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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
09FREETOWN465
2009-12-01 17:19:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Freetown
Cable title:  

SIERRA LEONE STABILITY, PART I: POLITICS

Tags:   PGOV  PREL  SL 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO4311
RR RUEHPA
DE RUEHFN #0465/01 3351719
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 011719Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3007
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 FREETOWN 000465 

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/W

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/01/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL SL
SUBJECT: SIERRA LEONE STABILITY, PART I: POLITICS

REF: A. FREETOWN 400

B. FREETOWN 79

C. FREETOWN 425

D. FREETOWN 379

E. FREETOWN 435

F. FREETOWN 449

G. FREETOWN 434

H. FREETOWN 323

I. FREETOWN 255

J. FREETOWN 99

Classified By: Political/Economic Officer for reasons 1.4 (b/d)



1. (C) Summary: This cable is the first in a series of four
that seeks to analyze Sierra Leone's current level of
stability, and the threats and weaknesses challenging it. In
the political realm, the country is already gearing up for
the 2012 national, parliamentary, and local elections. Even
though the national election appears to be the APC's to lose,
the SLPP has started readying their troops for political
battle, perhaps with the intent of reducing the APC majority
in Parliament and on the local councils. Recent by-elections
and Paramount Chief elections have received national
attention because the political parties are expending
significant resources on them in an effort to gain ground or
prove their continued dominance in stronghold locations. At
the same time, power-struggles within parties further expend
energy and distract politicians from what should be their top
priority - serving the people. Though politics has always
been a tough business in Sierra Leone, maintaining some level
of cooperation between the parties will be critical to help
ensure a calm, peaceful election period. End Summary.



--------------------------


APC: THE INCUMBENT


--------------------------





2. (C) The APC party has thus far handled its leadership role
reasonably well, and the majority of citizens seem satisfied
with what they perceive to be Koroma's achievements: notably,
the continued provision of electricity in Freetown, the
progress made on the Bumbuna hydroelectric project, and
fighting corruption in an effort to re-brand the country.
Though none of these are true "successes" - the electricity
in Freetown is provided by expensive generators, Bumbuna is
not yet operating and may never operate at full capacity or
meet the demand for power, and corruption is fought on a
case-by-base basis - Koroma's image remains that of a
friendly, effective patriarch doing right by his people. Even
scandals that had the potential to rock his administration,
from an illegal contract with a Nigerian electricity provider
to his alleged affairs, have done little to sway, let alone
destroy, his pedestal. The recent Consultative Group meeting
in London, which generated increased donor and investment
interest, will also add luster. Koroma, as the incumbent,
will be a nearly impossible man to beat in 2012, barring any
hugely catastrophic and embarrassing incidents.



3. (C) While Koroma appears untouchable, his party brethren
are cognizant of their own political mortality, and are
angling for positions of greater authority either within the
administration or the APC structure. It is here that the
party flounders - internal intrigue, paranoia, and insecurity

are hallmarks of all political parties in Sierra Leone, and
the APC is no exception - leading the President's advisors to
focus on rumor, innuendo, and their own self-interest rather
than assist with governing the country. The recent incident
in which the President used his military assistance to the
civil power authority without consulting the National
Security Council (reftel A) is a good example of how the
insecurity of his underlings can undermine his ability to
make good decisions. Koroma is not surrounded by a bevy of
trusted people; from the criminal Attorney General who
conspires to undermine him, to the Majority Leader of
Parliament who sued him, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
who berates him, there is nearly no one to whom Koroma can
turn for objective support and guidance. As a result, some of
his decisions are erratic and impulsive, reflecting the
atmosphere of tension and anxiety around him, rather than
carefully-considered analysis.



4. (C) Koroma is saddled with an under-performing Cabinet,
some of whom are personal friends and some of whom represent
campaign promises and political debts made-good. Despite a
reshuffle earlier this year (reftel B), there has been no
obvious improvement in governance at the national level.
Koroma is currently reviewing the ministers' performance
contracts, perhaps with an eye to a second reshuffle either
after the national budget is released in December, or in
early 2010. A second reshuffle may have some positive impact,
but party insiders say that the "sacred cows," including the

FREETOWN 00000465 002 OF 003


Attorney General, are safe until 2012. Party stalwarts like
the AG are seen as necessary allies for Koroma to win a
second term, but may be expendable after that.



5. (C) This political reality - that Koroma will protect some
of the criminally-minded cabinet members due to party
politics - is a disappointment. Vice President Samuel
Samsumana is known for corruption, and is currently a
defendant in two civil suits in the United States for abusing
his position and taking bribes (reftel C), but remains in
place because Koroma believes he needs Samsumana to win the
Kono vote. Koroma reportedly hates his VP, who was chosen for
him by the party, but can only indicate his displeasure by
firing Samsumana's underlings without consultation or notice.
He may choose to remove Samsumana from the ticket in 2012,
and replace him with another Kono ally, but appears willing
to otherwise protect him from criminal investigations and
scandals as much as he can. Koroma also protects the Minister
of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Haja Afsatu Kabba, who
reportedly received a bribe from the Taiwanese fishing
company that owned the vessel seized in conjunction with the
USCG in August (reftel D), and may have been caught on video
accepting a bribe from another company as well (Note: She was
also investigated by the Anti-Corruption Commission for
procurement irregularities when she oversaw the energy
ministry, but that investigation was allegedly shut-down by
the President and she was moved to her new position in the
reshuffle. End Note.). Besides a romantic relationship that
reportedly existed between Koroma and Kabba, the APC have
also said that she must be appeased because she was promised
the VP position and tossed aside for Samsumana. While some
scapegoats, such as the indicted Minister of Health and
Sanitation, have lost their positions (reftel E), it appears
that the money in your pocket and your standing in the APC
hierarchy ultimately determine whether or not you have carte
blanche to profit hugely and blatantly from your government
position. The APC, despite claims of commitment to good
governance principles, are increasingly showing a deeper
commitment to the previous status quo of corruption and greed
at the highest levels.



--------------------------


SLPP: THE OPPOSITION


--------------------------





6. (C) Per reftel F, the SLPP has focused on discrediting the
ruling party, rather than proposing alternative policies and
solutions. The recent letter from party Chairman John
Benjamin to President Koroma is just one in a long line of
unsophisticated attacks that are too forward-leaning to be
supported by facts: their history for finger-pointing and
blame-gaming, which was in evidence following their dramatic
loss of the presidency in 2007, persists. Their failure to
advocate particular policy options is likely linked to the
party's obsession with inter-party power struggles, leaving
little energy left-over to propose legitimate alternatives to
APC policies. Some within the SLPP executive are angling for
a revision to the party constitution (reftel G), and many
still believe that Benjamin will alter the revised
constitution, which prevents party executive members from
standing as candidates, to allow him to choose himself to run
in the 2012 presidential elections. With this level of
distrust and animosity within the party, perhaps it is
unsurprising that the SLPP can be nothing more than a
cantankerous and disorganized foe for the APC rather than a
sparring partner bringing relevant issues to the fore.



7. (C) Despite their internal dramas, the party is still
claiming some victories, albeit in their own stronghold:
their candidate won a local council position in Bo in a
November by-election by a landslide margin. The party is also
trying to regain support from the international community,
and recently created an external contact group to liaise with
diplomatic partners. This group, though unlikely to be
rebuffed, is also unlikely to be welcomed with open arms
given their deliberate, regular, and targeted media attacks
of post, UNIPSIL, and IMATT. The SLPP can not afford to
further alienate such groups, but it will remain to be seen
if they can re-direct their energies towards a more positive
level of engagement. As a party, the SLPP has been unfocused
and vengeful since the 2007 elections, and could only pose a
real threat to the APC in 2012 if new leadership emerges and
adopts different strategies. Still, the SLPP contributes
negatively to the level of political discourse in Sierra
Leone, which encourages similar bad behavior from their
opponents. Like a cornered fighter, the SLPP approach to 2012
will probably be to swing wildly, often, and with as much
force as possible - guaranteeing damage, but not necessarily
to its opponents.



--------------------------



FREETOWN 00000465 003 OF 003


PMDC: THE OPPORTUNIST


--------------------------





8. (C) The PMDC party continues to hold on by a thread,
despite losing members to the APC and SLPP parties on a
regular basis. Party Chairman Charles Margai seems to have
enough hubris to make up for the losses (reftel H), but
hubris alone won't propel the PDMC into a credible threat for
the 2012 elections at any level; this is likely why he has
begun encouraging his opponents to court him for his future
support, even though he pledged at the PMDC party conference
this year to support the APC again in a run-off situation. A
November 25 article in a local paper highlighted a speech
Margai gave in Pujehun district in which he said that voters
should avoid both major parties because they "have failed the
people of Sierra Leone in terms of good governance,
transparency, and accountability." Though he criticizes both
parties, his remarks are clearly designed to demonstrate to
both the APC and SLPP that his support for the APC is fickle,
and that he is essentially for sale.



9. (C) Margai is seemingly risking a great deal by
tap-dancing between the APC and SLPP parties, especially when
the APC reportedly bankrolled their conference and
by-election campaigns. He is likely aware, however, that
ultimately the APC needs his party to split the SLPP vote
more than he needs their cash - the PMDC candidates are not
strong in any district, but will continue to win at least
some votes as long as they are on the ballot. If Margai's
intent is not to win, but to profit, his strategy may work.
However, his intent could also be to remind Koroma and the
APC that they owe their success, in part, to the PMDC, and
that political debts remain to be paid. This hypothesis may
be proven if more PMDC members are selected for Cabinet
positions in the expected reshuffle.



10. (C) The PMDC party is inherently the "Margai Party," and
his self-interest will override the party's larger ambitions.
Margai was angry earlier this year by the APC's reaction to
the Dennis Sandy-Eddie Turay land scandal (reftel I), and his
criticisms could be retribution for that. However, he could
also be angling for a bigger piece of the political pie,
including a prestigious appointment for himself in 2012.
Margai is most likely to throw his support behind the party
that appears poised to win, which means that he can flirt
with the SLPP as much as he likes, but he's going home with
the APC.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





11. (C) Party politics in Sierra Leone is an ugly business,
with rivalries seemingly more important than governance.
Though in recent years these rivalries have played out more
rhetorically than physically, situations can quickly derail
into acts of violence: the March riots (reftel J) show that
inciting tension here is an easy process. While there is no
immediate reason to expect such an incident to occur again in
the near future, there is also no guarantee that it will not,
despite the parties' mutual promise to behave themselves.
What is perhaps the greatest ongoing concern in the political
realm is that the two significant parties both behave
erratically, irrationally, and personally, responding first
and asking questions later whether they are addressing inter-
or intra-party conflict. The ability to remain objective is
exhibited by neither the insecure APC or the rudderless SLPP.
It is easy, therefore, to understand why party followers -
many of whom are illiterate and blindly support either the
APC or SLPP along regional or ethnic lines - exhibit poor
judgment as well. In a country where mobs are plenty and cool
heads are few, it would take a very small spark to ignite the
pervasive political tension into an uncontrollable fire. End
Comment.
FEDZER