When a country has endured the worst kind of atrocities ever experienced by mankind, it becomes inevitable that the path it takes towards building its battered structures should be completely devoid of anything that will allow history to repeat itself. The period between 1994 – 1996 left a dark cloud in the country’s political history, as a young and volatile military officer took the reins of power after a palace coup that saw him overthrow his comrade-in-arms, with whom along with others, just two years back, had staged a coup that ousted a legitimate sitting government. Julius Maada Bio is not your typical military ruler. As Head of State, he presided over an indisciplined and ruthless regime that not only embarked on destroying the fundamentals of government that has been built to protect the integrity of state, but went on a killing spree that saw innocent men and women accused of crimes they never committed, and brutally murdered with no access to a fair trial or right to defence. And poignantly, among those murdered was a pregnant woman, whose yet unborn baby was never given the opportunity to see the light of day.
Sierra Leone’s recent history is one of turmoil and mayhem. And Julius Maada Bio’s contribution in destroying the fabric of the Sierra Leonean society, played a significant role in how politics became a profession that many saw as a quick way to make money, by diverting state funds for personal use. Bio and his colleagues set the standards on how to loot state resources. They were simply thieves who came into power broke and saw the opportunity to enrich themselves with the wealth of a nation that was under attack from rebels, who had launched a brutal war from across neighbouring Liberia, to gain access to the mineral wealth that made up the heart of the country’s economy.
Julius Maada Bio embraced these ruthless killers in an effort to maintain power and have access to the mineral deposits scattered across the hinterland. Bio dismantled the way government was meant to work, and created ghost institutions that was meant to reward him and his cabal in government and close family members like his brother Steve, with whom he connived to set up a fake company that became the recepient of dirty government contracts that saw millions of dollars being siphoned from the country’s coffers with intent to deliver vital services, that never materialised.
As the masses suffered, more as the result of the ongoing war, and as commerce came to a halt, Bio and his henchmen showed no mercy as they waged war on the country’s finances with intent to stage a camouflaged hand-over to civilian rule, after their bank balances had sufficient deposits that will make them rich for life. The fact that a Head of State would engage in such acts of treason – looting state funds – at a difficult time in the country’s history, is indeed shocking. When you are in control of the machinery of state, a lot is expected of you. But Bio was prepared to demonstrate that he was not elected through the ballot box, and he had a free hand in manipulating the wealth of the nation as he sees fit. Little did he knew hat this barbaric approach to governance would come back to hunt him years later, and it would define his brutal legacy which would become the single obstacle preventing him from ever holding power again in a virgin democracy like Sierra Leone.
In handing over power to a somewhat democratically elected government – that of the SLPP, Bio saw the chance to get involved in the ‘legitimate’ politics of the day, by creating an unlikely partnership with a party that is renowned for tribal politics and violence, with the hope that he would be rewarded when the time comes after being seen as the one who ‘gave them power’. Bio must have under-estimated the SLPP then, but he was quick to learn. His first attempt to seek power through the ballot box was fruitless, but that didn’t stop the barracks boy from trying again. After failed attempts in business, Bio’s bank balance was dwindling and the only way this reformed criminal knew how to make money. was in government – doing dirty deals. During this period, the masses were fed-up with the SLPP government which came to power with promises to revive the economy and relaunch development and infrastructural initiatives to mend the broken structures that took the brunt of the civil war. This was never to be. The SLPP knew that the Sierra Leonean people would never give them another chance to run the country again after a dismal performance that saw crooks re-emerge as ministers and top civil servants. It became so bad that the country had to rely on promissory note to survive, as its credit rating was squandered and foreign stake-holders became weary to provide any more direct assistance.
At the 2007 election, the SLPP was shown the door. The people voted in numbers for change. The APC re-merged as a force not only for change but for good. A young and extremely charismatic insurance expert was elected as president. And the country never looked back. It was time for soul-searching. And it was also time for a new agenda. One that had at its heart a passionate itinerary that will take on the ills of society and challenge the difficulties so entrenched and had become a way of life. Ernest Bai Koroma spent years in opposition, witnessing how the economy of a once blessed country was ravaged and battered. He knew the same system would not work again. What the people have been used to, had only brought them misery and pain. They needed a new beginning - a new kind of governance. Ending corruption in high places had to be the number one priority, and Koroma wasted no time in implementing the most draconian anti-corruption legislation ever introduced in an African country. And this was good for the country, but un-welcomed by the opposition, who knew the door had been firmly shut against those ‘yuki -yuki’ contracts, and they had to do something before its too late.
The SLPP were fully aware that with their record in government, they stand no chance to win back power. Not especially after the dramatic overhaul of the country’s political, economic and social circumstance presided over by the new Koroma-led administration. The emphasis on re-instating the basic amenities was now a priority of the APC government. Electricity, which was something the people were deprived of for over a decade, after spending countless nights in the dark, was no more a luxury afforded by the few with generators, but has now become a right, and was enjoyed 24 hours a day, as the Bumbuna Hydro Electric plant, an incomplete development plan under the SLPP, was now fully functional as a result of the timely intervention of the new Head of State, Ernest Bai Koroma, who recognised the important role energy would play in rescicitatiing the country’s economy.
The hierarchy of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party knew they had a difficult task in their hand not only to convince the electorate that they were now a force for good, but to challenge the record in government of the APC which had excelled in all the areas they (the SLPP) have failed miserably. A task that would prove difficult if conventional methods were used. They knew they stood no chance of winning, as the 2012 elections were fast approaching. They had to resort to dirty political games to ensure a shot at power again. They embarked on a disingenuous media campaign to destroy the image of the Head of State and members of his cabinet including the Vice President. They even brought in a daft Sierra Leonean journalist, Sorious Samura, posing as a videographer who launched a botched documentary, with the help of a notorious Arab broadcaster, Al-Jazeera, with aim to expose corruption in the country’s timber industry. But all that failed to make an impression on the people who were witnessing first-hand real change in their communities, as they would have no more of the lies of Sierra Leone’s oldest political group of embezzlers. Free health-care was being introduced for pregnant and lactating mothers with under-fives benefiting as well. The road network in the country was getting a complete facelift, with new ones being constructed in all the provinces in the country. New contracts were being signed with top companies around the world to bring in investments that will usher in a new dimension in the way revenue was generated. A consolidated and efficient tax system was put in place to ensure maximum benefit to the tax payer
It was time for the opposition SLPP to get to work. The dirty and nasty politics of those who were now expert thieves. They had to win the next election, or else they would be completely written-off from the annals of Sierra Leone politics. They hatched a plan. A shambolic one indeed!! They sought the services of Julius Maada Bio, to lead them to ‘victory’, despite having reputable and outstanding Sierra Leoneans with impeccable track records in academia and otherwise, lined-up to represent their party. It exposed a dirty agenda – one that points to gaining power whatever it takes!! They brought in a man with a violent record in power; a man who had taken part in the overthrow of a sitting government; a man who had stolen state funds; a man who sold the country’s passports to corrupt Chinese businessmen for thousands of dollars, a man who has been accused by his own wife of domestic abuse and violence; a man who presided over the summary executions of his own countrymen and women, with no access to the courts of justice; a man who is so power-hungry he had to stage a palace-coup against his own colleague who was generous enough to make him number 2 in government.
By selecting Julius Maada Bio as flag-bearer, the SLPP has lost all credibility. The human rights record issue at the center of political controversy within the SLPP, after it made the reckless decision to choose a mass-murderer., a man with the blood of innecent Sierra Leoneans in his hands, as presidential candidate, is the single most important error of judgement that will forever come to hunt this once noble political union; and may now become the single obstacle that will deprive them once again of the seat of power!!
First published on Newstime Africa - Jun 26, 2012
© 2012, Ahmed M Kamara. All rights reserved. Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.