On the re-opening of SLPP Office … “We would never encourage violence” John Benjamin...

Sierra Leone News: Maada: Third Wheel, Third’s a Charm?

Recently, I have written two articles, elsewhere, on Sierra Leone with “Third” (Third Force, Third Term…) in the title. Also, in synch with the zeitgeist, the focus, mirroring the obsessions of this March 7th elections, has been on incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma (EBK), and the wunderkind, upset presidential candidate, Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella (KKY). Consider this a third part, in the trilogy about the, still, third character, in what is shaping up to be a three-way race—with the APC, SLPP and NGC pulling in majority of the votes in the first round. The elections are not contested by EBK (notice, I have never mentioned APC flagbearer Samara Kamara, to the consternation of even myself!), but his shadow looms so large over it; and there is KKY who is the, some say, ‘troublemaker’; hence the ubiquity in those two initials lacing discourse on Salone, just about everywhere. Note: Julius Maada Bio (JMB? Who uses that? Wish they did, even if it is not as palpable) has been largely left to slide under the radar, going about his electioneering business, for the most part, untroubled. Does that make him the third wheel in the triumvirate of presidential hopefuls? Being a third try, as a civilian, to be first gentleman in the country, may there be a lucky charm this time? Think along with me as we weigh the odds.
It is tough to discuss a character/flagbearer whose climb to national recognition, and all the way, even if very briefly, to the seat of Head of State, was via a military junta—NPRC—and not sound a note of antsy. Watch for it; acolytes and supporters will fire the break-neck speedy retort: He handed over power to a civilian government and ushered in the democracy we now enjoy. Granted. That’s after Bintumani I, and rotund, formidable, resistance from civil society and political actors, I posit, he ‘succumbed’ to the will of the people. I put succumbed in inverted marks because, he could have, as examples abounded across the continent then, derailed that democracy train, indefinitely. Maada, or JMB—I prefer the latter, because the former is a name imbued with respect, reverence even, for the elderly, in Mende culture, and inhibiting for irreverent scrutiny or critical analysis—moved on.
Not for very long or too far, though. He was mainly based in Ghana, whence he made forays into, mainly, the UK and US for further studies and such. Just about a decade after handing over power, he rebounded, for I guess, the ‘unfinished business.’ There was the first flagbearer attempt in 2007 which Solomon Berewa won. In 2012, he wrested the flagbearer title from a decent field of contestants and added to the ticket, the first ever female running-mate of a major party, Dr. Kadie Sesay. JMB lost to the incumbent EBK, garnering some 40 percent of the votes. Not bad: Consider the fact that, Dr. Kadi Sesay, like most, especially Northern politicians that ex-President Kabbah jettisoned to power, were so-called technocrats. They either had no commanding influence in their natural born constituencies, or simply lacked mass appeal. The SLPP, at the time, lost the popular Usman Boie Kamara to the APC in the process. Then, of course there is this time, the third time, for which one could see that, maybe, because of the electricity EBK and KKY generate, or the fact that the last elections cycle (2012) tired out the attack ammo on him, he seems to roll quite cozy, since a rancorous flagbearer battle that produced and enunciated the KKY Movement and his NGC party. About that! More on that rancor—captured metaphorically by the moniker ‘Paopa,’ which seems to transliterate the ‘unfinished business’ ethos of the JMB campaign—later.
Some charms may not come easy, while some may miss the three strikes too, who knows? But serious talk: the fact that KKY trooped out of the SLPP with his support base, the run up and conduct of the convention that, if you like, ‘coronated’ JMB as flagbearer, dealt serious dents to one aspect of the elections goings-on that is not easily visible from the outside—watching the sometimes perverse palimpsest of marathon rallies remediated via (for me) social media—VOTER ENTHUSIASM… in what the SLPP takes for granted as its stronghold, especially. Pa Kabbah was president and leader for the SLPP for over a decade. I sometimes almost piss myself laughing, recalling, once when Kabbah addressed the nation in Krio about what is colloquially termed “Bad Heart” (Americans would say HATING) in Salone. Ensconced in power at his State Lodge most of the time, immersed with the whirlwind of activity that is the presidency, when does he encounter the “bad heart” people he ‘spoke’ so passionately about. How about we look no further than in the direction of the SLPP, that he led, and its players that surrounded him round the clock. That choice is merely instrumentalist, just for the illustrative purposes herein.
I grew up and went to school in what has been labeled the South-East in Salone political parlance and believed to be the SLPP stronghold, peopled—in the highest numbers—by the Mende. The Mende’s use the name “Maada” for respected elders; but they also use the word ‘Ndimanyamui’ for “bad heart.” Following the suspension of his campaign for SLPP flagbearer, KKY called a press conference at Lighthouse to announce he was taking his movement to NGC, citing continued “internecine squabbles” that were attributed to his presence in the race for the party’s top spot, but were still on-going after his exit. That the retired Brigadier General and his, sometimes, over-zealous supporters are violence-prone? That is a very tempting/easy conclusion to reach. Soldiers…violence…atrocities; not a very distant memory in the minds of Sierra Leoneans. The other day the newsfeed tagline at the Awoko website was quoting John Benjamin at the opening of some renovated SLPP offices, stating that violence will no longer be tolerated among its ranks. Significant skirmishes prefaced the convention. JBM supporters surely have a hefty share in the blame—but it takes two, or more, to tango. Simmering beneath the calm of the party poise currently, and his final push for a “top-up,” (I am just quoting the flagbearer victory speech by JBM) from the 40 percent of the electorate to the presidency, is formidable disgruntlement aimed at his seeming ‘regimental’ and capricious manner of politics. JBM’s calculations are thus: The South-East is locked in. Again, one could safely guess that he figures he needs to fill in his own ‘deficiencies’—PhD and UN credentials (two obsessions of Salone voters)—and broadening the appeal of the SLPP. That would be slighting what I call the Kothor/Fullah-voting-bloc factor—that Fullahs are the third largest ethnic group, without geographic real estate by way of region; hence a very relevant voting constituency in the country. It led him to bring Dr. Juldeh Jalloh to the ticket. However, he will be mistaken to think it’s all kumbaya with the South-East voting bloc. Many egos were bruised and jaded, and some people did not leave the party, but attitudes and words will engender a lackluster turn out. Every vote counts in a presidential race! Forget the KKY/NGC exodus, ‘Bad heart’ sit-out parts of the SLPP base equation, can prove very detrimental.
From where I sit—as a cipher journalist and social media junkie—I can see that JMB could make significant in-roads in the Western Area. I don’t know about the North and Kono. The Western Area and Kono, as reified voting blocs, seem the battlegrounds on which the last couple of elections were lost or won. For Maada or JMB to win the race to State House on this, third’s a charm attempt, he should use his somewhat ample breathing space, by being the sort of third wheel in the game, and whatever appeal Dr. Jalloh brings to the ticket, to make in-roads and/or consolidate gains in the above three voting blocs for the short five-weeks-or-so left in this race. And oh! Lest one forgets: Never underestimate the power of SLPP sit-outs, “Bad heart” or not. It is crucial! I think it was NGC’s running-mate Andrew Keili, who in a kind of political incontinence, wrote the following gripe of an observation about the tough decision to quit SLPP for NGC. Keili noted, talking about the fixity in the South-East/SLPP phenomenon: “Perhaps I would be one of the best people to give insight into when you leave a party you have been associated with all your life.” As a person who hailed from Mandu chiefdom, Kailahun, and has a decent claim on Bo district too, Keili was referring to the closed mindedness of locals he knew about support for the SLPP. In this instance in Kailahun they would say: “Bukoi gulama yoiova? Maigore Kallon komu ye gbe hun? Tokpoi go wui.” Translation: “Whom will you vote for? Maigore Kallon. Into which box? The Palm Tree box.” I don’t know if this was Kailahun under APC one-party dictatorship or not. However, the days of such rendering of party as religion may slowly be coming to an end. For this third-time-could-be-charm dash by JMB for State House, he must understand this: the times, they are a-changing. Act accordingly! Or…
Wednesday January 31, 2018.

Comments are closed.