Sierraeye: As the flagbearer of the main opposition party, the All Peoples Congress (APC), what are your plans and vision for Sierra Leone if you win the June 24 elections?
Dr. Samura Kamara: My mission is about building one nation, united and growing, with jobs that pay living wages and thriving businesses. The first crucial assignment is to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition. I would like to use that as a foundation for take-off with my wider agenda of uniting the country, restoring institutional independence and governance rooted in the rule of law, procedures and process. No one should be so scared and run away because of government changes; no citizens should be afraid that they would lose their jobs just because of a change of government. I intend to govern a Sierra Leone where every citizen is treated fairly and justly by their government. Once I set the tone at the top, my immediate priority would be to stem the depreciation of the Leone along with inflation and adopt measures that restore investor confidence. Then, we will rationalise government expenditure and review the FQE and Free Health Care initiative to ensure effective implementation and impact. The medium to long-term plans include putting the economy on a growth trajectory, strengthening national cohesion, dealing decisively with corruption and ensuring that the public service becomes as efficient and effective as it could be. Appointments or enrolments will be based purely on merit rather than political or ethnic considerations.
Sierraeye: Intra-party divisions within APC have been a challenge in the recent past; how have you worked to unite the Party ahead of the upcoming elections?
Dr. Samura Kamara: Divisions and conflicts are bound to occur in any human organisation, institution, or group, especially a political party that allows democratic principles to thrive. What is important is the mechanisms in place to manage such conflicts or divisions and dispositions for uniting and healing. Yes, we have had our fair share of internal disagreement, but we also suffered considerable outside interruptions aimed at dismantling our Party. So far, you would agree that we have made considerable progress – we held very peaceful and commendable democratic lower-level elections and an extremely transparent National Delegates Conference from which I was elected as the presidential candidate. The APC Party has these structures that, over the years, have delivered when necessary. One of the reasons I was elected flagbearer is because the delegates believe that I have what it takes to bring everybody body on board, and they see me as being in the most vantage position to do this. And I have been doing this. All the flagbearer contestants are fully on board my campaign – they hold very important positions and support my campaign like it is their own. I have also reached out to most of those members of the Party who had felt aggrieved at one time or the other. In fact, one of the resolutions in the National Delegates Conference in which I was elected flagbearer was the readmission into the Party of former members who had been out of the Party for one reason or the other. And I am actively involved in the process of implementing that resolution. We will continue to build on this progress and make the APC the formidable Party it must be in Sierra Leone.
Sierraeye: What is your stance on cooperation and collaboration with other political parties in Sierra Leone, particularly the ruling Party, SLPP?
Dr. Samura Kamara: I believe in consensus building and working with like minds, as does my Party. We have shown our willingness to cooperate on countless instances, including in the fight against Covid 19 in raising awareness, providing relief support, supporting regulations, and the state of emergency. We supported the enactment of many legislations we believe are in the national interest and objected to those we felt were purely for political exigencies. Time is up for the SLPP government because, by June 25, I would have been elected as president, but for the remaining few weeks, we stand ready to continue to support government policies and programmes that are in the national interest. The bottom line is we are all Sierra Leoneans and I consider all Sierra Leoneans as my compatriots, and my dedication to this country makes it imperative that I work with all, primarily to ensure that we overcome the challenges that this country currently faces enormous challenges that need all shoulders to the wheel. I strongly believe that we need every Sierra Leonean on board to move Sierra Leone forward. As a result, no Sierra Leonean will be discriminated against or left behind because of ethnic, regional, political, gender, political and physical dispositions.
Sierraeye: Do you anticipate the possibility of a run-off in the coming elections and how is your Party preparing for such an outcome?
Dr. Samura Kamara: I have very high hopes of winning these elections on the first ballot and therefore do not envisage a run-off. Our feedback from all over the country indicates that. Sierra Leoneans are desperately yearning for a change of leadership which they want to see come to pass without any delay. They will therefore come out in their millions to vote for that change on 24th June 2023. My attention is focused on doing that right now and on preventing actions from opponents that may not want that victory on the first ballot to happen. Our energies are focused on that, on getting the mandate of the people on the first ballot and getting on to the urgent task of rebuilding the nation. Notwithstanding, in any competition, you must fully prepare yourself for any outcome. I believe that if there is a run-off, I will be entering the second vote from the vantage position of leading the first-round results. The APC Party has clear plans in the event of a run-off and I am fully convinced that those plans will produce the needed votes to win in the second, which requires a simple majority.
Sierraeye: If a run-off occurs, how will you approach other political parties to form a coalition and secure their support?
Dr. Samura Kamara: This is a very hypothetical situation. However, it is incumbent upon any Party whose candidate qualifies for a run-off to strike deals with other parties. My Party will be no exception. In any case, we are currently focusing on building alliances for a first-round victory. We have the numbers- many people from different parties are working to ensure that individuals from even within the SLPP are fed-up with the extremist wing that has captured their Party and want a return to a united, tolerant, and growing nation. My Party will talk to other Parties to agree on how we can work together to benefit Sierra Leone and not individuals.
Sierraeye: The Proportional Representation system has been a point of contention in the past; how will you and your Party handle it during the upcoming elections?
Dr. Samura Kamara: For starters, the PR system is an imposition on this country, and we believe it was done outside the law. We took the matter to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone thought otherwise. However, I must say this – the PR as it stands is also based on a very controversial mid-term census. They know it is so, hence their decision to do some average of 2015 and 2021 censuses to determine seats in the country – this is a grave point of contention. But the ECSL has decided to go along with it. As a law-abiding Party, we accepted the PR and gave our people a chance to choose their representatives by participating, though we also find the PR system very controversial. We are fielding candidates for Local Council and Parliament along the dictates of the PR system. As a Party, we are fully cognisant that most voters are not au fait with the PR system and therefore need some education on the system. As a responsible Party, it has commenced a nationwide education and sensitization campaign to ensure that the citizens fully understand the PR system in terms of the voting system and its implications.
Sierraeye: Will your Party prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment when selecting candidates for parliamentarians, councillors, and mayors?
Dr. Samura Kamara: Women are the heart of our electoral system, our governance philosophy, and our strategies for growth, inclusion and justice. In the just ended dispensation, our Party had two female Mayors and a District Council chairperson, the only Party who did that. Our APC Party 2022 Constitution stipulates that for each category of electoral positions, the 30% gender requirement must be strictly adhered to. We have therefore ensured that over a third of our candidates for the Local Councils and Parliamentary elections are women. We firmly believe that the future is about gender equity in all fields of endeavours, from governance to culture to economics, to education and justice – all sectors of life. When elected, I will take affirmative action in my appointments in favour of women.
Sierraeye: If you are elected president, what are the priority areas you plan to focus on?
Dr. Samura Kamara: The priority areas include:
• Fixing the economy to address the cost of living crisis
• Building One Nation – Uniting the country, peacebuilding and national cohesion
• Promoting Education for Employment and Entrepreneurship
• Health – Quality and accessible health for all
• Infrastructural development – build more roads, improve access to safe drinking water, expand clean energy supply in urban and rural areas,
• Women and Girls’ empowerment
• Reinvigorating the National Decentralization Reform and linking it with rural development
Sierraeye: Sierra Leone’s economy has faced challenges in the past, what specific policies do you have in mind to address this?
Dr. Samura Kamara: Sierra Leone’s economy and general society currently face two types of challenges- one, there are the challenges heaped on this nation by the actions of the current administration- these are challenges of human rights abuses, rising costs, incompetent handling of currency, waste of public resources and divisive governance never before seen in this country. And there are also the persistent long-term challenges- high incidence of poverty, illiteracy, and low electricity, and gender inequality. We commit our governance to meet these challenges. We will pursue the following policies;
• Address the cost-of-living crisis through economic stabilisation measures, experienced fiscal and responsible monetary policies, removing irresponsible taxation on basic commodities, and building trust in the economic management of the state.
• Address persistent economic deficiencies at the structural level, restore macroeconomic stability and transform Sierra Leone from a consumption economy to a competitive production economy through an agrarian, tourism and services export-oriented revolution leveraging the potential of indigenous businesses and digital transformation.
• Create jobs and pathways for every adult, especially youth and women, to earn a living wage through the design and rollout of sustainable cross-sectoral job-creation interventions in collaboration with local and international partners while reforming and capacitating the civil and public service to be service-delivery-oriented.
• Invest in physical and digital public goods and regulatory frameworks for mutually beneficial partnerships with the private sector, international financial institutions and development agencies and regional economic bodies and in the energy, transportation, water supply and Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) sectors to change the trajectory of infrastructural development.
• Constructively engage and collaborate with our development partners and the Diaspora to align priorities, ensure value for money in ongoing and future investments, and pursue mutually beneficial partnerships with deep respect for their taxpayers.
• Deepen the fight against climate change, protecting our environment and creating green jobs on a foundation of improved natural resource management strategies.
• While focusing on addressing our immediate to medium-term challenges of cost of living, untold hardship and eroded national cohesion with speed, clarity, scale, and impact, we will also work toward long-term development that is green, resilient, and inclusive.
Sierraeye: If you are elected president, what will be the composition of your government and what key appointments will you make?
Dr. Samura Kamara: We will have a ‘wan nation’ government- reflective of the various groups in the nation. My government will be one of competent Sierra Leoneans with a proven track record for discipline, hard work and integrity. It will be broad-based with a national outlook. In making political appointments and appointments to the public service, we will pay special attention to professional competence, ethnic and gender inclusivity.
Sierraeye: Do you trust the election management bodies, particularly the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL)?
Dr. Samura Kamara: It was an American statesman who said, ‘trust but verify. Our trusts are directly proportional to the verifications we have been seeking- verifications relating to the voter ID cards, the recruitment of elections staff, to the publication of a disaggregated voter register. The ECSL has not been forthcoming on these. They have, therefore, not inspired trust and confidence. Trust does not come in a vacuum; it is generated by deliberate actions. Even when we reach out to them with concerns, the Commission and the Chief Electoral Commissioner have not been forthcoming. In many cases, they have been dismissive and unresponsive. Such an attitude to the main opposition party only undermines trust; it does not inspire it. But we are committed to the process, we are very watchful, and we will not allow the people’s mandate to be stolen. They have put many obstacles in our path – but we are moving forward.
Sierraeye: If you do not win the election, will you accept the result and congratulate the winner?
Dr. Samura Kamara: Even though the question is hypothetical, by all standards, the outcome of free, fair, peaceful, inclusive and credible elections will be acceptable to everyone. I do not anticipate losing the June 24 polls, but if the of the people is fairly and credibly reflected in an outcome that favours my opponent, I would not have any problems accepting the people’s decision and congratulating the winner. Equally, I expect my opponents to congratulate me on winning the Presidential elections, which is imminent and not to put obstacles in the way of the people’s genuine mandate.
Sierraeye: If you do not win, what advice would you offer the winning candidate to ensure a peaceful and prosperous Sierra Leone?
Dr. Samura Kamara: A genuine winner will bring about genuine governance and reconciliation, and these are the only principles that will tackle the challenges and should be part of revisiting the long-standing proposition, ‘winners-take-all.’ The task of the next government, the government of the genuine winner, will be to address the issues I highlighted above.
Sierraeye: You were instrumental in implementing the Agenda for Change and Prosperity during the past APC government; what specific areas would you advise the winner to focus on to ensure a better future for Sierra Leone?
Dr. Samura Kamara: Attract investment, grow the income, and invest in building the capabilities of our people for thriving businesses, jobs that pay living wages, and a united, tolerant and democratic nation. Also, strengthen the monitoring and evaluation aspects.
Sierraeye: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Sierra Leone in the next five years, and how will you address them if you become president?
Dr. Samura Kamara: I have already spoken to that- address urgent issues relating to rising costs of living, joblessness, businesses going under, and a divisive nation. I will be a jobs president, a unifying president, a respecter of the rights of all.
Sierraeye: As an opposition leader, what is your assessment of the current state of democracy and human rights in Sierra Leone?
Dr. Samura Kamara: Notwithstanding his outrageous claim of being a Father of Democracy, President Bio’s actions in the last five years have not only undermined democracy but are tending towards destroying it in Sierra Leone. The gains of the past two regimes at rebuilding a democratic political system, improving the legal system, combating corruption, promoting human rights and enhancing grassroots participation in national development have all been eroded by the Bio Administration. Some of the actions of President Bio to erode the country’s democratic credentials include:
• Democratic institutions have all been captured by the State and therefore functioning on the directives of State House. President Maada Bio, through manipulations, has succeeded in capturing all the state institutions involved in the electioneering process. The ECSL, PPRC, Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, and NCRA are virtually staffed both at Commission and technical levels by SLPP cardholders and loyalists to the mission of this Government and the Nation’s Public Broadcaster, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation, which is expected to function independently. The same is said for the leadership of the Sierra Leone Police, the Sierra Leone Military Forces, the Prisons and the Office of National Security;
• Deliberate and calculated efforts to undermine National Unity and Cohesion. President Bio took deliberate actions to divide the country along tribal, regional and party lines. His penchant for staying in power has no boundaries, even at the expense of disuniting the country. His public utterances and those of his surrogates are very divisive and chaos-inviting.
• Subversion of the independence of the other two Arms of Government – the Legislature and the Judiciary as part of the State Capture agenda. President Bio has succeeded in making the Justice Sector and Parliament rubber stamp bodies to aid his illegal and dictatorial actions. By so doing, he has effectively dismantled the system of checks and balances envisaged in the Constitution of Sierra Leone;
• The Bio Government is showing no hesitance to order the continuous violation of the rights of citizens. Scores of extra-judicial killings have been reported in the last five years and have been swept under the carpet. The security forces, particularly the police and even his presidential guards, continue unjustifiable terrorizing and unleashing violence on peaceful citizens. The Government summarily dismissed people with tenured jobs and replaced them without following due process.
• Peaceful citizens are dehumanized in the guise of fighting corruption. State-sponsored land grabbing and seizure abound, the restriction of free speech and heavy clamping down on dissenting views and opinions is a common occurrence and the denial of citizens to their constitutional right to peaceful assembly and demonstration.
• Nurturing and superintending over unprecedented political intolerance in the democratic history of Sierra Leone. President Bio embarked on actions that showed naked disregard for the main opposition political parties leading to the formation of COPPP and the withdrawal of key opposition parties from the Association of Political Parties (APPA).
• The Government has succeeded in killing the decentralization reform that Tejan Kaaba and Ernest Bai Koroma regimes struggled to initiate and nurture.