Yusuf Keketoma Sandi
12 May 2012
It was a day our APC friends had thought will never come and some possibly prayed not to come. The day a former military head of state showed his credentials as to why he wants to be the democratically elected president of Sierra Leone – a nation of six million people.
It was a day when a politician of the UK governing conservative party, Chris Bucwell, to the amusement of the audience, begged Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio for his next government to adopt a policy of Compassionate Conservatism.
I am really talking about Thursday, 10th May when the Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio was hosted by the Chatham House, which has been the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs for ninety years.
Chatham House is no ordinary institute, but a forum where global leaders are invited to speak to the world. And the Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio did not let the people of Sierra Leone down.
He looked presidential, composed and knew very well that this was his first chance to convince the world that his journey from a former military Head of State to a democratically elected president.
Therefore, he had the difficult task of balancing between talking about the present dire state of our country and at the same time offering hope to our people through his NEW DIRECTION vision.
As he walked up to the podium, led by Dr. Alex Vines, Head of African Programme at the Chatham House, the audience spontaneously rose to their feet.
One of those many moments throughout his week-long visit when you wish the APC spin doctors and paid journalists to have been in the audience to witness the honour, prestige and international reputation that are now accorded to the Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.
In his close-to-an-hour presidential-like address, he spoke about a range of issues and sectors, such as education, mining, private sector investment, respecting human rights and upholding the rule of law, challenges to democratisation and peace consolidation, youth employment and economic management.
It seems obvious why the Presidential hopeful had to put these two issues at the heart of his first maiden international speech. Like he always says to me; “As a young man, youths issues are very close to my heart and I don’t want to let them down”; and for the economy he once said to me “our people are stuck in desperate conditions of grinding poverty and lifting them out of those conditions is the struggle we must fight and it is a struggle we must win”.
He praised our dynamic young people who strive to make impact on national development, but he quickly pointed out that the APC’s investment in education, training and youth development has been unacceptably low.
He said; “Consequently, the proportion of underutilised and unemployable youth is increasing in alarming proportions and could easily become fodder for future conflict”.
He did not only stop at exposing the lacklustre APC government on failing the young people, but also presented specific policy objectives, which his new government will implement so as to create a better future for young people.
Amongst the range of measures, he spoke about; providing technical skills in areas relevant for our job market; investing in tertiary education to train our youth in employable skills; establishing a National Youth Service Scheme, establishing a Special Youth Empowerment Fund to support youth with entrepreneurial efforts; promoting youth engagement in agriculture and a host of others.
One of the Sierra Leonean guests present at the Chatham House event – Mr. Ansu Momoh, felt so impressed with the measures proposed by Bio. He told me that; “Even the APC government will hardly disagree with these innovative ideas, such as the National Youth Service Scheme and a Special Youth Empowerment Fund, because all young people need now is just a new young dynamic leader with fresh ideas.”
The other area which Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio put at the centre of his address was the Sierra Leone economy. He started by saying; “Our Country is resource-rich but policy poor”. And in a slight ridicule of the APC government and their international lobbyist, he said; “If our President is to be believed, then Sierra Leone is booming. Supported by Tony Blair and international lobbyists, he has taken this message around the world. But good PR is no substitute for the truth”.
Two western diplomats, who sat on the front row, could not help but looked at each other and laughed. Bio pointed out that; “Economic growth will never materialise while Mr. Koroma presides over at best incompetence and at worst corrupt stewardship of our economy”.
Well, in a country where inflation is well into double digits; our GDP projected to be about 6% in 2012, while our neighbouring Liberia is admirably projected at 9%; where the value of our currency as compared to the dollar and pound has been on a rapid decline since President Koroma took office; and in a country where unemployment is amongst the highest in Africa, even our APC friends should be patriotic enough to confess that the economic performance of this APC government has least impressed the world’s economic think tanks.
And, ordinary Sierra Leoneans know best, whether it is those who are being deprived of withdrawing their hard-earned cash from commercial banks as a result of the poor banking liquidity; the millions who are fed up of the rising cost of living, while their wages remain static.
Maada Bio also took head on, the APC’s customary excuse about the economic woes – the global financial crisis.
He said that; “The global financial crisis created immunity for no country. And, in Sierra Leone the poor received no protection from the ravages of the global financial crisis….the government completely failed to put in place any strategy that would have increased domestic production and reduce food prices. The effect of all this is that today the conditions in Sierra Leone are so terrible that many a poor family cannot even afford a meal a day.”
As usual, for a man who is prepared to form the next government, he set out the framework for a responsible economic policy. He stated that his government’s economic objectives shall be: to have a stable and competitive national currency that will promote exports; to reduce public sector deficits through increased revenue; to reduce inflation and to create conditions for essential goods to be available and affordable; to increase domestic production of essential goods, particularly; to expand and improve efficiency in public spending on social services; and to develop public infrastructure with high economic and social benefits.
As he outlined his economic policy objectives, a World Bank economist who sat just next to me, nodded his head in agreement. At that very moment, I felt proud being a Sierra Leonean.
Maada Bio’s address had engaged an audience which had a blend of western diplomats, renowned economists, governance specialists, officials of international non-governmental organisations, international press and a cross-section Sierra Leoneans supporting the ruling APC, the opposition PMDC and SLPP.
As Bio said to me after the address; “I do not have a silver bullet to fix every problem but the issues of youths and the economy are very close to my hearts and my government will start from day one to make our talented young people and a booming economy be the foundations of my NEW DIRECTION”.