Last Friday I received a call from a friend. Rather than the usual “hello” I decided to answer his call with “Happy Inauguration Day”. He laughed and giggled and guffawed. I wondered what was amiss. Then he reminded me of something I had written.
In one of my articles following his re-election, I made reference, even if en passant, to the needlessness of a second big inauguration ceremony for President Ernest Bai Koroma. Someone else had called me at the time and said that even US president Barrack Obama who, together with his country, seems to be being used as the barometer for measuring what is good or bad for governance especially in Africa, was inaugurated in January for the second time. And it would be good to share with the wider public what I told him. The caller ate humble pie and agreed with me and also questioned the need for a loud second term inauguration.
That said, I appreciate the fact that when he was first elected, President Koroma was not much known outside Sierra Leone and did not have friends in high places abroad to have invited them to join in the most important event of his life. That presupposes that he did not have friends in the corridors of power excepting, perhaps, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia an acquaintance that had been brought about for him by the woman who was to later become his Foreign Minister Zainab Bangura, and in Burkina Faso whose Blaise Compaore had been connected to him by his Liberian opposite number.
That explains why despite the despicable hands of the Burkinabe president in the internecine war that killed and maimed thousands of Sierra Leoneans, the newly-elected president Koroma still found time to make that country one of his first places to visit. He was flown from Freetown to Monrovia on a United Nations helicopter where a special flight from Ouagadougou sent by Compaore sat on the tarmac of Roberts International Airport waiting to fly Koroma. My information is that the pilot was under instruction not to switch off the plane engine for as long as it took for Koroma to arrive and board. Alpha Kanu and Charles Margai were on that trip. He was introduced to his new Burkinabe friend by Sirleaf.
For some reason Compaore wields tremendous influence in francophone West Africa. He has mediated in bringing about democracy in other countries even though his leadership style is undemocratic. His desire to get some of that influence in Anglophone west Africa has always faced a serious challenge; a possible reason why he wanted to court Koroma. That could have had a hand in the strengthening of ties between Koroma and the then Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade who was to later send a fleet of cars to Freetown for his inauguration in 2007. The limos were sent back to Dakar after the inauguration. If that was not disgraceful nothing else could be.
If Sierra Leone had a Transition Act, which I have written about on a few occasions, it could take care of not only litigation that follows a contested contest, but would also arrange for preparations between election and handing-over / inauguration. But as things stand, an inauguration happening ninety-one days after the results had been announced was as unnecessary as it was resource-wasting. Added to that is the fact that it was declared a public holiday, which was shockingly unbelievable!
The absence of such an arrangement provided the room for the messy transfer process in 2007 to the extent that the outgoing government did not seem inclined to make the occasion a very smooth one. I think. And I suspect that the president-elect could only hurriedly invite his new friends, one of them being President Wade.
Talking about Wade, his close relations with President Koroma, which was more personal than bilateral, could have led to the decision by Senegal in 2013 to send a lowly delegation here. Macky Sall who defeated Wade at the polls does not seem forgiving of president Koroma for his close affinity with Wade.
Back to my friend who cited Obama’s second term inauguration. This is what I told him. Sierra Leone does not have a transition act. Inauguration is not constitutional even if not unconstitutional. In the United States, like in Ghana and many other countries where that happens, inauguration goes with a swearing-in. In Sierra Leone the constitution mandates that a winner of the presidential election must be sworn in no later than 24 hours after the declaration of results. In President Koroma’s second term case, he took the oath 30 minutes after the results had been announced. So while there was need for inauguration in Obama’s case there was none in the case of Koroma.
When President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was elected in 1996, he was inaugurated in parliament Building. I do not think that was modesty on the part of the president-elect or on the part of the military junta who were handing over power. Security necessitated it. The army was generally reluctant to pass on power. The rebel war was raging. Each of those presented a clear and present danger to the new president.
But the decision by President Kabbah not to hold a loud inauguration ceremony after his resounding 70% re-election in 2002 was because of his consideration for the state of the economy; and I dare say modesty. The low-key business happened at the President’s Lodge. That should have been the same consideration for President Koroma to have avoided a massive and ambitious inauguration ceremony which left egg on many faces. The ceremony was poorly attended – by both local and foreign guests. The money spent on the occasion could have been better spent in a country where hard times are palpable. And here is the irony: on the day of the inauguration, on which billions of Leones must have been spent, the academic staff of Njala University were renewing their strike leaving the fate of thousands of students in limbo. The time and energy and resources of inauguration day could have been better spent on that.
But just a bit of geopolitics which has changed over the years. Relations between Compaore and Koroma seem to have thawed even if perhaps not gone frosty. Wade is no longer in office. Effectively, only Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the same kid on the block. It probably explains why she was the only foreign head of state at last week’s inauguration.
The absence of a Transition Act provided room for the messy transfer process in 2007 to the extent that the outgoing government did not seem inclined to make the occasion a very smooth one. I think. And I suspect that the president-elect hurriedly invited his new friends. President Wade’s close relations with President Koroma, which was more personal than bilateral, could have led to the decision by Senegal to send a lowly delegation. Macky Sall who defeated Wade at the polls does not seem forgiving of president Koroma and his close affinity with Wade.
The icing on the cake would have come about if we knew how much was spent on the inauguration. But because there is too much secrecy in governance especially regarding the use of taxpayers’ money, we may never get to know how the whole ceremony cost– directly from the consolidated revenue fund and indirectly from state resources but in a roundabout way spent by government officials on party militants and support groups. The earlier our leaders think outside the box and say “no” to their friends who want to do frivolous things for their own gain, the better for our country which needs all the Leones it can save to improve the lot of a lot of its citizens.