By Ralph Sesay
Kono district and its people have long standing relationship with the two traditional parties, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the All People’s Congress (APC), but they have really not benefited as a people.
The People of Kono have supported their kith and kin whenever they venture into the political limelight since independence. The District is noted for being a swing state in the country’s political system, largely voting on either side of the political divide since independence.
The District is vast with a huge Agricultural potential despite the over dependence on the mining sector over the years. Successive Governments have not been able to exploit this rich Agricultural potential to benefit its people.
Vast and fertile swamp lands have been destroyed due to mining activities and successive environmental watchdogs in the country have remained silent, while these lands are degraded with no immediate long or short term plan to rehabilitate them as provided for in the laws of the country.
Songu M’briwa and Abu Aiah Koroma, all of blessed memories, have enjoyed huge support from the Kono people when they formed their political parties or decided to pitch tents with the two traditional parties.
Kono has largely remained a decisive factor in most elections since independence, but how has this impacted on this very important District remains a question on every one’s lip.
Successive Governments have appointed ministers of Governments from the diamondiferous district but they have not done anything for their people in terms of development.
With all the huge natural deposit, multinational mining companies, like Koidu Holdings/Octea and Branch Energy, have mined in the area with pittance going out as taxes and royalties to the people. Politicians from the area and the central Government officials are hugely benefiting from kickbacks at the detriment of the people.
Several strike actions have been staged by mine workers and other well meaning youth groups as a way of expressing their disappointment at the bad mining contracts negotiated by Government on behalf of the people.
Mine workers and the ordinary people have cited poor welfare conditions in the mines and lack of basic services in the District. Tankoro Chiefdom, in the central township of Koidu, stands a total risk of relocation due to the activities of Koidu Holdings, now OCTEA Mining Company.
People are virtually forced at any time of the day to move out of their homes by security forces whenever the company wants to blast the huge Kimberlitic rocks. Several incidents have been reported where people have lost properties worth millions of Leones, while buildings, not far away from blasting sites, have continued to sustain huge cracks as a result of the blast.
As recent as 2007, the road to Koidu from the city and its township roads remain a misery – no pipe borne water, not to talk of electricity supply. Business people have largely relied on generators for the daily operation of their business.
The educational system in the District is at a nosedive with wealthy people affording to pay huge sums of money sending their children to Freetown and other big towns and cities for schooling.
Most areas in the District do not have schools, kids have to work long distances to and from school. The township is hugely occupied by Gambians and other foreign nationals predominantly engaged in the diamond trade.
Sierra Leone has laws with regards who and who should trade and deal in diamonds, but such laws are not strong enough. The area has been hugely occupied by the RUF rebels throughout the war period, largely destroying its infrastructure, that is, water, light and other basic services.
This situation remained like this even when the APC took over power in 2007 after having been largely denied by the Kono people in the first round of the elections. The SLPP captured all the parliamentary seats in the area including the Mayoral and District Council seats.
Things changed in the run off when Chief Samuel Sam Sumana, the Vice Presidential candidate, who has earlier on lost a parliamentary seat in the first round, approached his people and got the required support to spark the APC to victory. Coincidentally, both the First and Second ladies also hail from the district.
The Ernest Koroma led Government also appointed a number of ministers and ambassadors from the District to serve in his Government.
Almost, throughout the first five years, Kono, as a District, did not benefit much, compared to what was happening in terms of infrastructural development in the north of the country.
Even though a number of contracts have already been awarded in the first five years towards the construction of the Kono/Sefadu road and the electricity project for the township and a number of other township roads, works on these projects were going at a very snail pace to a point that some of these projects were later given to other contractors.
But, as I write, the Kono/Sefadu road is almost complete together with a number of other township roads. The lights have also been switched on in Koidu together with a huge number of solar lights also visible. Other big towns in the District have also benefitted.
They have also got their own share of the Free Health Care with the refurbishment of the Kono Government Hospital and other Peripheral Public Health Units within the District.
Things went sour between Kono and the APC, almost leading to the second term of the APC in 2012, when it was almost evident that Samuel Sam Sumana would not be appointed to run in the elections as vice Presidential candidate, with rumours already rife at the time that the seat would be given to the likes of Musa Tarawally, Diana Konomani moving up to the elections.
Common sense later prevailed and Samuel Sam Sumana was later given a second chance to run with the party ticket.
Two years later there was an organized conspiracy by the ministers that hailed from Kono to remove the Vice President from the party, citing a number of what they referred to as anti-party activities.
The APC party conducted a number of sittings within their party to look into these issues and very key and senior ministers from the District served as witnesses.
Samuel Sam Sumana later lost his party membership which President Koroma, in turn, used in a press release to sack him.
The action of the President was very unpopular among opposition parties, Civil Society and some sections of the public. This was also the case with most legal minds in the country, including one of the most revered legal luminaries in West Africa in the person of Dr Abdulai O. Conteh.
They have all condemned the ruling of the Supreme Court which later justified the actions of President Koroma.
This action was already a blow to the survival of the party in Kono in the 2018 elections.
Another high point was the removal of the constitutionally elected Mayor of Kono, Mr. Emmerson Lamina, on the flimsy excuse of misappropriation of funds.
The young man, who was popularly elected into office, was asked to step aside whiles an investigation into his activities was being looked at. Even though the investigations vindicated him he was never reinstated back into office to continue his mandate.
Samuel Samsuna, who has the right to appeal his dismissal from the party based on their 2005 Constitution, never got the privilege as he was immediately sacked as Vice president. He sought redress in the ECOWAS Court and won the case against the Government.
In fact, the government virtually refused to appear basing their justification on the legality of the ECOWAS Court to hear a matter already decided by the country’s Supreme Court. The ECOWAS Court ruling was an embarrassment to both the Government and people of Sierra Leone.
This state of affairs in Kono was almost going to make the APC very unpopular in Kono as we were heading for the polls. Many people also believe that the presence of very senior Government ministers in the Koroma Government, hailing from the District, in the likes of Diana Konomani, Hon. Leonard Balogun Koroma and Karamoh Kabba, to name but a few, would help neutralize the District, making against the force of the newly created Coalition For Change party.
The results of the March 7th, 2018 polls proved anybody who had this perception wrong, as the newly formed party, which gained certificate to operate as a party just few months before elections, gave both the SLPP and the APC a run for their money, capturing all the Parliamentary, Councilor, Mayoral and District Council seats.
The District is once more up for grabs as we go to the runoff polls again on the 27th March, 2018. The situation is similar to the 2007 and Songu Mbiriwa case in which the District supported the APC and stood firmly behind the party. This time Kono should decide and make decisions as a district that wants to come out of the underprivileged and deprived status the district has been ever since.
The people have been largely swayed by their leaders in taking these critical decisions in the past, but have they turned around to think about the plight of the Kono people when they are pitching tents with the respective parties? A big no!
Over 56 years of independence, Kono still remains a dungeon even when the current regime has executed considerable number of projects in the social services sector to uplift the ordinary life of the people. The people of Kono deserve more than this which is why they should negotiate with a sound mind devoid of personal gains.
The District is still waiting to have its first University, sophisticated hospitals, standard schools and other basic social services. The sons and daughters of Kono have given Samuel Sam Sumana the sympathy he deserves by voting overwhelmingly for his C4C party. They should look at the bigger picture for both the country and Kono as both parties rapidly advance into Kono to grab the votes.
Samuel Sam Sumana should not be used by the people of Kono to determine who to support in the run off, but the conscience of the people of Kono should look for which party has got the history of developing the District.
The focus should be on the respective party manifestos on areas like mining and Agriculture which are definitely the engines to turn Kono around. This is why the Konos should be aware of the Ides of March as we go to the polls on the 27th March to elect the 3rd democratic president of the Republic of Sierra Leone.