When longtime Cedar Rapids resident and Sierra Leone native returned to the west African nation last year to run for the top political seat, he didn’t win – technically.
But Joshua Carew’s bid in Sierra Leone’s 2012 presidential election surprised a lot of people. He and his newly-established political party, the Citizens Democratic Party, placed fourth out of nine candidates, earning 22,863 votes, according to the country’s National Electoral Commission.
“The country was surprised,” Carew said earlier this month from his home in Cedar Rapids, where he has been living since first leaving Africa for the United States about 39 years ago. “They got the message. Even now, people are asking for me to come back.”
And that’s what he’s planning to do. Fueled by a surprising showing in his first presidential bid and by his grand vision for Sierra Leone, Carew said he plans to pack his bags in the next few weeks and return home to mount a second fight to become the nation’s leader.
Sierra Leone holds presidential elections every five years, but Carew said this time he plans to involve other countries and gain international support for his vision.
“The best thing we can do is to start something and try to finish it,” Carew said, adding that he has a lot of work ahead of him. “It’s a massive re-education effort.”
Motivation to run
Carew, 60, came to Cedar Rapids in 1974 at age 22 to further his education. He attended Kirkwood Community College and Mount Mercy University, and he eventually landed a job with UPS, where he spent 35 years until retiring one year ago.
Despite his U.S. address, Carew tried to visit Sierra Leone often – even annually – to “see how things were going.” His heart often was broken, and from 1991 to 2002 a civil war paralyzed the nation, devastating public services, infrastructure, government institutions and Carew’s world.
During the conflict, Carew said his sister was hunted, taken to a field and fatally shot.
“My sister was killed in that war,” he said. “There were a lot of lives lost.”
Carew said the conflict was a result of bad leadership, and it made him realize that something had to change.
“This cannot continue,” he said. “It was an unruly war with no cause or reason.”
His father – Benjamin A. Carew – for years was the first bishop of the United Method Church in Sierra Leone, and Carew said he admired his father’s role and ability to lead. But, Carew said, he realized that position’s power was limited to making a difference and implementing change in the religious community.
“To really change things, you need political support,” he said.
One of his six children, Selinya Carew, 33, said her father is the perfect person to garner that support and lead the nation to prosperity.
"He has a really sincere interest in making a difference," she said.
Because of his father, according to Selinya Carew, her father remains part of an influential family in Sierra Leone, and he could move back and live a privileged life, despite the struggles others are enduring.
"But he wouldn't have the peace of mind," she said. "It wouldn't be the right way."
Vision for the future
Carew’s presidential mission, in part, is to re-educate Sierra Leon’s citizens about their rights, bring democracy back to the country, and manage the nation’s wealth. Sierra Leone has vast natural resources, according to the European Commission, but 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line – 26 percent live in extreme poverty.
Over the next five years, Carew said, he’s going to lay the ground work for when he takes office.
“When I win next time, it will be easier because I will be taking the country from a new level into prosperity,” he said. “I will have 6 million lives in my hands, and I won’t sell them to nobody for nothing.”
Carew said he also will eliminate political manipulation and social injustice, and he’ll ensure observance of the law, no matter one’s creed, color or status.
“Our campaign was based on an ideology against corruption,” he said.
His brand new party garnered only 1 percent of the population’s vote during the 2012 election, according to the National Electoral Commission, but Carew said he wasn’t competing on a level playing field. He didn’t have a dime, he had no name or party recognition, and he didn’t have the resources to advertise or participate in rallies.
And even then, Carew said, his party’s debut broke records and surprised contenders with its ideological message.
"I didn't go down there to make friends," he said. “And we want to make sure we finish this job.”
If he becomes president in five years, Carew said, he’ll immediately address the nation’s biggest issues – including poverty, healthcare and corruption. Until then, he said, he’ll do what he can.“I will limit suffered over the next four years, until we win, and then the people won’t have to worry anymore,” Carew said. “We are going to turn everything upside down.”