Josh Carew leaned forward forcefully, pointing out the window of his northeast Cedar Rapids home as if standing at the podium of a rally.
Wearing a red-striped sleeveless poncho, his voice — with a thick African accent — slowly began to rise.
“We are going to change that system,” Carew said of his native Sierra Leone. “We are going to shift power to the people.”
The task at hand won’t be easy for Carew. After leaving Africa for Iowa about 38 years ago, attending college, raising a family here and becoming a union steward at United Parcel Service, the 60-year-old is ready to spur change in his country.
His goal? Become president of Sierra Leone.
Carew arrived in Iowa at age 22, intending to follow in the footsteps of his father — Bishop Benjamin Carew of the United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone — and attend Westmar University, a United Methodist Church-affiliated school in Le Mars.
But Carew changed his mind after visiting his brother at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids and seeing that his brother needed guidance to stay on track in school.
He graduated from Kirkwood with an undergraduate liberal arts degree and then went to graduate school at what is now Mount Mercy University, studying political science, business and criminal justice and serving as president of the school’s International Club.
While at Mount Mercy, Carew started a part-time job at UPS and became full time after finishing graduate school.
Carew said he “did everything” at UPS, from loading and unloading trucks to washing them. He also served as chief union steward.
As steward, Carew was “very much for the little people,” said Mark McCormack, 56, of Atkins, who worked with Carew at UPS for more than 25 years.
“Josh was very good,” McCormack said. “That’s something that always impressed me about Josh. He was the David against Goliath. He had no problems in standing up. He was very good.”
Unhappy with homeland
About three years ago, while still at UPS, Carew said he began looking at the state of his home country of Sierra Leone. He said he looked at the government and saw injustice.
“He felt that people in his home country were being mistreated,” McCormack said. “He didn’t like that.”
Instead of observing from the United States, Carew acted, deciding he’d run for president of his native country.
“Everybody has a skill,” said Carew, who raised five children in Cedar Rapids and one in Sierra Leone. “If you have a skill, why shouldn’t you contribute? ... It’s not a matter of thinking of making the world a better place. It’s a matter of trying to do it.”
Correcting Sierra Leone’s problems is a personal issue for Carew.
His sister was killed in the country’s decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002, and he is now bent on fixing the corrupt system he believes was responsible.
“When we’re being referred to as the poorest of the poor, something is wrong,” said Carew, who returned to Sierra Leone last year to run for president as part of the Citizen’s Democratic Party and is considered a long shot in the race.
Sierra Leone’s presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for Nov. 17.
“I think that this election a lot of people see as a real test of whether the country is moving in the right direction.” said Katie Croake, the Sierra Leone program manager for the National Democratic Institute.
Preventing new civil war
A report to the United Nations Security Council earlier this year said political dialogue between rival factions will be key to preventing a relapse into civil war.
“Sierra Leone must pass this crucial test in its history without allowing the demons of the past to re-emerge,” said Michael von der Schulenburg, the head of the U.N. Peacebuilding Mission in Sierra Leone.
Carew’s campaign, for which he has cashed in his 401(k), is focused on the massive re-education of the country’s youth.
While Croake said she’s heard of Carew, she said he is a long shot to win. Croake believes the election will be close between the country’s two major candidates, President Ernest Koroma and challenger Maada Bio.
Momodu Kamara, a friend of Carew who followed him to Cedar Rapids from Sierra Leone, also acknowledged the challenges.
“(Carew’s) efforts are well-meaning,” Kamara said. “He has very good intentions for the country. But there are some kinds of obstacles that he is bound to encounter on account of the way in which the political system has been going on in Sierra Leone.”
But Carew said he “won’t lose any sleep” if he doesn’t win.
“I will have the satisfaction within myself that I brought something that’s worth considering,” he said during a recent visit to Iowa.“If we’re talking about democracy, let’s run all the way. Look at what the people want, and adjust your ideas to the people.”