A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, Peter meets him at the pearly gates. Peter says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."
By divine providence, God's grace was bestowed upon Ahmed Tejan Kabbah to become President of Sierra Leone at the hour when we needed a brutal civil war to end.
President Kabbah's death has evoked tributes and various emotional outbursts from various sources. With a divided political landscape and different notions of development amongst a populace, one would expect different views in a critical assessment of a man who superintended over the country for a ten year period, the first part of which was wrapped in turmoil. President Kabbah may have had his faults, but there are a few things that we can safety agree on and which will undoubtedly shape his legacy.
His greatest legacy is universally considered to be the peace dividend after the ten year brutal civil war. A lot of things took place and a lot of players came into the field of play, some by happenstance but the major player at the centre of it all was Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. Right from his inauguration speech, Kabbah had promised to end the civil war. Most of Kabbah's time in office was influenced by the civil war. There were a lot of setbacks with both the pursuit of the war and the numerous peace initiatives. Whilst a sizeable proportion of his advisers and the populace clamoured for a decisive military solution to oust the RUF which had caused untold mayhem to the populace, Kabbah doggedly and stubbornly pursued the peace to the extent of what many thought initially was capitulation. I was livid at plans for the Strategic Minerals Commission with Foday Sankoh at the helm of a body that in effect would superintend over everything to do with our mineral resources-a real case of “to the unruly goes the spoils”. Giving Sankoh the de facto status of a Vice President was not considered magnanimity but abject stupidity by many. Many were incensed with the various peace accords and with amnesty provisions. Through it all however, Kabbah had one dogged determination.
Perhaps it was fortuitous that at that hour in this country’s history God’s grace made us have a stubborn leader who imbibed the virtues of peace, patience, gentleness and self control. He was temporarily ousted by the military AFRC from May 1997 to March 1998 but was soon returned to power after a military intervention by ECOWAS Nigeria. Another phase of the civil war led to United Nations and British involvement in the country in 2000. His negotiations with the RUF, several peace accords including the famous 1999 Lome Peace accord in which the rebels, for the first time, agreed to a temporary cease fire with the Sierra Leone government were done with a lot of patience and with criticism from a bewildered populace. When the cease fire agreement with the rebels virtually collapsed, Kabbah campaigned for international assistance from the British, the UN Security Council, the African Union and ECOWAS. Peace and order were restored and Kabbah declared the civil war officially over in 2002.
It is a testament to his remarkable role that Kabbah was returned with over 70 percent of the votes for a second term of his presidency. Undoubtedly, there must have been as one writer put it “complex political impulses, alliances and deals that made presidents and prime ministers from several countries get intimately involved in Sierra Leone, which was of no great strategic interest to some of them at the time”. Many other people and organisations played a yeomen’s role in bringing peace. Whatever the case, the fact that remains undisputable was that there was the right man was at the helm at the right hour.
This and future governments will forever benefit from the impressive national institutions set up under his watch including the NASSIT ,NACSA, NRA, ACC etc. and his revamping of the security system. Whatever one may say about Kabbah ,he believed in systems, especially governance systems. Perhaps this was borne out of his extensive experience as a colonial civil servant and the honing of his governance skills with the UNDP in several countries.
Kabbah's humility was perhaps borne out his deep religious convictions. In many ways divine providence at birth and with later associations would make him extremely tolerant to the extent of sometimes being enigmatic; a devout Muslim from the North and East, he was married to a Catholic from the South and attended a Catholic school, St. Edwards in Freetown. Undoubtedly, the tolerance that he had embodied helped him bring this country together at the hour when this country needed this virtue most in a leader. There has not been any leader who has so engendered national unity as Tejan Kabbah. His cabinet and other appointments cut through all tribes and regions .
Kabbah was powerful but appeared to care little about money and the trappings of power. Stories of his spartan lifestyle and thrift are legion.
Kabbah was like all mortals not without his faults. His detractors would accuse him of being overbearing, stubborn, and stuck in the past. He was not spared criticism even by his party for what was considered a lukewarm approach to having the party retain power. Indeed some may have considered his approach to certain issues too one sided and unfair. All of these in the months and years to come will be pondered over and analysed to death. There is a time for every purpose under the sun-this is not the time for that.
Keen observers of history know all too well that different times and circumstances require different types of leaders. It is said that there are only three kinds of people- those who are immovable, those who are movable and those who move them. At that point in history, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, by divine providence had the ability to move us. President Harry Truman said:”A leader is a person who has the ability to get other to do what they don't want to do and like it”. Kabbah got us to do what we probably did not want to do at that time.
By God’s grace Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, a man with his mortal flaws like any of us blazed the Sierra Leone political scene and helped us as a nation solve an intransigent national problem. He needs a fitting epitaph that encapsulates his successes but at the same time reminds us about his human frailties. John Newton, composer of “Amazing Grace” had a complex life even more than his famous song. The Christian slave-ship captain who once was blind to his own moral hypocrisy now could see. His conversion led to his involvement in the abolitionist movement in which he played a significant role. On December 21 of 1807, grace finally led John Newton home to his Maker. Here's part of what Newton wrote for his epitaph. It's inscribed on his tomb: "John Newton. Once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy."
Here is what president Kabbah may have wished would be written on his tombstone:
“Ahmed Tejan Kabbah : once in exile, returned to have a peaceful retirement. Thrust almost by accident into politics. By the grace of God, became President of Sierra Leone. Directed by God to bring peace to a troubled land savaged by war and heal the deep divisions in the land. May the God that gave me that grace pardon my imperfections.”
Kabbah was the right man who appeared at the right hour for Sierra Leone. Cometh the man, Cometh the hour.
May his soul rest in peace.
Ponder my thoughts