Friday, March 14, 2014

Seven-day mourning period for fallen Sierra Leone leader

A file picture taken on May 11, 2002 shows Sierra Leone's President and candidate of the ruling Sierra Leone People Party (SLPP) Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in Freetown's national stadium, during his last electoral meeting ahead of the  presidential and legislative polls. Sierra Leone's former president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, widely credited as the man who returned peace to the nation after years of brutal civil war, died on March 13, 2014, aged 82, a close family friend told AFP. AFP PHOTO GEORGES GOBET

A file picture taken on May 11, 2002 shows Sierra Leone's President and candidate of the ruling Sierra Leone People Party (SLPP) Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in Freetown's national stadium, during his last electoral meeting ahead of the presidential and legislative polls. Sierra Leone's former president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, widely credited as the man who returned peace to the nation after years of brutal civil war, died on March 13, 2014, aged 82, a close family friend told AFP. AFP PHOTO GEORGES GOBET 

By KEMO CHAM, Nation Correspondent in Freetown
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The government of Sierra Leone has declared a seven-day mourning period in honour of its fallen former President Ahmed Tejan Kabba.

The 82-year old leader died Thursday at his home following a protracted illness.

Pa Kabbah, as he was fondly called, is widely credited for bringing peace to Sierra Leone during his tumultuous eleven years (1996-2007) term.

He inherited a country at war and had to make some of the most contentious decisions to gain peace.

As a former UN diplomat, Kabbah had returned home in 1992 to retire after serving in southern and eastern Africa as well as in the US.

He was called upon to lead the Sierra Leone People’s Party at a time when the country was sharply divided politically, and the war raging.

He spent nine months of his first term as a President in exile in neighbouring Guinea after been violently overthrown in 1997 by the notorious Armed Forces Revolutionary Council which later invited the Revolutionary United Front rebels into government and jointly presided over a reign of terror.

In 1998, Kabbah was reinstated by a Nigerian-led ECOWAS military force following heavy battle for control over Freetown.

The former President later employed his past diplomatic skills to get rebels to the table for peace talks, although earning a few foes here and there even from among his own supporters for some of the decisions leading to this.

He was notably criticised for agreeing to share power with rebels, as part of a shaky peace deal that ended up yielding fruit.

Another landmark point in his tenure was his "brave" decision to hand over power to then opposition APC in the 2007 polls after his hand-picked presidential candidate (his then vice president) lost to Ernest Bai Koroma.

STATE FUNERAL

However, on Thursday the whole nation was united in grieving for his passing.

The government promised a state funeral.

With President Koroma expected to cutting short a state visit outside the country to return home, his office in a statement declared a seven-day national moaning during which period the national flag will be flown at half-mast.

State House described the passing of the former head of state as an "irreparable loss to his family and the nation."

Moments following news of the death of the former President, mourners from all sections of the population, including members on both sides of the political divide, flocked to his residence in the West end of the capital, Freetown.

Among them was First Lady, Sia Nyama Koroma who described him as "an outstanding President."

Both former and current politicians recounted the late man`s sacrifices for the peace the country is enjoying.

Presidential adviser, Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, cited his "unusual" decision in 2007 which saw a rare shift in power in the West African country.

"It is not very usual for opposition to win election in Africa but he [Kabbah] created a fair playing ground for the polls to take place."

Pa Kabbah is expected to be buried any time soon in line with Islamic rites.

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