MOURNS THE PASSING AWAY OF THE COUNTRY'S GRAND OLD MAN OF POLITICS
Sierra Leone's very own Grand Old Man of Politics Dr John Albert Musselman Karefa-Smart passed away in Freetown on Thursday at a hotel room in Freetown where he had gone to prepare himself to meet his Maker - no doubt knowing that the state of his health will no longer allow him to continue his earthly sojourn. He was 94.
The life of Dr John Karefa-Smart should be a shining light to all Sierra Leoneans of the possibilities of what can be achieved if one is determined to achieve set goals that would contribute to the development of self, community, country and the global theatre.
Mention his name and immediately it is his political life that springs to mind with some to be forgiven if they were to ask whether he was the academic PhD or a real doctor as we know them in Sierra Leone. This great man was both and for the curious kindly go through the records of what is now known as the United Methodist Church and the famous Rotifunk Hospital at the time and further curiosity and admiration of the drive of Dr John Karefa-Smart will amaze you.
And for those who just love faking titles like Rev, adding it most shamelessly to their name, we would advise they take a leaf from the late man. He was indeed an ordained man of the cloth and could preach a sermon that would have the listener appreciating his expose on parts of the Good Book that had hitherto been given mere mention by preachers wanting to avoid the true meaning of these passages of Scripture.
A handshake from Dr John Karefa-Smart even while in his 80's and was back in Sierra Leone politics would confirm just how robust the man's health was as his firm grip would attest - and no wonder he would go to great lengths to explain to up and coming journalists who would dare link his age then to achieving the Presidency as the National Leader of the United National People's Party, the UNPP with that well-known symbol and which many came to use as his code name - Panlamp.
And talking about that firm and strong handshake please be reminded that the late man was also a soldier. Yes, not only a soldier for Christ, but served as a captain in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in the Bahamas during the 2nd World War.
According to an article on the website of Harvard University dedicated to alumni where he did his Public Health studies, it is noted
Dr John Karefa-Smart's academic and professional stature can be glimpsed and perhaps appreciated to a greater extent by this quote on one internet outlet. Kindly note that this is just one aspect of the great man's past.
This insight into the late Dr John Karefa-Smart is, as you would imagine, a little portal into his achievements. And no insight would be complete without delving into his colourful and sometimes controversial political history.
Some observers have noted that it was his uncompromising stance described by some as "imbibing the stubborn nature of a goat" that could have created the many troughs of inconvenience along his political journey.
That he was Sierra Leone's first Foreign Affairs minister and the man in line to become the next Prime Minister after Sir Milton Margai has never been in dispute, but what was to have been and never happened could have greatly affected his political future and perhaps his interpretation of the political nature of the human being.
When Sierra Leone's first Grand Old Man of Politics, the man who led the country to independence and became the First Prime Minister Sir Milton Margai passed away on April 28, 1964, the mantle of leadership was foisted on his brother Albert.
He never, it would seem, forgave the Sierra Leone People's Party, the SLPP for what he saw as a great betrayal.
When the SLPP was looking for a leader as the country prepared for the 1996 elections that would see the backs of the khaki boys of the NPRC of first Valentine Strasser and then Maada Bio, it was reported that he spurned approaches made to him to lead his former party in which he'd not only served as Foreign minister but had held the title of Prime Minister in an acting capacity. He would rather have his own party, the United National People's Party, the UNPP where as leader he had hoped to beat the SLPP at the polls.
Had he accepted that offer, Dr John Karefa-Smart would have been President of Sierra Leone rather than being the Moses of Sierra Leone's politics - seeing the promised land (the Presidency and Head of State) but never achieving this life-long ambition.
Dr John Karefa-Smart could well be described as the man Siaka Stevens could not hang.
Not that he did not try, but somehow this intrepid political maestro always managed to slip away while those he associated with were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured, tried in kangaroo courts with a legal gloss set up by Siaka Stevens and the top ones executed.
Sierra Leoneans old enough to remember can recall those yellow VW vans and other vehicles used by a new political organisation, the United Democratic Party (UDP), a breakaway wing of the APC-led Siaka Stevens. The popularity of the party, formed in September 1970 and the massive attendance at rallies forced Siaka Stevens to come out fighting as he realised he was losing the people after leaders of the new group accused him of massive corruption and not keeping to the APC promise to the people.
Stevens declared a state of emergency, banned the UDP a month later arresting the top leaders accusing them of causing disturbances that were inimical to state security.
Dr John Karefa-Smart was back in active Sierra Leone politics as the country prepared for the 1996 elections and as usual his charismatic aura was there in evidence at massive rallies attended by all sections of Sierra Leone society.
He failed in his bid to win as the SLPP's Ahmad Tejan Kabbah got the top seat after a run-off in a general election the NPRC of Maada Bio had frowned upon but was forced to swallow because of demands by civilians that they'd had enough of the military.
His enduring "hatred" for the party that cheated him of the Prime Ministerial position resurfaced once more when after the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah on the 25th of May 1997, he threw his weight behind the coup makers even going as far as to be a member of the Johnny Paul junta delegation that went to a couple of West African countries for talks aimed at restoring "constitutional order" to Sierra Leone. And this after initially condemning the coup in no uncertain terms in an interview with the BBC Network Africa programme.
Dr John Karefa-Smart had experienced and knew all too well the dangers of having an ineffective opposition in Parliament as well as a one-party state. He therefore made it clear to his MPs in Parliament, as Leader of the Opposition, that they should serve as such and not accept any ministerial appointments offered them by the SLPP government.
This did not go down well with some party members whose eyes were firmly fixed on getting something from the government and so did the problems of the UNPP begin culminating in his suspension from Parliament.
Perhaps it was his strict adherence to principles he believed in that could have made him easy enemies who feared that under his leadership and given his past, the rampant corruption that is a feature of Sierra Leone politics would have been greatly reduced.
Something the corrupt did not like from this strict disciplinarian.
Farewell Dr John Albert Musselman Karefa-Smart and may the Good Lord give you the peace which He only can give and that which passeth all understanding.
You have fought the good fight and the Sierra Herald prays that you will now rest in the Lord's bosom in perfect peace.