An Appeal for Kono Unity

By:-Saa Matthias BENDU*

There is a fierce dirty war going on in Kono district currently. It is not a war involving military weapons. Rather it is a personality conflict between Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana and Minister of Local Government Finda Diana Konomanyi. But it is a war that no less atrocious. Both of them are natives of the district. Both are staunch members of the ruling All People’s Congress party. And, obviously, both are very senior members of government.

Their battle for supremacy is rapidly ripping the district apart by dragging it backwards, at a time when other districts like Tonkolili, Bombali, Pork Loko, Bo and Kenema are progressing.
I have often said that the two political parties that have ruled this country since independence – the APC and the SLPP – do not like Kono district in reality. But there is a problem inherent in the people of Kono themselves which is exacerbating the problem. It is wrapped in the hate Konos have for themselves.Kono, like most other districts, has certain problems unique to it.

The age old political party rivalry and eventual conflict between the now late Paramount Chief T.S Briwa and the late Rev Paul Dumbar was never resolved or settled. Even though both men claimed to be fighting in the interest of the district, their political indulgence did not benefit Kono and its people.

Their rivalry was made worse by the fact that a few elites and traditional leaders aligned themselves with both men. That seed of discord left the district battered.
Then came the one party system, and the APC party lavished ministerial appointments on the district. Again there was a big conflict among Kono ministries so much so that one minister would stop any development project intended to be carried out by the other in the district due to the hatred they had for each other.

It was a a madness to hard to decipher. The district was left with nothing: no higher institution of learning, poor schools, no good roads, no good hospital, just nothing!
Fast forward to 2007, when the district made history by producing its first Vice President in Sam-Sumana. That was a fulfilment of a promise made by Siaka Stevens. But if anything it has renewed the infighting among the Konos.

The virus has attacked. The two most powerful Kono people in the APC party are at each other’s throat. Several attempts made to settle it have all woeful failed and the conflict is deepening. In fact the district almost lost the Vice President position in the run up to the 2012 election. A phony peace was attained after deceiving the Kono people just to get their votes.
Because of the internal division there was no development in Kono throughout President Ernest Bai Koroma’s first term in office. Despite bragging by his administration that the country had been turned into a works yard.
If anything the release of the No 11 mining site to “allow for the youth to mine” under a heavily politicised arrangement, left many of them killed. Monies derived from the sale of the sand which should belong to the Kono people, are still in the pockets of someone in cabinet. But that is another story.
For the records, the SLPP also offered Konos the Vice President position in 1996 when Ahmad Tejan Kabbah approached Rev Paul Dumbar who declined because of his age, but suggested the late Aiah Abu Koroma father of the current Fist Lady and a member of the TS Briwa camp that rivalled with Dumbar. When Rev Dumbar discussed it with Mr Koroma and pleaded with him to see reason to accept the position he rejected the offer, simply because of the old rivalry, with a statement not worthy of publishing.

That was how Dr Albert Joe Demby became VP. Somewhat strangely, the same A.A Koroma was to later surrender Kono district, cheaply, to the SLPP in the 2002 election.
Today the two political elephants have had their horns twisted into each other since the 2012 election. There are many reasons why the Sam-Sumana-Konomanyi conflict has become so dangerous and deepening.
Firstly, a certain set of people both within and without the district have transformed the conflict into a money-making enterprise thus fanning the flame in various ways in both the print and electronic media.

Secondly, there is a certain authority in the district who is feeding the Vice President with dangerous lies to if only to show his loyalty to him pretending to love him more than anyone else in the district does. More often that not he over-dramatises issues.
I will give you an example: During the 2012 elections, President Koroma approached the Kono Paramount Chiefs and asked them to give him the names of three people who are Muslim to consider for the position of Vice President as he was still interested in having someone from the district. He however made it clear to them that their choice was not obligatory, and that their meeting must remain top secret. He gave them 24 hours to get back to him with the names.

The 14 Paramount chiefs and one speaker from Gbenese, after their deliberations, submitted three names, with Sam-Sumana topping the list. In their presentation they told the president thus: “Since you did NOT ask us to exclude or include the current Vice President, we have made him our number one choice on the list and have given two more names because you asked for three names”.
The President responded rather jokingly by saying “I was never aware that my Paramount Chiefs in Kono were lawyers”.
Now look at the information that reached Sam-Sumana by his so-called beloved grandfather: “Your Paramount Chiefs in Kono have submitted two names to the President as their choice for the vice president position, plus $ 3,000 as their help for his campaign”. That never happened!
But the lie spread like bush fire in the Harmattan. Today, VP Sam-Sumana’s family and supporters consider those Paramount Chiefs whose names I do not wish to mention here, as their enemies and have vowed to fight them till death.

The attacks and counter attacks by supporters on both sides of the divide are only beating the drums of war harder and louder at the detriment of the district. New recruits are joining in. Instead mending fences the fences are been torn down the more. All for love of dirty money.
Consequence: today we have a Vice President’s office that has been relegated, not by the country’s constitution but by the actions of his boss.
Our brother who occupies the office is now a mere shadow of former occupants of that office. His relationship with his boss has taken a nose dive. He has been turned into a lame duck. He has power without a power. He is the vice president only in name. He is the first Vice President in the history Sierra Leone who ministers walk out on and go scot-free. He calls some ministers who fail to respond to his call. He is not even on speaking terms with his boss.
Today most of his supporters are languishing in prison for simply standing up for him.
They were eliminated from delegates’ list for important meetings other Konos are used to spite one of their own. Among them some elites and a few traditional leaders who refuse to see through the reality that their actions are hurting our district.

Not the Koidu City Council has been drawn into the imbroglio. More institutions in the district will soon be affected by this deadly virus. My greatest disappointment is role of religious bodies in the district.
They have a moral obligation to stand firm and speak to the truth without fear or favour, by pointing their index fingers in the face of both the Vice President and the Local Government Minister at speak the truth like the prophets in the holy books did to kings. Unfortunately, most of them have also taken sides.
All because of the love of money.
Sam-Sumana and Diana Konomanyi must bury the hatchet in the interest of Kono and the Sierra Leone. Their supporters must stop beating the drum of war and prevail on their leaders and have a permanent ceasefire lest our district will continue to burn.
The two protagonists should stop for the love of the fatherland for whose development you claim to have joined a political party you both believe in. or history will never forgive you. And generations yet unborn will hold you responsible for the decadence that Kono has known for generations.

*Saa Matthias BENDU is National Coordinator, Development Initiative for Community Empowerment and Promotion of Human Rights (DICE