When I first heard of the debilitating, terminal illness of the deceased, erstwhile president Alhaji Ahmed –Tejan Kabbah, and the ambiguities shrouding his frail, last days on mother earth, I was hurriedly tempted to pen a tribute to an enigmatic, charismatic leader, who was embattled and dogged, ironically by a dream he had forged for his nation, Mama Sierra Leone. A nation whose beautiful, innocent shores he had left for more than two decades before, and returned to like a modern secularist, as either a nationalist, patriot, with visionary vim and verve, or had an acute, personal longing to return home, like most home-sick elderly erudite.
Like I initially stated, I was more tempted to write about the now departed erstwhile president under this banner caption: bureaucrat; Diplomat; Politician; statesman; president; now dying man. Maybe it was a writer’s block, a nagging feeling to sounding morbid, or just the illogical thought that it was inopportune or morally inappropriate to posit on then.
Now, like a torrent of trend-bucking, I am swept away by its irresistible undercurrent. I mean, to pen down an epitaph, a tribute- or a dirge-depending on one’s inclination and exotic optic lens and prism. I am no Mark Anthony, giving a double entendre before a malleable and confused rabble with his eternally famous speech: “I come to bury Caesar and not to praise him… and the good is oft interned with their bones. So let it be with Caesar…” I leave that to political partisans and political hacks! My take is more historical in its significance than political bias.
Posthumously, the late Ahmed Tejan Kabbah is more a national heirloom, a totem of reconciliation, a study on platitude, and an iconic legacy for different schools of thought to savour.
How many average sierra Leoneans know that the late ex-President was Sierra Leone’s premier 21st century leader? This is a pedantic fact most young voters in the 2007 and 2012 elections are not au fait with – or even care to know about! The departed Ex-president Kabbah was opportunely/fatefully a politician at the cusp of the turn of the century (1996) – and the ushering of a new century, the 21st century (2007), when his two term tenure fizzled out. How many of today’s young generation and its concomitant eager young voters – up to the age of 30, can really etch the face of the Post Siaka Stevens’ Joseph Saidu Momoh into their minds – or can even conjure up his image, without blurring the fine detailed contours? Not to mention Siaka Stevens in his last leg as a republican president? The late Ex-president Kabbah straddled, like a Colossus, two powerful horses – the close of the 20thcentury (with all that century’s despondencies and paradoxes)- and the dawn of a new day, the 21st century(with all its euphoria, glasnost prisms and paradigms).
I have heard flowery epitaphs and torrential tributes like “He (Ahmed Tejan Kabbah) should be remembered as our Abraham Lincoln…ending a brutal war, rebuilding democratic institutions. As a nation, we should be humbled by his leadership and inspired by his commitment to reconciliation” (Dr. Kandeh K Yumkella)- to other less known praise sing-songs from ordinary Sierra Leoneans, whose tributes or epitaphs have swollen the litany of sympathy, condolences or sentiments, making its round on cyber space/Facebook.
These epitaphs and tributes are reminiscent of holistic effusive paradigms that might not stand the test of time – depending on whose (political) backyard you lounge someday, to either drink poyo or the most expensive cognac! The vicissitudes and pendulous swings of political capitals would make the now honorary, humble and political expedient nuances -flavour of the day – buckle and rock its very foundations.
Would Ahmed Kabbah be remembered for more than the “Kabbah Tiger” moniker? Would history see him later as a road kill? A Madiba Mandela to our post embattled and beleaguered war-torn civilians and victims? An Ariel Sharon to the Arab League and the Palestinians? Surely, some would aptly ascribe the “’Abraham Lincoln”’ ebullient tag, like the illustrious Yumkella dubbed him (in his epitaph). Or might aggressively push the goal posts, and see him as the “scorched-earth policy student of Napoleons’ debacle when retreating from Moscow?
However, no matter what or how our (country’s) historians would ‘plasticine’ cast him – for the next generational progeny – at the whimsical mercy of its generosity or gruff, a few things would be immutable, constant and etched in stone like the fabled sword of King Arthur! His legacy as the first president in our history, who was embraced seemingly unanimously, nation-wide and was a crucible above significant party partisan fray in the 1996 presidential elections, can never be underplayed.1996 was a spectre that would be intractable to replicate itself in my life time! And, like the late Chinua Achebe wrote: It is the story that outlives the sound of war drums and the exploits of brave fighters… and, if you want to plunder your neighbour’s house, first hire a good story teller…”
Epitaph? Tribute? Condolence? I would warily say my “expression of sympathy” for the soul of the departed public figure, dad, husband, grandfather, is more like a ‘’DIRGE”. I will sing, rent my garment, put symbolic ashes on my face – over his unequivocal, indisputable legacy – than have my epitaph or tribute picked on someday when the tears stop and the battlelines are drawn again- with pugnacious perfidy– before the late Pa Alhaji Kabbah’s soul even has the chance to get to know and make otherworldly friends with the likes of Mandela and all the other former dead presidents and heads of State of our enigmatic, flamboyant, yet ironically and paradoxically Pandora’s box Continent! ”GO IN PEACE AND BE WITH YOUR MAKER”, would be my departing dirge.
A fitting heirloom to our generation and that of post progeny would be to make this iconic figure, who significantly straddled our political landscape at the cusp of the end of the 20th century and the start of a new dawn, the 21st century, be truly national and proudly reflective of what he epitomised or his reign represented – would be to create effigies, erect monuments, and rename streets, buildings, institutions, and even villages and towns- in humble and proud honour of his name. Half-masts and seven day mourning are humbling and express unprecedented reverence for one of nation’s most illustrious sons. But such gestures are only transient and temporal. Our nation’s psyche needs irreversible and indelible compasses to guide it. An eternal flame that even the Monsoon rains cannot blow out! Go in peace Pa Alhaji Ahmed-Tejan Kabbah, A dad, a husband, a granddad, and a friend, or foe to some! Marcus Aurelius said: what you do on earth shall echo in eternity! So let it be with you. I salute you!