10 October 2012
Presidential and parliamentary nomination events organised by Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission at the country’s sports stadium in the capital Freetown, is fast becoming an opportunity for political parties to rally their supporters.
But they are also reaching out to the undecided voters sitting on the fence, passively pondering who to vote for in November. Two days ago, the presidential candidate for the Sierra Leone’s Peoples Party (SLPP) – Julius Maada Bio, took to the Brookfields Stadium accompanied by his vice presidential running mate – Dr. Kadi Sesay to be officially nominated by party stalwarts as their ‘man’ for State House.
And it seems from the thousands of supporters and well wishers who lined up the main streets of the capital – Freetown to cheer the presidential hopeful, Bio is truly poised to clinch the hottest job in the country in November.
Whilst the ruling APC party’s media and spokesmen continue to pillory the younger and more dynamic presidential candidate – Maada Bio, there is little doubt that such personal attacks are beginning to pay dividends.
Maada Bio, a former military Brigadier and ex-president of the country is successfully converting negative campaigning by his opponents, into precious sympathy votes.
On Monday, a throng of supporters dancing to popular songs rallied across the west of the city towards the party’s head office, where Maada Bio and other senior party officials spoke to the converted as well as the undecided.
Freetown is a key marginal seat and hotly regarded by both ruling party and the opposition as a presidential decider in the forthcoming election in November.
And after Monday’s rally, SLPP officials are feeling quite buoyant about their party’s chances of winning Freetown. With both parties looking outwards to their respective tribal and regional strongholds for solidarity and core support, in Freetown the strategy is different.
Freetown is a cosmopolitan city with a much higher percentage of educated and working class, whose support for political parties may be as ephemeral as the cash in their pockets.
Voters in Freetown are much more discerning than their cousins in the provincial cities, towns and villages. They have a better understanding of how the economy works and the role of government in creating a prosperous and better society.
Hence politicians are aware of the power of communications in putting their election manifesto offering across to the people.
And this is where the SLPP presidential hopeful – Julius Maada, seems to have an edge over the now tired looking and lacklustre incumbent – President Ernest Bai Koroma.
Maada is a Masters Degree USA qualified politician, who very much understands public policy framework and the correlation between investment, economic growth, job creation and economic prosperity.
His party’s ‘New Direction’ agenda for uplifting Sierra Leone from decades of stagnation and poverty has been well received – both at home and abroad.
Maada Bio has visited Europe and Canada to meet potential foreign investors who have been quite reluctant so far, to take huge risk with their cash in Sierra Leone. Many do not believe that the conditions offered by president Koroma are right for such investments.
High level corruption in Sierra Leone is rampant. The United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, last year classed Sierra Leone at the very bottom of the scale, despite the Koroma government, claiming it has transformed the economy.
Unemployment, especially youth unemployment is one of the highest in Africa, at almost 70%. Although the economy grew by 6% in 2011, this did not translate into jobs, nor did it have an impact on average daily earnings in the country.
Most of the investments, which accounts for the increased GDP, have taken place in the mining industry and government’s high spending on capital projects – including road construction.
But critics have argued that government’s spending on road construction, which is now more that $400 million, has had very little multiplier effect on the economy and has not circulated into the pockets of local people and businesses.
Most of that cash has gone from whence it was borrowed – overseas. Foreign contractors and suppliers are earning more than 70 cents of every 1 dollar spent by the government on road construction.
Twenty cents of that dollar goes into the pockets of senior government officials by way of contract kick-backs. Hence it is not too difficult to understand why average daily earnings for ordinary Sierra Leoneans is less than 1 dollar, and has been so under successive governments.
Speaking at his party’s head office in Freetown on Monday, 8 October, 2012, he sounded, if not bullish about the personal attacks waged against him by the government sponsored media, but rather optimistic about his chances of becoming the next president of Sierra Leone in November.
He told the people of Sierra Leone: “Today, October 8, 2012, marks an historic milestone on that road. It is the day my Running Mate – Dr. Kadi Sesay and I, have received the official nomination of our Party to contest under its banner, for the high office of Vice-President and President – respectively, of our beloved Republic of Sierra Leone.
To the party’s rank and file, he said: “We have all worked hard, very hard together to get to this historic point. I think we all deserve to congratulate ourselves. It is no mean feat that we are, where we are today, having surmounted so many undemocratic challenges and impediments, some of them violent.”
“But we will continue to remain focus on our ideals, values and overriding philosophy of a united country, grounded on our ideology of a Centre Right party that seeks to liberate the energies of our people to effectively manage our resources to create wealth and opportunities for our people, while ensuring law and order, respect for the rule of law, social justice for all, promote human and civil rights of and guarantee the economic and independence of the judiciary.”
“That we have today succeeded in reaching this road is significant. It means in plain terms that the APC Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma has failed in its vicious attempts to stifle multiparty democracy in this country.”
“Now the people of Sierra Leone just can’t wait to bring their long suffering under the Presidency of Ernest Bai Koroma to an end. By sheer coincidence, if not by Providential design, its final demise will come exactly 40 days from today, when the people of Sierra Leone will put the last nail in the coffin of the Government of Ernest Bai Koroma, by evicting him and his corrupt business cartel out of State House -through the ballot box on November 17, 2012, Sharp 12.”
Launching a scathing attack on the government’s poor performance record, after five long years in office, Bio pulled no punches, as he blasted the government for the culture of corrupt it has propagated from the corridors of State House.
“On that day, Sierra Leoneans will tell Ernest Bai Koroma, that they deserve a better administration than he has provided them; that they are not cows to be milked every day for the benefit only of members of his family and associates; that they are determined to restore their lost unity and dignity as free Citizens of Sierra Leone and free themselves from the bondage imposed upon them by the ‘Sierra Leone Incorporated’ – a business enterprise operated wholly and solely for the profit of the Koroma family of Yoni, Bombali District, and their associates – just as they had freed themselves once before from the oppression of the erstwhile One-Party misrule of the APC in 1992.”
That is tough talk, coming from the much younger and more dynamic presidential hopeful.
Turning to the people of Sierra Leone and reminding them of what Monday’s event was all about, Maada Bio said:
“Nomination Day, today, therefore, marks the beginning of the restoration of our national unity and cohesion, as well as the return of our freedoms to be consummated under the ‘New Direction’ leadership of my Government, after November 17. “
When the IMF concluded its economic review meeting last month with president Koroma and his minsters, behind closed doors, he was reminded by the IMF of the need to curb profligate spending and keep tighter control of the nation’s finances.
Government revenue has remained pretty much stagnant in the last three years, after mining companies had initially made one-off payments to the government in return for highly lucrative and one-sided mining agreements in 2009.
Tax receipts have not increased, yet government spending have quadrupled since taking office in 2007. The economy is in shambles and it seems the rudderless government is incapable of preventing the ship from hitting the iceberg.
Government borrowing, including the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars in treasury bills, have largely funded its craving for more cash to spend on non-essential capital programmes. Poverty has worsened in the last five years under president Koroma.
Maada Bio is not impressed. He reminded the people that: “Under our President, Sierra Leoneans are going to the polls hungrier than before he took office in 2007;
“Under our President, our currency – the Leone, has lost more of its value than ever before; nowadays we get less for Le1,000 than before he took office in 2007;
“Under our President, prices of most essential goods – especially rice – our staple food, has skyrocketed more than three times since he took office;
“Under our President, unemployment – especially among young people, has risen more than tenfold what it was before he took office;
“Under our President, there is more insecurity and fear in the country than before he took office;
Reminding Sierra Leoneans of the importance of the corners of the country being kept together in unity and harmony, Bio said that president Koroma has failed to achieve this.
“Oh my people, under our President, the nation has become more divided and polarized than before he took office;
“Under our President, there is more lawlessness and indiscipline in the country than before he took office;
“Under our President, there has been more executive interference with the judicial arm of government and the dispensation of justice than it has ever been since independence;
“Ha! Under our President, there are more crises in education than before he took office;
“Under our President, there are more diseases and epidemics – especially amongst the poorer people than before he took office;
“Under our President, there is more land grabbing especially in the Provinces than before he took office;
“Under our President, our mineral wealth has been more mortgaged and with lesser returns to the citizenry than before he took office;
“Under our President, there has been a growing incidence of corruption and more dubious and scandalous activities in the Presidency and Vice Presidency than since independence, making the general public become more and more cynical and skeptical about the fight against corruption than before he took office;
“Under our President, the standards of truth, honesty and integrity in public life have taken a deeper nose-dive than before he took office in 2007;
“Under our President, abuse of public office for private gain has grown into a free for all and impunity has reached an intolerable level, much higher than it was before he took office;
“Under our President, many more ugly things happened than ever before that has made the people of Sierra Leone most unhappy; in fact Sierra Leoneans are poorer and more miserable today than since independence.
“Put simply, by his own promises; President Koroma has failed the nation. In school or in the classroom, when a child fails, often he is allowed to repeat the same class a second or third time. However, make no mistake; State House is not a school or a classroom. President Koroma is not a child, nor is he in school; on the contrary, he is a full-grown adult, with lots of grey hairs on his head.
“And when he fails on his own promises – as indeed he has done – there can be and should be only one response – boot him out of State House.
“That is the punishment for political failures everywhere in the world and Sierra Leone is no exception. By the same token, if, after voting me into the Presidency on November 17, I fail to deliver on my ‘New Direction’ promises, the same fate shall await me when the time comes.
After delivering what sounded like a knockout punch, which made him looked more presidential than the president himself, Bio spoke of the country’s fledgling democracy and the importance of keeping it alive.
Deriding the ruling APC party for its undemocratic tendency and base instinct to want to return the country to a one-party state, Bio reminded those old enough to remember the bad old days of the APC.
He said that; “Sierra Leone is a new democracy. Today democracy is taking deeper and firmer root in our society: government of the people, by the people and for the people. No other system has worked better.
“Certainly not the one-party state, which the APC used to ruin this country for 13 long years, bringing about conditions that gave rise to a ruinous civil war that lasted 11 nightmarish years.
“Never again will the people of this country tolerate one-party rule, under whatever guise.
Bio was quick to present himself as a true patriot, a democrat and defender of the realm. He said that; “After 13 long years of seemingly interminable APC one-party misrule, thank God we succeeded in restoring multi-party constitutional democracy in 1996 under my watch.
“As a Party, the SLPP does and will always respect and enforce multiparty democracy. Our Party brought independence to colonial Sierra Leone; our party also ended an eleven years internecine civil war and also consolidated multiparty democracy; and every election held under our watch has been free, fair, transparent and peaceful, including in particular the two elections that brought the APC from opposition to power in 1967 and in 2007.
“So the SLPP has always delivered and is a profound respecter of non-violent democracy and the rule of law. This is my political inheritance from the founding fathers of our Party and I consider myself duty-bound to respect and honour it.
Challenging the ruling APC’s democratic credentials and record, Bio lambasted president Koroma’s government and party for its violent and undemocratic streak. Boasting of his SLPP party’s democratic values, he asked:
“Can the APC say the same for itself? Obviously not. Not a single election previously held under their watch has been free from violence or election rigging. Not even elections under their one-party rule from 1978 to 1992.
“The 2012 elections are going to be conducted and supervised by the National Electoral Commission under their watch. They face a real challenge for the first time. They must show themselves as true believers in democracy and non-violence.
“The million dollar question though is: Do the APC have the capacity and the will to allow the NEC a free rein to conduct the elections fairly and credibly? The answer is anybody’s guess.
“One thing though is clear: the people of Sierra Leone are waiting; and the rest of the world is watching.
Bio then turned on his critics – especially the government sponsored media, who are making a lucrative profession out of their persistent and relentless attack on his person.
He said; “The celebrated APC Vuvuzelas never tire of seizing every moment to vilify and demonize me. They did this before my election as Flag Bearer, yet Sierra Leoneans were not convinced and they voted me the SLPP Flag Bearer. They have been doing it again before this nomination and the people have again ignored them.
“They are most likely to do it again after the nomination today and I know the people will again ignore them. The APC Vuvuzelas will never learn and they have somehow convinced themselves that they can set the agenda for the people.
“I will implore all our Party supporters to continue to ignore these people for they themselves know they are now beyond redemption; rather they appear now to be in a state of mental and psychological free-fall!
“Lately, they have even alleged that I insulted the Paramount Chiefs of this country. How can anyone, for goodness sake, expect that I – the son of a Paramount Chief, and therefore the legitimate custodian of the rites of paramount chieftaincy, would insult that noble and sacred institution into which I was born and of which I am a part? It’s not only sacrilege; it defies imagination and it’s downright unthinkable.
As he concluded his speech, Maada Bio – a president in waiting, as he is now referred to by the party faithful, thank his supporters and party officials, for their “unstinted support and commitment to ensuring that the SLPP bounces back to power in November 2012,” with him as President.
“By your massive turn out in the cities, towns and villages we have visited up and down the length and breadth of this country, all those who believe and fear God now know that 2012 is the year God has ordained for the SLPP to return to State House. “
“The long-awaited political contest has now begun and we must redouble our individual and collective efforts to ensure that our Party returns to State House on the first ballot.
“I know the auguries are good and the chances of a first-ballot win with 55 per cent of votes cast are getting brighter and brighter by the day. There must be no run-off.
The role of the international community in ensuring that a free and fair election is held in November is immense, and Bio not only acknowledged this, but is fully aware of the fact that, without a level playing field guaranteed by international election observers, his SLPP stands little chance of winning in November.
For this, he expressed his gratitude. “To the international community, once again I want to publicly record our grateful thanks and appreciation. The people of this country know only too well that, without your financial and other material assistance to the NEC, there would have been no elections in this country at this time.
“Now that you have made it possible for elections to take place, we implore you never to tire of my representations and to robustly raise your own vigilance and observance of the elections to the highest level, in order to ensure that they are conducted in a manner that is fair, transparent, credible and non-violent.
“This way, the general acceptance of the result by all the stakeholders would be guaranteed. That is all that we in the SLPP ask of you” – says Julius Maada Bio.