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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Kabbah: Sierra Leone's comeback king
Sierra Leone's president Kabbah
Kabbah says he brought peace to Sierra Leone

His critics describe him as "weak and indecisive".

But after six years in office, surviving a series of attempts to topple his government, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has emerged as a political survivor in Sierra Leonean politics.

Last month he was named to lead his Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) in the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 14 May.

Sierra Leone gunmen
Militias are blamed for atrocities in the civil war

An almost arrogant President Kabbah told journalists:

"I am confident of victory, there will be no run-off because I am going to defeat my opponents hands down."

Emerging unopposed at the SLPP convention in the southern city of Bo was a feat unprecedented in the party's 50-year history.

President Kabbah had outwitted his arch-rival Charles Margai, a barrister whose father and uncle had both served as prime minister of Sierra Leone under the SLPP.

Henchmen

Mr Margai was safety and security minister until January when he resigned to contest the SLPP leadership against his former boss.

But he was forced out of the race through what his supporters say was a plot by Mr Kabbah's henchmen within the party.

The president's detractors say Mr Kabbah's weak leadership has been exposed in times of crisis.

They say the president openly admitted knowing about the 1997 coup several days earlier - a coup that sent him into exile and plunged the country into anarchy under Johnny Paul Koroma's junta - who is running for the presidency against Mr Kabbah.

He was reinstated nine months later by a Nigerian-led regional force. But barely a week later, the rebels invaded Freetown, killing several civilians.

Surprise

The rebels almost succeeded in toppling his government again in May 2000, killing more than 20 unarmed protesters in Freetown before they were beaten back.

Johnny-Paul Koroma
Koroma and Kabbah have crossed paths several times

The capital city was ironically saved by the swift intervention of Johnny Paul Koroma, who mobilized the country's desperate fighting forces to resist the RUF advance.

All this has been blamed on Mr Kabbah, who has brushed aside the criticism by pointing out that he brought an end to the war in the country.

However, President Kabbah's bid for a second five-year term in office seems to have surprised many observers.

On his return home in 1993, Mr Kabbah claimed that he had come home "to rest" after 22 years working for the United Nations. He still insists that he was "forced" by his friends to enter politics.

Those close to him describe him as a gentleman.

Tragedy

But government insiders say he does not suffer dissent gladly. They say ministers fear opposing his views, no matter how flawed they may be.

Born in 1932, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was educated in Sierra Leone and Britain.

Sierra Leone's amputee
Thousands of people had their limbs cut off

He began his career in public service in 1959, working as a mid-career civil servant in virtually all corners of the country, rising to become the youngest permanent secretary in the country in the late 1960s.

After this he spent 21 years working for the UN Development Programme, based in New York, Lesotho and Tanzania. He returned home in 1992 and was elected president in 1996

On a personal level, President Kabbah has known personal tragedy: the loss of his wife Patricia in a London hospital in 1998 shortly after his reinstatement.

He turned 70 in February, and despite his advanced age seems determined to remain in office for another five-year term.

With RUF leader Foday Sankoh banned from running, President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah looks set to dominate the often bloody politics of Sierra Leone for some time.


Campaign diary

Peaceful poll

Background

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See also:

28 Mar 02 | Africa
13 Mar 02 | Africa
12 May 00 | Africa
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