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July 8, 2021

BY Andrew Keili

This reshuffle was not unexpected. Indeed, the Chief Minister’s ouster has long been rumoured, but when it did come, it was nevertheless like a thunderbolt. Other cabinet changes have also raised eyebrows.

The moving of the Chief Minister to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and replacing him with the Minister of Finance is perhaps the one that has set most tongues wagging, but we will come to this later.

On a positive note, President Bio has appointed an impressive array of young people to Deputy Ministerial positions. The two appointed in Agriculture, Theresa Dick and Musa Kpaka are very highly qualified. The former holds a doctorate degree in agricultural extension work and the latter is a highly qualified development economist who has also worked with the prestigious IITA and many other international agriculture-related organisations. Sarjoh Aziz Kamara at the Ministry of Higher Education has done stellar work with the UN in various countries in the development sphere and Hindowa Bindi at the Gender and Children’s Affairs Ministry has done well in many spheres of national life. For Mamadi Gobeh Kamara, the new Deputy at Foreign Affairs and Solomon Jamiru, sent to the Information Ministry, it is a straight swap. Jamiru has done good work at Nacoverc as spokesman and Mamadi, a quick learner, will further hone her skills at Foreign Affairs. This is altogether good for young people.

There is only one caveat -Deputy Ministers can only do well and make an impact if allowed to do so by their Ministers. Our past history is replete with Ministers not delegating responsibility to their Deputies. There is a notable case in which a Lands Minister always used to carry lands plans in the boot of his car as he would not allow anyone else to sign the documents.

The Agriculture Ministry now has the Acting Minister, Abu Bakarr Karim as substantive Minister. No surprises there, as he is a strong Bio loyalist of long standing who has coveted the post since his former boss, Dennis Vandy was relieved of his responsibilities because of investigations wrought by the Commission of Inquiry. Many had expected him to be eventually exonerated and return to his former position.

Solomon Gembeh’s removal from the position of High Commissioner to Nigeria to be replaced by the affable veteran Diplomat, Rupert Davies was like a bolt from the blue. Gembeh’s transfer to the Natcom Board as an ordinary member, essentially a demotion, has set tongues wagging as to what may have gone wrong in Nigeria. Sheku Bangura’s move from a Deputy Finance Minister position to Nacoverc also came as a surprise as is Brigadier Kellie Konteh’s move from that position.

The case of Alie Kabbah is even more perplexing. Just when one thought that he could go no lower after his last demotion from Foreign Affairs Minister to the UN Ambassador position, he has now been sent as Ambassador to Egypt. This is a precipitous fall to a bottomless pit. It would appear Kabbah will however take it all in his stride as he has always done. But the question will always linger as to what could be the problem. It is no secret that the suave Kabbah, who is also regarded as a master political strategist is highly ambitious. The question arises as to whether the intention is for him to resign or he is being reserved for a “political mission”.

Saved for last! One needs to delve further into the Chief Minister’s move to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. No matter how much spin is put on it and how much he has appeared upbeat and optimistic in his pronouncements since this change, this is a demotion. It is also surprising that his replacement J.J Saffa still holds the Finance Ministry portfolio for the time being. Foreign Affairs Minister, Nabeela Tunis’s ouster was probably not foreseen at this stage. After all the President’s supporters have been applauding his success on his numerous foreign trips which had resulted in him “bringing home the bacon”. Surely the Foreign Affairs Ministry must have been intricately involved with this! Forming one part of a power couple, with her well connected husband, the ECOWAS Speaker would have surely made her safe, one would have thought. Also to some, the optics of removing a young vibrant up and coming Female Minister may have deterred any changes at this stage. The question being asked is whether she was moved to make way for David Francis or for performance reasons.

Conspiracy theorists have set about proffering reasons for the the change of Chief Minister. There is little doubt that David Francis has been trying to build up and consolidate his political base in Kenema and has considered himself the Chief Political patron of Kenema, much to the chagrin of some die-hards who may consider him a “Latter day Paopa”. “Where was he when we were struggling in the trenches?”, one asked. He has also been rumoured to be very ambitious for a post -Bio future run for the Presidency. Surely, sending him to the Foreign Ministry will send him far away from local politics!

There are many questions being asked. Was his ouster because of his perceived intricate involvement in the internal SLPP politics of Kenema or as a result of what many consider his lack- lustre performance as a Chief Minister? Questions can legitimate be asked of his performance as Chief Minister. Was Francis doing a good job of coordinating other Ministries? Was he too belligerent to make success of some of the issues he was involved with like the National Peace and Reconciliation commission.? One critic has said of him: “For a man who professes to be a Peace Expert with strong international connections, the fact that he has been so divisive and has loathed the opposition-always “reds under the bed”, has not helped bring about a conciliatory atmosphere to his peace and reconciliatory overtures.”  Others have speculated that with the elections imminent, President Bio may want a Chief Minister close to him who could assuage the fears of restive party supporters and not an “ivory tower” character. He would probably think J.J. Saffa, “a man of the people” could heal the wounds and bring the Presidency closer to the people. But many have also asked other salient questions. “Why put the appointment of a Finance Minister on hold and get J.J. Saffa to run both Ministries?”, they ask.

But will there really be a vacancy at Finance? Some conspiracy theorists have even opined that President Bio still intends to keep J.J. Saffa at the Finance Ministry and merely wants him to superintend over the Chief Minister’s office and effect its dismantling. “After all”, one detractor noted. “what coordination of Ministries did the Chief Minister do? Was his job on paper in line with his activities or was he merely on an ego trip?” Whatever the case, all of this will come out in the wash.

An interesting perspective of one government critic who does not appear to like Kenema is what he says is the diminishing of Kenema’s role in National politics with recent cabinet changes and other appointments. He says: “Kenema was riding high initially but seems to be losing out. Kokofele was removed from NACSA and replaced by his Kailahun Deputy. Alie Kabbah and David Francis have been demoted. Dennis Vandy who was hoping to come back to the Agriculture Ministry has been “three footed” by Karim.”

I told him all of these were merely coincidental, but then he brought up one other theory….. “ I tell you Andrew, as long as they don’t repair that clock and put it back on the Clock Tower, Kenema will continue losing out.” “Clock on Clock Tower?”, I asked. “Yes. You know Africell took it away for repairs and never brought it back.”  I know my friend is normally crazy but it is still worthwhile for Kenema indigenes to investigate this “clock curse”!

But when is the next reshuffle? one may want to ask. We have two years to elections and everybody knows the last year is an electioneering year, when traditionally, nothing much gets done-so Ministers have only one year to prove themselves. The casualty rate for Ministers has however been quite high and the list of the fallen is long and brutal- Jonathan Tengbeh, Aiah Gbakima, Priscilla Schwartz, Dennis Vandy, Morie Manyeh, Foday Rado Yokie, Edward Soloku, De Souza George, Adekunle King, Alie Kabbah, Dennis Sandy, Joseph Ndanema, Simeon Sheriff.  For others like Alpha Timbo, Anthony Brewah and Abu Abu Koroma, they went briefly to purgatory but were brought back to heaven!

Well, well, the casualty list has certainly been high and many more are jittery and kneeling at the threshold, weary, faint and sore. The friends that started with them have left long ago. Their pilgrimage was shorter. One by one they were let go. Well if you are a fan of hymn writers like me, you may have noticed I am quoting from the funeral hymn “I’m kneeling at threshold”.

Lest I get too biblical, let me go, whilst you ponder whether the many changes in the constitution of cabinet have yielded us dividends.

Ponder my thoughts.

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