Sierra Leone’s Presidential and parliamentary elections are set for May 14. Eleven political parties are contesting in the parliamentary, out of which eight have fielded candidates to challenge incumbent President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. One of them is the Movement for Progress party, or MOP.
Its presidential candidate is Zainab Hawa Bangura. She is the only woman competing for the top job. Mrs. Bangura became a household name in 1996, when she set up the Campaign for Good Governance, or CGG. It’s a chapter of the London-based watchdog group, Transparency International. The goal was to consolidate and sustain democracy after the 1996 general elections. CGG later focused on human rights issues. This was after the coup of 1997, when junior military officers ousted President Tejan Kabbah. She’s now pushing the idea that people should be calling for a new generation of public servants who can fearlessly fight for public integrity.
A Sierra Leonean lawyer who requested anonymity describes her as well-intentioned, with a lot of good qualities, but misguided. He says Mrs. Bangura will make a better impact if she remains the rights activist she’s always been. It's a view Mrs. Bangura disagrees with: "[You have to] realize that there’s a limitation in civil society. You can’t take action, you only make recommendations; you advocate, you criticize and at the end of the day, if you’re not careful, you sort of lose the incentive. You incite the population and no action is taken. So that’s the next step for me when I decided to go into politics. I want to make sure the issues that I feel so strongly about in civil society can be put on the political agenda and very definite decisions can be taken about (on) them."
Ms. Bangura was born in Northern Sierra Leone on December 18, 1959. She started school in Sierra Leone and then went to the United Kingdom. There she earned a post-graduate degree in Insurance Management. She has a constituency of youths and particularly market women supporting her -- because she created micro-credits for them during her work with the CGG: "A lot of the problems have to do with economic empowerment. So we shifted to micro-credit, trying to make sure that women have economic power to be able to withstand the pressures from the home, and to be able to make adequate political decisions."
Mrs. Bangura is using her campaigning time identifying what she calls weaknesses in government. She’s vowed to work tirelessly to correct, according to her, the anormalies related to poor governance. One observer, Lansana Gberie, says one quality that has attracted the middle class to her campaign is the fact that she talks about issues that are affecting progress, rather than the usual verbal attacks of opponents common in Sierra Leone politics. Issues of education, health and poverty reduction and fighting corruption have become the thrust of her campaign. For those voters who pay attention to the issues, the hope is that Sierra Leone will become a more transparent, stable democracy governed by the rule of law – a concept that has been absent in the more than 40 years of independence.
Zainab Hawa Bangura and her husband Shekie have a sisteen year old son.