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Verdict 2018

Pen Portrait

A Conversation With The Gadfly, Kamarainba

October 4, 2017 By Osman Benk Sankoh

It was during the civil war. The NPRC military junta was in power. The highway leading to Freetown from the provinces was a death trap. Vehicles were ambushed, destroyed and passengers killed. Those lucky to come out alive were abducted and taken to the jungle. Others were freed but unfortunately they returned with a ‘short sleeve’ or a ‘long sleeve,’ (rebels chopping off limbs) with messages from the rebels that they were on their way to State House.

The road to Kono was a ‘no-go’ zone. He knew what awaited him if, God forbids, he met the rebels on the road. He damned the consequences, sought permission from the then NPRC military strongman, the late SAJ Musa. “I have food for my people in Kono, they are dying of hunger and I need to go feed them at all cost,” Mohamed Kamaraimba Mansaray, now the leader of the Alliance Democratic Party (ADP) and a contender for President in 2018, said to him.

He got his way; he did not fall into an ambush and he safely delivered a truckload of food, including fish and drinks, to his people in Koidu. There was jubilation. A son has done something great, something big, something ‘kamarainba,’ which loosely means something out of the ordinary. That was how the nickname stuck to him till this day.

In Freetown recently, I wanted to meet with Kamarainba who was once a member of the APC but now in the ADP. I wanted to talk to him about his chances of winning, his assessment of the APC and President Koroma’s reign, his priority areas if he were to become president, his ongoing court case and also, about the recent fire incident at his party headquarters. I was also interested in knowing which side he would go if there was a run-off off and his party was not in the race. I couldn’t get hold of him. He was in and outside of the courtroom and at the same time crisscrossing the country. When I finally got him, it was on a Saturday, after I had left the country and the telephone conversation lasted for one hour and eight seconds. He was in Makeni.

Kamaraimba was born in Port Loko. His heavily pregnant mum hurriedly traveled to the northern town when news reached her in Kono that her other son was sick and admitted at the hospital. At the same hospital in Port Loko, the woman went into labour. She delivered a bouncing baby boy and she was beaming. Thirty minutes later, those smiles were replaced by tears. Her sick son had died – bittersweet memories.  A week later, she travelled back to Kono where Kamaraimba grew up in an Islamic home and attended Ansarul and UMC primary schools before proceeding to the Magburaka Boys Secondary School. His dad, Pa Alhaji Alimamy Mansaray, a diehard APC supporter, hails from Lunsar. He was illiterate.

He credited his dad for once having some ‘sympathy’ for the APC. When he left the country in 1997 for the United States, Kamarainba said he paid 100 US dollars to Abie Bangali as his registration fees to the party and was given a receipt. Membership cards were unavailable but he was promised one on his return to Freetown. He even became the party’s Washington Chapter Youth leader, and helped raise 20,000 US dollars for the country’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. “I spent 4,000 USD to buy eight cows and the remaining 16, 000 US dollars was given to Elizabeth Mans who was the party’s women’s leader.” Kamarainba arrived in Freetown with a container load of food and drinks for the anniversary, he said.

Things turned sour in Freetown. He met President Koroma and told him that he wanted to succeed him. He claimed that at a program at Miatta Conference Hall and in the presence of the President, the youth shouted his name and openly declared that he was their own Obama and next in line to succeed EBK. “The party leaders became jittery and naïve. Pat Sowe declared that I had committed treason. The next day, a statement from the party came out that I was not one of them. I was not given a membership card and my 100 USD returned to me.”

Since that day, the ADP leader who holds a BSc in Sociology from Howard University and a Master’s degree in Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology   has contested two bye-elections and continued to be a thorn in the flesh of the ruling party. He said President Koroma has failed completely and catalogued water, electricity, heath and sanitation, education, food security and not being fiscally responsible as some of government’s pitfalls.

At the top of his priority list should he become president are food security, shelter, jobs and business opportunities. “These are the basic needs of life.” On what makes him different from the other contenders, he said: “All of them, including those in the opposition wanting to be president, have all been part of the corrupt system. I’m coming with the change,” the admirer of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama said. He also believes that if he were to be president, “the opposition will hold him accountable every step of the way and that will give him the added energy to deliver.”

On his chances of winning next year, the married man with four kids, including one he named Sierra Leone, claims he has the numbers to win the elections. In his previous bye-elections, he got 40 percent of the votes in Bombali and 30 percent in Lunsar. His prayer is to garner between 30 and 35 percent of the votes to take him to a run-off and he will emerge victorious, whether it is against the APC or SLPP. Should he fail to get past the first round, Kamarainba and his party will not throw their support behind any of the candidates. He will call a press conference and inform the entire world that the campaign for 2023 starts that very day. ”

Kamarainba, who is 41, loves African music, R&B, rap and reggae, and is an Arsenal fan, which I am too. We took time off to console ourselves over the downward spiral of our team, about Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to go, the situation with Sanchez and Ozil. By the way, he was a Liverpool fan before moving to Arsenal.

He said he was saddened by the destruction of his party’s headquarters in Freetown recently. He told Reuters that it was “petrol bombed’ and firmly accused the APC of perpetrating the act. He said this was not the first time the ruling party has tried to stifle his party. In Port Loko and on two occasions, his party office was torched. He had been attacked in Lunsar, his car destroyed and his driver stabbed. A similar incident occurred in Makeni. Even at the burnt headquarters, “thugs were sent to attack me,” he said. In all of these cases, Kamarainba claims that arrests were made but the due process of the law has not been allowed to take its course.

On his ongoing court battle, he blames Vice President Victor Foh for his arrest. He said he was first charged on three counts but they were dropped except for one, possession of a stun gun without a license. He denied the charge and states, “I have three bodyguards and one armed Operation Support Division (OSD) officer with me. I have no reason to be in possession of a stun gun.”

Surely, the presence of Kamarainba Mansaray in the political fray for 2018 may unnerve people in some quarters. He is energetic and he is a good salesman. While hoping for a run-off, Kamaraimba must first overcome the court case and the threats to his person and party structures. If he jumps over these hurdles, he will have lived up to his Kamarainba name as one capable of extraordinary feats. For now, it’s a game of wait-and-see.

Disclaimer: Osman Benk Sankoh, a former editor of Concord Times, now works with the United Nations. Sentiments expressed in this piece are his and do not reflect those of his organization.