By external contributor (Michael Imran Kanu, SJD)
In the countdown to the Presidential election in Sierra Leone, and with the completion of the nomination of candidates, registered voters will once again determine the path for the country on national cohesion and socio-economic development. The contest will include the candidates of the two leading political parties for the Office of the President, namely, His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and Dr. Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC). A critical factor that should influence the choice to be made by the voters is the ability of the Presidential candidates to lead and deliver on their agendas. This, however, presupposes that the candidates are running on specific agendas.
President Bio, as the incumbent, is running on his proven track record of delivery on his transformational agenda of “Human Capital Development,” including the “Free Quality Education” programme. The “Human Capital Development” blueprint is focused on education, health, and food security. His record of advancing and promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, infrastructure, “status” in international affairs, increased access to rural electricity, and improving democratic governance, repealing the obnoxious criminal libel law and the archaic death penalty will be on the ballot. Despite the challenges of the paralysing COVID19 pandemic outbreak, followed by a global supply chain logjam, and the conflict in Ukraine, which cumulatively affected global food and fuel supply and created inflationary pressures across most economies, the record of managing and stabilizing the economy is also on the ballot.
President Bio’s government has transformed education in Sierra Leone with an allocation of 21% of the national budget since 2018, in line with his targeted priorities. As a direct outcome, an unprecedented two million children have been absorbed into the school system, enjoying benefits such as a school feeding programme, provision of teaching and learning materials, safe spaces for girls, and scholarships for girls in universities studying science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and related disciplines. His Cabinet, in April 2021, adopted the “National Policy on Radical Inclusion in Schools” to ensure the introduction of comprehensive safety and removal of the ban on pregnant girls in schools, most of whom had been victims of sexual predation or rape.
In his steadfastness to improve gender issues, President Bio declared a national emergency on rape, leading to the amendment of the Sexual Offences Act 2021. To consolidate his commitment, he established a stand-alone Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs in April 2021, which led to a broad coalition that was instrumental in the enactment of the watershed and transformative Gender Empowerment Act 2022, representing a monumental milestone in ensuring an increase in representation, empowerment, and participation of women in all spheres in Sierra Leone.
President Bio has also provided continental leadership in recognition of his domestic agenda and delivery, being the African Union Champion and Chairperson of the African Peer Review Forum of Heads of State and Government. He Co-Chaired the SDG 4 High-Level Steering Committee, Transforming Education Pre‐Summit (June 2022), a Founding member of the Informal Group of Champions for Global Education, and Co-Chaired (together with the UN Secretary-General) the Transforming Education Summit in September 2022.
On his nomination, President Bio, when quizzed by the media, was certain and assertive in articulating his agenda for the next 5 years for Sierra Leone. In seeking a mandate of 5 more years from the people of Sierra Leone, President Bio said his led government would continue the “Human Capital Development” agenda, consolidate the “Free Quality Education” monumental transformation, and focus on agriculture to achieve food security and economic development. For voters, the choice given by President Bio for the 24 June 2023 election is as clear as day.
In contrast to President Bio, the APC contender Dr. Kamara having failed in his initial bid for the Presidency in 2018, with an agenda of continuing the policies of former President Ernest Bai Koroma, spent the past 5 years silent on policy issues and matters of interest for the common good of Sierra Leone. There was no organized, coherent, structured reflection on his past engagements in the public sector, no concurring or alternative views to the formulated and implemented policies of President Bio’s government, even on managing the economy in times of global crises. In simple terms, there was no service or willingness to serve Sierra Leone by Dr. Kamara when he had no political appointment.
The silence of Dr. Kamara spoke volumes of his lack of vision, disinterest in uplifting the lives of Sierra Leoneans, and unwillingness and incapacity to lead Sierra Leone. Simply, Dr. Kamara is as unready and incapable of leading in 2023 as he was in 2018, when he was handpicked by the former Chairman and Leader of the APC as their Presidential candidate. On his nomination at the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone for the 2023 polls, Dr. Kamara was asked about his agenda and vision. Despite the silence of 5 years and more, he could only retort for the media and people of Sierra Leone to wait for the manifesto. This was telling of a candidate without a vision or direction, and since the manifesto will be the APC’s document, one can only expect the usual vague promises of the APC with the usual refrains.
The lack of an agenda by Dr. Kamara contrasts with the clear agenda and priorities of President Bio and the SLPP. To further build national cohesion, the SLPP is now in political alliance with the National Grand Coalition, an alliance of progressives to “prioritize Sierra Leone” in the ‘relentless perseverance” for Sierra Leone’s development (“put Salone fos, because paopa Salone go betteh”). In strenuously trying to uncover the missing vision and priorities of Dr. Kamara, one has to begrudgingly resort to his indifferent comment to google him.
Before the launch of his campaign website, Dr. Kamara’s internet footprint was negligible and unimpressive. His internet footprint covered news of some of his official functions in his previous government positions, his ongoing corruption trial, and a string of uncoordinated social media accounts. Although on one of his websites (three counted), he is self-described as an academic, his only publications/research on Google Scholar are his 1986 thesis and a 1987 article. His Scopus profile reveals a further co-authorship of 2 papers in 1988 and 1 in 1996. For a professed academic, the limited and aged academic contributions barely articulate the principles and ideas that may shape his policy orientation.
Dr. Kamara’s internet footprint shows no evidence of engagement in charity, foundation, think tank policy or development work. No promotion of Sierra Leone’s culture, international status or any substantive issues that may accord him or Sierra Leone gravitas. In the era of the Internet of Things and in our democratic space with competition for ideas, and content, even bloggers and private citizens demonstrated much more leadership than Dr. Kamara. What the public has been left with to assess his candidacy is his mundane record of public service.
Dr. Kamara’s campaign has launched a new website after a botched QR code scheme. The website is still not fully constructed and having sat around for over 5 years, the website states: “We can’t sit around and wait for progressive change while many Sierra Leoneans are hurting and the problems of climate change are destroying livelihoods. We need to take action now.” If one is searching for a clear example of irony, then one needs not search any further.
According to the website, the “campaign is working to enact a comprehensive set of measures that will dramatically alter the trajectory of our economy, reduce abject poverty, and counteract the harmful effects of climate change. With the help of Bold Actions and Experience leadership, we can eliminate all of our youth drug addiction problems so that everybody who wants a job can find one that pays a living wage. And that’s not all: our plan also includes developing affordable housing at the national level, major changes to social mobility, health care, and free public vocational education. We can no longer afford to take half-measures. The scale of the problems we’re facing demands equally massive solutions from a leader who knows what sustainable Development is”.
The message from Dr. Kamara’s campaign is shockingly incoherent and lacking in substance at best. With less than 50 days to the June 24 polls, Dr. Kamara’s campaign is still “working” on his message. In addition, by stringing catchwords and phrases together, his campaign has adopted the ‘throwing everything but the kitchen sink’ approach. This demonstrates that Dr. Kamara is simply not ready to lead, and Sierra Leone cannot afford an unresponsive and unconcerned leader. With no campaign message, or evidence of what his “bold actions” are or would be, no plans and no writings to understand his ideas or proposed solutions, Dr. Kamara’s approach to leadership, at best, has been nonchalant.
Public records show that Dr. Kamara has served as Financial Secretary from 1994-97 and 2001-06; Governor of Bank of Sierra Leone 2007-09; Minister of Finance 2009-12; and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation 2012-17. Given his previous positions, Dr. Kamara is disappointingly part of the old guards in Sierra Leone that have failed the people. He has served in a senior government position since the APC one-party dictatorship was ended, save for the transformational President Bio’s 2018-2023 administration.
In 2018, even with the power of incumbency, Dr. Kamara failed in his bid for the Presidency. This was preceded by a spectacular failed bid for the presidency of the African Development Bank in 2015. He led the Foreign Ministry at the time Sierra Leone’s “status” in international affairs was at an all-time low. There were several scandals involving Sierra Leone representatives in China, Liberia, Belgium, and a Consul in the USA. There was disregard for the payment of assessed contributions to international organizations, depriving Sierra Leone of meaningful contributions and benefits.
Dr. Kamara is faced with a corruption trial in relation to his stewardship at the Foreign Ministry and the handling of the renovation of the Chancery Building of the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations in New York. According to the indictment in the State vs Saidu Nallo and Others, dated 13 November 2021, Dr. Kamara, therein the 4th accused person, being the former Foreign Minister at the material time, is alleged to have “deceived his principal, the Government of Sierra Leone, by giving to the Cabinet a Cabinet Paper document that he knew contained a misleading statement to wit: ‘The Companies undertaking the renovation/constructions are reliable and were subjected to a rigorous vetting process.’”
The extract of findings attached to the said indictment states that in 2016, while he was Foreign Minister, Dr. Kamara “presented a paper to Cabinet that contained misleading statements; That though Cabinet did not approve the proposal in the said Cabinet Paper, public funds were expended on the Chancery Building project, with Fairfield Construction Associates (LLC); That no procurement procedures were followed in the award of the contract to Fairfield Construction Associates (LLC).”
Since 1994, Dr. Kamara has had a senior role in Sierra Leone’s economy for almost a quarter of a century. Following the post-conflict reconstruction work done by the SLPP led by former President Ahmed Tejan Kabba, the conventional wisdom was for the APC, with Dr. Kamara in key government positions, to make significant progress on the economic front, particularly with the commencement of iron ore export among other economic activities.
With over $1.36 billion of trade value of iron ore exported to China alone between 2007 and 2018 (OEC Multidimensional Economic Complexity Ranking), $373 million of the export value was during Dr. Kamara’s tenure as Finance Minister. Dr. Kamara was Finance Minister in 2012 when Sierra Leone’s equity ownership in a bauxite viable mining company was sold in opaque circumstances. This spectacular failure in the lack of foresight and planning for the future in selling the government’s shares projected to have amassed to 30% at Sierra Rutile Company is telling of his failed stewardship.
During Dr. Kamara’s time as Finance Minister, Sierra Leone benefitted greatly from a global iron ore boom. Dr. Kamara could have put in place policies to protect the economy against future market and other shocks and established a sovereign wealth fund for future investments. Instead, the APC government embarked on a spending spree, followed by drastic austerity measures, due to economic challenges caused mainly by the government’s previous reckless spending. If Dr. Kamara’s APC wrecked an economy that had been riding one of the greatest iron ore booms, it is safe to say he has nothing new to offer – “an old wine in old bottle”.
Michael Imran Kanu holds a Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) degree, and is a legal practitioner, diplomat and academic. He has authored several peer-reviewed academic publications and public interest features. The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s writing in his personal capacity.