Samura Kamara, the seasoned technocrat who dreamed of revenge

Beaten by a short head in the 2018 presidential election, former Sierra Leone Finance and Foreign Minister Samura Kamara hopes to win Saturday’s presidential election against incumbent Julius Maada Bio, betting on his careful and experienced manager with his image.

At the age of 73, this is probably his last chance to take over the top job in Sierra Leone. Opponent Samura Kamara, who was defeated at the polls in 2018 by Julius Maada Bio, is hoping for a reverse scenario on Saturday, June 24, during the presidential election, the fifth vote organized since the end of the civil war in 2002.

Former Central Bank Governor, Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs, the leader of the All People’s Congress, APC, the main opposition party, is an old political backpacker.

“It’s time for me to go from CFO to general manager,” assures AFP of the fastidious technocrat, who promises to fix the economy of this impoverished West African country, which faces an exponential rise in the cost of living and high unemployment.

After the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic, Sierra Leone suffered greatly from the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and then from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For several months, food prices have been sky high. In April, inflation reached 43 per cent.

>> See also: In Sierra Leone, street canteens in the face of inflation

The outgoing president defends his record on access to education and invokes “exogenous factors” to explain the economic crisis affecting his country.

“He is tireless”

To get Sierra Leone out of the rut, Samura Kamara wants to reorganize the agricultural and mining sectors, stop currency flight, restore confidence in the currency and local economic institutions to attract investment.

Its program also mentions constitutional and institutional changes for better governance or even “the efficiency and fairness of social spending” in favor of women, the disabled and young people in a country where almost every second voter is between 18 and 35 years old. old, according to a spokesman for the Electoral Commission.

>> See also: In Freetown, slums built on the sea

“He is tireless,” describes one of his former colleagues. “We revise our work five times before we take it to him,” he says. “In (the) civil service in Sierra Leone… the professionals don’t take the time to do their best, they just tick. He doesn’t allow that.”

But this image of a good leader has recently been tarnished by a corruption scandal which, according to his supporters, was orchestrated by the government.

In December 2021, Samura Kamara was accused of embezzling more than $2.5 million in public funds in a case related to the planned renovation of a consulate in New York when he was foreign minister.

His trial reopened in February, just after he was elected as the APC presidential candidate, but was adjourned to July 14.

What are the chances of the exchange?

If Samura Kamara intends to oust his rival from the presidency, the sense of history does not speak in his favor. As reminded RFIsince 1998, when Sierra Leone transitioned to civilian rule, the two main parties, the APC and the SLPP, have replaced each other every other term.

But the economic crisis and the decline in civil liberties may weaken the incumbent president. Human rights organizations in particular accuse Julius Maada Bio of excessive use of force during riots against high prices in August 2022, in which six police officers and 27 civilians were killed, according to an official report.

The country also fell 28 places world press freedom index prepared by the NGO Reporters Without Borders for 2023.

However, these concerns are unlikely to outweigh the importance of regional loyalty. “Districts in the North and West regions that host Themne and Limba speakers are traditionally loyal to the APC, while the dominant Mende-speaking districts in the South and East vote for the SLPP,” notes the Regional Institute for Governance (IGR) in a report published in May.

For many Sierra Leoneans, jobs and benefits generally go to areas whose politicians are in power. An IGR poll in June predicted 56% of the vote in favor of Julius Maada Bio, against only 43% for Samura Kamara.

The verdict of the opinion polls

Despite a mixed record, the current head of state remains the favorite in the poll and Samura Kamara could once again remain on the sidelines. But the leader of the APC promises to respect the verdict of the polls.

“President Bio and I are friends,” he told AFP. “If we meet, we say hello. We are in the same church. I served him, he knows me, he knows my work”.

Samura Kamara was Julius Maada Bio’s finance minister when the latter headed a ruling junta in 1996.

In order to win in the first round of elections, candidates must obtain 55% of the vote.

While Sierra Leone traditionally experiences low-level violence during elections, recent days have been marked by clashes between security forces and APC supporters, raising fears of unrest following the announcement of election results.


Demonstration in Sierra Leone: The president of CENI accused of being close to Maada Bio © AFP

In particular, the APC is calling for an audit of the Electoral Commission and the head of its president, Mohamed Konneh, whom the opposition party accuses of serving power in place.

With AFP and AP

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