Sierra Leone presidential frontrunner vows war on graft

Sierra Leone opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma, who looks set to win the West African country’s presidential election, says he will wage an implacable war on corruption and work to revive the war-scarred economy.

With just over three-quarters of the votes counted from last week’s run-off poll, Koroma, of the All People’s Congress (APC), has a commanding lead with 60%. His rival, Vice President Solomon Berewa of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), trails by about 20 points.

As a former insurance executive who once worked briefly at Lloyd’s of London, Koroma (53) knows something about risks.

But if his victory is confirmed in the next few days he will face a huge task to galvanise and unite a nation still bleeding from the economic and social wounds of its 1991 to 2002 war. It was one of Africa’s most brutal conflicts, in which drugged child soldiers slaughtered civilians and hacked off limbs.

“We have to run this country like a business concern,” Koroma told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday at his red-and-white-painted party headquarters in Freetown.

Although the former British colony is better known for its gemstones—most notoriously the blood diamonds that financed the civil war—Koroma promised to develop agriculture and tourism.
This would help create jobs in a country teeming with unemployed ex-combatants, where many live in abject poverty.

“I want to see a shift in the emphasis from mining to agriculture and tourism, where we have great potential that is yet to develop,” Koroma said.

But he said he would be ruthless against corruption, the scourge of so many African states, whether in or out of conflict.

“There will be no sacred cows. Everybody will be under scrutiny and if they are found guilty of corruption they will go to prison, including my family members,” Koroma vowed.

Commitment to unity

Koroma, who as a Christian from the largely Muslim north knows what it’s like to be an outsider, said he would use the country’s top job to promote unity and reconciliation.

“I am going to look for talented people who have integrity to form an all-inclusive government. It’s not the region or political party you’re from, it’s the commitment you bring to taking Sierra Leone to the next level,” he said.

Campaigning for the run-off was marred by clashes between Koroma’s supporters and those of the ruling SLPP party. The fighting prompted outgoing President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is backing Koroma’s rival Berewa, to warn he might declare a state of emergency if violence worsened.

“To oust a ruling government in Africa is not an easy task,” Koroma said of the tense electoral contest.

“The challenges ahead are so great ... I have always been fighting,” he added. He was once briefly detained in the early 1990s, suspected of involvement in an alleged coup plot against the military junta then in power.

While he promised to promote the private sector, Koroma said he wanted to review the country’s mining sector to improve income and working conditions for local workers.

But he sought to reassure investors. “The companies should have nothing to fear, we are not going to shut them down ... I am from a private-sector background and if any company is worried they can come and talk to me,” Koroma said.

He also pledged to repair the country’s war-shattered infrastructure, including providing clean water and electricity for the population of 5,7-million. This included a proposal to privatise the National Power Authority.—Reuters

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