Sierra Leone’s second city and southern headquarter town of Bo seems to be a political orphan this year. Probably for reasons of rotation, the politically conscious town has not witnessed the razzmatazz that the eastern provincial headquarter town of Kenema and northern capital of Makeni have enjoyed.
While the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party held their national delegates’ conference in their eastern stronghold of Kenema, the governing All People’s Congress took theirs to Makeni. And now the third largest party in the country, the People’s Movement for Democratic Change, are moving their caravan to Kenema for their own national delegates’ conference. As one of them told me, the choice of Kenema is to give the SLPP party a good run for their money in the district where the SLPP controls all parliamentary seats, come the next elections.
I am writing this piece from Bo; the town in which the PMDC leader Charles Margai practised as a lawyer for many years and is a legend; the town in which his sterling performance in the 2007 presidential and legislative elections cost the SLPP, which he had splintered from, a good number of votes and ostensibly the ultimate – power. However the signs on the ground here indicate that the splinter party has a lot more work to do judging by the outflow of supporters.
Even though it is a day on which party stalwarts should be readying themselves to embark on the 45-minute drive to Kenema, the PMDC office and rally yesterday constituted nothing much to write home about. Life is normal and the town is quiet as if nothing is happening in the next few hours. I am putting up in Hotel Sahara where the action is happening; but even that action seems uneventful.
It all looks like an encore of what happened in 1996 when political horse-trading met with the commission of political suicide. In that time, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah had won the first round of the presidential race but was forced to a runoff with Dr John Karefa-Smart and his UNPP party; two political parties at the time that clearly represented the country’s north/south political divide.
The third-placed candidate Thaimu Bangura and his PDP Sorbeh party (with roots in the north like the UNPP) threw their weight behind Ahmad Tejan Kabbah whose SLPP has its base in the southeast. Like Charles Margai did in 2007, Thaimu’s real reason was his apparent determination to revenge the intra-regional political rivalry among them, and in exchange for cabinet positions; even if their official reason was to avoid a north/south civil unrest. Something I strongly believe will never happen in this country and is only fanned by politicians to frighten.
Like Thaimu who felt that if the UNPP had not been formed he would have won the presidential race, Charles Margai felt and I believe still does feel that if Solomon Berewa had not been “imposed on the SLPP” and he had become its leader he would be being addressed today as His Excellency President Charles Margai. So both men wanted nemesis.
Now, in less than two years in office, President Kabbah reshuffled his cabinet and dropped some of the PDP Sorbeh representatives from it. They included the current Minister of Marine Resources, Haja Haffsatu Kabbah and a current APC parliamentarian, Rtd Capt Abdul Rahman Kamara. The PDP leader who had been appointed Finance Minister was demoted to Trade. By the time we knew it, some of the PDP members appointed as ambassadors had switched sides to the SLPP prominent on my mind being Mbaba Kamara.
Like President Kabbah, President Ernest Bai Koroma’s first reshuffle left the PMDC unhappy. They lost one of their four cabinet positions and a dramatic demotion of another from the health ministry to that of gender and children’s affairs. Like Thaimu Bangura who kept putting on a brave face about the political marriage, Charles Margai is also expressing satisfaction over the political wedding with the APC.
Unlike President Kabbah who more or less presided over the demise of the PDP Sorbeh thereby causing the north to politically unite as was evident in the outcome of the last election result, President Koroma is apparently protecting the PMDC from collapse, I suspect, as a way of keeping the rival southeast, divided. My reading of the logic is that a divided southern vote leaves the APC better off with a solidified northern vote. This perhaps explains why some SLPP stalwarts are praying for the re-emergence of the PDP Sorbeh if only to split the northern votes.
Charles Margai implied in a radio interview this week that President Koroma had helped with funds for his party’s delegates’ conference. And the president is expected at the PMDC convention today. Oh…I just heard a siren attributed to his convoy passing through Bo on its way to Kenema. Other PMDC sources have also told me here in Bo that the president played a crucial role to try to heal the internal squabbles within the third largest party by even summoning them at State House. This is a vintage and vantage political wizardry that can make a bestseller that will make Nigeria’s political Maradona, Ibrahim Babangida, green with envy.
During my meeting with some top PMDC officials here in Bo the other night, not all seemed rosy. One of them questioned why the APC did not back their candidate during the parliamentary by-elections in Pujehun early this year “even when they knew that we the PMDC stood a better chance of winning than they did”. But I wondered why he thought so when the PMDC could only manage a distant third.
What is clear though is that there was, and probably still is a tussle within the PMDC as to who should lead them and how. Some of the members have accused Mr Margai of running a “one-man dictatorship” while presiding over “an exodus” of members both within the country and in the Diaspora. Mr Margai says those leaving are disgruntled elements angry at their not being nominated for cabinet positions. Whoever is right, the next few days will prove whether the PMDC will start its political downward spiral down the path as did the PDP Sorbeh in the late 1990s and early this decade.
As I write this piece, I am readying myself to travel to Kenema where I understand the atmosphere is not atmospheric. That may be perceptible or just so true. Either way, the political landscape is getting more and more interesting and dramatic; if only the key players would keep violence out of it. By Umaru Fofana