‘Ernest feba Tony (Blair) bad bad wan, O!’
‘Ernest feba Tony (Blair) bad bad wan, O!?’ Walahi!! That it is stretching the Krio word ‘feba’ way beyond the border of credulity! (In Sierra Leone’s lingua franca, Krio, the word ‘feba’ means: ‘to have a physical resemblance with someone else’). ‘Ernest nor feba Tony wan, are dae yeri una da say’! The British Prime Minister between 1997 and 2007, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, is as lily white as the British Monarchy can be, with distinct pointed Caucasian nose – whereas the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma, is as black as the famed Sierra Leonean warrior, Bai Bureh, with pitch black Negroid complexion, and squashed Negroid nose elegantly carved into his huge head. ‘Tony nor feba Ernest; no way!’ When Ernest and Tony – both men 59 years of age – entered the hall for a joint press conference at State House, Freetown, on January 14, 2013… Tony, garbed in typically dour British gray-black suit, white shirt, dark gold tie…. hobbled a bit, like an old man, with his steps almost timid; H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma, donning that short sleeve French Suit which Africa’s elites have made a native African Suit – black short-sleeve; with the President wearing with a whisper of a red broach (Red, his party’s color) on his left collar – strode into the hall majestically, athletically, with Arnold Schwazenneger-type gait and dominance of his space; Ernest’s magnetism, a cinematographic ideal of what a ‘leader’ ought to be….would get Hollywood, Nollywood, Bollywood and Sallywood film makers palpitating…. In spite of the exterior differences, in terms of their vision, their ambition, their courage, their resonance, their political and historical trajectory, and their prescience… `Ernest feba Tony. Eee clear, Sam!!’
Ernest and Tony ‘Resurrected’ their Political Parties
Both Ernest and Tony fought tough political battles to almost resurrect the Labour party and the APC party in their ascent to ultimate leadership. By 1992, after Tony Blair’s Labour Party had been defeated in a succession of four general elections, many of its members had come to accept that its policies were making Labour unelectable – ‘too Socialist’, too Left, at a time when the Conservative Leader, the Prime Minister, the ‘Iron Lady’, Margaret Thatcher, had stigmatized any political doctrine not on the Right, not pro-capitalist, as British political heresy, hemorrhaging the British economy. Ernest became leader of the APC in Parliament in 2002. This was after the APC had been sullied by the buffoonery and ineffectiveness of the General Joseph Saidu APC government in the 1980s, which led inexorably to the ‘rebel war’ being ignited in 1991, and the NPRC military coup which booted the APC from power in 1992. With democratic rule restored in 1996, the APC just managed to squeak into the ‘proportional representation’ parliament of 1996 – with a mere 5% of the votes. The governing SLPP won the 2002 elections by a landslide; pulverizing the APC in even its traditional strongholds of Freetown, and the Northern Province. The SLPP leader, President Tejan Kabbah, publicly articulated his condescension to the APC – that the APC needed to be propped up so as not to give the impression that Sierra Leone had relapsed back into a One Party State under the SLPP. When the SLPP anointed its Vice President in 2005 as their presidential candidate for the 2007 General Elections, over 90 percent of the cream of SLPP elite were absolutely certain that the APC posed no serious challenge to the SLPP; and that their candidate, Solomon Berewa, was ‘president-in-waiting’.
“Continuous Campaigning” of Tony and Ernest
Like Hon. Ernest Bai Koroma had struck a deal with APC hardliners to clinch the leadership of the APC in 2007, so, Tony Blair reached a deal with his main challenger for the prime minister position in the Labour party, Gordon Brown, in the late 1990s. To impress upon the electorate the fact that there had been a genuine change of Labour policy, the party adopted five pledges: not to raise income tax, to cut class sizes, to reduce health service waiting lists, and to stick to their predecessors spending plans for two years. The marketing techniques that had been introduced by super public relations company, Saatchi and Saatchi, for the Conservative party’s 1979 campaign…. were extended by a team of enthusiastic Labour party amateurs, including the former journalist, Alastair Campbell. The outcome of the election broke a number of records. More Labour MPs (419) were elected than ever before, and the Conservatives were left with fewer seats (165) than at any time since 1906. Campaigning techniques, such as the use of an instant rebuttal team to counter inaccurate reports and comments, were continued in support of Tony Blair. Blair feared that the party’s electoral lead could be lost, and that a single term in office would not enable him to push through his wished-for reforms – so, he kept on relentless media assault on the Conservative party. A process was set in motion that came to be known as “continuous campaigning”.
It is more in the 2012 General Elections that ‘Ernest feba Tony’. U.S.-based Sierra Leonean doctorate degree student, Allie Kabbah (whose cyber name is Behmehkhan) posted on the FOIC-SL cyber forum a few months to the 2012 elections that President Koroma has assembled the most formidable team of journalists/public relations experts ever in Sierra Leone’s history – and because of this, the SLPP didn’t have a ghost’s chance of winning. Behmehkhan knew only half the truth of the APC media team – both overt and covert. In the two months leading to the elections, the APC overwhelmed the SLPP in all the major radio stations, and on T.V – on a daily basis; in numerous interviews; in paid-for programmes; in video documentaries. And, the APC won the support of over 90% of the newspapers, which were deemed ‘biased’ by the EU Observer Team to the 2012 elections. The SLPP had banked on stoking the fires of public disaffection because of the hike in prices of all staple food and basic commodities. It failed. With inflation biting the populace, with scary youth unemployment of about 80% of youth of employable age in the capital city of Freetown, the APC media gurus succeeded in marketing the APC’s stark developmental record of impressive road construction, Agriculture Business Centers in every district, Free Health Care, etc. – which stirred Great Hope in the majority youth population that if ‘ress en pamine nar boku nar dem plate tidae’, there is hope that the APC leadership of President Koroma would make things better for them in his second term in office. It worked!! Ernest, like Tony, are both resonant and persuasive speakers – with that invaluable and amorphous gloss of ‘charisma’ for a politician. Ernest and Tony have used (are using) their God-given gifts, and their learned skills, for maximum political benefit.
Ernest and Tony are Transformative Leaders
As Prime Minister, Tony Blair sought to modernise the United Kingdom’s public services. He encouraged enterprise and innovation in the private sector. He opened Britain more to international commerce, making it about the safest haven for international financial capital. Under his premiership, the British government made major changes to the British constitution by legislation that transferred decision-making to devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. On taking up the leadership of the country, President Koroma pledged to ‘run the country like a business’. On February 14, 2013 at State House, President Koroma crowed in State House how he has “created the environment for business” to sowed it seeds here, and prosper. Indeed, during the first term of the Koroma presidency, billions of dollars were invested in the country by large scale mineral mining and agricultural companies like African Minerals, London Mining, Socfin, ADDAX, etc. Sierra Leone’s Fast Track Commercial Court is helping to build up greater confidence that the Rule of Law is supreme in the country, and investors would have their investments protected by the law, commercial disputes speedily adjudicated, and commercial agreements not prone to capricious policies and actions of government. It is hardly a wonder that the African Government Initiative (AGI) founded by former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been promoting President Koroma’s government as one of its most brilliant and valuable jewels.
At The Times CEO Summit-Africa in London, March, 2012, Tony Blair spoke of a “new sense of hope and confidence” in Africa. “There is a new sense of hope and confidence, optimism, and an expectation, that is based on evidence, not dreams…..”. Not only did Tony Blair had President Koroma in mind in the following words, but, in that gathering of some of the biggest companies in Africa, Tony Blair expressly praised the dramactic progress being made by President Koroma (and Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf): “Above all, I am noticing in my frequent visits there that there is a new generation of leaders in politics, business and civic society who don’t simply have a new competence about how they approach their tasks, but a new attitude, a new frame of thinking, a new way of looking at their own situation…” Fast forward to January 14, 2013, in Freetown and not in London, Tony Blair read again from his ‘development Bible’, like he did in London in 2012: “African countries must be in the driving seat of their own development, setting the priorities and making the decisions,” he said.
Productive Post-Prime Minister….
There are other ways in which ‘Ernest feba Tony’. Tony Blair has carved a niche for himself as one of the greatest post-prime minister/president Statesmen in modern history – in several foundations doing valuable work in the developing world which he is the founder for; in being a PR consultant for leading businesses around the world which are snatching multi-billion contracts in the developing countries; in earning personal money of up to £20,000,000. You can be certain that post-presidential Ernest will become the brightest star in the post-presidential firmament, earning serious multi-million dollars educating other African leaders on how he ‘worked the miracle of Development, Justice, Freedom in Sierra Leone in ten years’.
by Oswald Hanciles
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