Sunday, September 02, 2007

Profile: Ernest Bai Koroma

On the Clock Tower in the east end of the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, is a colourful poster of the main opposition leader, Ernest Bai Koroma, who topped the first round of the presidential race.

Ernest Bai Koroma casting his vote Opposition candidate Ernest Bai Koroma polled 44% in the first vote

It is the picture of an imposing man. The poster screams for "Change" and it echoes Mr Koroma.

He is the man who could scupper the chances of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) party in the run-off for presidential elections on Saturday 8 September.

A relative newcomer to politics, he was seen as a political nonentity when he expressed interest in the leadership of his party at the turn of the millennium.

Others say it was foolhardy of him to dirty his reputation by joining a party so tainted by innumerable vices.

Ebullient character

Some seven years on, Mr Koroma is seen as the single biggest factor for the close fight the All People's Congress (APC) has given in these elections.

Solomon Ekuma Berewa Solo B as he is fondly called, is reputed to be dedicated and dutiful. A no-nonsense disciplinarian and a skilled negotiator 

With an ebullient character, Mr Koroma stands tall with charisma.

The 54-year-old insurance broker says he wants to run the country like a business concern.

His critics say he is a facsimile of the late former President Joseph Saidu Momoh who ruled the country until the party was kicked out in 1992.

Behind their binoculars, he is surrounded by the same old people who wrecked the country.

They say he is weak and lacking in ideas.

Sleek campaign

His supporters cannot disagree more.

In their eyes, Mr Koroma has been earnest in reforming the party.

So much so that he has apologised for the dark days the APC plunged the country into.

Incontrovertibly, while the party has benefited from his charisma, he has benefited from the party's sleek campaign which has been unparalleled in these elections.

Born in the north, the APC's presidential candidate came to the fore in 2002 when he became the flag-bearer of the party and took a distant second managing only to become a parliamentarian.

Such is his confidence level this time around that he did not contest for any seat other than the presidency.

With a clean past, his supporters only doubted his margin and not his victory for the first round.

They feel the same still stands for the second round.

BBC NEWS | World | Africa | Profile: Ernest Bai Koroma