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President Obama’s Visit to Ghana Leaves Sierra Leone Out in the Cold?

The Sierra Leone Telegraph Editorial Team
22 May 2009

The reactions of Sierra Leoneans to the White House announcement that President Obama will be visiting Ghana in July have been mixed. Those erring on the side of pragmatism are quite satisfied that the President’s decision to stay away from Sierra Leone is to be expected. They argue that the relatively peaceful conclusion of the 2007 elections do not automatically qualify Sierra Leone to be regarded as one of America’s most favoured state in sub-Sahara Africa.

However, supporters of the APC government argues otherwise; believing that the outcome of the 2007 elections was an exceptional achievement by Africa’s standard; and that President Koroma has changed the international image of Sierra Leone through his rebranding efforts.  

The decision of the White House has made it obvious that President Obama does not believe that President Koroma has done enough, for him to reward Sierra Leone with the status of “most favoured nation” ranking alongside Ghana. But why is this?

Critics may argue that Sierra Leone continues to bear the image of a failed state, where news of poor governance, corruption, economic blight, political chaos and violence still makes the headlines. Irrespective of the veracity of this perception, what is certain is that President Obama is looking to identify himself with genuine political and economic success stories in Black Africa. And the truth is - he has found one in Ghana. Sierra Leoneans cannot and should not begrudge that, but learn the lessons of the Ghanaian post–war strategies, which were aimed at developing what was once a war ravaged nation to what is now - the envy of all Sub- Sahara African leaders.

Ghana has discovered oil - she is succeeding fast in diversifying her economy. Successive governments in Ghana have upheld the rule of law, respect for civil liberty, and promoted good governance. The Ghanaian military and police forces, have long given up their culture of Political patronage, thus creating an enabling environment for the consolidation of peace building and political tolerance.

What more can President Obama ask for? This is why I do not necessarily believe that Sierra Leone should be looking up to Rwanda as a model of good governance, when we have our cousins the Ghanaians right at our door steps to learn from, notwithstanding the former British Prime Minister - Tony Blair’s efforts.  To begrudge the Ghanaians of their hard won international respect, smacks of arrogance and a refusal to pursue what it takes to move Sierra Leone up the league of “the most favoured nations”. 

The White House statement on President Obama’s visit is clear: “Obama and his wife are looking forward to strengthening the U.S relationship with one of our most trusted partners in Sub-Sahara Africa.” 

Critics of previous and present government of Sierra Leone would question what could be referred to as the ‘chameleon’ Foreign Policy of Sierra Leone, which on paper appears ephemeral, but in practice is dangerously a-la-carte.   

American governments irrespective of their Political complexion, whether Democrats or Republicans, feels comfortable with countries whose Foreign Policy is consistent and not seen to be aligned with the enemy or a friend of an enemy. Despite the cold war with the Soviet Union, the U.S.A respected   Moscow, because they knew and understood the consistency of Soviet Foreign Policy.

Since Sierra Leone gained her independence, the Americans have struggled to build a pro-active, sustained and mutually beneficial relationship with successive governments in Freetown. President Siaka Stevens’ close relationship with China and Cuba made the Americans distrustful of their relationship with newly independent Sierra Leone.

Military President Momoh’s laissez faire foreign policy approach not only confused the Americans, but caused them to relegate Sierra Leone to the bottom of their Foreign Policy agenda. President Kabbah’s non-aligned but visible rendezvous and concordance with Libya and Iran pushed what had already become a sour relationship with America into the wilderness.

President Koroma with all intent and purpose seems to be pursuing the Kabbah Foreign Policy approach, with China thrown back on to the menu. This ‘chameleon’ or ‘a-la-carte’ Foreign Policy does not auger well for Sierra Leone, if the government does not step back and take a deep breath.

Neither the Chinese nor Colonel Ghaddafi of Libya whom we have coroneted as honorary member of our parliament, can be described as helping Sierra Leone because of love of country. They are all into what they can get from the country’s resources. So why should Sierra Leoneans complain about President Obama not coming to visit Sierra Leone? If you should ask the Americans, they’ll probably say that two is company, but three is a crowd.   

So by turning his back on Sierra Leone, President Obama is saying loud and clear, as did President Bush and Clinton before him, that Sierra Leone’s performance is far from being good enough to merit a visit from the President of the most powerful and richest nation. Equally, Tony Blair was reluctant to visit the seat of power in Freetown, as the Prime Minister of Great Britain. These are painful truths, but are necessary for us to learn, if we are truly serious about moving Sierra Leone into the Twenty – First Century, and the league of “Most favoured nations”.    

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Editor - Abdul R Thomas