My Crafty Politician Friend
By now, you all know Pa Kabbah was my friend, but after that long visit to his home at the Hill station lodge, I never got to sit with him again like that. I was called for every press conference and press event in which he was involved. I went to some and avoided going to others. I was invited to state functions but I maintained my role strictly as a journalist. That was what was putting the bread on my table. I have never and will never fully trust any politician. His relationship never benefitted me financially. He was never the money-focussed man. I had seen him sack his minister of energy just because the guy had allowed himself to be taken on a trip onboard a private jet to see what an investor in the energy sector had to offer. As soon as he came back, Pa Kabbah wasted no time in sacking him. I know it was a sore aspect with his ministers, most of whom wanted to make as much money for themselves as possible … for them Pa Kabbah was always a stumbling block. I recall him telling me that a friendly western diplomat had approached him for some prime beach land to retire he said when he investigated he found out that the man had a girlfriend here and wanted to use his friendship with him (Pa Kabbah) to get her the choice land. As usual with him, the retired diplomat was given the run around. That was Pa Kabbah.
Some people say he took money, but I have seen no evidence. If he did, he was clever at it. I know that it takes a man to turn over a million dollars to the national coffers and ask for it to be used on behalf of the people, as he did with the gift from Gadhafi, which was the seed money for NASSIT which is now the only retirement hope for hundreds of thousands if not millions of Sierra Leoneans. He had said to me on several occasions that he had enough to retire on. He was never the one to display wealth. The only thing I knew about him, was that … he was the lady’s man, … he had the eye for beauty, and he knew how to charm them. As one friend told me after his death, Pa Kabbah had told him that there are two things you should not display in public … money, because everyone will turn to watch you, and wanting some of it; and the second was a beautiful woman; again every man looking will want her … I fully agree.
During the war while in exile in Guinea the plan had been set to kick out the AFRC, but days before it could kick off the ECOMOG force went bankrupt. There was no money for fuel. I remember being at Lungi and Colonel Khobe(The then ECOMOG Task Force Commander) had brought the problem to Dr Spencer and Allie Bangura who were at the then clandestine 98.1 radio station. I remember Colonel Khobe sitting down on the carpet on the floor with me and telling me “when you have a problem that you cannot solve, eat well and sleep, when you wake up there will be a solution.” He (Khobe) called for a large “tutik” bottle of ginger beer and went about consuming it in his usual calm way. I remember the night was far spent and Khobe was already sleeping on the floor when after conferring with Dr Spencer, Allie Bangura decided to call Pa Kabbah over the satellite phone in Guinea. I recall Mr Jalloh the Chief Security Officer to Pa Kabbah then saying that the old man was asleep, and this sort of galled Allie who shouted at him to go and wake him up, muttering with pent up frustration under his breath that “we are suffering for him here and he is sleeping …wake him up.” Ofcourse the old man was woken up around one or 2am, and he was given the bad news and asked to help find a solution. I could imagine things were not easy for him. All sorts of intriguing prospects loomed and Pa Kabbah used his personal funds to send fuel by drums by boat from Guinea, only that the senior Police officer (still serving OSD) who accompanied the drums of fuel by sea claimed the boats capsized … something, which he only believed. He did not have enough funds to fuel the planes, which were to bring in the reinforcements from Liberia, and had to be prodded to call General Abacha who promptly made the funds available to kick off the offensive against the AFRC. As I look back in retrospect and fathom what Pa Kabbah had to go through, from the very little that I was privy to, I can only ask God to forgive him for all his sins. It was never easy. For us who were on the sidelines, it was an exercise in hope and frustration. I imagine his own, was multiplied several times over. Yet he would try to cheer you up instead of you cheering him up. Sometimes we believed he was not serious and was complacent. I remember a retired Chief Justice had said to me in frustration while in exile in Guinea that “perhaps we have to uproot him from that chair and burn it maybe that is where the juju is placed that is preventing him from taking sober action.” In all this I never saw him cry, and he always maintained a straight face although at times you could see him struggling to look brave. His voice however most times betrayed the depth of his feelings.
With all this, he was a crafty man. Like all politicians I have come to know they always try to manipulate people. I think it is a trend that is set to continue, that is why I do not like them and since my experience with him (Pa Kabbah) I have resolved to keep my distance.
Crafty Old Fox
It was the day that we had been called to the Lodge to listen to Pa Kabbahdeclareto run for a second term. It was peaceful; it was friendly and calm. I sat near the front as usual with my tape recorder and wearing my headphones along with my ever present baseball cap. I had grown used to a baseball cap because during the AFRC, when I was taken to Zagallo to appeal for my car which was being used in Johnny Paul’s convoy … to be turned back over to me, he (Zagallo) had recognised me as the man who always had the headphones on during press conferences. When I was sought out by them (AFRC) it was the baseball cap drawn down to cover my face, which saved me several times because by the time they realised it was me I had gone.
But on this day I had worn the baseball cap and had listened attentively to all the questions being asked without asking any. Finally it was to be the last question and I raised my hand. I asked Pa Kabbah “now that you have decided to stand on what will you be running your campaign on?” I wanted the theme of the campaign, but instead of answering my question, the ‘Old Fox’ – and I say it figuratively – diverted everyone’s attention, he said “Oh you Kelvin, you always like to wear a cap.” Then he stopped and called one of his security officers and gave him directions. We all waited quietly. There was the State House cameraman Emeric and he was recording every bit of the press conference to relay it later over SLBC. Then the security guy came in dragging a big “Ghana Must Go” bag. He took it to Pa Kabbah and unzipped it. The Old Fox and I say it again, the Old Fox dipped his hand into the bag and took out a high quality well embroidered green SLPP baseball cap. He then stretched it across to me saying have this. My God!!!!!!.I felt like asking for a miracle for the ground to open and swallow me, so that I could avoid having to do this. How could I refuse to take this cap in front of full television cameras … will I not be judged to be disrespectful, after all this was the President of Sierra Leone. My mind was turning around, doing somersaults, the adrenalin was pumping so hard my head was starting to become dizzy.
I realised then exactly what he was doing to me, and he also knew what he was deliberately doing to me. In a trance walked up and took the cap and placed it inside my bag. I could still picture him with that satisfied smile fixed on his face and the shining light in his eyes, with his whole face beaming with contentment … the Old Fox was laughing. Some ministers were scrambling for the caps and attention moved from me to them. That was the end of the Press conference.
By that gesture, Pa Kabbah had cleverly labelled me SLPP. He had used the gesture to say ‘here is it, come and be part of us’ and by accepting the cap in public, I had shown tacit agreement. The crafty old fox had pulled a very fast one on me, and had won. The effect of what he had done started the next day, after it had been shown over television. I started getting the phone calls, but I laughed them off, underestimating the full effect. As I left my house that morning, walking to my office, it was like everybody was commenting on the cap I had received. As I walked through the streets I was being stopped, some patted me on the back, others asked for the cap and so on. I walked past the APC office, which was then at the junction of Pademba Road and Liverpool street … there, the late Chukuma Johnson hailed me, saying “ I see you are now officially SLPP” I said “Nooooooo how could I have refused infront of all those cameras, it would have been disrespectful” he laughed. MinkailuMansaray our Mines Minister now joined him in the provocation saying “ I saw you and your friend on TV last night” again I laughed. It was fun and all in good faith, I have known them for long, in the political circles, and they understood too well, the game the old man had played on me. “Some” APC big wigs refused to speak to me after that broadcast. However this was how the Old Fox cleverly and craftily labelled me SLPP, something I have been trying to shake off unsuccessfully until this day.
I have never worn that cap. I have often toyed with the idea of giving it to someone very close to me who I know supports the SLPP, but I have resisted the temptation. I also toyed with the idea of taking the cap back and placing it in the coffin of the late man … but again I have since resoluted my mind that I do not want to see anyone I have known lying inside a coffin. I want to remember them the way I used to see them alive, and that is the picture I want to remain in my mind’s eye. So I did not give him back the cap he gave me. I have not decided what to do with it, but for now it will remain as a memento … one that I cherish.
I keep on reminiscing and wanting to write more and more about my interaction with the old man. I promised to end it today … that will not happen. Forgive me I am practicing to write my book. There is still one last story … the story of our break up and Mr Promise promises again.
Friday March 28, 2014