From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

If You Can Not Thank Tejan Kabbah... Leave Him Alone!
By Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Feb 3, 2010, 17:06

Kabbah and my maternal grandfather the famous Creole APC Politician, Professor S.A.J. Pratt share a very warm friendship that has spanned over fifty years; long before I was born. Thus, many people were under the mistaken belief that it was my grandfather who asked President Kabbah to take me under his wing when I returned home from America in 2003. They are so totally wrong! Indeed, when I finally returned home from America in 2003, President Kabbah, to his credit, went out of his way to make me feel at home despite long-running resistance from people who told Kabbah I was a mole or a pro-APC agent.

In 2002, I had led and sponsored the Young People’s Party (YPP) against Kabbah’s own SLPP but earlier in December 2001, in the presence of Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo, Gambia’s Vice President Isatu Njie-Saidy, Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to Gambia, Morikeh Fofana, the then-State Chief of Protocol Soulay Daramy, then Presidential ADC Al-Shek Kamara, Madam Rasie Timbo, Head of Chancery and a few others, in the VIP Lounge of the Yundum Airport in The Gambia, President Kabbah had assured me that my skills at Internet Information Technology were much needed in Sierra Leone.

This was at the occasion of the Second Inauguration of President Yahya Jammeh. At the time, I was the Website Internet Consultant to President Yahya Jammeh and I had also, back in 1999, been the very first Website Internet Consultant to President Obasanjo so it had been quite a source of pride for me to listen as President Kabbah’s colleague Heads of States praised my Internet skills to him.

Much later at that occasion, President Yahya Jammeh openly teased President Kabbah that Sylvia Blyden was not a Sierra Leonean citizen but an ECOWAS citizen whilst Ambassador Morikeh Fofana jokingly retorted that Sierra Leone would take The Gambia to the ECOWAS Court of Justice if The Gambia did not allow me to return back home to work for Sierra Leone. It was in this highly jocular mood that President Kabbah stated to me that he would like me to make a decision to return home and add value to the Sierra Leone Internet landscape.

Indeed, I was to return back home a few months later BUT not for Internet development but for politics; to solely finance and propagate the ideals of a brand new political party (YPP) against Kabbah’s own SLPP. I became the youngest ever Sierra Leonean to lead a National Political Party; not the first woman as trailblazers like Jeredine Sarho in 1996 and Zainab Bangura a few weeks before me had already broken that glass ceiling but at the age of 30 years, I set another of my National records and became the youngest ever Sierra Leonean to lead a fully registered and recognised national political party. I was a media treat and I was not sparing with my interviews against Kabbah and his SLPP. The UNAMSIL Spokesman Patrick Coker used to arrange loads of airtime for me over UN Radio. How I used to enjoy blasting against Tejan Kabbah during those campaigns!(smile)

So, few months after those elections where YPP scored first from the bottom (smile), with my critical blasts of the elections, I was not sure Pa Kabbah would still be that accommodating of his assurance to me that he wanted me in Sierra Leone working. However, in a sure sign of his then well developed Presidential and leadership skills, President Kabbah not only made me feel at home by travelling around with me many times around Sierra Leone to cover his activities for his website I was to develop, but he got his Spokesman Kanji Daramy, Soulay Daramy, Al-Shek Kamara and others at State Lodge to ensure I was made to feel a part of his vision for the country’s Internet Information development.

I got quite a lot of feedback from sources who informed me of how poor President Kabbah was queried by so many, many people as to how he could allow one of his strongest critics of the 1997-2002 period to be so close to him as to be the Presidential Internet Consultant who even travelled around Sierra Leone in helicopters with him. And each and every time, I would receive feedback of how President Kabbah refused to budge in his support for me to be encouraged to feel at home. Even in August 2004 when I wrote a highly critical letter to him following a Lungi Plane crash, President Kabbah did not let up in his encouragement of me.

By July 2005, when I opened the Awareness Times newspaper and started hitting out at President Kabbah’s regime excesses, still the good Statesman never failed to give me encouragement and support. During the Gloria Newman Smart saga, my pen was not at all generous with him as my investigative skills exposed how he was succumbing to DfID demands and sacrificed the poor woman in order not to be seen as endorsing corruption. He never showed any overt antagonism towards me! He was always supportive of me and of many of his other critics whom he believed to be an essential part of a functioning democratic State.

I am not sure but I suspect my critical stance against him back then won me more admiration from him than abhorrence. By April 2007, President Kabbah was preparing to leave the leadership stage and I think it was clear to many people that he held me in very high esteem and so did I. And to this day and possibly to the day I will take my last breath, I will continue to hold former President Kabbah in high esteem. I acknowledge he made many mistakes as President but he is only human and which one of us has not made mistakes BUT I can never forget how President Kabbah’s astute skills moved this country from total despair to a cohesive nation poised for take-off. No way! I can never forget it!

I am also sure that Sierra Rutile and African Minerals (SLDC) simply cannot ever forget the leadership and support they enjoyed from the former President that has made them what they are today. As for me, the kindness that President Kabbah showed to me and his encouragement to me that made me feel so much at home despite my oft-critical stance taken against him throughout a significant part of his term of office has contributed to making me what I am today. If I ever become President of Sierra Leone, whilst I will not emulate all of Kabbah’s traits, there is quite a significant amount of his style of leadership that I will emulate!

President Kabbah on September 17th 2007 handed over a united, cohesive Sierra Leone fully poised for developmental take-off!! This is why it actually physically pains some Sierra Leonean when they read people portraying the former President as a vicious and vengeful man. I know from first hand experience that is not so. So also with Solomon Berewa who like Pa Kabbah provided a lot of encouraging support of me.

Not only from a personal viewpoint but also from a nationalistic point of view, I think President Kabbah is one of this country’s greatest leaders despite his human mistakes whilst in office.

What I am trying to say today is President Kabbah does not deserve to be slammed and disgraced for what he knows nothing about! If you can not thank Tejan Kabbah for what he did and where he left the Sierra Leone he handed over to President Ernest Koroma, then please do not disparage his legacy! So it will be wise for those who have a bone to pick with Tejan Kabbah to rethink recent ill-motivated articles on him. Some of us saw firsthand how President Kabbah integrated this Nation into a cohesive unit and how he also selflessly served this Nation. If we want to place things in context, it will take several newspaper pages to praise Tejan Kabbah. His durable legacy of 2002 – 2007 was tarnished by his Mumu Minister not propagating to the people what was being done but History will one day correct the failure of Septimus Kaikai that so badly wronged the Kabbah-led SLPP of 2002-2007.

Whilst we are waiting for History to reflect properly on the Kabbah-Berewa legacy, our silence should not be misinterpreted to mean that President Kabbah does not have his admirers. His admirers, like Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, will not sit by and allow him to be unfairly tarnished. So, I am asking those unfair attackers to please, please stay the attacks on President Kabbah. He does not deserve them and he has very strong admirers who will not keep silent as he is disparaged unfairly by you. If you cannot praise him, please do not disparage him for what he knows nothing about. Leave the man alone. Please, please leave Tejan Kabbah alone. Kabbah does not deserve this wicked, malicious calumny!


© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.