Friday, 16 December 2016

PRESIDENT KOROMA ADDRES AT STATE OPENING OF PARLIAMENT

 

President Dr Ernest Bai Koroma's address at the State Opening of the Fifth Session of the Fourth Parliament of the Second Republican of Sierra Leone.


MR. SPEAKER,
MR. VICE PRESIDENT,
MY LORD THE CHIEF JUSTICE,
MINISTERS OF GOVERNMENT,
HONOURABLE MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT,
EXCELLENCIES, MEMBERS OF THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS,
HIS WORSHIP THE MAYOR OF FREETOWN,
DISTINGUISHED GUESTS,
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:


On becoming President in 2007, I vowed to move this country forward, to transform its roads, improve electricity, invest more in education and health, and improve Sierra Leone’s reputation as a peace-loving, democratic and resilient nation. Our actions brought about the biggest investment flows into the country since independence, with the opening up of huge iron ore mines, and large agricultural projects in the country. We faced challenges, but we acted on our promises, and in every district today, our achievements are very visible. Because of our actions, all projections, from reputable agencies all over the world, pointed to great times ahead for Sierra Leone.
Then Ebola struck; then iron ore prices fell. The projections did not foresee these events coming. Nobody in 2013 saw these events coming. Today, mainly because of those two shocks, the going is tough, but we should not pull back from our aspirations to move this country forward.
We know there are some who questioned the actions we took before Ebola struck and iron ore prices fell. But my honourable friends would agree with me that the country needed massive investments in roads, and we did that; that the country needed free health care for pregnant women and for children and we did that; that the country needed to triple salaries of teachers, lecturers, nurses, doctors and civil servants, and we did that; that our country needed to pay for its students to sit to public examinations and we did that; that our country needed to get women into the sciences in tertiary institutions and we did that; that our country needed to improve its electricity and we did that; that our country needed to put more resources into agriculture and other priority sectors, and we took action on all these fronts.
We know that there were many challenges in meeting all the targets we set forth for those programmes. But we are encouraged by the positive outcomes deriving from our action. Just last week, the International Monetary Fund, in their conclusion of the sixth and final review of the Extended Credit Facility (ECF), commended our strong actions and economic policies. My government’s economic reform programme supported by the ECF has achieved its key objectives and we have ensured stronger and more inclusive growth despite the exogenous shocks of the Ebola epidemic and the collapse of iron ore prices. This acknowledgement by the international world is a testament to our tough decisions, our resilience and our prudent fiscal and economic reforms.
We will continue to fight to overcome the other challenges. We are not afraid to get into the ring and do what is necessary. We applaud the armchair patriots and internet nationalists who criticize us. They may mean well for this nation, but we also implore them to come into the ring for the heavy lifting, to come into the ring to start businesses, to contribute your education to our schools, your expertise to our youths, and your global experience to the advancement of the nation.
I hear people say the country is not ready for them. But no country is ready for its people until its people are ready for it. I was ready for my country, so I jumped into the ring to contribute, and against great odds I have been able to push this country in the direction of transforming its roads, of investing more in health and education, of improving energy and enhancing our country’s standing in international forums. Come to the ring, don’t wait until challenges mount and you start saying how patriotic and wise you are because you never joined in the battle.
Every country has moments in which it is tested. We were moving up and flying high before Ebola struck and iron ore prices fell. But inspired by the immortal words of our national anthem, I stand before you with a zeal that never tires. And together, we will succeed; this country has done it before, and I have no doubt that with your support and the determination of our people, we will do it again.
Mr. Speaker Honourable Members, already our economy is recovering with a projected growth of 4.9 percent in 2016 from a contraction of 21 percent in 2015. Real GDP is projected to grow by 5.4 percent in 2017, steadily increasing to 6.1 percent in 2019. This growth will be driven mainly by the expected increases in iron ore production, as well as by increased public and private investments in agriculture, fisheries, tourism, construction, manufacturing and energy.
Yes, times are challenging, but we are tightening our belts, and we will not relent in moving forward with transformative infrastructural development programmes. In the east end of Freetown, we are constructing a four-lane road from Wellington to Masiaka and expanding the ports. We are also constructing the township roads of Waterloo, building a teaching hospital at Kerry Town and a Centre for Tropical Disease Control that would serve not only our country but also the sub region.
This is because my Government has continued to break new grounds in consolidating our position as a destination for mining investment in the world. Shansteel Ltd., which took over the Tonkolili mines from African Minerals, has resumed operations, and is targeting a staggered expansion to increase production to pre-Ebola figures. This means that we have been able to save significant numbers of jobs for Sierra Leoneans, as well as increase opportunities for Sierra Leonean businesses. Also, Koidu Holdings Ltd., which is engaged in large-scale kimberlite diamond mining in Sierra Leone, has commenced work to transition to underground mining, becoming the first large-scale underground mining operation in the country. Sierra Rutile Ltd, which has been acquired by Iluka Resources, now operates the Rutile Mines in Moyamba and Bonthe. Iluka is also committed to preserving employment benefits that Sierra Rutile's operations provide to surrounding local communities and Sierra Leone. My Government has also received expressions of interest from reputable investors to develop new large-scale diamond mines in the country.
Exports will therefore recover strongly in 2017 and 2018. The resulting increase in export earnings, complemented by prudent fiscal and proactive monetary policies, will help to stabilise the exchange rate and contain inflationary pressures.
The National Revenue Authority (NRA) has made tremendous efforts in improving its domestic revenue collection. We will continue to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the NRA to enable them to increase domestic revenue collection to 20 per cent of GDP.
My Government is also implementing more belt-tightening fiscal and proactive monetary policies in the short-term as well as medium-term sectoral policies in agriculture, fisheries, mining and manufacturing. This is why, despite the challenges posed by the twin shocks, Government’s performance has been remarkable under the economic and financial programme supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) through the Extended Credit Facility.
Mr. Speaker, we are on the way to recovery and growth. We are acting with great urgency to achieve the goals set forth in our Presidential Recovery Priorities. Permit me now Mr. Speaker, to inform this Honourable House, our citizens and friends of our dear country, on the specifics of our actions on these priority areas and other key sectors.
Health
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, in my last address to this Honourable House, I committed my Government to maintain a zero Ebola infection rate and to strengthen our health care delivery system. With your partnership and the dedication of our gallant healthcare workers, we have been able to achieve these goals.
In recognition of their exemplary service in the fight against Ebola, my Government has absorbed into the payroll 500 nurses who volunteered their services during the response. Whilst no amount of compensation will make up for the irreparable loss to their families and the nation, my Government has begun the process of paying death benefits to the next-of-kins of the deceased health workers. To date, payments have been made in respect of 103 deceased health workers. We have also extended the Free Health Care Initiative to our Ebola Virus survivors and a comprehensive package catering for their special healthcare needs has been provided.
Mr. Speaker, learning from the EVD outbreak, my Government is taking action to build a resilient health system that is well positioned to prevent, detect, and respond to any public health threat of either the same or of similar nature to Ebola. We have established two public health laboratories in the Western Area and one in each of the regional headquarter towns of Bo, Kenema and Makeni. These laboratories have full capabilities to test for viral haemorrhagic fevers including Ebola. One of these, in the Western Area, is fully equipped to test for the Zika virus.
An Emergency Operational Centre and a National Public Health Agency for capacity building have been established at Cockerill to coordinate field activities during outbreaks.
My Government has taken concrete steps to deal with the shortage of medical practitioners. Forty-three medical doctors, two radiographers and four laboratory scientists, from various African countries have been contracted, several of whom are already in-country for immediate deployment to district hospitals nationwide. Additionally, we have undertaken to sponsor more than 30 locally trained young doctors to pursue specialist courses in various fields.
At the same time, middle grade Community Health Officers are being trained in life-saving medical and surgical interventions to act as Physician Assistants where there are either no doctors or they are in short supply. A second paramedical school has also been opened in Makeni to complement the existing one in Bo that has served this country so well. These interventions will no doubt improve the doctor to patient ratio as well as translate to better health outcomes for our people.
Mr. Speaker, please permit me to commend both sides of this Honourable House for enacting the Teaching Hospital Complex Act and the Postgraduate Council of Health Specialties Act. With that bi-partisan support, we have paved the way for a revolution in medical education in this country. Preparations are underway for the construction of a five-hundred bed dedicated Teaching Hospital at Kerry Town. In order to address the space limitations in our hospitals nationwide and in the Western Area in particular, I have also commissioned, at Waterloo, Lumley, and Mountain Cut, the construction of three additional hospitals, each with a bed capacity of close to 100.
Mr. Speaker, we are at an advanced stage in the establishment of a cost-free National Ambulance Service which will prioritize highly vulnerable groups. The National Ambulance Service will also create employment for hundreds of volunteer nurses and for youths who will serve as drivers.
My Government has further supported the establishment of a tracking system, the Maternal Deaths Surveillance and Response System, to investigate all maternal deaths, and take the necessary actions. We have also installed 100 solar powered refrigerators to store vaccines and other medicines in hard-to-reach communities.
We will continue the fight against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria alongside our accelerated efforts to reduce teenage pregnancy and eliminate childhood malnutrition. With strong support from our health development partners, medical services for all of these conditions in all public facilities continue to be free of cost.
Social Protection
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, the lingering economic impacts of the Ebola outbreak and the sharp fall of commodity prices are more pronounced among our less privileged compatriots. This is why as part of our recovery programme, and with support from our development partners, my Government has continued to provide assistance to 47,000 extremely poor and vulnerable households with unconditional cash transfers. A total number of 11,600 youths in extremely poor and vulnerable households have received conditional cash transfers through Labour Intensive Public Works. We are also scaling up our efforts to ensure continuous care for EVD-affected persons and survivors. Under my Government’s Recovery Priorities, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs is providing livelihood support through stipend payments, financial literacy training and cash support under the Social Rehabilitation and Payments to Ebola Survivors (SRPES) project.
Education
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, my government has taken action to improve the quality of instruction in schools by developing new content in the core subjects; and we are piloting an incentive scheme in 1,200 primary and 150 junior secondary schools in Kambia, Tonkolili, Pujehun and Kenema districts. The scheme will provide financial reward to schools based on how well they are managed and maintained as well as how much learning and improvement takes place over time. This scheme will take advantage of the annual schools examinations analyses and new policy measures we have commenced this year. From now on, every school and district will be rated and ranked in terms of performance in the primary, junior and senior secondary school levels.
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, I am pleased to report to you that in spite of the challenges, my government has launched the national school feeding programme. This is a big win for our people and we will sustain it as one of the biggest social transformation programmes in the country. It is already bringing broad smiles unto the faces of our primary school kids; teachers all over the country are reporting increases in the number of children going to school and staying for classes; it is creating big markets for local produce in communities all over the country, bringing added income to farmers, market women, and transporters. The programme is also activating a new spirit of volunteerism in local communities, as women take turns to cook meals for their children in schools; get more involved in school affairs and push to sustain greater nutrition, enrolment and retention of school children all over the country.
Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has established a ‘Situation Room’ which receives information from 1,192 community monitors to ascertain quality assurance in our schools. To address the problem of overcrowding in classrooms, an initial 225 new classrooms out of an overall target of 500 are being constructed across the country, with support from UK Aid. Because of the actions we continue to take in the education sector, more pupils are progressing to and passing public examinations. In 2016, over 115,000 pupils took the NPSE, with nearly 87,000 passes. The numbers contrast positively with the passes in 2015. At the basic examination level, performance in the core subjects in 2016 was much higher than in 2015.
The rehabilitation of sub-sahara’s oldest university, Fourah Bay College, has commenced and with this, we will ensure that it regains its pre-eminent position in Africa.
Agriculture
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, the agriculture sector remains the largest employer, providing employment for 60-65% of our workforce, and contributing 54% of GDP.
Our objective under the recovery programme is to create 10,000 jobs across the agriculture supply chain, and increase agricultural production and productivity of targeted crops and livestock. To this end, the Ministry has distributed 65,000 bushels of seed rice; 42,000 bags of assorted fertilizers and millions of different varieties of tree crops seedlings to individual farmers and farming groups. Fifty-two Agricultural Business Centres have been selected for transformation into viable processing and marketing entities.
At the same time, a total of 922.5 km of feeder roads are being rehabilitated in nine districts and work is at an advanced stage in the Kailahun, Kenema, Kono and Koinadugu Districts. We have also provided 2,292 farm families with access to finance.
Fisheries
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, the Fisheries and Marine Resources Sector has made major gains over the past years both in terms of increasing fish supplies to the local markets and revenue generation from about Le 40.3 billion in 2015 to over Le 47.3 billion up to October, 2016. The Ministry’s capacity to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing has been scaled up.
The Ministry continues to monitor all licensed fishing vessels through a 24 hour Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and an Automatic Identification System (AIS). We have further enhanced the capacity of our local communities with inshore fiber glass boats for community surveillance of our marine protected areas. We are also utilizing the ‘Blue Traker’ software to identify and arrest fishing vessels for infractions in our waters. With our partners, we are developing a regional fishery information dashboard at the ministry. This will enable the exchange of information on fishery statistics and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities in the sub-region.
Private Sector Development
Mr. Speaker, the private sector remains central not only to our economic recovery, but also in ensuring sustainable economic growth. In this respect, my Government is supporting 1,000 Medium and Small Scale Enterprises (SMEs) to increase their competitiveness across key value chains. Several SMEs have received substantial business development support, linking them to affordable and customized financing.
To further improve the business environment, we have completed the digital re-registration of 869 companies in the Corporate Affairs Commission database, making them available online. With support from the United Kingdom, we have acted to improve access to commercial justice, including some decentralized case processing to increase access in the districts. These efforts are paying off as shown by improvements in the ‘Starting a Business’ indicator recorded in the latest World Bank Doing Business report.
We are also improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Freetown Port. An updated and streamlined clearance process mapping is being completed while a public outreach strategy to clarify port operations and increase accountability is underway.
Informed by our Local Content legislation, we are ensuring an initial 10% local sourcing in institutional feeding contracts. This is in addition to an initial 10% sourcing of local rice for the Sierra Leone Police, Correctional Services and the Ministry of Defence.
Water and Environmental Protection
Mr. Speaker, three bills designed to unlock the potential of the sector in water resources management and service delivery by utilities have received preliminary clearance from the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Water. They are now awaiting final legislative review and clearance by members of this Honourable House.
Looking ahead, my Government is laying the foundation for a permanent solution to the water sector issues in Freetown. Already, various Terms of Reference have been developed and are awaiting advanced contracting clearance from the African Development Bank to kick-off the relevant feasibility studies.
My Government has taken further action to provide safe water supply to 700,000 people in several provincial areas, and improve access to water and sanitation in Pujehun, Kono, Kambia, Koinadugu, and Bonthe. We are also on track to provide an additional 422,600 people in these districts with access to safe drinking water by April of 2017. To build a financially sustainable and scalable water service model, an operating cost-recovery strategy will be piloted in small towns.
Mr. Speaker, our exposures to the vulnerabilities of climate change and the imperative to sustain our water and other livelihood sources have further necessitated action to protect our environment. A spatial database for Environmental Impact Assessment license and baseline spatial database for natural resources in Sierra Leone have been completed to ensure effective protection and management of the environment and its natural resources. The Environmental Protection Agency has also developed a national climate change policy which has been adopted by Cabinet.
Energy
Despite our economic challenges, the provision of electricity continues to be central to our recovery process and ultimately to our national development agenda. With the ambitious target of doubling access to electricity to 250,000 households under the 24 months recovery programme, my administration is seeking to double total operational power generation capacity from 75 MW to 150 MW.
Already, the construction of the three mini-hydros in Charlotte, Bankasoka and Makali has been completed. The ministry has signed contracts to supply, install and commission thermal generators in Port Loko, Moyamba, Kailahun, Kabala, Kambia, Bonthe, Kamakwie and Pujehun. Also, this Honourable House has ratified the agreement between my Government and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development in respect of the installation of a 6MW Solar Park to serve Newton and its environs. By June 2017, stand-alone solar systems will be installed in 50 Community Health Centres nationwide.
The rehabilitation of 6 power plants in Makeni, Blackhall Road and Kingtom is also on track. The rehabilitation of generation and evacuation networks to reduce technical losses is well on course. The completion of the Wellington express line prevented an estimated 26,000 people from losing access to electricity in the east end of Freetown. We have completed the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Bo-Kenema upgrade, which will reduce the estimated 38% technical losses incurred in the network.
Mr. Speaker, to sustain the services, it is imperative to enhance revenue collection. We have therefore continued to implement other measures including the installation of 22,000 pre-paid meters to increase access to customers nationwide and to boost revenue generation. A Framework Agreement has been signed by the relevant stakeholders, including the Anti-Corruption Commission, to curb electricity malpractices.
Infrastructure
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, we still have a long way to go but we have changed the face of our towns and cities; we have linked up our country with the Republic of Guinea through the Kambia-Pamlap International Highway in the North and we are on course to linking up with the Republic of Liberia through Pujehun in the South.
We have inaugurated the construction of another strategic and major road - the Moyamba Junction–Moyamba Town and the Four Bridges Project of Magbele, Mabang, Gbangbama and Moyamba.
We have taken action to widen to four lanes the Wellington–Masiaka Highway which will be tolled as part of the loan repayment arrangement. A new 11 meters wide bridge will also be constructed at Orugu, with structural strengthening of the existing Orugu Bridge.
Governance
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, my Government continues to work assiduously to improve efficient service delivery, uphold the rule of law and promote transparency and accountability. The Anti-Corruption Commission has strengthened the Pay No Bribe platform through an innovative reporting mechanism for citizens to anonymously report incidents of corruption and bribery online or through text messages. With support from the European Union, the ACC has also developed an online asset disclosure system, which is expected to commence in 2017. This system will make it easier for public officers to comply with the declaration process, and ease the storage and verification of declarations.
Mr. Speaker, you will recall that in my last address to this Honourable House, I informed you that my Government will commence action towards:-
i. administrative restructuring of chiefdoms with the view to promoting good governance, peace, stability and social harmony at the local level;
ii. Undertaking preliminary studies for the restoration of the Karene District and the creation of a new Province. We will soon announce the Proclamation for the separation of some of the amalgamated chiefdoms, the restoration of the Karene District, division of Koinadugu into two Districts and the creation of a new province.
Mr. Speaker, our commitment to moving forward the decentralization process is unshakeable. It is in this light that we commend the contribution of partners to our decentralization process and urge them to speed up support to our efforts at overcoming the remaining challenges.
Mr. Speaker, my Government also recognizes that judicial reform and restructuring is critical for peace and prosperity, and key to promoting good governance and the Rule of Law. Our current Justice Sector Strategy and Investment Plan (JSRSIP III) has the goal of making justice accessible, efficient, fair and affordable in Sierra Leone.
Our Justice Sector reforms have ensured the deployment of magistrates and other justice sector officials across the country. We have also established the Legal Aid Board to provide indigent persons with legal representation.
We have expanded on the scope and breadth of performance contracts to improve effectiveness and efficiency in the public sector. We have also increased the coverage and scope of public sector audits. In 2015, 90% of Government expenditure was audited. Already, the audits of all 19 Local Council Accounts for the financial year which ended 31st December 2015 have been completed. The Audit Service continues to undertake the audit of all class “A” mining Chiefdoms. The audit of donor funded projects, including World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) projects is ongoing. The Audit Service Sierra Leone is far advanced in discussions with the African Development Bank (AfDB) for the audit of projects funded by the ADB.
Mr. Speaker, my government will also expand our breadth of accountability and transparency by ensuring that our Audit Services cover local and international non-Governmental Organisations, Civil Society Organizations that receive monies and are implementing projects and programmes on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone.
Integrity should not only be displayed in public offices; integrity should be exemplified in our relationships because it is a driver of employment, growth and success. When hard working compatriots in the Diaspora send money to start businesses, build houses or support their communities, do not squander it. Working with integrity with their money will create more jobs and encourage them to create more opportunities in the country. Wealth creation depends on working diligently when employed by international investors or national businesses. The availability of jobs does not only depend on opportunities government creates, they also depend on the work ethic, discipline and integrity of individual citizens.
Mr. Speaker, my Government remains committed to freedom of expression and of the press. We recognize that the media, including the emerging social media, are tools that could be utilised to move the country forward with respect for truth, dignity, and inclusion; or it could be a weapon for infringement of rights, spreading ill-will and creating spirals of smear campaigns and division. Being a public official is no license for your character to be falsely smeared; having a smart-phone is no license for you to infringe upon the privacy and dignity of ordinary citizens. We are creating policies that will nudge our citizens towards utilising the media for enhancing respect, providing evidence, and increasing knowledge of global and national trends. But we will also act to enhance accountability regarding the use of social media. It is within our mandate to ensure this, and we shall be steadfast in doing so.
Mr. Speaker, government’s policies, programmes and projects are either directly or indirectly implemented by civil servants. Effective service delivery therefore is dependent on the capacity and professionalism of its personnel. Through the ongoing Civil Service Reform Programme, my Government is creating a leaner civil service in which skills and competencies are defined and aligned with organizational needs.
Youth
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, my commitment to youth empowerment remains unflinching. My Government seeks to develop a Youth Empowerment Fund which Cabinet has already approved. This Fund will ensure the implementation of priority areas identified in the revised National Youth Policy. The Fund will support interventions covering education and skills training, agriculture, health, technology and innovation.
Through the Youth in Fisheries Project, we have constructed and distributed 70 fishing boats, each with 40 Horse Power outboard machines and fishing gears to generate jobs and livelihoods for youths in coastal communities.
To reinforce youth participation in agriculture, agri-business and other economic activities, we are establishing Youth Villages. We have secured a total of 1,061 acres of land in Kabala and 250 acres of land at Mile 91 for training youths in Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, Vocational and Technical skills. The proposed structures and architectural designs have been developed and we have commenced pre-construction activities.
Mr. Speaker, just yesterday, I launched the National Youth Service Scheme. This service will support our youths’ career development, enhance their understanding of the country’s social and cultural dynamics, and promote national cohesion. We will continue with these initiatives to ensure that our youths become more productive and able to meaningfully contribute to national development.
Tourism
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, we have strengthened the Monuments and Relics Commission to lead the process in the preservation, protection and promotion of our Monuments, Relics, Natural and Cultural Sites. This includes enlisting several sites to be classed and recognized as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, especially those on its Tentative List. Three sites have been declared as heritage monuments this year, namely: Zion Methodist Church, the grave of Madam Yoko and the grave of Bai Bureh. This comes almost 57 years after the last declaration.
The construction of a new cultural village at Mabala via Six Mile is nearing completion. In addition, the process for the construction of the first ever National Arts Gallery in Sierra Leone has commenced and will be a place where our artists and other artisans would be able to showcase their talents. Plans are also underway for the construction of museums in district headquarter towns.
Security
The capacity of our security sector is being strengthened to meet traditional and emerging threats to the stability of our nation. The Office of National Security has developed a Counter-Terrorism Strategy which is being implemented. We have developed an Elections Security Strategy to ensure a conducive atmosphere for free, fair and peaceful Elections. We have also designed a National Flood Response Plan defining a clear coordination road map for all stakeholders to comprehensively respond to floods and their attendant emergencies. We have ensured the training of 60 personnel from various MDAs under the West Africa Disaster Preparedness Initiative in Ghana early this year. We have also commissioned additional fire engines to boost the operations of the National Fire Force and have developed a draft fire safety law which we shall soon table before this Honourable House.

The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) is a pillar of my government’s commitment to global Peace and Security. The RSLAF won accolades for its gallantry and professionalism in peace keeping operations before they were halted during the Ebola Outbreak. We must resume this professional contribution to world peace. That is why, after consultations with the UN and AU, I have pledged a battalion for Peace-Keeping Operations. Preparations are underway to move this forward, and soon, the green white and blue of our gallant RSLAF shall again be flying in global peacekeeping operations.
We are also building the capacity of the RSLAF by enhancing training of officers both within and outside the country. In addition to infrastructural work at Gondama and Freetown, we have rehabilitated the Daru referral hospital at Moa Barracks and constructed accommodation for doctors and nurses. This facility will provide medical support to troops and their dependents as well as the surrounding communities. The flagship project for the construction of a modern battalion-size military barracks in the Kambia District remains on course with the selection of a prospective bidder almost finalized.
We have provided funding for the recruitment of police officers to fill the gaps created by attrition in the police force. The Police Academy project is also on course and the constitutional instrument for the legal basis of peacekeeping and law enforcement will soon be laid before this Honourable House for ratification.
In the meantime, the Sierra Leone Police continues to deploy Peacekeepers in Somalia, South Sudan, Dafur and Haiti. In 2017, the Sierra Leone Police will deploy a self-sustaining unit in Mali.
Next year, we will embark on the reconstruction of three accommodation blocks at the Advanced Police Order Training Centre at Kayainkaysa in the Samu Chiedom in Kambia. My Government will continue to support the Sierra Leone Police to honour its international obligations towards Interpol and global peace cooperation in making our world a safer place.
Foreign Policy and International Cooperation
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, my Government has enhanced Sierra Leone’s stake on the international stage. Our effort in advancing the mandate of the African Union Committee of Ten on the Reform of the United Nations has been very visible. Sierra Leone’s election to the Fifteen Member Peace and Security Council of the African Union; our role in advancing the work of the Committee mandated by ECOWAS to pursue dialogue in Guinea Bissau; and lately in the Gambia; and our leadership in promoting the interest of fragile and conflict affected states, are indicative of Sierra Leone’s diplomatic assertiveness. Our contributions to the Peacebuilding Commission and the signing and your ratification of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change have further enhanced Sierra Leone’s presence and voice in the international arena. This new diplomatic assertiveness is being underscored through the opening and re-opening of embassies in strategic regions, including Kenya and Egypt. We are also taking steps to rehabilitate our embassy properties abroad.
On behalf of the Government and people of Sierra Leone, I thank the Governments of the United Kingdom, the People’s Republic of China, the United States of America, Japan, Ireland, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the entire membership of the African Union and the European Union and all our bilateral partners for their invaluable support to Sierra Leone. We also acknowledge the invaluable contributions of the World Bank, the IMF, the African Development Bank, BADEA, DFID, USAID, JICA, the Islamic Development Bank, Saudi Fund, OPEC Fund, the Kuwait Fund, and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, ECOWAS, the MRU, the United Nations and its family of Agencies.
Conclusion
Mr. Speaker, 2016 has been a difficult year for all of us; but we shall move forward with greater energy and strength and determination. That was why I brought more young people in to the cabinet and other leadership positions than ever before. We shall move forward with greater inclusion, empathy and protection of the vulnerable; that was why I brought in the greatest number of women into the cabinet and other leadership positions than ever before. We shall move forward with bolder steps; that is why we are de-amalgamating chiefdoms, implementing a national school feeding programme, and sustaining our infrastructural development all over the country.

Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, I call on you, as representatives of the two biggest parties in the country, as the elected, battle-tested and most legitimate voice of all the people of this country, to continue to support the extra-ordinary measures we have taken to move this country forward. The true measure of politics is not about fighting to divide the people; the true mark of leadership is about finding the common ground wherein we can work together to build a better life for our people.
Sir Milton Margai sent drinks to Dr. Siaka Stevens on April 27, 1961 whilst he was being detained at Pademba Road Prisons; they were on opposite sides but Sir Milton wanted the founder of our party to celebrate our collective achievement of Independence. Sir Albert Margai, when he was Prime Minister invited even opponents to great lunches at his residence at Regent Road, Lumley. When he was President, Dr. Siaka Stevens appointed a great opponent, Alhaji Sanusi Mustapha as Vice President. When Dr. Joseph Saidu Momoh was President, he extended a hand of friendship to Sir Banja Tejan Sie and Dr John Karefa Smart. When Alhaji Dr Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was President, he restored unjustly seized properties to their owners, including members of my party. These are the better values we need to draw upon to overcome the habits that sometimes delay our push for a better country.


   

Mr. Speaker, to get to the destination of prosperity that we desire, we must remain united, focused and hardworking. The thriving economies of Asia did not achieve the great success we now admire because their citizens go to work late, leave their offices early or miss deadlines. These countries are giants of achievements because their citizens work hard, show discipline and commit their achievements to the advancement of their nations.
We still face challenges, but many amongst us have demonstrated virtues that this country needs, and we must salute them as models worthy of emulation. We will always remember Dr. Umar Khan as an embodiment of true patriotism. We commend the hardworking Alhaji ‘Nawal’, a driver in Tonkolili. From being a poor apprentice with nothing to his name, he worked hard at his chosen profession, moving people and goods along the roads between Magburaka, Masingbi, Bumbuna, Bendugu, Kono and Freetown. Today, Alhaji Nawal has his own vehicles and has built his own houses, stalls and provides employment for others. We salute youths at the Kenema Youth Farm who are cultivating hundreds of hectares of rice and cassava. 
 Let us be inspired by the hard work and discipline of Mr. Akiwande Lasite of the Grammar School, and the Rev Canon Modupe Taylor Pearce whose dedication to excellence at the Government Secondary School in Magburaka shaped the future of thousands of Sierra Leoneans. We shall ever be grateful for the shining examples of Madam Ada Bailor of the Albert Academy, and the thousands of teachers right across the country who were great shapers of the better destinies of many Sierra Leoneans. Let us pay tribute to the great Bishop Keili of Bo, and the erudite Alhaji Osman of Bambara Tong whose sermons taught thousands to seek God’s grace with courage, charity and largeness of spirit.
These are the testaments of the good that is in us; they are our better values; and this is the time to assert these better qualities to ensure our recovery and growth.
We have done it before; we can do it again. We answered those who doubted Sierra Leone by rebounding from conflict to not only secure peace, but to also contribute peace keeping troops and experts on truth, reconciliation, disarmament and post conflict democratic consolidation to troubled spots in the world.

 Whilst we still mourn the tragedy of Ebola, the untold story is that Sierra Leoneans did most of the heavy lifting to end the epidemic. Sierra Leoneans provided the most personnel, contributed the most expertise as frontline workers, ran treatment centres with the highest survival rates and showed resilience that confounded those who had predicted that millions would die. 

Together, with doctors, nurses, and other health workers, with chiefs, teachers, civil servants and other public officers, with MPs, ministers, mayors, councilors, traders and youths, we ended the worst outbreak of Ebola in human history. Sierra Leoneans don't often tell the good in them that pushes this country forward; we don't often tell the story about how we are a most religiously tolerant nation, a most friendly citizenry, a very beautiful land with a solid history of achievements. We must not be too quick to forget our collective achievements. We have again been tested, but we must resolve to overcome our challenges with faith that wisdom inspires. Together, showing forth the good that is ever in this country, we shall move forward with the recovery. Together, having in mind the truth and knowledge that our forefathers spread, and the mighty nations they led, we will do it again. Together, as we again pledge our devotion, our strength and our might, this parliament, this government, all of you seated here today, all of our people, at home and in the Diaspora, together, as we raise our hearts and voices on high nothing can stop our recovery, growth and development.
God bless you and God bless Sierra Leone.

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Monday, 21 November 2016

EASTERN PROVINCE SLPP MEMBERS CROSS OVER TO APC!

Ruling party making inroads in the East as…1,460 SLPP Defect to APC.

{Courtsey: Sierra Leone Issues- Tony Konomanyi's Facebook Post}

By Director Moisa

At least a total of four hundred and sixty (460) individuals who are disgusted over the way and manner they are being treated by the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) of late have declared their membership and loyalty to the All People’s Congress (APC) party in Nyama Chiefdom, Daru, Kailahun district eastern province.

Speaking on the line from Daru, chairman and coordinator Akido Konneh of Jawei chiefdom Constituency 006, explained that the massive declaration came as a result of SLPP’s maltreatment of them and disregard for their views and choices of candidates for the recent lower level elections in which the SLPP marginalized their supporters in that part of the country and went ahead and secretly held the lower level elections without informing them.

He added that when the way and manner in which the SLPP treated its members in that part of the country was reported to the SLPP Chairman Foday Musa; and a meeting was later organized, he (Foday Musa) failed to listen to the voice of the former SLPP members which action further emboldened them to leave the SLPP and opt for the APC.

He maintained however that before the 460 people from the SLPP declared for the APC, word had been going round that many of them had already got fed up with the bad treatment and lack of respect for their views by the SLPP in that part of the country. According to Akido Konneh three distinct groups were formed. 

One of the group which consisted of 175 (one hundred and seventy five) people were convinced that the APC Minister of State, Vice President’s Office, Mr. Alieu Bah, was the correct person they could put their trust in if they are to leave the SLPP for the APC and they made this abundantly clear. 

The other group which consisted of 140 (one hundred and forty) individuals that were fed up with bad treatment from the SLPP laid their trust on Hon. Robin Faley, saying that they have no doubt that as long as he is the one they would be following into the APC, then they were ready to lay their necks and loyalty to the APC. 

The third group of 145 (one hundred and forty five) former SLPP members openly associated and pledged their allegiance to the APC because they believed in Dr. Lansana Nyallay whom they described as an icon in whom they have explicit trust. Additionally however, several other SLPP members close to 1,000 (one thousand) were also reported to have declared their intention to join the APC because they are fed up with what they described as “the hypocritical stance and pa-o-pa attitude of a candidate and a party doing everything to repel its supporters instead of attracting” them.   

It was gathered that the bulk of the converts were mainly from 24 (twenty four) towns within the district. Other people who played various roles either way which led to the conversion of the above-mentioned number of people from the SLPP to the APC are former Trade Minister Usman Boie Kamara, Section Chief John Vandy and others.
It is understood that this massive exodus of SLPP members to the APC has impacted negatively on the Maada Bio support base in Kailahun, although the SLPP is denying that the exodus affected the party in any way. However, a date later this month has been set aside for the 460 (four hundred and sixty) new APC converts to be officially recognized, handed over and issued membership cards at an auspicious ceremony that would be attended by prominent APC figures.
See next edition for more details. 

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*RENAISSANCE MOVEMENT AND THE SLPP: the familiar hidden hand of a political mission*

{Courtsey: Tony Konomanyi 
Face Book Post in Sierra Leone Issues}
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*By Hon Cornelius* *Deveaux*
*Deputy Minister of* *Information and* *Communications**

Borrowing a few words from Wikipedia, Civil Society Organizations are an "aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests in promoting the welfare and will of citizens." Civil society includes the family and the private sphere, referred to as the "third sector" of society, distinct from government, business and partisan politics.

The positive role of civil society organizations in promoting good governance, increasing citizens participation in governance, holding government accountable and promoting the socioeconomic growth of a nation cannot be denied.

But the marriage between the Renaissance Movement and the opposition SLPP, evident in the joint press release issued yesterday, does not only contradict this characterisation of civil society, it also clearly shows that the duo are one of the same. From the activities, of and collaboration between the Renaissance Movement and the opposition SLPP; the facts stares at every keen observer that the course being pursued by the Renaissance Movement is, in its entirety, a political course of the opposition SLPP. It is certainly not in the interest of the people on whose behalf they claim to speak.

And this is not surprising! When a so- called civil society organization chooses to be a surrogate of a political party, then it means that objectivity has been buried for partisan political interest and gains.

For the SLPP, removing the APC from power through the ballot box is becoming increasingly impossible because of the government's continued development progress in almost every sphere across the country. The party's winning of recent by -elections, notwithstanding their efforts to dissuade voters, is a clear testimony to the government's prowess in winning elections.

One political observer told me that the fact that the ruling APC government has won practically every by - election in spite of all the malicious efforts by the Sierra People's Party to present the ruling APC government in bad light; has caused a lot of anguish and frustration among the rank and file of the SLPP.

I believe it is this inelectibility frustration that is beginning to boil over especially as we are approaching the next general elections. There is already ample evidence that their intention is to provoke civil unrest, make the country ungovernable ahead of the 2018 elections so as to force a government of national unity.

What baffles the right thinking Sierra Leoneans is that a civil society organisation like the one calling itself the Renaissance Movement, which is supposed to be a bastion of hope for the people, has allowed itself to be a pawn in an intricate political chess game.

But for many others, this is hardly surprising given that all of those who have openly identified themselves with the Renaissance Movement are card carrying members of the opposition SLPP and sworn enemies of the ruling APC party. This has been proved beyond all reasonable doubt through various whatsapp conversations and other forms of intelligence gathering.

And I understand that this Renaissance Movemebt doesn't even have a formal structure and presence; it is not registered and it doesn't have any offices anywhere.They only exist in virtual space spewing anger and promoting inflammatory actions through their social media recruits such as Theresa - a university girl who has been sharing messages that incite others to set vehicles ablaze.

Their illegality owing to their unregistered status in fact, means that the Renaissance Movement is operating unlawfully with all its attendant consequences. And, as a body,  the Renaissance Movement cannot sue or be sued.

Assuming then that the Police had granted permission for a street protest which would have eventually gone berserk, it means an aggrieved citizen who may have possibly suffered damages will not have been able to seek redress in a court of law. 

I therefore strongly believe that the Supreme Court will throw out any Summons from this subterfuge and unlawful entity against the Police for, in their words, refusing them a peaceful procession. Interestingly, these members, some of whom are laywers, know fully well that they do not have the legal standing to carryout any such legal actions in their name.

Sierra Leoneans must bear in mind that the Renaissance Movement is an illegal organization that is working assiduously to reverse the gains as a nation. We must also remember that Sierra Leone, with support from our international partners, has come along way in promoting and consolidating the peace in Sierra Leone after a decade long senseless war. A war which many believe was largely influenced by the opposition SLPP.

 The APC has twice experienced the clandestine and nefarious political machinations of the SLPP in 1967 and in 1991. We have learned our lessons and are not prepared to entertain any undemocratice succession to power. Street protest, violence and threat to public peace and security reminiscent to 1967 and 1991 only bring bitter  memories of the brutal persecution of APC political leaders and supporters.

Let me therefore underscore that government will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that peace and security is maintained, even if it means apprehending members of the Renaissance Movement especially in view of the fact that they are an illegal entity promoting a dangerous political course in the guise of civil society.

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SLPP SUPPORTERS POSING AS CIVIL SOCIETY MEMBERS : No Nutrality! 

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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

WHO WILL REPLACE President KOROMA AS CHAIRMAN AND LEADER OF THE APC?

IS THE PPRC READY TO OPEN THE CAMPAIGN GATE FOR 2018 GENERAL ELECTIONS?
Breaking  News: Read on....🔜

APC prepares to select Flag bearer.

President Koroma and Hon. I B Kargbo

President Koroma and Hon. I B Kargbo

A member of the National Advisory Council (NAC) of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo has said that they are putting modalities in place to elect their flag bearer, the new executive and Members of Parliament.
Talking to this medium Hon. I.B. Kargbo said the next general elections are drawing near and they are now putting modalities in place to make sure they choose the best of all the candidates that will represent the party as their flag bearer in the coming elections.
“We know that there are many of our comrades that are interested in the flag bearership, but not all of them will succeed. What we want is the best among the lot that will stand the test of time and will be more competent and marketable to the public than the other political parties.”
He said not all of them have the criteria to be leader and not all of them are marketable, because the candidate they will choose, should be acceptable to all party stalwarts and the general public.
“We want to win the next general elections and we must make sure that we look for a candidate that within and outside of the party has credibility, integrity, vision and action oriented to take over the mantle from President Ernest Koroma.”
Hon. I B Kargbo averred that they have already discussed with President Koroma who has given them the go ahead to start the process and it is not only for the flag bearer but for he party executives and Members of Parliament.
“We will be going to convention soon, which is very important in the party’s constitution, where we will meet and make sure we get things done by the book and come out stronger than ever.”
When asked if there is infighting in the party for the flag bearer position, Hon I.B. Kargbo laughed and said why should there be infighting for that position when the party structure is well in place.
“As I have told you, we will go to the convention choose all our candidates and executives and we will come out stronger together and more united to win the 2018 elections with ease.”
He said they have been doing their homework and when the choice is made it will be accepted by all and we all will rally behind him or her to victory so that we will continue our vision to make Sierra Leone great, peaceful and prosperous.
Tuesday November 01, 2016

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Friday, 7 October 2016

SIERRA LEON VAGABONE KING 2: AN UPDATE ON VALENTINE STRASSER - THE KING WITHOUT NO CLOTHES!!




       {Courtsey : "MohmJ@aol.com}
Date: 4 October 2016 at 15:40:30 CEST 
SALONEDiscussion@yahoogroups.com

Subject: [SALONEDiscussion] Valentine Strasser: A Current Look at the Former Youngest Head of State in the World

https://www.buzzfeed.com/monicamark/what-do-you-do-with-your-life-after-youve-already-been-the-w?utm_term=.rwg9JKY7k#.ioyZl3EGm




My Bloody Valentine

Valentine Strasser was once the world’s youngest dictator, ruling Sierra Leone for four turbulent years. But his fall from power left him broken, exiled, and eventually back home as a mysterious and feared recluse. BuzzFeed News makes an uninvited house call. 


The run-down mansion rising above the Freetown slum was the first giveaway, but it got even stranger. As Valentine Strasser’s home came into view, my guide screamed in Krio, “I go scared!” then yanked open the car door and bolted.

He emerged 50 meters away, behind a tangle of banana trees. Fair enough. Yusuf Dumbuya was a lanky 16-year-old from the shantytown of Grafton, and unsurprisingly didn’t want to hang around for what might follow.

I’d been lucky to get him to take me this far. In a neighborhood with no street names, nobody wanted to take me to Strasser’s house. Older residents recalled cheering in the streets when he first rode into power over two decades ago, but generally people shuddered when I asked about him.

“Everybody is scared of him here. Even if you say hello to him in the street, he will get angry with you,” Dumbuya had informed me cheerfully. He’d made the mistake of waving at Strasser a few weeks earlier. The former president of Sierra Leone felt the greeting showed a lack of respect.

“I don’t want to use abusive language, so let me just say he got very, very angry,” he continued, crossing his arms protectively. “He was shouting, ‘Who are you and who am I?’ He said, ‘Why you didn’t call me capay [captain]?” Strasser lunged, so Dumbuya scampered.

I’d found Dumbuya outside a youth computer center that Strasser ran, though a thick layer of dust suggested it hadn’t been used for months. A knot of teenagers were loitering around, though, and Dumbuya, wearing a beret tipped at a jaunty angle, offered to show me the way to Strasser’s home. He strode to my car with a swagger that implied he wasn’t afraid. That initial bullishness gave way to silence as we drove up the hill to where he said Strasser lived. Rice fields tumbled down to a river in the valley, where a group of boys were splashing about. “He go fight, maybe small, maybe big,” Dumbuya said, staring wistfully at them.
In a neighborhood with no street names, nobody wanted to take me to Strasser’s house.
Then he looked up, noticed suddenly how far up the hill we’d gone, and let out a piercing scream. And that was pretty much the last I saw of him.

At least I was still with my driver, I thought. Cheikh Kabal had been my constant companion over the weeks. Tattoos snaked down his biceps and disappeared into the leather driving gloves he wore permanently as protection against Ebola, eschewing the blue surgical ones everyone else chose.

Officially I was in Sierra Leone to report on the country’s Ebola epidemic and ensuing international panic. It was the summer of 2014 and land borders had long since shut, but when a British nurse in the capital, Freetown, caught the virus that August, international flights were also canceled. I was stranded in the country.

To stop myself from sinking into a spiral of paranoia that I was going to die of Ebola, alone, in a deserted foreign hotel, I’d come up with another plan: I’d busy myself looking for the country’s former dictator.

Kabal accepted pretty much everything I wanted to do — watch an Ebola burial in an isolated village, find a volatile ex-dictator — without asking questions. His sentences were never longer than necessary. “If you scream, I’ll come get you,” he said. He waited for me to climb out, then firmly locked the car doors behind me.

I took a deep breath and began walking toward the crumbling white house. Its porticoed front beamed majestically over the ramshackle tin roofs below. But the sweeping driveway was empty of the kind of flashy cars that typically announce a big man in these parts, and instead an elderly man — I later found out he was Strasser’s brother — was sweeping the dusty ground. Closer up, the columns were crawling with green mold, and the windowpanes were missing. The whole setup looked like an abandoned fairground attraction.

A thought occurred to me, and I turned back and tapped on the window of the car. Kabal rolled it down a couple of inches. Might Strasser have a gun?

“He’s an army man. If he doesn’t have a gun, he will have one of these,” Kabal said, rummaging around the glove compartment. He pulled out a chopping knife. The blade glinted in the sunlight. Now wasn’t the time to think about why Kabal kept a meat cleaver in the glove compartment.

Since being deposed and exiled in 1994, Strasser’s legend has become more of a mystery. About the only thing that was known about him was his penchant for drinking and his explosive temper. I wanted to dive deeper, but on more neutral ground — not in a deserted house in the hills with a knife-wielding Kabal as my only protection.

Valentine Strasser at 25 when he was the leader of the Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) and head of state, Sierra Leone, July 1992. Alamy

On April 29, 1992, Valentine Esegragbo Melvin Strasser accidentally seized power in Sierra Leone, a small, diamond-rich country tucked into Africa’s western coast. 

Until that day, Strasser had been an unknown army captain whose closest brush with fame came when he won a couple of dance-offs in a nightclub in Allen Town, a Freetown slum. At the age of 25, he found himself newly installed as the leader of a nation of 4 million people, and the commander-in-chief of a fractious, impoverished army.

After more than two decades of corrupt governments, most Sierra Leoneans welcomed the coup-makers, and Strasser was catapulted to messiah status. Print shops churned out calendars embossed with his childlike face. Graffiti artists splashed Freetown with his portrait and those of his fellow junta members, who called themselves the National Provisional Ruling Council.

The party’s inner circle was made up of equally young men, including a vice chairman who was barely 22 years old. From the outset, their rule was marked with the kind of eccentricities you’d expect if you walked into a college bar and handed over a country to a bunch of students.

Meetings were often presided over by young men trailing the scent of weed. Strasser at one point sought to make the disco classic “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” the national anthem, and Valentine’s Day and Bob Marley’s birthday were both celebrated with official festivities. Kabasa Lodge, the presidential residence, doubled up as a private disco; on the side, officials also sold fake passports there.

Coups are hardly unique to Africa, but no continent has been so defined by them in the public imagination, and no other region has experienced as many — both successful and failed — as West Africa. Strasser’s own rags-to-riches-to-rags tale shows, in the starkest way possible, why so many leaders in Africa cling to power long after their turn has passed.
Strasser’s own rags-to-riches-to-rags tale shows, in the starkest way possible, why so many leaders in Africa cling to power long after their turn has passed.
His coup came at the tail end of two decades that saw young soldiers, often in their twenties, dominate the continent’s political arena. Dictatorships have since dwindled, but a clique of autocrats, relics of that period, cling to power, tinkering with constitutional terms or holding outright sway in places like Eritrea, Cameroon, Rwanda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Congo, and the Republic of Congo. Three successful coups in the last four years show the playbook hasn’t entirely been closed in West Africa.

Strasser’s time in the sunshine didn’t last long, nor did it end well. Four years after taking over, he was overthrown by his number two, who literally held a gun to his head. Though his path to power had followed the rulebook of African strongmen, the former captain did not take the well-trodden route of fallen dictators, banished to a life of gilded exile or pulling strings from afar.

His downfall was followed by a brief resurfacing in the English countryside, two years of sofa-hopping in London, and then, for all intents and purposes, the world’s youngest head of state disappeared into obscurity. In 1998, he appeared, too broke to afford a taxi, on the doorstep of a former journalist he had once imprisoned. 

Another time, acquaintances were shocked to hear he was apparently drifting through Senegal, wearing the ragged clothes of a beggar. But his appearances were scarce, his fate largely unknown.

Grafton, the town where Strasser now lives. Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville for BuzzFeed News

Residents of Freetown initially didn’t know what to think when a convoy of military trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns rumbled into the capital in the spring of 1992. Supposedly protesting unpaid salaries and a lack of equipment, the soldiers were marching toward the presidential palace. Among them was Strasser, then a young captain.

Meeting little resistance, the soldiers raided weapons depots before looting corrupt officials’ homes. They caused a brief spike in car accidents by driving seized cars wildly through the city’s serpentine roads.

When the mutineers made it into the presidential palace, they found President Joseph Momoh cowering in the bathroom in his dressing gown. By midday, he was on a helicopter out of the country. If the coup had come as a shock to Momoh, the young officers seemed equally surprised at the ease of their takeover.

Later, it would transpire that although the officers were planning a coup, they hadn’t necessarily meant to do so on that day. Fate had simply handed them a chance.
“We saw them in their nice uniforms, and they were young, and they said all the right things, how they’d sweep away the corrupt regime that had paralyzed the country. We were very, very happy,” said Lansana Gberie, an author and historian, who rushed to join thousands of his compatriots cheering in the streets.
If nothing else, they all agreed, a fresh-faced lad could inject youthful optimism into a weary nation.
Sierra Leone had been rolling toward the political cliff edge since the ascension to power in 1968 of Siaka Stevens, a prime minister whose destructive rule became known as the “17-year plague of locusts.” His successor, Momoh — otherwise known as Dandogo, meaning “fool” in his Limba language — dragged the economy down to the point where civil servants went unpaid, gas shortages were the norm, and water supplies often dried up as hungry citizens stole pipelines to sell for scrap.

Worse, a war raging in neighboring Liberia had spilled into eastern border towns in 1991, forcing Momoh to depend on an army so ill-equipped that it was little more than ceremonial. Strasser was unable to get even basic medical attention after being injured on the frontline.

The coup leaders were so unprepared that they hadn’t designated a new leader. Eventually Strasser was chosen, not because of his leadership, or martial authority — but because, as one of the few who’d completed secondary school, his English was good enough to read the junta’s declaration on the radio. If nothing else, they all agreed, a fresh-faced lad could inject youthful optimism into a weary nation.


Once Strasser was sitting in Momoh’s chair, it dawned on him that the next step was winning international recognition. He decided to summon Joe Opala, a well-known American historian and lecturer who’d lived in Sierra Leone on and off since the 1970s.

Opala was famous for his work showing that the Gullah language in the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina is a cousin of Sierra Leone’s own Krio vernacular, and he was often stopped in the streets by people who recognized him. These days Opala lives in a cabin in Massanutten, a ski resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and over the phone, he still sounded incredulous when he recalled those early heady days.

“There was no one in the streets, because the soldiers would take your car if they saw it. They actually marched me into the State House — I had never even seen the State House gates open,” he said.

Once inside, Opala was pushed down onto a seat in front of the “big chairman.” Stoned soldiers sat around cleaning their Kalashnikovs. Bullets and spare parts were scattered everywhere.

Momoh’s terrified staff were gathered in a corner. “They were shaking like leaves. All of them were convinced that in a few moments they were going to be shot dead,” Opala said. “I was scared to death.”

Strasser leaned forward and told Opala he had a question: Would America accept the junta as the legitimate government? Opala was too stunned to speak, but eventually managed a reply: “You should probably put that question to the US ambassador.”

“Well, I talk with him, but him big English he speak, I no understand nothing,” Opala recalled Strasser replying in Krio, the language spoken across Sierra Leone. Secondary school in a crumbling education system had left Strasser with only a shaky grip on formal English.

As the conversation unfolded, Opala remembered a young soldier circling around, casting his eye on anything shiny. At one point he opened an ornate box and peered inside, before slowly lifting out a medal — it was the former president’s highest-ever military medal, draped in ribbons. “Na Momoh, him grand commander,” he recalled the soldier saying, before gently putting it back.

Opala eventually left carrying a wish list from Strasser to the US Embassy. Number one, Strasser declared, was “to create a government like Jerry Rawlings, but I don’t think the Americans will let me.” Then-president of Ghana, Flight Lt. Rawlings began a trend that other regional coup leaders would later use to cement their positions. After seizing power just over a decade ago at the age of 31, Rawlings successfully swapped military uniform for civilian garb.

Diplomats on the ground were in a tricky position over how to handle the situation. A week after the coup, Karl Prinz, the ambassador for Germany, met Strasser. By then, a song called “Tiger Come Down to Town” — after the junta’s tiger battalion — was dominating radio airwaves. Yet the newly installed president seemed nervous, and the two men smoked steadily through a packet of Marlboros in a single sitting.

“I was around 43 years and the youngest of the Western diplomats, but still 18 years older than Strasser. I felt sympathy for Strasser,” said Prinz, who is now retired and living in Bonn.
“Strasser made Jeb Bush
look like a tough guy.”
Prinz pushed for democratic elections to be held quickly and advised that Strasser keep on four ministers from the previous government in order to win some international credibility. “He was a nice [man] but … there was obviously a big distance — already on the level of skin color.”

Perhaps acutely aware of this, Strasser initially heeded the popular older diplomat’s advice, then sacked all the ministers. Within a couple of years, Strasser would make another costly miscalculation in disregarding Prinz’s advice. For now, though, citizens were snapping up calendars decorated with “Strasser, Our Redeemer.” 

Few realized then that the soft-spoken and easily intimidated captain — “Strasser made Jeb Bush look like a tough guy,” Opala told me — controlled neither his officers nor his cabinet members.

There’s a video of a journalist interviewing Strasser shortly after the coup. The new president can be seen sitting behind a desk, decked in full military uniform, eyes lowered shyly. “You have a lot of support,” the journalist says, almost breathlessly.

“Yes,” Strasser mumbles unconvincingly, “because we know what the people want.”

Whether or not Strasser or his cronies really knew what the people wanted, they certainly put on a show. They attended dreary government meetings in sunglasses and sharply cut suits. Once, Strasser addressed a state funeral in the national cathedral while wearing aviator sunglasses. On another occasion, he turned up to a Commonwealth summit in Cyprus — during which Sierra Leone’s return to democracy was a key discussion point — wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Sunny Days in Cyprus.” While there, he was reportedly too shy to attend a proposed meeting with the Queen.

There were grand plans to install a functioning democracy. The soldiers launched a cleanup campaign to rid the streets of mountains of trash, often joining in themselves. The economy was on the up; gas and electricity were once again available. Ambulances, which had all but disappeared from Freetown, were imported and put to use again.

Optimistic once again, young people splashed downtown Freetown with murals of inspiring slogans and national heroes. There was talk of a long-awaited revolution finally bursting into flower.

Strasser on a sightseeing trip to Paphos, Cyprus, while attending a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in October 1993. Martin Cleaver / AP Photo

It didn’t take long for the euphoria to start fading. In December 1992, just eight months in, the government announced it had foiled an attempted coup. Twenty-nine accused men were executed by firing squad on a beach outside Freetown. Some of them had been in jail at the time they were supposedly plotting the coup.

Strasser would later tell journalists he had covered up for his deputies’ decision, but the atrocity that happened under his watch would haunt him long after he left power. (In 2002, Strasser told the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that there had been a trial after the execution, in which the suspects’ corpses were found guilty.)

Strasser didn’t, as was customary in the region, promote himself, but a habit of generously dishing out promotions to his colleagues sowed confusion and resentment. It meant junior officers were suddenly giving their ranking superiors orders. “Strasser tried to keep in control but eventually he couldn’t,” said Julius Spencer, a journalist who ran a muckraking newspaper called New Breed. Sierra Leoneans joked darkly that NPRC, the interim government’s acronym, stood for “Na Pikin Run Countri” (Children Are Running the Country).

Equally unforgivable were the stories of extravagant state-funded lifestyles. “There were stories of them selling diamonds worth tens of thousands [of dollars], spending the money on brand-new cars and wrecking them in some cases,” said Gberie, the author who lived through the coup and now resides in Canada.
Some officers moved into the lavish houses they’d seized from the previous administration’s corrupt officials. Lagoonda, a beachside nightclub and casino housed in a neon-pink building, became a second home to many of in the regime. There was a lounge reserved for the soldiers, where they were frequently seen quaffing imported spirits as women hung off their arms.

“I suspect he meant well when he took over,” Gberie said. “But remember, he was … really young when he came to power. He didn’t really know what he was doing.”
In October 1993, New Breed ran an article by a Swedish newspaper suggesting that Strasser and other officers had flown to Antwerp, Europe’s diamond capital, with smuggled stones valued at tens of millions of dollars. Some of the money was used to buy arms for the floundering army; the rest was divided between officials. Coming at a time when Sierra Leone earned less than $2 million annually in legitimate diamond trading, the article was explosive. (Press reports shortly afterward claimed Strasser had wept at how badly the authors had misunderstood him.)

A few days later, Spencer, who was the paper’s managing editor, and six other colleagues were arrested. Spencer, who had celebrated the junta when they first swept in, was bitterly shocked. “They tried to give the impression that it was going to be a fair trial, but there was no way the judge was going to rule against the government, and it was obvious,” said Spencer, who ended up spending two years in and out of jail in a widely followed case of criminal libel charges.

“The junta members felt the power they held; a dictatorship of stealth, mutilation, and theft developed quickly,” said Prinz, the German ambassador. In April 1994, after the vocal lobbying for the release of political prisoners, Prinz was booted out and the German Embassy was shuttered. The regime’s popularity plunged further.
Nowhere was the lack of experience more costly than in Strasser’s handling of the war brewing in the east. There were battlefield successes, but “na di wa” (it’s the war) became a get-out clause for any failings of the government. And as the junta partied, the war they had promised to end was spreading. The Revolutionary United Front rebels had originally been fighting to unseat the corrupt government, but with Momoh out of power and continual meddling by Sierra Leone’s neighbors, it became unclear what they stood for. Lucrative diamond deposits also became a resource to fight for in their own right.

At the beginning of 1994, the government launched a desperate army recruitment drive, enlisting children as young as 12. That did little to help; by the following January, state radio bulletins were urging citizens to “have sticks and stones and machetes ready” as refugees pouring into Freetown brought tales of torture and mutilation from the east.

Strasser vanished from public life. “The rumor was very widespread that he was drinking a lot and abusing cocaine,” said Gberie. “He didn’t seem to be in control at all.”
“The rumor was very widespread that he was drinking a lot and abusing cocaine. He didn’t seem to be in control at all.”
Throughout the following year, Strasser’s government struggled to rein in growing protests. Facing equally intense international pressure, Strasser decided to hold polls in February 1996. But by putting himself forward as candidate — ignoring the constitutional minimum age of 40 — he inflamed existing leadership rifts within the party.

A few weeks before the election, Strasser went to a routine government meeting also attended by his second-in-command, Maada Bio. According to his own retelling, he entered the meeting room without his armed security detail, so there was nothing he could do when Bio drew a gun from under the table and pointed it at him. Strasser was bundled — just as his predecessor had been — into a helicopter and flown to neighboring Guinea.

The incoming gang wasn’t exactly professional. The keys to the handcuffs were forgotten, and the chopper had to fly back to Freetown to retrieve them. Bio, who was only 32 years old, then put himself down as the presidential candidate in upcoming elections. Strasser’s post-political life would take him far from Freetown, only depositing him back home in a manner as unlikely as his rise to power had been.

The house in Grafton where Strasser’s family lives. Monica Mark / BuzzFeed News

Having balked at the idea of entering Strasser’s house alone, I was back at my hotel the following morning wondering what approach to take next, when Kabal turned up, raring to go.

“Good morning. I have Strasser’s phone number,” he said. He unrolled a scrap of paper and dialed the number. “Good morning, capay …” he began.

There was a long silence.

“Please, sir, don’t shout,” Kabal finally said.

An even longer silence followed.

“I’m sorry. Sorry, sorry, sir,” Kabal said. “Sorry, sir.”

A tinny voice could be heard from the handset. The voice sounded angry. It went on for a long time. Finally, Kabal lowered the phone and leaned against the car.

“He said he don’t want to speak to us. He don’t want to know us, we don’t need to know him or about him, so let’s just never go there again.”

For the first time since I’d met him, Kabal looked fearful. “He said he will trace my number if I call him again, and that will be a problem for me.”

But Kabal was nothing if not stoic, and we decided to try asking an aunt of Strasser’s who also lived in the slum. Her colonial wood-paneled home stood on a relatively well-off street in front of an orange-brick mosque and a church. She was tending hibiscus bushes and immediately began shouting at our request: “Wetin you na dey fraid fo?” — What are you scared of? — “Am I young?” she demanded, turning both palms upward to show how weary she was with the world and all its young fools.

Her knees hurt because of old age, she told us, and her head hurt because of our stupidity. She dispatched a younger cousin to take us to meet Strasser. The cousin, another skinny teenager, shot us a resentful glance before lapsing into the now-familiar terrified silence in the backseat. We set off to Strasser’s house again.

Are you worried, I ventured, because it’s afternoon and Strasser will be drinking?

“Presently,” the cousin said coldly, refusing to make eye contact, “you really cannot tell if he has been drinking or not.” When we got back to the house he refused to accompany me inside, which had been the whole point of us dragging him there anyway.
“Don’t you think you should have made an appointment to see the former president?”
This time I walked cautiously round the side. Up some stairs was an open door. Inside, an elderly lady wearing a headscarf sat on a purple plastic chair. Pots and pans were piled in one corner. The walls were bare. We both stared at each other in surprise.

“Hello,” she said.

It turned out the house belonged to Strasser’s mom, Beatrice; he’d moved back in with her years ago. I explained who I was, and that I was looking for her son. She sighed, shook her head, and stood up heavily. She clasped both my hands softly — a shock after a week of the “no-touching” Ebola rule.

Strasser wasn’t home, she said, looking exhausted. He’d accompanied a friend to a court case that morning — because, she added, he was a good, kind friend. “Did you make an appointment to see him?” she asked.

I didn’t, I told her.

“Don’t you think,” she said, “you should have made an appointment to see the former president?”

I agreed I should have, suddenly embarrassed.

She sighed again. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll tell him to meet you at Mr. John’s bar tomorrow afternoon.”

Then she said her back was hurting and she needed to go lie down.

Strasser’s mother, Beatrice. Monica Mark / BuzzFeed News

The exiled junta members quickly accepted a United Nations-brokered peace deal that would fund their study overseas in return for agreeing to relinquish power. 

While some went to the US, Strasser found himself in the unlikeliest of locations. Far from the sweltering heat and political chaos of Sierra Leone, he wound up studying at the University of Warwick in Coventry, a quiet industrial city in the UK best known for its car museums.

His presence didn’t go down well among the student body at the university, which included several students in exile from Sierra Leone. The fact he was enrolled in a law program didn’t help matters, said lecturers who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, out of respect for student-staff confidentiality. “Some [teaching staff] raised concerns that he was implicated in atrocities and breaches of international criminal law,” one former lecturer told me. Another, who had fled South Africa’s apartheid regime, refused to teach someone who was himself accused of rights abuses.

Strasser did his best to keep his head down on campus, it seems. Hugh Beale, his personal tutor, recalled meeting him no more than twice, both for very short periods of time. “As a student he did not stand out in any way. He was quiet, tried to avoid eye contact, and was not really suited to serious study,” one of his former lecturers told me. “I think Val was probably more gregarious away from the law school.”

Even outside the lecture halls, Strasser couldn’t escape his past. There were allegations of him bullying Sierra Leonean students linked to his opponents. The university newspaper ran headlines asking why a former dictator was attending lectures. A fellow student, whose relative was among those executed on the beach, launched a campaign to have him ejected. The UN declined to renew his funding after it expired at the end of the year.

Beleaguered, Strasser dropped out 18 months into his studies and began drifting around London, with frequently disastrous encounters among Sierra Leonean expatriates.

“He was just floating around drinking — he didn’t have any money. He was virtually living off his girlfriend at the time,” said Gberie, who bumped into him a few times in London.
“People were poking him and saying, ‘This is the former head of state.’ He
was being taunted a lot.”
At one house party in 1999, Strasser drank himself into a particularly deep stupor. “He was lying on the floor of my friend’s flat. People came and were poking him and saying, ‘This is the former head of state,’” Gberie recalled. “He was being taunted a lot.”

The former president had been sofa-hopping until an embassy press attachĂ©, who was a former schoolmate, took him in. One August afternoon in 1998, the friend organized a meeting with Spencer, the journalist whom Strasser had jailed. After being released, Spencer had risen to become a minister; now his former jailer was late because he’d been unable to afford a taxi to the meeting point. During the meeting, Strasser proceeded to drain half a bottle of whisky.

He cut a sympathetic, if pitiful, figure, Spencer recalled. “He expressed regret at having tried to cover up [about the beach executions] for some of his colleagues. He said he was now wiser.”

Word in the Sierra Leonean Embassy was that Strasser was desperate to avoid returning home, where he’d felt trapped by his supporters. “The story that was made public by those who overthrew him was that he didn’t want to hand over power,” said Spencer, who, like many Sierra Leoneans, later came to see things differently. 

Four days before he was ousted, Strasser’s brother had lobbied unsuccessfully to appoint him as head of a newly formed civilian party widely seen as a puppet of the junta. “He really had no interest — he didn’t want to stay on in power. But he came under pressure from his family and friends, and some of those who had got into power because of him.”

His fall from grace deepened when he was forced to abandon his council flat in the north London borough of Islington after The Independent newspaper tracked down his address sometime in 1999. The Times ran a headline screaming “Butcher of Sierra Leone Drawing the Dole.” The following year, he was arrested for allegedly smashing his girlfriend’s car. His mother told reporters back in Freetown that around this time, he was stabbed in the left leg by exiled opposition supporters (Strasser put it down to a racist attack while he was outside a liquor store). Meanwhile, UK-based human rights organizations were questioning why a former dictator was allowed to remain in the country rather than facing trial under international law.

By November 2000, Strasser sought escape by fleeing to Banjul, the Gambian capital, but there he met more of the same. Once again — this time in an upscale nightclub garden — he was beaten up by relatives of some of those who had been executed on the beach. According to his mom, Strasser still wanted to stay in the Gambia but couldn’t afford a lawyer to help him with the immigration process. Beatrice later told me her son found his time there “emotionally stressful.”

Gambian authorities accused him of fomenting another coup, arrested him, and deported him back to London. This time UK officials bowed to the pressure, and Strasser was refused re-entry. There was nowhere left to go except home to Freetown. There, Strasser all but sank into oblivion.

One of the bars that Strasser frequents in Grafton. Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville for BuzzFeed News

Mr. John’s “bar” was really a wooden lean-to furnished with two benches under a gnarled tree by the side of the road. On offer were poyo — a potent palm wine — and cheap plastic sachets of locally brewed gin with names like double punch, parrot energy, and man pikin.

After driving past the place several times, I found both the bar and its sole customer, Daniel, a nervous man in his fifties who wore bright-pink socks and gave only his first name. He told me he hung out there most days with Strasser, whom he described as “a dear friend.”

“We meet here every day,” Daniel, told me, twitching as he spoke. “We talk about most things, the country and everything.” What he didn’t understand, he said, was why I wanted to see Strasser. Mr. John, the bar owner, was equally suspicious.

“If Strasser doesn’t beat people, then too many people will come around him to mock him,” Mr. John explained. “Strasser, nobody cares about him, nobody asks about him. Some of the ones before his time see him and say, ‘This is the former president?’”

It was obvious they were both protective of the man they’d known for more than a decade. It was also true, I later learned, that Strasser once struck Daniel in a drunken rage, which probably explained why when Mr. John suddenly yelled, “He’s coming!” Daniel took off immediately.

A boy of no more than 13 trotted in, apparently Strasser’s miniature aide-de-camp. Sit over there, he told me, pointing to the corner of the shack. I sat. The boy shook his head furiously. “No! Not there! Move, move,” he commanded.

A moment later Strasser appeared and strode over to the spot I’d just vacated. The former president of Sierra Leone wore a white sports shirt, faded blue jogging pants, and mud-splattered sneakers. He tore open a plastic sachet of water, gulped it down, and turned to me.

“Do you want to talk about Sierra Leone in general or anything particular?” he asked, his voice soft and polite. Then he hiccuped and the smell of booze was overpowering. He was so tall he almost had to stoop. We talked about Sierra Leone — its history as a colony of freed slaves, its red phone boxes and cricket teams that were legacies of British colonialists, and its ever-failing football team. He reminded me they had made it for the first (and so far only) time to the African Cup of Nations during his regime.
A boy of no more than 13 trotted in, apparently Strasser’s miniature
aide-de-camp. Sit over there,
he told me, pointing to the corner of
the shack.
He could be a sharp conversationalist, but the shards of insight were enveloped in a jumble of unfinished sentences, abrupt cutoffs, and ellipses. He sometimes seemed more interested in a conversation going on in his own mind. He clenched his fists, seemingly unconsciously, each time we approached anything potentially political.

I gently tried to steer the conversation that way, dropping gossipy bait. What did he think of the current ruling party? A shrug.

Would he ever consider entering politics again? He had supporters, I’d heard. (“No.”) In fact, he avoided the subject so studiously, I couldn’t help wondering if the opposite were true.

I decided to try Ebola. Did he think the government was doing a good job of handling the epidemic? Everyone I’d asked this question during my trip had the definite answer.

Strasser just shrugged and clenched his fists. “It’s hard for them to do anything, man, look at the roads.”

You mean they haven’t provided the infrastructure necessary to deal with an epidemic, I said instead.

“Yeah, man.”

The writer and Valentine Strasser, August 2014. Monica Mark / BuzzFeed News

I told him I’d been up in Kailahun, a border outpost that was then the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak — and also where Strasser was first posted as a 19-year-old soldier.

“Do you want to see how things are up there now?” I passed him my camera.

He reluctantly flicked through the pictures, until he reached one of a checkpoint. It was one of dozens dotting every main road, where passersby and motorists were meant to have their temperature taken and wash their hands with disinfectant, in a bid to check the disease from spreading.

The soldier at that particular checkpoint had insisted on posing for a picture, then handed me a piece of paper with his number scribbled on it. For the first time in an hour, Strasser lit up.

“Are those the soldiers sent up there?”

He peered at their uniforms. He wanted to know what kind of equipment they were given, and if they seemed up to the job. How many had they sent up there? Did they seem well-fed?

Next we moved on to photos of the Ebola burial teams, young men who donned full protective gear as they undertook the difficult task of safely interring the dead. 

“Their job is like soldiers’,” Strasser murmured, staring intently at the tiny screen.

Did he miss being a soldier?

He mumbled a few words. “Yeah — I don’t — the point is…” Then, cutting himself short, he looked around the room and asked: “Are you okay with these surroundings? Is this comfortable?”

In five years of interviewing West African heads of state, past and present, not one had ever asked me that. Usually their preferred approach was to make me wait hours before staring down at me as I perched on invariably uncomfortable seats. And here was Strasser asking after my comfort as we sat in stifling heat in a roadside shack. I started laughing, and he wanted to know why. He laughed too, a big, booming laugh.

I threw caution to the wind. “Can I ask a personal question?” The joviality evaporated instantly.
And then it occurred to me: I’m sitting in a very small space with a former dictator, whose right eye is twitching furiously.
“That depends,” Strasser said, again his voice dangerously soft.

And then it occurred to me: I’m sitting in a very small space with a former dictator, whose right eye is twitching furiously. Neither Kabal, with his chopping knife, nor Mr. John is in sight, and Strasser’s pint-size aide-de-camp is staring at me in horror. I remembered the legend that Strasser once made Bob Marley’s birthday an official holiday.

“Is Bob Marley your favorite musician?”

Strasser narrowed his eyes at me. Then his body deflated. He threw his head back and burst into laughter again. His miniature aide-de-camp looked confused and then quickly joined in.

“No, not really,” he finally said. “I liked Motown best. I liked reggae, but not as much as ska.” Strasser flat-out denied he’d ever made Bob Marley’s birthday a national holiday. His preferred celebration, he said, was June 16, the Day of the African Child. He segued onto the importance of pan-Africanism, a subject I’m always suspicious about since its ideals have too often served as a cover to detract from leaders’ own failings.

I put this to Strasser. He nodded. “I’m a new pan-Africanist, not one of the old ones. This is totally different from [Muammar] Qaddafi’s idea of a United States of Africa,” he said, a barb at the former Libyan leader who was instrumental in creating the African Union but also supported scores of rebel movements across the continent, including in Sierra Leone.

“I’m talking about things like inter-road transit to Liberia, moving towards economic integration, and movement of goods and people — that sort of thing.”

Pan-Africanism was still a powerful idea, he continued, whose social glue was music, whose power was that it couldn’t be hidden or stolen, unlike natural resources. Oil-rich Nigeria was suffering the same fate as mineral-rich Sierra Leone, he said, in that it’s been plundered by white people and members of the elite. I wanted to ask about his own role as part of that elite, but he cut off any attempt to ask questions.

“What about your own role in rights violations?”

“What about it?” he asked, the twitch back again. His whole body was coiled with tension.

“Well, in the December—”

“We were at war. We don’t need to go there,” he said curtly. Had I been somewhere other than a very small enclosed space, I might have pushed the question.

I moved onto London, a city where I’ve spent most of my adult life. What about his time there stood out most?
“We were
at war. We don’t need
to go there.”
He shrugged.

Nothing at all? “Not really,” he said.

Two hours passed. In that time, we’d covered the African roots of reggae and ska, and the poetry of pan-African idols like LĂ©opold Senghor. But he’d mentioned nothing about his four years in power — in fact, anything about himself, really.

“Are you happy with the interview now?” he asked.

We took a picture together, in which his young assistant nervously cropped off Strasser’s head. He did this again, and then once more. By the time he got the picture right, Strasser looked so bored the photo was ruined. Could I try one more with him smiling?

“You don’t fake a smile,” was the last thing he said to me, stone-faced. I could hear him railing at Mr. John as I got back into the car.

As we drove back to my hotel, Kabal told me a story. About 15 years back, before alcohol had completely fogged his mind, Strasser used to jog past his house every morning. Kabal would watch out for him because both men were martial arts aficionados, and he admired Strasser’s discipline. He’d be out running every day, come tropical downpour or sweltering heat.

“One time some young boys came to jog alongside him. They started mocking him. This is the former president? I don’t believe it!”

One of the boys picked up a rock. A few seconds later, a hail of stones rained down on Strasser. Kabal never saw him jogging again. ●

Monica Mark is the West Africa Correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Dakar, Senegal. 
Contact Monica Mark at monica.mark@buzzfeed.com.


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