PONDER MY THOUGHTS BY ANDREW KEILI -SIERRA LEONE’S COMMENDABLE AFCON FOOTBALL JOURNEY

It’s all over, but it was good while it lasted. For the past two weeks, the whole nation stood still to witness our arduous and breathtaking journey through the AFCON tournament. Nothing unites this nation like football and to a man (woman as well!) we supported our team. There was some respect shown us internationally and certain players stood tall. Many people were understandably and rightfully gaga about our goalkeeper but I have had great admiration for Steven Caulker- so calm! How many fullbacks would anticipate that a seemingly simple back header to the Ivorian goalkeeper was going to involve a wrestling match between the goalkeeper and some ghostly demons that would take the ball off his hands and get it into Caulker’s path? How did Caulker anticipate this and be there at the right time? How did he have the calmness of mind not to panic but to simply pass it into the path of a panic stricken Alhaji Kamara who hit the floor before pushing it in with his left leg. It must be the Shenge fish-after all he is a Caulker!

The Sierra Leonean public have been marvellous and support for the team has cut across gender tribal, regional and political boundaries. The President has been marvellous and effusive in his support. Opposition leaders joined the chorus as well. Long may this unity continue! After the initial two games during which I was constantly on edge with “cut heart”, I could not miss the Equatorial Guinea match for anything. Not even a long drawn out meeting just before this would deter me. And so I ended up in a bar in Wilberforce amongst a throng of supporters, half of whom were live commentators, drowning the voice of the real commentator. One kept barking instructions and invectives at the Egyptian referee as if he could hear him. Coach Keister and Kei Kamara came in for some roasting. They kept suggesting tactics and who should be replaced. By the time the first goal came, I was a nervous wreck. The penalty miss by Kei elicited some additional cussing and when the die was finally cast, many drowned their sorrows in the bar.

Kudos to the four Kamaras who performed admirably and have caused Kamaras to be the butt of many people’s admiration and jokes. At first it seemed the Kamaras could put no foot wrong and some people even started touting their Kamara heritage. That is, until Kei Kamara’s penalty miss. Come to think of it, the Kamara’s have always been famous (or sometimes infamous). The longest lines at elections are normally reserved for Kamaras. They probably have the largest number in prisons as well. OMG, I nearly forgot Hawa Tombo. A star is born! So devoted to her husband, Musa Tombo, with a show of love by kissing his feet that went viral. Her prayers, speeches, gyratory movements, followed by devoted admirers have been spellbinding on social media.

It is especially good that at this time of incessant political tension there were very few politically laced comments, with the Ex-President and Opposition Leaders all cheering our boys. Some people however could not resist the temptation of bringing in the political- like the posting I saw which said, “Kamaras for AFCON 2021, Samura Kamara for 2023”. Another said “Sierra Leone 2022: Kamara everywhere. No Kamara in Cabinet”. They were shot down as soon as they came on the scene. Our hope is twofold. That the government continues to support sports right from the grassroots level. We should also hope the national unity engendered by football would be replicated into other areas of our national life so that we can move towards being a peaceful and cohesive nation. And lest I forget, thanks to the Sierra Leone Police for apprehending some youths who threatened to burn down Kei Kamara’s house at Hill Station. Also, commiserations to all those who had their pot covers stolen. The nation is proud of your involuntary sacrifice.

But let me close by telling you about people’s infatuation with players. In the 1990s when Cameroon had that dream team at the World cup, we only had one TV in the Community Center at Rutile and we would all crouch round the screen with our beers bottles in our hands, transfixed to the screen. The old company Doctor was so infatuated with Cameroon’s Roger Milla that he was always the first in the TV room. He sat near me when two European teams were playing. I could tell from his demeanour he appeared confused. He pinched me and asked halfway through the first half-“Andrew way Roger Milla?”. Astounded, I replied, Norto Cameroon day play Sir”.

So much for football.

THE POLITICAL REVOLVING DOOR

We have started seeing the political door revolve early in the new year. The most notable of the recent reshuffle involves the appointment of my dear friend, Hon. Dr. Alpha Kanu as Resident Minister for the North West, replacing Isata Abdulai-Kamara, who now becomes the Deputy Minister of Trade.

In many ways, appointing Alpha Kanu should not have come as a surprise. Though a top APC player, he has been very friendly with the current government, serving in advisory roles and considerably inclined to supporting the current Vice President in his forays into Port Loko. Many comments have been made about Alpha Kanu and this appointment. To his admirers, he is described as clever, experienced in governance, having good oratorical skills, friendly and a bridge builder. His detractors describe him as a shameless opportunist and a political prostitute who goes anywhere the wind is blowing. They are also equally divided over his political weight. Some say he is a political heavyweight and a big catch whilst those that oppose him say people like Hon. Kemoh Sesay have considerably more weight and influence in Port Loko. The government claims it is being inclusive but the opposition says it is poaching. Whatever the case, one thing is for certain, Alpha Kanu’s intellect, experience in governance and capacity to get along with others not of the same bent cannot be underestimated. He has now sailed through Parliament. No doubt his influence on the political landscape will come out in the wash later.

But spare a thought for another smart politician, Dr. Alie Kabbah. A masterful political strategist and orator, with a proclivity for getting along with the party grassroots membership, the surprise is that his fortunes have diminished over the past few years with this government. President Bio’s first Foreign Affairs Minister was demoted to Ambassador to the UN and later down-graded to Ambassador to Egypt. It is not known whether he actually took up this position, but now there is another Ambassador Sadiq Sillah and Kabbah has finally been shown the door. Many questions are being asked- “Why would a man who was Chairman of the party campaign committee that got President Bio elected be so harshly treated. Why was he not just sacked when he was Foreign Minister and sent into oblivion, but instead was given “slow poison” until his final ouster? A little bird has told me that many ardent Bio loyalists think he was probably too ambitious for his own good-whatever that means! Again it will all come out in the wash.

What has however come out in the wash is the fate of Attorney General Anthony Brewah who has undergone his second sacking. Spare a thought for poor Brewah, a likable person and an ardent supporter of the President who has had the misfortune of being involved in decisions that many consider reek of poor judgment that have got him sacked, first as Local Government Minister and now as Attorney General. This latest one beats the imagination. Proffering poor advice to the President on granting clemency to someone whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment-Baimba Moiforay aka LAC, involved in a high profile murder case and having the added poor judgment of taking pictures with him after his release is not the cleverest thing to do. Many say the President had no option but to rescind the pardon and sack the Attorney General. Others are calling for more heads to roll. Incidentally, what is it about the Office of Attorney General that has seen the departure of three Office holders in as many years since this government came into Office? We will leave that discussion to another day! As an epilogue to this latest case, some well-meaning people advise people in high positions to watch what they put their signature to and where they take pictures! Indeed, a word for the wise is sufficient.

Ponder my thoughts.

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