By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
In the suburbs of Kailahun District, Eastern Sierra Leone, people of all ages and titles, including from the surrounding villages, trooped in small groups to the community barray (hall) at Ngolahun village, Peje Bongre chiefdom, for what seemed to be a very important meeting.
That was Constituency 010 and the meeting was about politics. The Kailahun Women In Governance Network (KWiGN), with support from Irish Aid and SEND Sierra Leone, was behind the organization of the meeting to present a woman candidate to the people for the position of Member of Parliament for the constituency come 2023 national elections.
The woman, Zainab Kama Braima, actually contested for the same position in the 2018 national elections as an Independent candidate after she was denied symbol under her Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
“We fought for a woman (Zainab) to become Member of Parliament for this constituency but we did not succeed. Instead, the SLPP gave the symbol to a man and you (the people) voted for him. We respect your decision. However, our candidate did not lose and that’s why we are presenting her again. We are not waiting until 2023; the work starts now,” said Theresa Satta Garber, Secretary General of KWiGN, while explaining the purpose of the meeting. KWiGN is a consortium of 106 women groups with a membership of over 5400 women across the 14 chiefdoms of Kailahun district.
Zainab’s candidacy in the 2018 elections attempted to break very strong traditional, tribal and regional barriers that have shackled the politics of Sierra Leone for decades.
Firstly, she’s the first female in the history of Peje Bongre chiefdom to contest for the MP position; the men considered that as an affront. Secondly, she’s not a native of the chiefdom and doesn’t speak their language and, thirdly, she hailed from the Northern Region of Sierra Leone. The people considered her as a stranger; despite being the wife of their son.
“The odds were literally against me,” recalled Zainab. “I was insulted and humiliated. I faced utter discrimination as if I was not a Sierra Leonean. But I stood firm to prove a point. I feel no wounds and bear no grudges. I think the mistake they (the people) made was to allow their son to marry a Loko woman (laughed). And I am proud to say I am a Loko.”
Inspired by this experience, Zainab’s determination is to ensure her footprints are all over the chiefdom to which she will proudly point come 2013.
She has constructed a bridge in Jui community while a community health centre in Foindu Mawei and a Barry in Fowaya are under construction. She is also supporting eight community health centres in both Peje Bongre and Penguia chiefdoms with essential drugs and other medical items: in Ngolahun, Pujehun, Mamboma, Grima, Gbahama, Woroma, Sandaru and Manowa.
In addition, Fowaya and Jui communities have come together to do a self-help project on swamp rice cultivation with support from Zainab.
Mid this week, Zainab and her husband visited all communities in order to ascertain the status and progress of the various projects and engaged with the people to jointly plan the next phase of the work after the raining season.
“This is our community; whether we win or lose we have an obligation to give back to help develop these places and ensure a better life for our people,” said the husband Keikura Braima, an international civil servant who has been very supportive of his wife’s ambition.
The couple have been married for 30 years now and have three children, two girls and a boy. During the 2018 elections, Keikura said he traveled about 25 times from abroad to attend and support campaign activities of her wife back home.
“I actually presented her officially to my people (and my party the SLPP), and kindly requested them to support her candidacy,” explained Keikura.
Describing himself as a Patron of the SLPP and up-to-date with his membership dues (together with his wife) Keikura claimed the awarding of the party’s symbol for constituency 010 was unfair.
“We were disappointed, but that will not change our membership. We are SLPP today, tomorrow and forever. My wife decided to go independent to prove a point,” he said.
Adding to Zainab’s hopes of becoming the next MP of Constituency 010 is the Paramount Chief of Peje Bongre chiefdom, Pejehunkpoh Baion, who has been impressed with her engagement with the people after the 2018 elections.
“As a development oriented leader I am more than happy with Zainab’s development interventions in my chiefdom,” said PC Baion. “Yes she did not get the party’s symbol in 2018 and she faced a lot of challenges when she decided to contest as an independent, but I want to assure her that we’ll not allow any unfair means of awarding symbols in my chiefdom come 2023.”
He added: “Going forward, I think we should encourage all political parties to always engage with the chiefs, as custodians and the people’s representatives, before awarding symbols to potential candidates. We know our people better than anyone else.”
For Zainab, the 2018 elections was an eye-opener.
“We will not have understood the deep rooted issues if we had not come in,” she noted. “Some things need to change. They should not remain the same. Women don’t have power in this constituency. It’s a taboo for a woman to aspire for power here. We need to change that.”
A private entrepreneur in the construction sector, Zainab was born in Kalangba, Makeni, Bombali District, Northern Sierra Leone.
“I have a vision and a program for this constituency. I will not abandon that because I didn’t win an election,” she said.