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Sierra Leone President Kabbah Steps Down With Mixed Legacy


A new president, opposition leader Ernest Koroma, has been sworn-in in Sierra Leone. With Koroma's inauguration, outgoing President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah - who is often credited with bringing the nation out its decade-long civil war and ushering in an era of peace - is stepping down from power. Kari Barber spoke with people in the capital Freetown and the second-largest city, Bo, about how they will remember Mr. Kabbah's presidency.

As President Kabbah bid farewell to parliament, he reminded them of the country he inherited when he was first elected to power in 1996.

"The state was overwhelmed by the victory of guns over normal politics, mired in one of the bloody civil conflicts in history, torn by fear," he said.

Kabbah was overthrown by a junta in 1997 and fled the country. A year later, with the help of ECOWAS troops, he was reinstated as president. He signed a deal with the rebel groups to officially end the war in 2002 and then was re-elected to second five-year term in that same year.

Sierra Leoneans say while they will always be grateful for the role Mr. Kabbah played in ending the war, which left tens of thousands dead, many feel he did not do enough to recover the nation's economy.

Denis Manda Kassay, from the southern city of Bo, says he was an official in Mr. Kabbah's party, but quit supporting him when he tapped Vice President Berewa as his successor. Bo is a traditional stronghold for Mr. Kabbah's party.

"He just imposed Solomon Berewa who is not the choice of the people," he said.

Market vendor and mother Kadie Sendefu says she was happy Mr. Kabbah made education more available, but she says education is useless when unemployment is so high.

"People have gone to colleges, but they do not have jobs," she said.

Freetown businessman Mohammed Jabbie says he thinks Mr. Kabbah, who formerly worked for the United Nations, did fine as president considering he was tasked with rebuilding a war-shattered nation.

"His enemies want things overnight, which I do not think is possible," he said. "It takes time to achieve some aims."

The editor of a popular political satire newspaper, Olu Richie Awoonor-Gordon, says in addition to ending the war Mr. Kabbah will be remembered for the country's high corruption and for being politically naive.

"He was a very strange leader," he said. "To be frank and honest he is a very likable man as an individual, but as a president he seemed to always make the wrong decisions. He was very reluctant to listen to advice. He made a lot of errors that affected our country very deeply."

Before walking out of parliament for the last time, Mr. Kabbah thanked officials from all of the parties.

"Thanks to your cooperation, understanding and resilience, the dark days in our country's tragic history are over and together we have courageously brought back peace, security and hope to ourselves," he said.

Mr. Kabbah has not said what he will do now, but he has said he will support opposition leader Ernest Koroma as the new president, and many say this transfer of peaceful democracy is the greatest legacy he could leave.

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