It was one of those mornings when in our one room office at Cotton Tree, I had just sent the office help for my usual breakfast, a loaf of bread and some fried plantains with a bottle of ginger beer.
As I settled down to eat, the land line phone rang. A staff member took it and the voice asked for Kelvin. I took the handset and asked who is this? The reply … “This is Tejan … Tejan Kabbah.” I stopped eating and somewhat awestruck I just held the phone listening. My mind was ticking and taking note of the surrounding sounds. I realised I was on a speakerphone on the other end, and my mind said … caution.
Pa Kabbah had called to take issue with my editorial about the state of government housing. SALHOC had just said they would be selling the Kissy Low cost housing estate to residents. The money would go into the consolidated revenue fund, but there were no known plans to continue building more.
Then the vexed issue about the dilapidated state of the OAU villas. Our editorial that morning had attacked SALHOC for not taking care of the OAU villas. We went further to then suggest that they should approach the UN to take over the whole OAU villas and use them as paid residences for all the heads of all the UN missions in Sierra Leone (UNICEF, FAO, WHO, UNDP, etc.). This was after learning that the UN was paying all sorts of tens of thousands of dollars to private individuals for housing. What angered us was the rumoured amount of around fifty thousand dollars per month being paid for the use of Mammy Yoko to a foreign national when the country owned the whole structure and he was not investing any of that money in the building since everything was apparently being taken care of by the UN. We had also seen the developments in terms of enhancing the security of the compound, the provision of utilities and so on. For us this would have been a good source of revenue for the government at that time when such revenue was very hard to come by. We estimated that SALHOC would have been making nearly half a million dollars every year on rent of the OAU villas, instead of struggling to collect rent from squatters and non paying government officials.Our justification was that the UN would have loved the proposal because if there was any call for evacuation, they would have all the officials in one compound and it would have saved them the trouble of running around to different houses to collect the heads of missions.
That morning the old man called and strenuously explained that the decision to sell the Low-cost housing estate was that these people had lived there all their lives and their rent over the years should have been used as part payment for the houses (mortgage). He noted that it would be impossible for them to build a house of their own given the economic circumstances then. He also made a passionate appeal for the retiring permanent secretaries who had also stayed in government houses for their entire working life and had not made enough money to build their own homes. For these people he said he wanted them to also be able to purchase the homes they had stayed in.
I listened attentively until he finished and said goodbye. I shared his thoughts with my staff and we decided we were under no obligation to make the contents of the conversation public. But we now knew that someone was reading our editorials and taking notes.
Again around 2000 or 2001 the SLPP were proposing an extension to the life of parliament because we were still at war and elections could not be conducted.the other political parties were calling for an interim government to over see the one-year period leading to the next elections.
We wrote an editorial arguing that the opposition was calling for a level playing field, but asked the question which African politician would readily give up their power of incumbency to create a level playing field to contest again? We said then that even those who were calling for the level playing field now would not give in to such demands if they were in power. Our view then was this was not practicable, but we also argued that the opposition should be given space and the new cabinet should include opposition members to take on the character of a national unity government.
This time it was while walking along Post office that Pa Kabbah’s long time friend Dr Fadlu-Deen stopped me and said the president was out of the country but had told him that he was impressed with the balance in our editorial, on the issue being debated about the extension of the life of parliament. Again I was impressed that he seemed to constantly find time to read the loads of rubbish, which we publish. It encouraged us to write about what was happening though we cautioned ourselves not to be drawn into writing to please or impress him we still did not like him but we were beginning to respect the fact that he was paying attention to what was being said. I had been told that he took some of the issues we wrote about to cabinet and urged his ministers to consider them. Indeed it was not only Pa Kabbah who was paying attention … other people were calling also, the security sector were also on a daily basis looking at newspapers and Awoko had been featuring in their meetings as well.
But this is about Pa Kabbah, and this is how our interaction started to the extent that he invited me into his house, and also somewhat cleverly wanted to recruit me to be part of the SLPP but only succeeded in me being branded SLPP up to this day. Stay with me I will tell you all.
To be continued
The telephone call
Tuesday March 25, 2014