Ibrahim Sourie Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 30 April 2019:
This week is an historic period for the people of Sierra Leone, as we marked the 58th Independence Anniversary of the country’s troubled past, last Saturday – 27th April 2019.
At age 58, many countries that are far younger than Sierra Leone, are now able to meet the basic necessities of their citizens, such as clean safe drinking water, access to reliable electricity, free access to basic medical care, adequate housing, good sanitation, and many more.
Sierra Leone at a matured age of 58, is still lacking the ability and the will to cater for those basic needs of its citizens.
Yet, undeterred by constant news of perennial electricity blackout, growing poverty, poor access to drinking water, rising costs of living and high adult mortality, Sierra Leoneans all over the world celebrated their Independence with pomp and pageantry.
But what are we really celebrating? Continuity of dependency on foreign aid, IMF and World Bank support or Independence from colonial rule?
This story is not about the Independence celebration pers se, but the ironies, contradictions and double standards emanating from State House.
Last year, President Julius Maada Bio cancelled the 57th Independence celebration on grounds of economic hardship in the country, and his SLPP government’s inheritance of a broken economy from the Koroma led APC government.
Fair enough, the reasons given were apt and convincing. It was a new government and people thought his new administration is geared towards instilling sound financial discipline into a system that was allegedly fraught with impropriety.
But wait, why was the First Lady – Mrs Fatima Bio allowed to organize an event at the country’s national stadium to celebrate the country’s Independence, despite her husband – the president, having cancelled all celebrations in the country?
Why was the First Lady permitted to form such a parochial and narrowly drawn committee – a presidential women’s wing of loyal ruling party supporters, charged with responsibility for organizing such an important national event? Was there no intention of building national cohesion? (Photo: First Lady – Mrs Bio celebrating Sierra Leone’s 58th Independence Anniversary at the national stadium).
Since when has national celebration, such as the country’s Independence Anniversary become a personal or party political rally?
I listened to the president’s Independence message as he quite rightly quoted the vision of our forefathers who fought for the country’s independence. Sir Milton Margai, a modest leader – the country’s first prime minister, fought for Sierra Leone’s independence on the basis of uniting the people of Sierra Leone, not dividing them.
With such alarming political developments now in the country, including the possible usurping of presidential and ministerial powers, one may be tempted to ask, who is calling the shots at State House?
The ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) has an official women’s wing headed by Madam Fatmata Sawaneh, who was very instrumental during the elections campaign. Forming another political women’s wing known as the Julius Maada Bio Women’s Wing to undertake state functions, is not only divisive but sends a clear message of cracks and disunity within the party – if not within the government.
This leads us back to the central question as to how can the president cancel all national Independence celebrations – with the exception of the event permitted to be organised by the First Lady at the national stadium, but staged a State House dinner party last month to celebrate his government’s one year in office, when the constantly deafening message from State House to the nation is one of austerity and tightening of financial belts and braces?
Critics may want to ask – where is the sound and disciplined financial management policy that the president says is central to his governance of the country’s affairs?
I watched the ceremony last week, marking the opening of the bridge at Juba in Freetown, and the scene clearly shows the constant shifting of power within the administration. Who is now being used as a front for political subterfuge; and who is conspicuously absent from performing state functions. Where are we going as a nation?
The First Lady may have good ideas for promoting the image of the country, but there are certain things that are best left alone, in order not to destabilise an already fragile political environment and national cohesion in the country.
Forming and naming wings after presidents are normally attributed to dictators and electioneering. Such hallmarks are the pathways to transforming good intentioned leaders into despots.
Mr. President, Sierra leone is still going through tough times and the people are yearning for change which, as you keep telling us, may not come overnight. But many people have started expressing concerns. Take for example, your numerous overseas trips.
In as much as some of these trips have started yielding dividends, it is worth remembering that we do have ambassadors, ministers and senior diplomats in the country to whom you can delegate to save costs.
As we celebrate our 58th year of Independence, the people of Sierra Leone are looking up to your administration for real change as promised in your election campaign.
But Mr. President, if your administration has started making the same mistakes that you accused the past APC government of committing, do you expect the country to be at ease?