King's student begins presidential journey
Alex Kamara is closer than one might think to reaching his dream--By Jonathon M. Seidl
Alex Kamara fought in a war, served as helmsman on a 12,000-ton humanitarian ship that sailed the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and almost died when he was trapped under a whitewater raft in Norway. For most, those experiences would satisfy a mile-long bucket list. But not for Kamara—he still hasn’t achieved his ultimate goal. But he’s closer than one might think.
“My goal is to be the president,” Kamara said. “That’s the end all for me.”
Kamara, though, doesn’t dream of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead, he longs for a different big, white house: the Sierra Leone capital building in Freetown, Sierra Leone, his West African home country.
Kamara grew up in Bo, Sierra Leone, the nation’s second largest city. His dad was the first person to have electricity in his neighborhood—a nice place by Sierra Leonean standards, with electricity and multi-story buildings made of cement, as opposed to the dirt and thatched buildings throughout the city and countryside. After civil war broke out in the 90s, a 16-year-old Kamara left his comfortable neighborhood and joined the pro-government militia, Kamajor (or Civil Defense Force), to suppress the rebels.
After fighting for eight months he moved to Gambia where he cut hair and worked other odd jobs. At one point he served as a bouncer. A newcomer unfamiliar with Gambian politics and crime, he proved himself by refusing club access to Gambia’s top gangster, using force to accent his point. After four years in Gambia, he joined Mercy Ships—large, floating hospitals that deliver care to poor all over the world—and spent another four years at sea. A Google search for Christian colleges in America and a letter from The King’s College’s admissions office brought him to King’s in the spring of 2005.
In 2004 Kamara received a letter from King’s explaining its mission. For him, it contained a key phrase. “The moment I read, ‘preparing leaders for the new millennium,’ I knew I was coming,” he said. It’s that decision, he added, that has brought him closer to the presidency than he ever dreamed possible.
“Being here in New York City has given me the opportunity to meet the movers and shakers of my country,” Kamara said. Last year he got an internship at the United Nations working with the Sierra Leonean Ambassador to the U.N., Professor Joe Robert Pemagbi. The Ambassador liked Kamara so much he began mentoring Kamara, giving him career advice and contacting other leaders on Kamara’s behalf. Kamara doesn’t take that lightly and knows his position with the ambassador is important for his future. “Even if you’re a file carrier in the ambassador’s office, and you go back home, you’re something big.”
That’s not all. In September Kamara attended a talk with current Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma at American University in Washington, D.C., and had the opportunity to speak with the recently-elected leader. Koroma was elected on a platform of change and promises to be tough on corruption, a rampant problem in Sierra Leone. Kamara challenged him on those promises, specifically asking about the pension program that has seen a quarter of a million people go without a single payment for five years. Kamara initially posed his question to a panel, but President Koroma, recognizing the question’s importance, answered it himself and addressed Kamara by name.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Kamara said with a big smile on his face. “He was talking directly to me! I felt so good. The whole time I was thinking, ‘he did not just call me by my first name, did he?’” Having been impressed by Kamara, the president approached Kamara afterwards, pulled him aside, and had a private conversation with him.
Equally impressed was the Sierra Leone Ambassador to the United States, Bockari Kortu Stevens. Afterwards, the ambassador invited Kamara back to D.C. to discuss raising funds for a much-needed bridge back home. Kamara will join other Sierra Leonean leaders in Washington on October 22-23, to begin talks.
For Kamara, meeting and talking with President Koroma was the start of something big. “That was the beginning of my political career,” he said. “People were coming and telling me I’m the next young guy to be a great politician back home.” Still, he remains humble, recognizing that God has put him in this position. He is also determined. After graduation he hopes to receive a presidential appointment and then return home and run for a senate seat. Always confident, he added, “And I won’t lose.”
As a political leader in his country, Kamara hopes to change the attitudes of his people. According to him, Sierra Leoneans distrust their business and government leaders. And rightfully so. Corruption there can seem more rampant than malaria. Kamara wants to change that. “A majority of our leaders want to corrupt; they want to keep the people down,” he said. “I’m going against the tide here.”
That rampant corruption means Sierra Leoneans often distrust the successful, the educated, and those seeking power. Success, then, is often discouraged, even while the country remains impoverished and “brain drain” is more than a small problem. “P.H.D., that’s what we have [in Sierra Leone]. Put Him Down syndrome,” Kamara explained.
But while he understands his countrymen may be skeptical, even hostile, that’s not going to keep Kamara from his dreams: “Most people won’t like it, but that’s my call.”
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