By Clarence Roy-Macaulay O.O.R.……
Hours after his election, Sierra Leone’s new President-elect Ahmed Tejan Kabbah Monday March 18, 1996, vowed to reconstruct the country and appealed to war refugees to return home and urged citizens to band together to bring peace and economic stability.
While welcoming foreign assistance, President-elect Ahmed Tejan Kabbah said the real responsibility lies with the people of Sierra Leone, a once-prosperous country ruined by civil war and corruption.
I recall his statement”with Sierra Leone’s wealth in human and material resources, I see no reason why the ingenuity, talent and drive of our citizens should not be utilized to create a new society,” Tejan Kabbah said.
Late Sunday, March 17, 1996, President-elect Tejan Kabbah was declared the winner of Friday’s Presidential runoff election. He received 59.4 percent of the votes to defeat John Karefa-Smart. Tejan Kabbah also received the most votes in the first round of balloting in February.
Tejan Kabbah, then a 64-year-old British-educated lawyer and long time United Nations official, led the Sierra Leone People’s Party, (SLPP) which was formed in 1952 while the West African country was a British colony.
Neither Tejan Kabbah nor the dozen other original candidates offered much in the way of specific ideas on how to salvage Sierra Leone, except to promise an end to the five-year rebel insurgency and an improvement of the economy.
In his address, The President-elect Kabbah said his Government would press for peace talks with the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF). On Sunday, the military government claimed the rebels had agreed to an immediate cease-fire and peace talks. There was no confirmation from the rebels.
The rebels opposed the presidential election; after the first round of voting, rebel fighters hacked off the hands of dozens of people who cast ballots.
President-elect Kabbah urged the rebels to accept his election, saying they had a duty as citizens to help rebuild the country. He also appealed to the more than one million people who fled the country during the war to return. “There is a lot that they too can contribute. They have nothing to fear,” Tejan Kabbah said.
Just as he promised, former President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah’s first major objective was to end the rebel war which, in four years had already claimed hundreds of innocent lives, driven thousands of others into refugee status and ruined the country’s economy.
In November 1996, in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, he signed a peace agreement with the rebel leader Corporal Foday Sankoh of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
I recall being a member of Tejan Kabbah’s delegation to Abidjan and that was the first time I came very close to the President. I did not realise that he was following my reportage in the international media of the rebel war, a passion that ensured that the rest of the world could not overlook this war-ruined West African Nation of Sierra Leone where tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans died during the more than decade-long brutal conflict, including two Associated Press (AP) foreign colleagues, whose bodies I helped to repatriate. One other was seriously injured.
Through it all, I refused to leave this country, even when my life was at risk and even though the Associated Press Bureau Chief in Abidjan offered me evacuation out of this country when some 2,500 persons, including US citizens and several other nationalities were being evacuated from Mammy Yoko hotel, Aberdeen in the west end of Freetown, onboard a US Naval vessel in late May and early June, 1997 after the May 25, 1997 military coup.
I offered to stay behind to continue to sensitize the international community about the widespread atrocities that were being committed in my country, thus helping prod the international community into arranging a military intervention that led to the end of the war in 2002.
The rebels reneged on the Abidjan Peace Agreement, resumed hostilities, and later perpetrated on the people of Sierra Leone what has been described as the most brutal internal conflicts in the world.
In May 1997, a military coup forced President Tejan Kabbah into exile in neighbouring Guinea/Conakry.
While in Guinea/Conakry UNOMSIL was established in 1997 under the U N Secretary General Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okello and I was appointed the first Public Relations Officer, little did I know that President Kabbah played a positive role in the appointment while in Guinea. I even accompanied Ambassador Francis Okello to Togo for the final stages of the negotiations of the Lome Peace Accord in 1997.
President Tejan Kabbah’s democratically elected Government was restored nine months later when the military-rebel junta was removed by troops of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and local loyal and civil and military defence forces.
Once again, in pursuit of peace President Tejan Kabbah signed another peace agreement with the RUF rebel leader Foday Sankoh in July 1999. Notwithstanding the repeated violations by the RUF, the document, known as the Lome Peace Agreement, remained the cornerstone of sustainable peace, security, justice and national reconciliation in Sierra Leone.
On January 18, 2002 former President Tejan Kabbah at the ceremony marking the conclusion of the disarmament and demobilisation of ex-combatants under the auspices of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), declared the rebel war over with these words “the war done done”.
Again I did not realise that President Tejan Kabbah was still following my international reporting on events in Sierra Leone including the decade-long rebel war until April 27, 2006, Independence Day Anniversary when he nominated and appointed me to be an “Officer of the Order of the Rokel” O.O.R., according to the citation “in recognition of my exemplary dedication and contribution to the Nation in the field of Journalism”.
I had since April, 1989 opted to voluntarily retire from the Sierra Leone Civil Service as Controller, News & Current Affairs, Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) on government pension.
But that was not all, I recall when four months later, August 26, 2006, came news from the President Tom Curley of the Associated Press (AP) International News Agency (founded in 1848 and one of the oldest News Agencies in the world) that I had “won the year’s AP GRAMLING SPIRIT AWARD, which according to the citation was in recognition of my “dedication to the AP Mission, exceptional and enthusiastic service to all AP staff members, subscribers and/or clients”.
On hearing the news President Tejan Kabbah asked his Private Secretary Ms Alake Madhi to telephone me and when I took the call it was President Tejan Kabbah himself congratulating me on the Award and added “Clarence, when I made my own Award, I knew exactly what I was doing”.
That’s the former President of the Republic of Sierra Leone (1996 to 2007) who vowed to reconstruct the country at the beginning of his 11-year tenure of office on March 18, 1996. After the decade-long civil war, he not only laid the foundation for the reconstruction of this country but also for reconciliation and the peace and stability which we are now enjoying.
Former President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah can be credited with helping to bring in the UN and British forces that crushed the rebels from the year 2000, after their final outbreak of bloodletting. He resisted the rebels during the insurgents’ ten years of campaign here.
On Thursday August 3, 2006 in his nationwide radio and television broadcast when he decided ” to announce the date almost one year before the holding of the elections” in 2007, even though in the case of the election of the President, the election is to be held during the period of three months beginning with the date when the Office of President becomes vacant, former President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah stated, among other things, “there is general consensus that we have continued to consolidate the gains of restoring peace and security and re-establishing democracy and political stability.”
May His Soul Rest in Perfect Peace and Light Perpetual Shine on Him.
I offer my personal condolences to his family and relatives
Clarence Roy-Macaulay O.O.R.
AP Oliver Gramling Spirit Award
Retired Controller News & Current Affairs,
Former Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS)
Correspondent, Associated Press News Agency