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Candidate profile: Samura Kamara and his journey to become Sierra Leone’s President

On June 24, Dr Samura Kamara will face off with President Julius Maada Bio and eleven others in Sierra Leone’s general election. Samura is running as the Presidential candidate of the All Peoples Congress, while the incumbent will be looking to win his second term. This is Samura’s second and possibly final run for the Presidency. He is selling himself as the economic czar, the candidate with the experience to fix the economy, which he believes has been poorly managed. His campaign mantra, “Fixing the Economy,” appears to have captured every inch of media space, hoping that will translate into votes on election day. 

In Samura’s corner as running mate is Chernor Maju Bah, the same pair that suffered a second-round defeat in the hands of Bio five years ago, only this time, they hope for a first-round political knockout. This feat, they know, will not come easy.

But who is Samura Kamara, and what has his journey looked like?

Early aborted dreams 

According to his profile on his campaign website, Samura was born on April 30, 1951, in Kamalo, a town in the northern district of Karene. Despite his northern roots, he attended school in the southern city of Bo, UCC Secondary School and later moved to Freetown to attend St Edward’s Secondary School. 

A brainy gem in school, Samura was also a talented footballer, with both passions begging for expression in their fullest manifestation. Ultimately, one had to be aborted, and it was football.  Samura opted to grind the numbers in economics and finance instead. 

He then attended Fourah Bay College, where he earned an Economics degree. He moved abroad to get his MA, MSc and later a Doctorate at Bangor University, Wales 1986. Samura Kamara is a Catholic Christian, and by some coincidence, he attends the same church as his political challenger, Bio.

While abroad, Samura pursued his career in Finance by working with major international institutions like World Bank, Commonwealth and International Monetary Fund in various roles. His experience with these institutions would later catapult him into public service in Sierra Leone’s financial sector decades after.

That journey started in 1994 when he was appointed as the Programme Manager by the World Bank for Sierra Leone’s  Structural Support Program. The program was designed to stabilize the country during a civil war.

Samura Bio; friend or foe? 

Bio and Samura crossed paths in their young political careers, dancing together to the tune of the then military government, National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), run by the incumbent, Bio and Cpt. Valentine Strasser as Head of State. Samura had a major role as Financial Secretary, whilst Bio deputized for Strasser. 

It did not end there. They worked even closer when Samura served as Secretary of State in the same NPRC regime after Bio overthrew his military colleague, Valentine Strasser. 

Their political umbilical cord was not only military. Samura also worked in an SLPP government led by late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the party now serving as the umbrella for Bio. Samura was the Financial Secretary at the Ministry of Finance. 

Their long political flirtations notwithstanding, the two are now ‘political foes’ on opposite ends, bearing flags and carrying the hopes and aspirations of supporters with a promise to change lives and destinies in Sierra Leone.

How Samura became a potential Koroma successor

Samura would quietly work up the APC political ladder following his stint with the military regime. By 2007, he became an influential figure in the technocrat pool of the party. 

In 2007, the APC won the general elections for the first time since the end of the war in 2002. From 2007 to 2018, Samura held several key positions in the Ernest Bai Koroma administration, from Bank Governor, Finance Minister to Foreign Minister. 

Shortly after Sierra Leone’s debt was cancelled, Samura became the Bank Governor in 2007. Insiders say he was a major influence on Koroma’s economic agenda during his first term (2007-2012).

Two years later, he was promoted to Finance Minister, where he had more say in driving Koroma’s Agenda for Prosperity. 

While serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs back home, in 2015, he was put forward by the government of Sierra Leone to be the President of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB). He failed. 

Meanwhile, all those key appointments eventually solidified his position in the Koroma government, and Koroma eventually appointed him to succeed him.

The APC came close to turmoil as the race to succeed Koroma heated up, with more than 20 aspirants lining up at the time. When Samura was selected by Koroma in 2017 as the party’s Presidential candidate, it went down as a surprise to many.  

Despite his party’s incumbency power, Samura narrowly lost the election to Bio by less than a 4% margin. 

The journey to 2023

The journey to 2023 has not been an easy one for Samura. In 2019, alongside all other major Koroma officials, he has indicted to the Commissions of Inquiry that the new SLPP administration set up.

Alongside former President Koorma, Samura faced allegations of fraud in dealings that led to the sales of the country’s shares in mining company Sierra Rutile. His case was later referred to the country’s anti-graft body, Anti-Corruption Commission, for a more thorough look. He and his party have always described the hearings and the convictions as a “witch hunt” and condemned the findings. 

But that’s not his only trial. He and other former government officials are also standing trial for a $2.5 million corruption case involving the contract for Sierra Leone’s Chancery building in New York. The case focuses on his role in the deal as the Foreign Affairs Minister. Eighteen months on, the case has been adjourned to continue after the elections in July.

While his supporters describe all these trials as a ploy to hurt their candidate, critics say Samura must account for his time and role in Koroma’s administration. 

Court cases aside, Samura’s party has undergone a very bruising reform following internal revolt and several lawsuits calling the party executive to reform itself into a proper democratic party.

Uniting a fractured party

The reforms have now led to a new constitution, under which a new party executive was elected, despite the composition still being old party guards. However, the changes did not affect Samura’s popularity. He won his party’s primaries by getting 85% of the votes.

Following the bruising transition and his win, Samura’s main challenge has been to unite his party behind his candidacy. In the eastern district of Kono, a swing district and the home of one of his contenders at APC, Chief Sam Sumana, Samura’s popularity has taken a hit following his remarks in a meeting in London, equating Kono’s relevance in the election to other areas in the country. His critics have run with the message, claiming that his comments show he does not care about Kono. 

On the in-tray of Samura’s policy brief 

Samura and his running mate Bah, after nomination day in Freetown

While campaigning started on Tuesday, May 23, Samura launched his manifesto on Monday, May 29. His manifesto, “One Nation, ” puts forward ten key points he will build his administration on national cohesion, jobs and perhaps most importantly, the economy.

He has been putting forward his economic credentials for years. In an interview with Awoko in 2021, the 72-year-old said his 40-year experience in Finance and Economy would be the major asset he will bring to the State House.

“I have been working for this country for over 40 years, giving advice and putting forward programs to enhance growth. Some indeed were utilized, others not. But I believe in myself as I have the experience, the innovation and vision to change the cause of Sierra Leone for the better,” he said.

His critics point out that his long stay in the country’s financial sector means he is also complicit in Sierra Leone’s economic problems for decades, a claim he has always denied.

Samura has also criticized Bio’s government on human rights and good governance, promising to do better by fixing the problems. He has also criticised the Bio flagship program, Free Quality Education, saying it is short of the promised quality. 

Samura has a tough fight ahead of him, facing an incumbent who is a familiar challenger. Will that familiarity be an advantage or not? 

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