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SLPP Presidential candidate – Maada Bio speaks to the world

Abdul R Thomas
Editor – The Sierra Leone Telegraph

5 September 2011

When the Sierra Leone Telegraph proposed just hours after Maada Bio won his Party's  presidential candidacy election, that he speaks to the nation at the earliest opportunity, in order to "clear the air", we expected that speech to be the speech of his life - and he did not disappoint.

Photo: Julius maada Bio

  He was passionate and honest. He spoke like a president in waiting.

"I see the 2012 elections not as a battle to be fought or won by violence, but as a contest that can best be fought and won by ideas, values and beliefs," says Julius Maada Bio.

There is little doubt that the people of Sierra Leone and the international community – to whom so much gratitude is owed for their timely and costly support in bringing the war to an end - must have breathed a deep sigh of relief, when Bio for the first time, spoke publicly about the alleged atrocities committed by the NPRC.


The negative pre-2012 election campaigning strategy adopted by the ruling APC, which is seen by many as an attempt to deny the people of Sierra Leone the right to choose who governs them, has been taken head on by Maada Bio himself. He has set the record straight. This issue was the main highlight of his speech - and this is what he said:

"The coup of April 29, 1992, that toppled the decade-and-half long repressive and corrupt APC one-party rule, was embraced overwhelmingly by the people of this country and recognised by the entire international community."

"That NPRC junta has been held collectively responsible by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the extra-judicial executions of 26 persons during its administration."

"For my part, I had made it clear, in my testimony to the TRC, that I bear neither personal involvement nor personal responsibility for those executions nor was I in any position to prevent them from happening. I was neither the head nor the deputy head of the NPRC junta at the material time. I stand by that testimony."

When the international community, including the US and the UK, and most recently – former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, called upon President Koroma and his government to refrain from pursuing 'any strategy that will incite, encourage or promote violence or instability in the country', the response of pro-government media was swift.

"Do not interfere in our country’s internal affairs", they naively told the international community, who gave up so much to save the lives of the people of Sierra Leone, during the ten year carnage caused by a brutal civil war.

The international community has every right to intervene in the affairs of Sierra Leone, whenever it is deemed necessary to do so, in order to help the country maintain its hard won peace and prevent a return to bloodshed.

If it was acceptable for the people of Sierra Leone to hold the international community morally responsible to intervene in the country’s internal affairs in order to stop the war and save life, why should they not now be expected to have the same moral obligation to intervene, so as to prevent the nation from falling off the cliff once again?

The freedom that Sierra Leoneans enjoy today must be owed to the international community, and this must not be forgotten. For this, the international community must be regarded as both partners for development and stakeholders and guarantors of the peace in Sierra Leone.

Hence, Maada Bio’s offer of unconditional apology, and his attempt to bring closure to the country’s awful past – for which politicians of all shades are responsible, will be regarded by most Sierra Leoneans and the international community as statesmanlike.

"As a member of the former NPRC junta, I feel morally bound to express, on its behalf, deepest regret for the wrongs committed by the NPRC and to also express profound apology and sympathy to the families of the victims concerned. It is my sincere hope that we, as a nation, can now consign that regrettable incident to history and agree to move on", says Bio.

The SLPP presidential candidate went further in extending an olive branch, by calling on the international community to facilitate and broker a cross-party peace initiative.

He said that; "By the same token, with the help of the moral guarantors of our country’s peace, I would like to invite President Koroma to join me now in issuing a joint statement. In that statement we would agree to bury permanently in their tombs the horrors of past conflicts and past political misdeeds."

The cross-party peace initiative proposed by Bio in his speech on Saturday, will be underpinned by three fundamental principles.

Firstly, that "there is no political capital for any political party from letting the ghosts of the horrendous human rights record of the 1970s through to the 1990s to return to haunt our body politic. We should set our gaze ahead of us instead of behind us."

Secondly, "we also agree that everything possible would be done to ensure that the National Electoral Commission conducts the 2012 elections in a manner that is fair, transparent and credible".

And thirdly, "once that condition is met by the NEC that we agree to accept the results of the elections and ensure that power is transferred peacefully. This demands of all of us, as leaders of our political parties, a willingness to bury the hatchet and let the past be the past in the true spirit of national peace and reconciliation and of moving our nation forward".

Maada Bio’s maiden speech was not only diplomatically and maturely crafted, but will go down in the country’s history as the first to be delivered by former military leader - bidding for power through the ballot box, rather than the barrel of the gun.

There is certainly something – no matter how little - for everyone to take out of that speech, most especially his adversaries and faithfuls within the SLPP, after a long and bitter fight for the presidential candidacy.

Speaking about the much talked about SLPP leadership election, Bio was reconciliatory, as he attempted to put soothing balm over wounds, opened up by months of backstabbing and brutal verbal assaults, as 19 candidates fought to lead the Party into the 2012 elections.

With the leadership election now history, Bio sees his victory as "the triumph of internal party democracy".

He told his large audience – made up of international diplomats, Party members, civil society groups and the country’s media that; "no other political party can boast of elections as free, fair, credible and transparent as the ones held by our Party. Whatever feelings one may have about the officers elected, no one can deny legitimacy to the decisions of the National Delegates Conference or the distinguishing character of the SLPP as a truly democratic party."

As Bio accepts the enormous responsibility of leadership that has been bestowed upon him as the Party’s presidential candidate for the 2012 elections and the challenges ahead, with humility and magnanimity, he commended the 18 aspirants that lost.

"To all my colleagues, former aspirants, I pay special tribute. Not only did they put up a valiant and fierce contest, they have also demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt that their loyalty to the Party remains strong and they have all agreed to come on board so that our Party can bounce back to power in 2012."

"My victory, therefore, is not a victory for me alone; it is a victory for all of us, for our intra-party democracy and for our great Party, the SLPP," says Bio.

Turning to the task ahead for 2012, Bio has set his stalls and laid down his marker clearly. He said that his fight for State House will not be based on negative campaigning, but on policies.

And for the first time in four years, it would seem that President Koroma is going to have a tough fight in his hands to retain the presidency in 2012. He is faced with a much younger, vibrant and politically astute opponent.

"The 2012 elections are going to be about issues, not about personalities. After my election as Flag-bearer, the APC leadership used the ploy of diverting public attention away from their appalling economic record by throwing everything in their kitchen sink at me."

"Disappointingly for them, the dirt didn’t stick, because the people of this country have become much too aware, much too discerning to allow the APC to get away with that ploy; instead they are insisting that the 2012 elections should be wholly about the national development agenda whether at the front, centre or at the back of that contest."

"The APC and SLPP: Is there a difference?" asked Maada Bio.

Although the people of Sierra Leone may not be able to answer this question until Bio’s SLPP outlines their Party manifesto, he spared no time in mapping out key areas of policy differences.

"If the differences are not too apparent now, they will become so after 2012, because we plan to return the SLPP to state governance as a democratic reformer. We have no illusions. Democratic reform is never easy, because there are always vested interests ready to use their power and resources to resist change; and villains ready to use lies to defeat change. But persevere we shall: we have the guts and intelligence and the right people and policies to make it happen" - Bio told the nation.

Not surprisingly though, Maada Bio could not resist turning his stinging attack on the government’s poor record in office. But not before promising the people of his plans to unveil his Party manifesto for the 2012 elections.

He said that; "In the coming weeks and months, the principles and programmes upon which we shall base our electioneering will be fully articulated and elaborated in our manifesto."

And with almost surgical precision, Bio incisively dissected the government’s poor handling of the country’s economy, health care, poverty, and youth unemployment.

"It is Time for a New Direction" he told the nation.

"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, after 50 years of independence, the elections in 2012 are about putting the youth at the centre of development and in the driving seat to seek a New Direction for Sierra Leone. We live in a country that started mining diamonds in 1930, rutile in the 70s and gold and bauxite for ever so long. Yet our heath care and education are largely funded by foreign donors."

"For years our education was the pride of West Africa. Now 50 years later, less than five per cent of our children pass the West Africa School Certificate Exams (WASCE); while universities postpone exams for lack of paper."

"Many families are today not sure where the next meal is coming from; the low wages of workers, promised to be changed by the APC, have perpetuated poverty and hopelessness. Our youth continue to be the most deprived and unemployed in the world, just as our country is the most unsafe to give birth to children."

So much for the analysis of the country’s problems, but what about solutions? Many may ask.

Bio did not feel it necessary to look over the country’s horizon for solutions to the myriad of problems faced by the country. The solution he believe, lies in the changing of guards at State House.

"I know that Sierra Leone did not get to this state of misery by accident; it is rather the selfish decisions of some of our leaders that has taken our country to where it is today. The same State House that squandered opportunities from diamonds in the 70s and 80s is the same State House that has denied Sierra Leoneans the opportunity of scrutinising the Bills that touch and concern our natural resources."

"The same State House that widened the gap between the rich and the poor in the 70s and 80s is the same State House in 2011 that is dividing the North from the South and spending billions of Leones on the media and other unpatriotic individuals to lie about my persona."

"I don’t think any Sierra Leonean is proud of the condition we live in. There is therefore every need for a New Direction for Sierra Leone. For the sake of the young men and women who finish college and go jobless for years, we need a government that cares."

"We need a State House that cares about the basic needs of our people. We need a leader who does not blame our economic woes on the global crisis but sits down and solves them."

"We need a leader who teaches our youth honesty and hard work and not bribery, intimidation and vote buying; a leader that works to give a secure and healthy future to our youth. And we need a leader who brings Temnes and Mendes, Fullahs and Lokos, Madingoes and Limbas, Krios and Sherbros etc, etc, to live and work together as one nation in one country. This is the new direction we need."

Maada Bio on The Economy

"Our country is resource-rich but policy-poor. We have a vast sore running through the population: five million people stuck in desperate conditions of poverty amidst the growing affluence of a few. Lifting them from those conditions is the struggle we must wage, and it is a struggle we must win" – says Bio emphatically.

"Various strategies for poverty reduction and for the other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are in vogue. We talk about them every day. However, what the MDGs don’t get us to focus upon, is the rate of economic growth. True, growth is not a cure-all, but the lack of growth is a kill-all. This failure of the growth process over the past 30 years is, for us, the overarching problem that must be cracked if this country is to escape from the poverty trap."

"Nowadays, stagnation and decline have become bywords for our poor economic performance. So whereas President Koroma pays scant attention to the issue of growth, we shall make it a core challenge. Development is about giving hope to ordinary people that their children will live in a society that will catch up with the rest of the world. And catching up in Sierra Leone can only mean raising growth radically."

"We see our future as one of collaboration with our partners in designing systematic, co-ordinated and coherent policies and programmes that make our own development commitments more credible not just to investors but to our own people as well, and so get a surge in private investments."

"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, not that we devalue the importance of aid, only that the impasse we have reached in our country’s development demands of us a new and higher level of consciousness, a greater degree of innovation, and a generous dose of honesty to acknowledge what works and what does not, as far as our development is concerned."

"So, therefore, the development roadmap we shall be crafting after 2012 is more in the realm of collaborating to build a modern market economy for this country along pathways that our development partners have themselves successfully traversed for their own economies."

"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, when President Koroma came to power in 2007, he promised to run this country like a business. We didn’t know then he was going to turn the country into a family business. Under his watch, the prices of most things have more than doubled - from rice, our national staple, to fuel, flour, fish and other essential foodstuffs."

"His cronies are making huge profits whilst the masses are suffering under the harshest conditions in living memory. We used to think that life in the 1980s was the harshest. For those of you who can’t remember that period, President Koroma has made life under President Momoh’s misrule look like Paradise."

"Mr. President, the citizens of this country are crying; the economy is killing them and they are crying for a change of direction. Even more serious, there is a mounting crisis of confidence. The people are losing confidence in the ability of government to look after their welfare. Living conditions are deteriorating so fast they can’t bear the hardship any more. I say to them, just hang in there for a little while longer."

"After 2012 the SLPP Government I shall lead will definitely not run Sierra Leone as a family business."

"In other words, our policies and programmes shall be people-centred. We will not engage in dubious contracts to fleece this country and squirrel the loot away in foreign bank accounts or buy luxury homes abroad. Nor shall we pass mining and fiscal laws to be adhered to by some and not by others. Nor shall globalisation mean our natural resources shall be turned into an arena for bribery competition between foreign mining and oil companies."

"Under my watch, no mining company, big or small, shall be allowed to operate above or under the law."

"Another area completely skewed since the APC assumed power is in resource allocation and distribution. Appointments to public office, dismissals of public officers, distribution of limited resources, selection of projects and beneficiaries, have mostly been done along partisan, ethnic and regional lines. These are all anti-development tendencies, the stuff of which internal conflicts are made."

Speaking about what he sees as the country’s "rocketing cost of living", Bio reminded the nation of the previous Kabbah led SLPP government’s achievement.

He said that; "no problem has blighted the lives of citizens of this country more than the bread-and-butter issue of the rocketing cost of living under President Koroma."

"The last SLPP Government left as reserve billions of Leones in the national coffers to cushion any possible shocks from global price increases of rice, fuel and other essential commodities. The Koroma Government wasted no time in squandering all this under the pretext of giving this country ‘clean and affordable electricity’ in 100 days through bogus and dubious contracts."

Maada Bio takes the view that "corruption is an enemy of development".

He said that; "Our fight against corruption, therefore, has to be robust, complete, transparent and non-political; and we must leave no stone unturned. This fight is about ending impunity; it’s about probity, about holding public officials accountable; about compelling them to obey the law and to do things according to the law."

Bio had this advice for President Koroma: "Mr. President, you really have to get more serious in your efforts to tackle corruption. And you can start right now by removing the immunity you have placed around the sacred cows from amongst family, friends and business partners, and allow the anti-corruption laws to bite. Do this and you will soon see the difference in public attitude and perception about corruption in this country. Fail to do this, Mr. President, then nothing is going to change and it will all be business as usual."

"Fellow Sierra Leoneans let me make this solemn promise. Where President Koroma fails to act to end corruption in this country, I shall act. So those involved in corruption, be they citizens or foreign nationals, be forewarned. The SLPP Government I shall lead after 2012 will not compromise corruption that harms the interests of the people of this country."

"We give this advice as an essential aspect of the rule of law. We believe that where the rule of law takes hold, it creates stability, predictability, trust and empowerment. The rule of law stabilises government and holds it accountable. It creates a predictable environment for both government and investor. It creates confidence in the public to seek change, if necessary, within a framework of continuity, and empowers all economic actors to optimise their returns" – Bio reassures the country.

Bio’s Social Agenda

"The Government I shall lead will invest heavily in the health care delivery. We will improve upon what exists now by providing the infrastructure, equipment and trained personnel necessary for a robust health care system. We will introduce a more sustainable heath care financing mechanism."

"The next SLPP Government will progressively provide universal free and compulsory basic education to all and will endeavour to achieve 100 per cent primary school enrolment within the first years of my administration. We will reinstitute the girl child education programme which the present Government has callously abandoned. We will also ensure that teachers and lecturers are paid a decent wage and on time."

"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, it pains to note that our disabled have been left to fend for themselves in the most unsavoury manner. It is not uncommon to see our disabled compatriots hanging out at the gates of State House for crumbs. This is most dehumanising and unacceptable. We shall move beyond the enactment of the Disability Bill and put in place a more effective mechanism to cater for the social and economic welfare of our physically and mentally challenged compatriots."

Bio’s Gender Policy

"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, the women of Sierra Leone have been asking for 30 per cent representation in state governance. I believe they deserve more than that. By affirmative action programmes we shall give women equitable access to decision-making positions at all levels."

Bio’s Youth Policy

"Youth empowerment will receive the utmost attention of the Government I shall form after 2012. I have already mentioned that attracting foreign direct investment as the engine for economic growth and for creating new jobs will receive high priority, But much more than that, ample provision will also be made for skills training, especially for the youth, to empower and equip them for meeting the challenges of a modern economy."

"To the young men and women of this country, I say help is on the way. I understand your problems better and can feel your pain more. So allow me to be your Redeemer. As young people, we gel better and together we can make a difference. If President Koroma imagines he has fixed the youth problem in this country merely by creating a Youth Employment Ministry, with no jobs, he had better do a reality check."

Capitalising on the huge age gap between himself and the now tired looking President Koroma, Maada Bio told the youths of Sierra Leone; "And no political leader understands your problems better than I, because I consider myself one of you and you can connect better with me than with any other. And this is why the next SLPP Government I shall lead is the one best able to address your problems."

Bio's views on Political Violence

Turning to the thorny issue of politically motivated violence, Maada Bio strongly rebuked the ruling APC Party for their record, as he reassures the country and the international community of his anti-violence philosophy.

"The history of elections in this country shows how under previous APC rule, elections and youth violence became not uncommon bedfellows, almost like inseparable companions. There was never an election under APC watch that was completely free of intimidation and youth violence. I hope and pray that the 2012 election, again to be held under APC watch, would be different" – says Bio.

And he made this solemn promise to his fellow countrymen and women: "For my part, I give to the youth of this country this solemn promise. I shall be the last Presidential candidate who would ever want to put your life or liberty in harm’s way."

But what most Sierra Leoneans and the international community would find refreshing and most reassuring, is his statement as to how politics and elections should be run in this poverty stricken country.

Bio said; "I see the 2012 election not as a battle to be fought or won by violence but as a contest that can best be fought and won by ideas, values and beliefs" – and few would disagree.

"The SLPP is the oldest political party in this country. It was founded on the pedestal of non-violence. Our abhorrence of violence therefore is both a sacred trust and a legacy. We can’t change that now, for to do that would be tantamount to betraying our sacred trust and our heritage."

Bio’s thoughts on Decentralization

Most serious policy analysts in Sierra Leone, not least the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph, have argued passionately for a major change in the country’s Constitution, so as to allow sweeping devolution of power and decentralisation of public services.

Bio believes that; "decentralizing state governance is another key policy area that has always been a tussle between the APC and the SLPP."

"Decentralization is not just about local councils. The present location of certain central government ministries and agencies also needs to be critically examined and evaluated to determine whether the citizenry is deriving the optimum benefit."

But will Bio take the bold step to include in his 2012 manifesto - a new devolution plan, or is this just political rhetoric?

Bio calls for Electoral Reform

Much has been said about electoral reform, especially after the nullification of hundreds of thousands of SLPP votes at the 2007 elections, by the country’s National Electoral Commission. Efforts must therefore be taken to ensure that this is not repeated in 2012, in order to avoid the political chaos and destruction we saw recently in Ivory Coast.

Bio made his views known. He said; "today we are living with the consequences of an electoral fraud committed in 2007 – the cancellation of the ballot by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) in 477 polling stations, mostly in SLPP-strongholds. Despite strong protests, those cancellations were made to stand with the final result of the presidential election going against the SLPP. The Supreme Court is now seized of the litigation that that cancellation has engendered. Whatever the final verdict of the Court, we know its value would be essentially for the record."

"Looking at things from that perspective alone, one would have liked to draw a line on the past and focus only on what lies ahead of us in 2012."

Although Bio’s reconciliatory tone would give much comfort to the people of Sierra Leone, there are serious mistrust and crisis of confidence over the ability of the current Chairman of the NEC – Christiana Thorpe, to impartially officiate at the 2012 elections.

Bio said; "As if to add insult to injury, Miss Christiana Thorpe is now asking for a new law to empower NEC to cancel ballots in future elections. By inference she is admitting she didn’t have that power when she cancelled the ballot of those 477 polling stations."

He went further to say that; "if she was not afraid to cancel when she didn’t have the power, what if she is now given such a power?"

"What safeguards do political parties have against the arbitrary use of such power?"

"Perhaps it was time our international moral guarantors stepped in to ensure that any new rules for the electoral game are credible, fair and in consonance with universally-accepted democratic principles and agreed to by all parties. Otherwise, NEC, as referee, will not enjoy the confidence of all the political players" – Bio warns.

Looking ahead to the forthcoming elections in 2012, Bio said; "we have forebodings about any election held under the watch of an APC Government."

"These shameful abuses of human rights were commonplace in the days of the old APC. But they have been happening again and again since 2007 under the watch of the so-called new APC. The new APC has been severally accused of unabated vandalizing, brutalizing, intimidating and victimizing of opposition supporters with deafening impunity."

But how would Bio and his Party react to any violence perpetrated by supporters of the APC in 2012?

"Fellow Sierra Leoneans, against this backdrop, a question often asked is: if, like the old APC, the so-called new APC decides to lead the country in electoral violence in the run-up to 2012, should we in the SLPP follow suit?"

"With respect, I say No. The strength of our Party lies in our capacity, not in trading violence with the APC or any other party, but in upholding the sacred values for which our Founding Fathers had fought so hard and which today constitutes our cherished inheritance."

But while clearly asserting the Party’s policy on politically motivated violence, Bio warned that this policy must not be seen as a weakness. "Eschewing violence as an instrument of political change, however, should not be misunderstood or misconstrued as cowardice or timidity" – says the former military leader - Bio.

"We fear no party and we are ready to protect our supporters at all times. Only that our creed is freedom, not despotism; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the jungle; human rights, not power; inclusiveness, not alienation."

"Spreading these values is the bastion of our security, our first line of attack and our last line of defence. And if the APC decides to divide the country in violence, so our resolve to unite it around our common dislike of violence must remain unshaken and unbroken. And we must send this message out to the country now."

In concluding what many Sierra Leoneans and indeed the international community would agree is a well thought out maiden speech from the main challenger for the office of presidency in 2012, Bio made this rallying call to the country’s youths.

"So my clarion call is to all the youth of this country, young men and young women alike. Come forward and join my campaign to take me back to State House in 2012. It matters not which political party you belong to or voted for in the last election; my campaign for the presidency is on behalf of all of you."

"We are tired of unfulfilled promises and fed-up with empty hypes – de Pa dey wok! We, the young people of this country, should now come together and empower ourselves and our elders through the ballot box in order to transform this country for the better."

"Wherever you are – in the country or in the Diaspora, in the farms or in the mining pits, on land or at sea, in the city or village, in the ghetto or ataya base, in the street or in the house, in college or in school – I beckon on all of you to come forward and let’s start a new direction, a new revolution, for a better Sierra Leone."

"Ernest is tired; Ernest has failed us; Ernest can simply not deliver. He must give way peacefully for a new person to take over the seat of power in State House in 2012. And that person is yours truly, Julius Maada Bio."

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