relieved as Minister of Works and Infrastructure few years ago. He was apparently the sacrificial lamb for inaction to fix the country’s poor road network, especially after the re-election of President Koroma in 2012. He has again been re-appointed as Ambassador to China, for remaining loyal to the ruling All Peoples Congress party as the Northern Region Chairman. His loyalty and his strategic position in the party must have forced the president’s hand to appoint him again and this time round as a diplomat. Rosaline Oya Sankoh was also relieved as Deputy Social Welfare Minister but has again been appointed Deputy Ambassador to the Islamic State of The Gambia.
Mamoud Tarawally was relieved as Deputy Minister of Education for an alleged rape, although he was consequently acquitted and discharged. Although he was found not guilty by the court on technical legal grounds, critics would argue that he should not be given any responsible position in governance because his name has already been muddied in such a scandal.
The replacement of Paul Kamara in the Sports Ministry would definitely come as welcome development to the current executive of the Sierra Leone Football Association. Throughout his time as Minister of Sports, Paul Kamara was a controversial figure, hence his sacking would come as relief to many sports loving fans in Sierra Leone. It is envisaged that Paul Kamara would go back to managing his For Di People Newspaper.
The sacking of both the minister and his deputy at the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not come as a surprise to many Sierra Leoneans. It was no longer a secret that the two were not in good terms and largely at variance when it came to decision making. Sheka Tarawally vehemently opposed the contract agreement for printing of the new biometric Sierra Leone passport and the price increase. Popular writer and newspaper owner, Mohamed Sankoh, in his One Drop column, had shed light on the sour relationship that existed between the two ministers, which may have convinced the president to send both men into political hiatus.
Again, the current security trend with regards terrorism in West Africa might have prompted the president’s decision to appoint two experienced retired military men to serve in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Having served as Minister of Defense prior to his previous appointment as Chief Executive Officer of the National Ebola Response Centre, Alfred Palo Conteh is expected to provide the needed leadership to handle internal security issues, although many are baffled as to why the president did not retain him as Minister of Defense.
Sierra Leone had been threatened with terror attack by the Al-Shabab militia in Somalia for the country’s participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia. Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast have suffered from terror attacks blamed on Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb recently. Therefore a robust security mechanism is needed, as well as men at the helm to nip in the bud any diabolical threat to our collective security.
What also appears pretty much bizarre in the president’s decision is the appointment of a Member of Parliament as Deputy Ambassador to the United States of America, thereby creating room for another bye-election. Governance analysts are of the view that such appointment creates burden on the country’s economy and undermines the security of the state. Bye-elections recently have been characterised by violence; political violence was reported in the Kono and Moyamba bye-lections, where the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party complained of alleged violence perpetuated by the ruling party. The National Electoral Commission has postponed the Constituency 50 parliamentary Bye-election for some unexplained reasons, which may not be unconnected to unease within the ruling party for symbol as five candidates had vied for the vacant seat, vacated by Hon. Isata Kabia, who is not Minister State in the Foreign Minstry.
The appointment of Dr. Christian Thorpe as Deputy Minister of Education 1 is even more controversial. She had served as Chairperson of the National Electoral Commission and presided over two general elections that brought and consolidate APC’s grip on power. Like Dr. James Jonah, who was appointed Finance Minister after he conducted the 1996 elections that brought SLPP to power, Dr. Christian Thorpe’s appointment would be viewed by the opposition as a pay back.
Moreover, the appointment of Dr. Sylvia Blyden as Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs is another controversial appointment that is sure to generate public debate. As hitherto the only female newpaper owner, Blyden has been in the middle of controversy almost always, including caricaturing the president in his pants! That notwithstanding, she was rewarded for being a “voluble propagandist” for the ruling government in the lead to the 2012 elections. Her appointment as Special Executive Assistant to the President was short-lived and punctuated by controversy, before she “resigned” or was asked to resign by the president. Her appointment was necessitated by the sacking of the previous minister and his deputy for openly bickering in office. The jury is still out that Blyden would not create the difference in her new post and could soon be at loggerheads with her deputy, as she demonstrated with her colleagues in State House.
Cabinet reshuffle or recycle
The appointment of some to new ministries certainly fits the characterisation of either a Cabinet reshuffle or recycle, with some new players getting a nod while some old hands were given the boot.
For example, Diana Finda Konomanyi was former Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, now she is Minister of Lands and Country Planning and the Environment.
She is the former District Chairlady of Kono District. She is widely considered as one of the most influential female politicians in Sierra Leone, and a close ally of President Ernest Bai Koroma. Ms. Konomanyi ran for a seat in Parliament in 2007 but was defeated in a close race by Hon. Emmanuel Tommy of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP. In 2009, she was elected APC regional chairwoman for the Eastern Province. She has been engulfed in a number of controversies though, including her alleged role in the sacking of former Vice President Chief Samuel Sam Sumana and the recent suspension of the elected Mayor of Koidu New Sembahun City Council, Saa Emmerson Lamina.
It is still not clear whether her removal from that ministry has anything to do with her decision to remove the mayor or the controversy surrounding her ill-fated marriage with opposition politician, Ali Kabbah, whom she accused of bigamy and perjury.
Karamoh Kabba, a close ally of Ms. Konomanyi, was Deputy Minister of Political and Public Affairs; he is now Resident Minister East. He is one of those who allegedly plotted the political demise of former Vice President. His appointment as Resident Minister East has not been welcomed by many easterners, who believe he will employ division among their ranks, especially as the region is considered a stronghold of the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party. A controversial character with his record in the Diaspora Office still haunting him, not least the saga of the missing millions while en route to Kono to host a workshop.
Mohamed Bangura is the new Minister of Information and Communication. Bangura entered the field of politics via the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) in 2007. He returned to Sierra Leone from Canada, where he had sought asylum in the early 90s, and joined the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) ahead of general elections in 2007. From relative obscurity, he attained political recognition while in the PMDC. He soon fell out with the Chairman and Leader of the PMDC, Charles Francis Margai, and went on to form the United Democratic Movement (UDM).
Bangura was instrumental in calling for the recall of former Special Representative of United Nations Secretary General, Michael Schulenburg, whom he claimed was interfering in the internal politics of the country. His name was secretly included in the presidential delegation to the United Nations that year, ostensibly to present a petition against Mr. Schulenburg. Although the allegations were never proved, the top UN diplomat was nonetheless recalled.
As the mercurial former Chairman and Leader of UDM, he tendered his letter of resignation from the party he formed few months ago, although few actually took him seriously as an opposition politician because he would rather be in support of, than oppose government.
Young Generation chairman of the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party, Musa Peter Moigua, accused him of ‘political manipulation’ after he announced his resignation from the UDM.
Few months before he resigned from the UDM, Bangura was seen dancing and jubilating outside the Law Court building in Freetown after the Supreme Court ruled against former Vice President Chief Samuel Sam Sumana, in his petition against his sacking.
He was also seen in APC colours during a political rally ahead of the 14 November bye-elections in constituency 107 last year. Moigua described Bangura’s political play-acting was inimical to the nascent democratic process in the country, as well as a violation of the PPRC Code of Conduct Article 14, and urged the leadership of PPRC to condemn him and to take punitive actions against his political party.
To many avid political observers in Sierra Leone, Bangura’s resignation from the UDM and defection to the ruling party did not come as a surprise. He infamously announced his support for President Koroma’s second and final term bid in 2012 despite going through the nomination process, and knowing full well that his name was already printed on the ballot.
Some UDM members accused him of undermining the party for personal aggrandizement.
Maya Kaikai former Resident Minister East now Minister of Local Government.
He is a businessman, largely in the hospitality industry, and was not a full-blown politician until his appointment as Resident Minister after the 2012 elections. He largely concentrated on making inroads for the APC in the eastern region, predominantly an opposition area.
Arguably still a political rookie, he has now been catapulted to full minister, in charge of Local Government. It remains to be seen what tact, if any, he will bring to a ministry previously under Diana Konomanyi, and which has to deal with several local councils operated by the opposition, not least his home district Kailahun, and 149 Paramount Chiefs across the country.
While the likes of Alpha Kanu (now Special Presidential Adviser) has been moved from Cabinet, and Theo Nicol, former Deputy Information and Communication Minister, lost his place in government, Sierra Leoneans are divided as to whether the long-talked-about Cabinet reshuffle is in fact what the words connotes or is merely a recycling of old players from one post to another, or bringing back those who have been in the wilderness to the limelight.
From the look of things though, it looks like an admixture of a reshuffle and recycled.