Former Vice President, Solomon Berewa has blamed the former leader of the Sierra Leone People’s Party’s and prime minister, Albert Margai for planting the seed of tribalism in Sierra Leonean politics. Speaking to Politico he said Margai “took over the country which was quite at peace where the ethnic groups [had] harmony among them” and sacked from cabinet non-members of the Mende ethnic group who disagreed with him succeeding his elder brother and first prime minister Sir Milton Margai.
Asked whether his attack on Albert Margai was not driven by his son, Charles Margai, who denied him the presidency in 2007, he denied saying: “I’m not just conjecturing. I put facts on paper which I would like you to look at whether on the basis of those facts my allegations against Albert Margai are not substantiated. It has nothing to do with his son. His son might be his son and behave like him but that’s not what I put on the paper. I didn’t mention anything about Siaka Stevens because of his son”.
Berewa also said that he had no regrets for prosecuting the ringleaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) despite not mentioning that trial in his memoir launched last week.
Read full interview below:
(From last edition)
Politico: One other thing which comes out clearly in your book is your account about why you think Sierra Leone is as ethnically polarized, politically, as it is today. You lay the blame for that largely squarely on the doorstep of the country’s second Prime Minister who incidentally was leader of your party – the Sierra Leone People’s Party – namely Albert Margai. Why do you think it was he who sowed the seed of tribalism in Sierra Leonean politics?
Solomon Berewa: The facts point to that. You know he took over the country which was quite at peace where the ethnic groups [had] harmony among them. But because of the disagreement between him and some of the members of the party about his being appointed to succeed his brother he took the step to get rid of those a number of people who were not Mende ministers. He did not appoint them he dropped them. He dropped them from his government and of course I think that started to sow the seed of discontent against him and extended into the SLPP. And then because it was those people and they were all not Mendes they ganged together and then it became a Mende thing against the rest of them. So that’s why I think he really started the fragmentation of the country into various ethnic groups and ethnic rivalry and of course Siaka Stevens played upon that…. He perfected it and then he ensured that, that reigned all throughout his reign
Politico: Are you doing what some may call self-criticism by criticizing your own party and one of its former leaders out of honesty or are you saying this about Albert Margai because his son, Charles Margai, was the man who many believe cost you your presidency in 2007?
Solomon Berewa: No, you have to look at the facts. I’m not just conjecturing. I put facts on paper which I would like you to look at whether on the basis of those facts my allegations against Albert Margai are not substantiated. It has nothing to do with his son. His son might be his son and behave like him but that’s not what I put on the paper. I didn’t mention anything about Siaka Stevens because of his son. No.
Politico: With the benefit of hindsight would you say that Charles Margai could have been reigned in on? He could not have been allowed to run which clearly cost you the presidency. Could you have done a lot more to not make him run as a president?
Solomon Berewa: No, I had no power to do. He contested as a candidate as you know in our national convention I defeated him. He decided to break away from the party and form his own party. What power do I have to prevent him from doing that? He made a lot of allegations which in the book again I tried to show that those allegations have no basis whatsoever. I mean he was just a very bad loser. That’s all it was.
Politico: Talking about bad loser, in your book you also criticize – probably you use some very strong language against – the head of the National Electoral Commission and you attribute your loss in 2007 to her decision to nullify votes and you even imply that she is unconscionable. Do you still, six years on, believe that you won those elections in 2007?
Solomon Berewa: Figures don’t change with the passage of time, you know that. Figures remain the same and I don’t think I was harsh with her. These are stated facts. I did not support things with documents in the book because I didn’t want it to be bulky. But in the case of that I exhibited some documents to support what I was saying. They are facts that she invalidated votes cast at 477 polling stations. She said it. And those votes were over 160,000 which was a fact. There is a fact again that she never showed them what polling stations where the excess votes were. Up till now she hasn’t showed them. So, I mean that was unconstitutional and illegal. I said that. And if that is being harsh with her then I think it is the law that is harsh with her and not me.
Politico: And you say that action of hers was unconscionable
Solomon Berewa: Well if you deliberately violate the law and if it is a contest between two persons and you violate the law and the constitution and weigh the scale in favour of one against the other, what are you doing?
Politico: One thing that is conspicuously absent in your book is the treason trial of 1998. There is nothing mentioned and you were the Attorney General more or less the lead Prosecutor. Why did you decide not to mention anything about those trials in your book?
Solomon Berewa: You will see that not just those trials. The AFRC regime too I didn’t dwell upon as I did for the NRC of Juxon-Smith and then the NPRC because to me they were freaks. They were not normal situations. And the treason trials that were held we didn’t wish to do those treason trials but the popular sentiment was so strong that those who were really kingpins in the AFRC were to be prosecuted. I mean before we came back from Guinea they had all been rounded up by ECOMOG and so forth. We had to reduce the number considerably. As I say I didn’t talk about the AFRC, I didn’t talk about those treason trials. To me they were not very important to our history as such. They were not conflicts. They were not examples of bad governance or good governance. They were just a non-event. That’s what I thought.
Politico: Are you sure, because many people died during their nine months reign in the country and that had a serious impact on the escalation of the war and eventual solution. So do you still feel that those were not important moments for you to have captured in your book not least because you were chief prosecutor in those trials?
Solomon Berewa: Well it was, as you know very well, after those treason trials things went on. Things went on and what caused the escalation of the war was not what the AFRC did. AFRC caused a lot of deaths, alright, but they were not the cause, they were not even a main factor in the war as you know. The AFRC could be taken as a very small portion of the war machine. So to me I won’t put so much blame on them for the deaths that occurred. The deaths occurred mainly towards the invasion of Freetown the events leading to that and by then the AFRC had been overthrown.
Politico: And in that case, with the benefit of hindsight, would you say you regret that you pushed for the death penalty for some of those people?
Solomon Berewa: No! There is no regret there because they committed treason. The fact that their own treason was not linked to that of the other group doesn’t mean that prosecuting them is a matter of regret. No, there is no regret at all. There was evidence. As you know, I did not convict them. I prosecuted them. The court martial knew I did not convict them. The court martial was set up by the military. I only prosecuted at the court martial. I did not pass verdict on them so why should I regret?
Politico: Some people who have read your book say you exhibited conscience in the sense that you blame the country’s post-independence woes on the two political parties that have ruled including your own SLPP party. Do you see yourself as a part of that?
Solomon Berewa: Well not as a part. I was not a part of the political class, as you may know. My party ceased to be in governance as far back as in 1967/68. It was not there. They came back into governance in 1996. That’s a long period in between. A lot had happened. A lot of downward trend had taken place the country had really deteriorated considerably – the economy, the social fabric, everything that my party before that time stood for – had really gone down. And I was not part of it, you see.
Politico: Who would apportion the most blame to: the APC or the SLPP?
Solomon Berewa: Well, it’s difficult to apportion blame to this part or this part. As I say the SLPP began the process of fragmentation. The APC perfected it. The one party idea as you know started with Albert Margai. Siaka Stevens came and put it into practice. The Republican thing, Siaka Stevens came and then did it. The way the institutions of governance were handled, Siaka Stevens held more opportunity to make them be what they were because he stayed in power for a much longer time. Albert Margai stayed only for three years or so not more than four years. Siaka Stevens for 17 years. So his own not impact on the governance of the country was to that extent much greater. If perhaps they had stayed for the same period of time then you can compare. But what is a fact is that Albert Margai unlike his brother before him started the process which Siaka Stevens built on.
Next week he talks about Hinga Norman’s indictment by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Transcribed by Tilly Barrie