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If Only Valentine Strasser was Temne

By Abdul Suhood Komeh,

London, UK.

When all is said and done, Valentine Strasser’s only unique political crime in the Sierra Leone story is that he was not a Temne in 2017, leading to the presidential elections of 2018. He was a Creole and still is one after the fact.

Imagine if he had been a Temne in the last fives years of politicking that provided a platform for the worst charlatans, offering themselves as bearers of future solutions. Would it be farfetched to say he could not have been rightly valorised, celebrated as the ‘real father of democracy’?

Like Bio was primarily sold, Strasser could have been the perfect Temne rival, toe to toe with the Mende/South-Eastern huddle around Bio’s military credentials. But unfortunately for Strasser, he is not Temne. For that alone, for being Creole, his martial credentials from the army and his credits as head of state are invalid, vapourised. In exchange, he gets ridicule, dressed as sympathy. His most unflattering photos are shared to diminish him, rob him of any traces of leadership aura. Making him unfit for any future role in national life. Unlike everybody else, his life struggles are overblown. Given false narratives that are devoid of facts, to make him a charitable cause in urgent need of alms. That is even as he nurses physical and emotional injuries from sacrificing his life for Sierra Leone.

What’s never, or seriously discussed are Strasser’s contributions and how unfairly he’s been treated.

Revisionists can write him down in the interest of their tribes. The self-interested can labour in minimising his contributions. This fact remains: Valentine Strasser is a pivotal figure in our history. His NPRC was a necessary intervention, embraced by most citizens in 1992. Often forgotten is, he was 26 years old! Most of his colleagues were in their 20s. The country was on its knees. The NPRC showed colossal courage in overthrowing 26 years of kleptocracy. Facilitating a start at a time when the intelligentsia 40/50/60-somethings were resigned to doing nothing, or in cahoots with the then 'government', entrenching the country's decline.

If there’s one person that betrays hypocrisy and tribalism in Sierra Leonean politics, it’s Valentine Strasser. And how profound, that at what looks like a most challenging period in his life, the current president of Sierra Leone is his contemporary in the army and colleague in NPRC, Julius Maada Bio - his deputy, usurper and successor as head of state?

President from March 2018. So far, Julius Bio is showing promise. There’s no guarantee, any president could have done much better in nine months. And yes, even if it were Yumkella. At least, there wouldn’t be evidence of substantial progress beyond what Bio has shown.

Eschewing flattery in politics is always prudent. But from time to time, the man should get credit due him. The anti-corruption effort is a winner amongst progressives. Considering our unshakeable status as the poorest country in the world, free-education for all is possibly the most ambitious policy ever in our history. Not least because ‘a lot of healthcare problems are education problems in disguise’, says the respected Ivorian banker and philanthropist, Tidjane Thiam. Corruption, tribalism, unemployment, homelessness and sexual violence. Not a single problem today is separable from mass illiteracy (please excuse the use of word. No disrespect meant!).

But here is the thing: Bio is president not for the standpoint of best man for the job. But because he’s Mende. Period. Any other person, with his exact, same pedigree or better, would not have been the SLPP candidate had they belonged to the wrong tribe.

An indestructible sustainance of unfair privilege and prejudice in every society, including the most politically advanced, is that those who directly or indirectly benefit from them, find no problem with the two ills. At best, they tacitly see privilege and prejudice as natural. At worst, unconcerned. In their minds, all their achievements and those of their tribesmen/women, race etc., are the result of personal agency. Therefore, merited. This is the same in Sierra Leone’s officialdom. In Valentine Strasser’s latter life’s outcome, you have the full script, elaborated.

He may not have any privately held political wishes at all. But for not forcing himself on politics through a sense of entitlement, Strasser is a marginalised figure. In this, there is no public knowledge that he ever begged for any positions but held his pride. Perhaps just being realistic. Showing an understanding of his psychosocial circumstances, alien to most of the other noisy cast that have ruined the country. He knows who he is. How can he forget he is Creole? To be Creole in Sierra Leone and hold a passionate political aspiration is to bail water with a netted-scoop - futility. He has neither the tribal nor the regional capital to bluff his way to the top of the two big parties. And they are not savvy enough to have him either, regardless of how qualified.

For tribalism, Maada Bio, even though labelled by his rivals a ‘rebel enabler’, a ‘war criminal’, ‘an $18 million thief’ and so on, enjoyed the faithful support of his tribe’s people to become president. Valentine Strasser on the other hand is abandoned to rot. He cannot be rehabilitated, unworthy of public recognition for his contributions, let alone to promote inclusivity.

If those who committed far worst, have their faces on our currency notes; roads, schools and universities are named after them. Why not Strasser?

If Bio and others can be integrated to mainstream society regardless of problematic pasts, it’s because there‘s a conviction that they still have something to offer. And they can! But to then keep Strasser out, or not pay him his dues is to destroy his emotional and physical wellbeing; to aggrieve the culture and the people he represents, the Creoles; it’s to tell them that beyond Freetown they don’t fit; an arrest on their ambitions.

The obsession with Strasser’s life, culminating with the presidential visit to him in hospital and allowing mobile photos to be taken of an unwell man is unethical and immature. The visit could have been handled better. Rather than made to look like an opportunistic show of compassion by Bio. And at the expense of stripping a man; a former head of state, of his dignity.

That people were quick to falsely pronounce him dead following that visit is no surprise. That rumour aligns with the disrespect Strasser has been subjected to for quite some time now. They want him dead so they can overwhelm us with empty nationalism - maps, flags, coats of arms and so on. In homage to a man they could care less about in life, let alone show an interest in reevaluating his contributions while still alive.

Respect the man.