Ibrahim Labor Fofana: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 May 2023:
After five years in office, every president in Sierra Leone is expected to go back to the people to seek a fresh new mandate. If the president has done well, the people will re-elect him for a second term. This is the normal election cycle in our country since President Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
Sierra Leone is in that five-year election cycle again. This time, the military general who handed political power over to a civilian democratic government in 1996, went away, changed his uniform, came back in mufti, contested, and won the 2018 presidential elections, is seeking another five-year mandate from the people.
Though this process of seeking new mandate from the people every five years is a new democratic phenomenon, a pattern is already forming. In 2002, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah went to the people for a new mandate. Based on his laudable achievements, he was re-elected “wootehteh” (with a landslide victory) over his APC competitor. When Ernest Bai Koroma sought a fresh mandate from the people in 2012, he was re-elected even though not with the same kind of resounding victory as his SLPP predecessor, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
Now the military general, who first became Head of State in his twenties and now President in his fifties, is seeking re-election. Will his re-election victory be as history making as that of late President Kabbah or will it be just an okay victory like that of his predecessor, Ernest Bai Koroma?
To answer that question, let’s look at some of the successes of President Julius Maada Bio and compare them with Ernest Bai Koroma’s.
In just five years as President of Sierra Leone and head of the SLPP led government, President Bio has employed more teachers than in the eleven years of Ernest Bai Koroma’s APC government. President Bio has absorbed more nurses into the health sector than Ernest Bai Koroma did. The government of President Bio in his first five years has created more jobs compared to the government of President Koroma during his first five years.
The Bio government has increased the minimum wage as well as the minimum pension, a development that was lost to the Ernest Bai Koroma government. In fact, teachers across the country received a 30% salary increase in 2020 and another 45% increase is planned for 2023-2025. This has never happened before.
Additionally, this government has provided electricity to more communities than was the case with the previous government. In fact, some communities have only seen electricity for the very first time in 200 years while some got it back now after 40 years. Just a few days ago, residents of Moyamba town jubilated when they saw trailers load with electricity generation equipment. It is almost forty years since Moyamba town last saw electricity.
In the area of hospital infrastructure, this government has constructed more health facilities across the country, provided more medical equipment, supplies and other medical consumables than its predecessor. In just five years in government, the terrible health statistics which Sierra Leone was notorious for in decades, Maternal and Child Deaths has been reduced by 60%. Now death of a mother or child during delivery is infrequent. During the 11 years of the Ernest Bai Koroma APC led government, only a meager 6% of the country’s budget was allocated to the health sector. Now the Maada Bio administration has increased that to 11.6%, in only five years. And for the first time in the health sector, Sierra Leone now has Hospital-on-wheels (mobile clinic) which provides essential health care services to people who cannot make it to established health facilities. This addresses the accessibility gap to health care services.
Through the introduction of the Free Quality Education program, this government has significantly turned around our education system like no other government has done since Sir Milton Margai. With a well-managed School Bus system, free School Feeding program for some schools, free books, free learning and teaching materials, fee-free public exams for government schools and free education for girls studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, this government has been lauded and globally recognized for moving the country in the right direction to development.
There are more classrooms and more pupils in school this past five years than in the entire eleven years of Ernest Bai Koroma’s APC era. Kono University of Science and Technology is under construction while ten districts have at least one vocational training centre each. To make tertiary education more accessible and affordable, this government introduced the Student Loan Scheme.
To show how serious President Bio takes Human Capital Development and how much he wants to transform the future of this nation, government’s spending on the education sector is 22% of the nation’s budget from 8% during the 11 years of the last regime. This is phenomenal.
In just five short years, President Maada Bio, First Lady Fatima Maada Bio and some members of the President’s cabinet have contributed significantly to restoring and improving Sierra Leone’s international image than the total 11 years of Ernest Bai Koroma led APC government. For example, the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS endorsed Sierra Leone for a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. President Bio co-chaired the UN Transform Education Summit, co-chaired the Leader Group of the High-Level Steering Committee on SDG4.
Sierra Leone chaired the Advisory Board on the Global Education Monitoring Report. Added to that, Sierra Leone co-sponsored UN Resolution on Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence and our First Lady, Fatima Bio presented the Resolution to the General Assembly which was unanimously adopted. Sierra Leone, under the leadership of President Bio, opened additional embassies in Morocco, Egypt and UAE and for the first time in our history, Sierra Leone opened an Honorary Consulate in Kingston, Jamaica, the only one in the entire Caribbean.
I will stop here for now until Part 2, with these few successes of President Julius Maada Bio and his administration. If president Bio can achieve these under 5 years, even with the ravages of Covid-19 and the economic strangulation of the Ukraine war, think of what can be achieved for another 5 years with him at the helm.
With Part 2 still to come, it is certain that he is on the right path to transform our country and for a shoo in for “woojemeteh” re-election victory with no Run-Off in the June 24, 2023, Presidential Election. Another five years to complete the job, because you don’t change horses in midstream.