This is because the more Victor Foh, Dr. Sylvia Blyden, (and now) Dr. Yusuf Bangura and other doomsday prophets have attempted to vilify Maada Bio and the SLPP for choosing him as our candidate, the more I have begun to doubt whether I still remember what I thought I knew about Sierra Leone’s contemporary political history. This article is therefore a plea to these doomsday prophets to educate me on what about that recent political history I must have obviously forgotten. To make it easier for them to respond to my plea, I have summarized my understanding of that history below:
- In 1996, the Government of Sierra Leone gave a blanket amnesty to all members of the NPRC for any crimes they might have committed while in power.
- Under the Lomé Accord, the Government of Sierra Leone similarly granted general amnesty to all members of the AFRC, RUF, and others for the crimes they might have committed against the Government and people of Sierra Leone in connection with the war and the AFRC’s coup.
- The Lomé Accord also provided for the integration of the warring factions into a government of national unity. To wit, the RUF leader, Foday Sankoh was appointed Chairman of the Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development (CMRRD), a position that carried the status of Vice President, while several other RUF members were also given positions in the national-unity government that resulted.
- The Lomé Accord called for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), patterned after South Africa’s TRC, to provide a forum for both victims and perpetrators of human rights violations during the conflict to tell their stories and to facilitate genuine reconciliation in the country.
- After exhaustive hearings, the TRC found no evidence to the effect that Julius Maada Bio played any role in the execution of James Bambay Kamara and the others. (The only TRC indictment against him—if we can call it an indictment—is a corporate one against the leadership of the NPRC for not doing anything to ensure a fair trial for Bambay Kamara and those executed with him).
- Sankoh’s RUF was converted into a legally-recognized political party (the RUFP) and Alimamy Pallo Bangura ran on their ticket for the presidency in 2002. (It is rumored that Eldred Collins will be the RUFP’s presidential candidate in 2012.)
- Johnny Paul Koroma (whose AFRC regime’s bestiality and human rights offenses, both when they were in power and when they invaded Freetown on January 6, 1999) dwarfs Julius Maada Bio’s corporate responsibility for the NPRC executions, also contested the 2002 presidential elections on the Peace and Liberation Party’s (PLP) ticket.
Given the above summary of what I thought I knew about the contemporary political history of Sierra Leone, I believe that if one conducted a public opinion poll of Sierra Leoneans, one would find that the vast majority of them will say without equivocation that the “crimes” that Julius Maada Bio stands accused of in the minds of his detractors are insignificant relative to those of Foday Sankoh and Johnny Paul Koroma. Yet, Sankoh was appointed to a very senior position in the government, with the status of a Vice President of the Republic, and Johnny Paul Koroma ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of the same republic. Ernest Koroma, who was also a candidate in that contest never raised the issue of Johnny Paul Koroma being unsuitable for the presidency because of his violent past.
Sierra Leoneans also know that President Koroma went to Burkina-Faso immediately after his selection as president and returned with Johnny Paul Koroma’s former AFRC goons in tow, many of whom now hold high positions in his government. We also know that President Koroma has appointed many of Johnny Paul Koroma’s civilian advisers to key government positions, including the posts of Attorney-General and Minister of Justice and Minister of Information, respectively.
To the best of my knowledge, the doomsayers did not object to Sankoh being appointed to a senior position in the government or to Johnny Paul Koroma’s candidacy for the presidency even though both had “a lot [more] to answer for in the field of violence” than the entire leadership of the NPRC put together. If the violent pasts of both Foday Sankoh and Johnny Paul were not significant enough to raise any red flags regarding their fitness for high office in their mind, why is Maada Bio’s collective responsibility for the sins of the NPRC so pristinely important to them—to the extent that they would offer a doom and gloom prophesy?
Yusuf, particularly, has correctly implored intellectuals ask “the hard questions and uphold ethical and human rights standards.” Yet, I am not aware of him ever asking any “hard questions” regarding the wisdom or lack thereof of the President’s decision to put people who actually have “a lot to account for in the field of violence” so close to the presidency. I am also not aware of him ever asking any hard questions regarding how and why President Koroma was able to locate and return the AFRC goons to Sierra Leone during a less-than-24-hour visit to Burkina-Faso. If he had only asked such “hard questions,” Yusuf might have concluded that President Koroma had probably been in prior communication with people who have tons of the blood of Sierra Leoneans on their hands. This might have caused him to conclude that there was more to the president’s alacrity in locating those goons and eventually rewarding them with high government positions than meets the eye. If Yusuf did not ask these hard questions with respect to the president’s rehabilitation of those AFRC folks, why is he so pessimistic about the future of the country—to the extent that he would proclaim “dark clouds”—just because of Madda Bio’s candidacy?
Like Yusuf, I am not interested in a back-and-forth on this issue. Hence, I will not respond to his claim that I had inappropriately used Olson’s Logic of Collective Action to explain Maada Bio’s victory, especially since I know that the vast majority of the audience would be very disinterested in such a debate. (But Yusuf and I can have that debate elsewhere if he so chooses.) I will not also respond to his criticism that I had taken at face value what the delegates who actually voted at the convention told me because I know that Yusuf knows that much of social science research is based on survey data. I also know that Yusuf knows that it is unethical for scholars to impose their own preconceptions on the data they collect instead of letting the data inform their analysis. Hence, I am not going to lose sleep over Yusuf’s claim that I should have imposed his preconceptions on the data I collected from the delegates with whom I spoke.
The above notwithstanding, it is worth noting that Yusuf did not practice what he preached. On the contrary, he admitted developing his three hypotheses by taking “at face value” what his SLPP associates have told him about why Maada Bio was better placed to take power from the APC than people like Andrew Keili. And sadly (from my perspective), Yusuf failed to let his readers know whether his SLPP associates who led him to his ethnic-chauvinism hypothesis actually voted at the party convention. This is important because his hypotheses sought to explain why the delegates voted the way they did, not why his SLPP associates believed they voted the way they did. If he did not interview the delegates who actually voted prior to formulating his hypotheses, one would charitably dismiss them as mere “old wives’ tales” which are incapable of explaining Bio’s victory. Therefore, until he provides credible evidence regarding whether his hypotheses were informed by what delegates who actually voted at Miatta Conference Center told him, I will remain confident that the hypotheses I framed on the basis of information I received from people who actually voted at the convention—at the time they were contemplating their decision—explains Maada Bio’s victory better than his three hypotheses, which were based on information he received from people who might not have even been near the Miatta Center at the time the delegates voted.
Yusuf also needs to understand that one does not have to be a Marxist scholar to know that things are not always as they appear to the naked eye. This is exactly what I tried to convey to him when I accused him of having confused correlation with causation. Specifically, the fact Maada Bio, a Mende, won the nomination with 39.5 percent of a Party Conference that had 67 percent Southeasterners does not suggest that his ethnicity caused that outcome. And as Yusuf has now proposed, the “best explanation for Bio’s victory” might be “the voting system” that the SLPP used and the “fielding of too many candidates for the same post.” This very rational explanation of Bio’s victory clearly problematizes Yusuf’s triple hypotheses for Bio’s victory, namely: 1) a desire by SLPP to punt the 2012 presidential elections; 2) ethnic chauvinism on the part of the delegates, and 3) an SLPP desire to use violence during the election in order to force power-sharing. The “voting system” hypothesis should now convince Yusuf that he had merely lent his prodigious intellectual prestige to a Mende-bashing chorus that is the staple of the lunatic fringe of the APC.
I am also surprised that Yusuf found it necessary to repeat the empty threat that has also been the staple of that fringe, which is that families of the victims of the NPRC’s executions could take Julius Maada Bio to court. Yes, they could! But would they have legal standing to sue in view of the general amnesty that the government of Sierra Leone granted the NPRC folks? Of course, the APC-controlled Parliament and President Koroma could lift that amnesty. If they do, then NPRC folks like Karefa Kargbo, whom the TRC actually named as one of the people that are personally responsible for the executions, would be also be brought to book. Additionally, I believe that the people of Sierra Leone would demand, in the interest of fair play, that the amnesty given to the AFRC and their collaborators be also lifted so that we can finally remove all who have blood on their hands permanently from the governance of the country. Additionally, the convictions of all civilians who collaborated with the AFRC, which were set aside because of Lome, would be reinstated. Accordingly, those who were released from Pademba Road Prisons during the infamous J6 Invasion would be incarcerated again while they await their appeals. Finally, those who were victims of AFRC violence and extrajudicial killings (or their relatives if they are already deceased) should similarly be granted legal standing to seek judicial redress against AFRC officials like Attorney-General Franklyn Kargbo and Information Minister I. B. Kargbo for the collective sins of the regime they served. In other words, if the APC are so desperate to draw the proverbial rope that will bring the “leppet” into town, they should go right ahead and do so.
Sierra Leoneans know that the country needs better leadership, given the fact that Ernest Koroma has totally failed us. And they know that only the SLPP, under Julius Maada Bio’s leadership, has the resources to take care of the mess that President Koroma has created. Therefore, if the International Community really means well for the people of Sierra Leone, we believe that they will respect and support our sovereign right to choose our leaders without any outside interference. Therefore, we in the SLPP regard the APC propaganda about countries refusing Julius Maada Bio travel privileges as just one of the 99 tactics that the APC believes they can use to bamboozle Sierra Leoneans.
In Kenema, we respond to the sort of empty threats that Yusuf and other doomsayers are bandying around of lawsuits against Maada Bio or that he would be denied entry in certain countries with a deafening chorus of “Blama, Blama!” We do not lose sleep over such threats!
Finally, I believe that, just as the APC’s horrendous human rights record of the 1970s and 1980s did not prevent young voters from voting for them in the 2007 elections, Julius Maada Bio’s collective responsibility for the NPRC’s extra-judicial killings will similarly not matter to them in 2012. The truth, which might have escaped the APC in their desperation, is that most Sierra Leoneans are not interested in opening up old wounds. They are interested bread-and-butter issues. Thus, when they go to the polls next year, their only concern will be their personal economic circumstances—specifically, whether they and their families are better off at the time of the elections than they were when President Koroma came to power.
The APC know this very well. They also know that their economic record is worse than even the NPRC’s, let alone that of the SLPP regime they replaced. Hence, they believe that their salvation at the polls lies in diverting the debate away from their economic record by throwing everything in the kitchen sink at Julius Maada Bio. We will not allow them to get away with that ploy because we will put the APC’s horrendous economic record at the front, center, and back of the 2012 election campaign. And we will welcome any attempt by them to make corruption an issue in this campaign, something we are bound to raise anyway given the fact that President Koroma is the first Sierra Leonean president that has made the country a family business.