Samura Kamara “On the Road Again as a Flag Bearer” ahead of 2023

The opposition All People’s Congress appears to have been engulfed in series of intra-party squabbles, with a group of young people within the party, known as the National Reformation Movement (NRM), calling for internal reforms. There have been a number of actions taken by the group, with accusations emerging that some former flag bearer aspirants are the brains behind the movement, something some of them, including the former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, have denied. The NRM started off as a good platform which called for reforms, more specifically calls for the removal of a clause in their 1995 party constitution that allows for the selection or handpicking instead of the election of the party’s flagbearer and other senior officers.

But their recent decision to use a sitting member of parliament of the governing SLPP party as their lawyer in a case against their party was received with mixed reactions. They were portrayed as surrogates of external forces, or at least, as people who allowed their movement to be hijacked. That notwithstanding, there have been calls for the party to get their act together and provide an effective and efficient opposition in a country that has been overtaken by some kind of ‘benevolent dictatorship.’

28 candidates vied to become the party’s flag bearer in 2017. Many of those candidates had no business vying for the top job. A little known unassuming candidate, Dr Samura Mathew Wilson Kamara, was subsequently selected by the party’s leadership for the position – a decision that brought with it rancour and splits within the party. Prior to his selection, Samura Kamara was the country’s Foreign Minister. Before that, he served as Finance Minister, Financial Secretary and Bank Governor. Many saw him as a less radical leader, against the expectations of the hardliners within his party.

In this exclusive interview, he looks back at the Makeni Convention in 2017, where he was selected as flagbearer. He also discusses the NRM and his presidential ambition ahead of 2023. He took a swipe at those managing the country’s economy, including the current Bank Governor and criticized state institutions like the police, NEC and the judiciary.  “There is one commonality, and that is there are growing anger, dissatisfaction and resentment not only against the government but also against public institution; parliament, judiciary, NEC, security apparatus,” Kamara said.

First was his reaction to his selection as flag bearer in 2017 by the APC.

Usually, when you are announced as the winner of a heavily contested position, a contest in which each one of you qualifies, and you turned out to be announced as the winner; first you get moved. But then automatically you become moved by asking yourself ‘why me?” ‘What makes me different from the others?’ At that material time, you would not be able to find any answer unless to say, it is divine intervention. And that was my conclusion. So, through God’s Grace; I could not boast to be superior to any of them.

Just after your selection as per the APC’s 1995 Constitution, some other aspirants, it appeared at the time, stayed back. What did you do, or are you still doing to get everybody on board?

During the 2018 campaign, I didn’t do anything other than to continue selling the party, selling myself, selling ideas, hoping that we would win. So, our message at that time was more about what the party did, how we could continue the good work of the party and moving forward. It was all about continuation to the extent that you come up with new ideas but with time to reflect on what we didn’t do that we ought to have done. I did not spend time to think about those who were with me or those who were not with me. I saw many colleagues both from the party as well as professionals. I didn’t blame anybody for not being with me around the country but those who were with me, I was very appreciative.

Now, going further towards 2023, if given the opportunity by the party, I would like to continue as the flag bearer. I do not see any animosity between myself and the other aspirants, both old and those who are coming in now. But I’ve always believed that the party would not like this type of competition again, because what happened in 2017 should never have happened. This is not the history of the APC we know. The APC is a family, and I think we should do better by having a mechanism whereby clear criteria are provided, and then we move forward.

I’m going back in the contest based on my credentials, not on anybody else’s credentials. So I won’t blame or stop anybody. As I always say, each one of us is eligible, but people should go there and sell their credentials. I would never go there and tell stories about others to boost my position.  I would go there based on what I have achieved, what I intend to do and my qualities.

What is your take on the National Reformation Movement (NRM) and do you think the call for reforms is just?

The NRM is an unfortunate hiccup, but for now, I think it is not an insurmountable impasse. That is why I have even called one of the leaders to talk to him to see whether common sense would prevail. When the idea of the NRM was floated, I had a meeting with them and my take, after listening to all of them was their premise was wrong. If we want to reform the APC, you don’t reform it based on the 2018 elections. We won the elections, but we didn’t gain the power. Our problem was not the selection per se of our flag bearer. There were detailed consultations; there were comprehensive understandings reached both at the NAC level but more particularly at the convention level. We all signed a disclaimer that whoever was chosen would stand by the other. I was not a member of NAC but what transpired in NAC was very clear; that all of NAC agreed to allow then President Ernest Bai Koroma to nominate and bring forward to them somebody.

Given that mandate, I know in the process of consultations, he organized a series of dinners for all the known and unknown candidates. I was an unknown candidate. During the first dinner, he told us it was not a government meeting but an APC family meeting to talk about the next flag bearer. I remember vividly what he said that he had invited all of us, those who had come out and those who had not come out.  He asked the question “what do we do?” The conclusion was that “pa go ahead, we have every confidence in you.” I didn’t know much, so I didn’t speak much.

There was a second dinner; he asked us whether there was a rethink; he asked the same question, and there was the same result. And then the third dinner on our own and this was hosted by Diana Konomanyi. We all spoke, and the result was clear; there was no consensus. Everybody as it were, went to sell their positions. Finally, he called us again, and there was nothing. We went to Makeni for the Convention; he had a NAC meeting and reported his standpoint. After that, we had another dinner in Makeni where he made similar pronouncements and admonished all of us to work in unity for the party. I remember the Chairman, Bai Kurr, asking the Convention if they were the ones that requested President Koroma to select and there was a public acclamation throughout, which means, that the Convention reaffirmed the mandate. He called another NAC meeting again, expanded it to have all chairmen of the districts and regions before we (aspirants) were called in. He did not make a speech; he just announced the flag bearer and the running mate. He came out, and in the end, my name was announced.

So I told NRM we should not simplify this process. It should not be as simple as the way they are projecting it. This man (Ernest Bai Koroma) did not sleep overnight, against all the odds and say he is going to appoint Mr. X; he must have done serious consultations. Consultation is the hallmark of good management. Now if you say you don’t want consultations, you don’t want selection, you are looking at it in the most simplistic manner.   I told them they are all young brains. When you want to reform the APC or anything, don’t look at the people; you look at the systems, the structures, the processes and procedures. If they are faulty, you correct them. It is not about Ernest Bai Koroma is too old, Yansaneh is old, or Minkialu is old. No!  Don’t look at them; look at APC as an institution.

And I have my own views about the party; the type of reform that we would need for the party is not chasing people, it is about the structures. There are so many structures that ought to be there that are not there, structures that would make the party sustainable, self-financing, self-supporting without relying on individual people. Today we are talking about funerals; every time there is a funeral, they ask for contributions. It is about time we have a Social Welfare Committee or Unit that would take care of the social safety net within the party. We have very old people, those who have suffered in the party and when I visit them, they tell you the party has forgotten about them. I feel sad. Those people need to be taken care of.

I went to Siaka Stevens’ place. When I saw the relics, I shed tears. Somebody you say is the father of the party, you go and look at his home; all his property, all his estates ruined down. I went to Binkolo before the campaign, I saw the remnants of Momoh’s place, I was sad. I think the party must have its own structures that will bring everybody together and we were in governance for many years. The party does not have serious headquarter town offices in the districts; you have to start scavenging. I think it is about time we have to focus on these types of things. Even financing, helping the people; we today have a supporting instrument called microfinance. How can we build on that?  All I want from NRM is I would rather, with their brains and diversities, I told them they should form themselves into an intellectual Think Tank for the party but let us don’t chase people. This same 1995 Constitution has seen the party all this time. Let us go and look for the limitations, where we have gone wrong. It is not the Constitution but our behaviour.

We recently saw the return of Chief Sam Sumana to the APC. Given all what had happened, what do you think his return would bring to your Party?

Everybody has value. Nobody is indispensable, and I cannot say my value to the party is higher than the other person’s worth. No! It is about one assessing oneself. If I am in a family, what do I do to strengthen the family? God has a way of testing people in life. He tests you when everything is rosy around you; the other is when you are down, how you behave. It is that balance many a time that forsakes us. I am not against Sam Sumana or anybody, but when you are in a family, there may be spats. Like the prodigal son, if we are Christians, let us reflect on that story. 

Let us come down to governance issues and national politics. The Bio led government is almost two years in office. On the economy, something you handled for years either as Financial Secretary, Bank Governor or Finance Minister. What is your opinion on the economy, the Government’s fiscal and monetary policies and the Bank of Sierra Leone’s policy on foreign exchange?

When I hear the Governor makes his pronouncements, I remind myself of my many years at the Central Bank when we had an exchange control regime and how the regime failed us when we had economic emergency pronouncements. When people come and announce fiscal restraints, emergency fiscal situations; if you are running a small economy like Sierra Leone, your best bet is to have a high sense of liberalization, and then you watch and correct. We had times when you could support your currency by selling a convertible currency. Those policies never worked. The Central Bank used to sell foreign exchange, which never worked. You will just be addressing the symptoms and not the root causes. That is why when I listen to these pronouncements; I just conclude that we do not learn from history, not just the history of Sierra Leone.

There is no way I would as a Governor, chase the dollar boys in the street. It would not work. You are only creating artificial scarcity of the currency, and by doing so; you are giving room for further depreciation of the currency without announcing the devaluation. And what is worse is, when the currency depreciates itself following market trends, you cannot control it. So go back and look at those market forces that are pushing your currency up and down. Yes, we don’t have foreign exchange, but why don’t we ask ourselves “how can we earn foreign exchange?” It doesn’t mean you will earn it overnight.

If you have an economy where the mining sector has collapsed, ask yourself why. Sometimes it is external policies, but sometimes it is through our domestic policies and then when you come back and write letters to over 500 enterprises that earn foreign exchange and say they should bring back all their foreign exchange. The 10,000$ announcement is not an international policy; it is the United States, and it states you cannot enter into the country with more than 10,000$ without declaring. If you declare, fine but to say you have to bring it back is like you earned it for them. What would they do? They would hide it, and there is no way you are going to arrest them.

I believe in broad-based consultation. I think the Governor should have engaged the people who earn foreign exchange because the government is not getting enough foreign exchange since the collapse of the mining sector. The real sector that is giving us money, agriculture takes time. So, call these people, talk to them, and coax them.  Do you need the foreign exchange to boost your foreign reserve, or to support government transaction or to provide to the other private sectors who are consumers of foreign exchange?

On the general economy, what is good is that all the elements that would build a better economy in this country are still intact. There may be hiccups in the mining sector, but that does not mean our mineral base has collapsed; perhaps the policies, maybe they do have good investors or perhaps we do not manage the investors we have properly. So take time and look back, and that is why one must always give oneself time to reflect and move forward. But if you come and blame everybody, you say for instance you inherited a broken and battered economy, where is this shattered and battered economy?  The only way to build a country is through infrastructures – health, education, roads, energy, and water. These infrastructures are necessary. You build them; you have opened the opportunities for employment, for self-financing programmes.

As I’ve always said, if you want to manage a country, don’t target people; target systems and institutions. People will come and go, but the institutions will stay. For me, politics is not a passion; it is not an end for me, it is just a means where I think I can add more value to help the country; what I didn’t do as Minister or Governor that I would be able to do as a president because development must come in incremental doses. What I would pray for are competent advisers.

What is your assessment of the judiciary?

There is one commonality, and that is there is growing anger, dissatisfaction and resentment not only against the government but also against public institution; parliament, judiciary, NEC, security apparatus.  The people are showing it in different ways. If the judiciary allows the government to target individuals, that is a problem. As a judiciary, the law must target criminality without looking at the individual. But our politics today is wrong because we are targeting individuals and sometimes for no good reasons; just because we want to sustain ourselves in power. If people have this growing anger, you should ask why. This is why perhaps we take comfort when the President said they would have to work hard to be more efficient and effective, taking 2020 as a year of delivery. That is a dangerous pronouncement also because structural projects cannot be delivered in one year. Sometimes, it takes a long time to initiate a serious project. If there is continued violence and continued lawlessness it is good to talk about that but let’s find a solution.

The TRC and the Special Court helped us when we were considering post-war reconstruction. These two institutions gave us an idea of what might have caused the civil war and how not to do things again. The Special Court targeted those who had greatest responsibilities. But again, it also allowed you to understand human nature. Every day, whenever I see things happening, my mind goes back to the TRC report. You don’t want to go back to those things that led to the civil war. There are several structural factors that provide the foundation for conflicts; irregularities before, during and after elections is a significant factor. If you don’t correct them, people will lose confidence. You should not allow a continued loss of trust in the key political public democratic institutions like the legislature, which is still on a crossroad. Today, I’m shocked to see parliament go into long recess. Is the ruling party scared?

What next for you ahead of 2023?

For 2023, I am on the road again as a flag bearer. I want to vie for the position. I will continue to be with the people, continue to express my appreciation to the people for their support during the 2018 campaign. I am happy with the responses I’m getting. Also, I’m on a learning curve. What happened in 2018 has allowed me time to know people and the politics of Sierra Leone much better.

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