The albatrosses around the neck of Sierra Leone’s president

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The albatrosses around the neck of Sierra Leone’s president
By Umaru Fofana
Except in a parliamentary democracy where the Prime Minister appoints their cabinet from among colleague MPs, often leaders tend to appoint into positions of trust mostly people they had long known before their ascension and are comfortable working with.
Such appointees can be former schoolmates or those with whom the leader’s professional paths had crossed. Since their close friends cannot include people who qualify in all facets of life, the leader also relies on the recommendations of these trusted long-time friends and colleagues in making certain appointments. Often many of them are not worthy of the trust. They have ulterior motives.
So, as a businessman in his previous life, President Donald Trump appointed many top company executives into his government. In fact, according to the Pew Research Centre, five of the 15 people (33%) Trump nominated as cabinet secretaries (ministers) after his election, had spent “all or nearly all their careers in the business world, with no significant public office or senior military service on their résumés”. That is the most heavily business-oriented cabinet in the United States since President William McKinley’s first cabinet in 1897. He had 38% of businesspeople in his first cabinet. By the way Bill Clinton had 0%, Jimmy Carter had 0%.
As a former insurance broker there is no prize for guessing why President Ernest Bai Koroma appointed into cabinet people like Haja Affsatu Kabbah, Minkailu Mansaray, Zainab Bangura, among others, whom he had met in his previous life; Or others such as Siray Timbo (of blessed memory) and several others he appointed to Parastatals and other key positions whom he had met in the classroom during his brief life as a school teacher or even as a student at the Magburaka Boys’ School.
Unless you want to consider what happened in November 1985 as a democratic election when JS Momoh was crowned, Julius Maada Bio is the first former soldier to be democratically elected as president of Sierra Leone. Until he handed over to a civilian president in 1992 and went into the world, Bio’s entire adult life had been spent in – and defined by – the army.
That explains why I reckon he has appointed more ex-servicemen into positions of trust than any other democratically-elected leader of the country including the head of immigration. Outside that world, his interactions were limited to mates in Bo School and friends he made especially in the United Kingdom where he spent much of his post-military leader life, studying. That is where he probably met his present wife.
His time in the UK was mostly spent studying in Bradford. That explains why he has arguably appointed more Sierra Leoneans in the UK Diaspora than any other president. From the Chief Minister to the former high commissioner to UK and current Local Government Minister, to name but a few from a very long list that includes people not in cabinet. Those are the people he knew and trusted – some of them not necessarily the best qualified or most suited for their jobs.
The third pool of human resource base he has had to choose from comprises those from his inner circle within his Sierra Leone People’s Party – many of them people he went to Bo School with. Those staunch party members, some of them not Bo School alumni are the people whom, while he was away in the UK, kept alive the fight for him to be their party’s presidential candidate. They are very loyal to him.
But how many of those people – Disaporans from the UK, ex-servicemen and Bio’s core SLPP team – are really genuinely committed to ensuring the president gets the best advice in the best interest of what for me is the best country in the world? How many of them are not in it for the primordial reason of enriching themselves and their vested interests which often clash with those of the state’s? So much so, that you wonder why the president appointed certain people to certain positions who have no business being in those positions in the first place.
In one or two ministries that I know, the deputies should actually be the ministers – if qualification, competence and experience were the considerations for such appointments. Often one gets the feeling the president does not know many of the people he has had to appoint. He did not live an everyday life to know many of those he needs to help him deliver on the things he seems so determined to achieve for Sierra Leone. Those around him, some of them his ministers, recommended such appointees. The benchmarks they used to make such recommendations often did not border on competence, integrity or even qualification.
To them, having the ears of the president meant lying to him. Their recommendations for appointments were mostly of their own close associates however incompetent and egotistical they might be. And it is telling on the nation. Sadly, for many people, politics is not about public service – rather self service. Like yesterday, it is the self first, the self second and the self third, before country.
It is shocking that some people who were in civil society or the media just two years ago have become so arrogant that those things they used to decry, they now do – and have even perfected the art of wrongdoing. Armed police and soldiers are attached to certain appointees who have no business having armed security assigned to them, amid the shortages of policemen to secure the masses who are often at the mercy of armed robbery and other violent incidents. And some of them even wait for their security detail to get off the vehicle to open their vehicle door before they alight. Many of them are laws unto themselves. These are some of the albatrosses around the neck of the president. And some of them I blame on him.
President Julius Maada Bio has been lenient for too long. And it is negatively impacting on him and the state. He doesn’t seem to have his hand on the lever in some regard. One of those good attributes of allowing your appointees to use their own initiative does not seem to be working. He sees the ineptitude of some of his appointees. I hear sometimes he is so vexed that he prefers to be left alone and doesn’t wish to see any of them. It begs the question, why not act?
I can understand the appeasement appointments immediately following an election. But almost two years in office it is crystal clear who are up to the task and who are not. Reality must have sunk in. He should have removed the albatrosses around his neck and freed himself from the shackle of appeasing a few – however much they supported you – to appeasing the people whom he vowed to serve faithfully. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine – and in more ways and for more reasons than one.

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