By Sorie Fofana.
During one of his rare private visits to London as head of state, few people (very few people) had access to the late President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
Even before he arrived in London, he had informed us (the High Commission) that his visit was purely going to be private. He needed a much deserved rest!
As Information Attache at the Sierra Leone High Commission in London and one of his younger friends, I was privileged to be among the “very few people” that saw him and even visited him unannounced.
Most often, he would call me and ask the usual question: What is happening back home? He expected me to brief him on what the newspapers were saying.
He was not internet savvy. So, I would have to download and print the online newspapers for his attention. He was very much keen on knowing what the “New Citizen” newspaper in particular, was writing about his Government. He saw the “New Citizen” newspaper as the unofficial mouthpiece of the then opposition APC party.
On one of my briefing meetings with him, he expressed indignation at the way his administration was being unfairly treated by some sections of the media (the print media).
I suggested to him that, he needed to establish a direct contact with some of the key players in the media.
When he arrived in London, on another occasion, the Hon. Alhaji I.B. Kargbo (Managing Editor of the New Citizen newspaper at the time) was part of his official delegation.
He later traveled with Pios Foray of the “Democrat” newspaper to the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou on an official trip.
He once arrived in London with Kelvin Lewis of the “Awoko” newspaper on another official trip.
He also travelled with Jonathan Leigh of the “Independent Observer” newspaper to Libya on an official trip.
Josaih Paris of Universal Radio FM 98.7 traveled with President Kabbah to the UK and both of us stayed in the same hotel when we traveled to Bradford with the President.
President Kabbah later told me that, the strategy worked out very well because many senior Journalists looked forward to a similar privilege whenever he traveled out of the country.
During his final three months in office, he was very concerned about the media perception about him. He was very much concerned about his legacy as President.
On a visit to State Lodge at Hill Station one Sunday evening, he took me to his bedroom and showed me the gymnasium he had established for some physical exercise. He enjoyed riding on the treadmill!
We came out of the room and he showed me a very scathing opinion piece published in one of the local newspapers. It was a direct personal attack on him.
After reading it, he asked me what I thought of it and I said, “Just ignore it”. He rolled his head in agreement!
He asked me to tell my colleagues in the media to shift their focus from him because he was leaving office in the next few months. “I should no longer be their target…Very soon we would be having a new President and a new Government…I am now on the way out of public life…They are free to judge me by the way my successor behaves when he enters this great house”, he said.
President Kabbah’s greatest legacy is the peace accord which he signed with the RUF in the Togolese capital, Lome in 1999 that brought about the end of the civil war. He was very proud of his role in ending the civil war in Sierra Leone.
He established a lot of good governance institutions; he rebuilt burnt out hospitals, schools and Police stations. He established NASSIT, which he considered as one of his greatest legacies.
He never encouraged tribalism. His dream was to build a united nation that would cater for the wellbeing of every Sierra Leonean, no matter what tribe they belong to or what region of the country they hail from.
In the 2007 elections, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma (the APC Presidential candidate) campaigned on the platform of change and a determination to tackle corruption, root and branch.
In the first five years of his Presidency (2007 and 2012) he achieved a lot in the health, energy, infrastructure and governance sectors under the Agenda for Change.
In his second and final term, a lot of tangible achievements have been made in the health, energy, infrastructure and justice sectors. A lot of reforms have either taken place or are taking place right now.
His relationship with the media has sharply deteriorated in his final months in office. He is not even on speaking terms with some of his old media friends. This is not good for a President that is going out of office in the next few months.
Between 2007 and 2012, President Koroma was the darling of the Press. He enjoyed a groundswell of support from the media. Unfortunately, that media goodwill for the President has fizzled out. Only a handful of media owners now support the President. What has really gone wrong between the man dubbed as the “most media friendly President” and his old media friends? Where is the Information Minister in all of this?
A Tiger Heart
President Koroma is a man who does big things. He has the heart of a tiger! His agenda to transform the country suffered a severe setback in 2014, when the Ebola Virus Disease broke out in the country.
His determination to go ahead with the Mamamah Airport project was diminished by the Ebola outbreak.
Mamamah Airport would have stood out as one of President Koroma’s greatest and perhaps most enduring legacy after he shall have left office in March 2018.
A study shows that, Mamamah Airport would have opened “new opportunities for business and commerce” and would have helped “to expand and revitalize the private sector” and would have “created abundant employment and business opportunities” in the hospitality sector.
In the health sector alone, the Government of President Koroma has embarked on the distribution of 4.3 million treated mosquito bed nets to help address “the Malaria challenge and to improve the health of pregnant women and children. Community Health Workers have also been trained to provide better care and advisory services”.
The Government is constructing a 100 bedroom hospital at Macauley Street in Freetown, a 75 bedroom hospital at Lumley, a 100 bedroom hospital at Rokupa, a 100 bedroom hospital at Waterloo and Kingharman Road separately and respectively.
These are some of the legacies that President Koroma would be bequeathing to this nation, when he shall have retired in March 2018.
With all of these achievements in less than ten years, the President should be proud of his record in public service and retire quietly.
History would judge him as one of the greatest leaders that ever governed Sierra Leone if he chooses to retire quietly in March 2018.
President Koroma is a man with a tiger heart!