Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 December 2017
Has Bio’s appearance at Chatham House yesterday, done enough to put events of the last forty-eight hours behind him?
After much bollocking and lampooning from the media, critics and detractors alike, for what has been described at best as a mediocre performance on the BBC Focus on Africa programme, and at worse – a performance unbecoming of a president of Sierra Leone in waiting, the last forty-eight hours is one that the SLPP presidential candidate – Julius Maada Bio would rather forget.
Bio may not have been able to answer to questions put to him by the BBC reporter about his plans for turning Sierra Leone around, but his media handlers have been busy in the last forty-eight hours on damage limitations. Listen to the BBC interview:
What is not clear is the level of damage done to his international credibility, after his uncomfortable performance on the BBC Focus on Africa programme on Monday, 4th December 2017.
But yesterday, Bio was at Chatham House in London, where he gave a speech about the problems facing Sierra Leone and his vision for change. This is an excerpt from the paper he presented on the subject of: “Sierra Leone and the challenges of democratic consolidation”.
Mr. Chairman, let me now outline some of the key challenges that threaten the consolidation of democracy in Sierra Leone Today.
Democracy Cannot be Built on an Empty Stomach
My experience in government as Head of State and reflections since handing over power to a democratically elected government, have all shown that democracy cannot be built, sustained and consolidated on an empty stomach.
In other words, poverty, illiteracy, underdevelopment and lack of existential necessities of life, i.e., Food, Shelter, Clothing and Healthcare, are a threat to the consolidation of democracy.
As the saying goes, ‘a desperately hungry man or woman is an angry man or woman’. So how can we build and consolidate democracy in the context of extreme poverty and deprivation?
And let us be frank here, ‘Democracy’ in Sierra Leone as in the rest of Africa, is really a metaphor for ‘Development’, and here, I mean development in all its forms and manifestations.
The Context of Sierra Leone today shows that Democracy is not only in decline and its consolidation is under threat because bad governance and rampant corruption have converted Sierra Leone into one of the poorest countries in the world and the 3rd Hungriest Place on Earth.
In Sierra Leone Today, two-thirds of the 7 million population live on less than US $1.25 a day, 3 out every 5 adults cannot read or write, life expectancy is 50 years compared to 53 in neighbouring Liberia and 59 in Guinea.
Most of the population either lack or has limited or no guaranteed access to basic services including education, healthcare and social protection.
70% Youth unemployment and they are unskilled and lacking social mobility opportunities.
Justice is not accessible to the majority of the poor and dispossessed in Sierra Leone today.
The IMF and World Bank have raised serious concerns about the economic mismanagement and poor governance in Sierra Leone today and have therefore frozen multilateral funding to the current APC government until after the March 2018 elections.
Mr. Chairman, in this context of extreme poverty and deprivation, democracy and electoral politics is reduced to ‘buying votes’ and the promotion of sectional, ethnic and parochial interests as the only means to secure access to State Power and its Patrimonial Resources.
Decline of Democracy and the Emergence of Elected Autocrat in Sierra Leone
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, due to limited time, let me just outline one more crucial challenge to consolidating democracy in Sierra Leone today.
Despite the international optimism for democratic consolidation in post-war Sierra Leone, what we see in Sierra Leone is a decline of democracy and the emergence of an Elected Autocrat.
In the past 10 years, Sierra Leone has been sliding further and further into authoritarianism. It is therefore not a surprise that the Global Freedom Democracy Report (2017) has ranked Sierra Leone as a ‘Partly Free Democracy’.
This slide into what I call, ‘Elected Autocrat’ was manifested by the current President of Sierra Leone when he unilaterally sacked his Vice President, in complete contravention of Sections 50 and 51 of the 1991 Constitution.
This political fallout between the current President and his Vice triggered the intervention of the Supreme Court.
With the Chief Justice appointed by the President, it was therefore not a surprise that the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favour of the President, claiming that as president and Supreme Executive Authority, he had the power to dismiss his Vice President, citing Sections 40 and 41 of the constitution.
The ECOWAS Regional Court of Justice last week ruled that the removal of the Vice-President in 2015 by the President was a wrongful and an unconstitutional act.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the greatest challenge to consolidating democracy in post-war Sierra Leone because if the Supreme Law and Social Contract of the Land, the National Constitution, can be flagrantly abused and manipulated to serve the political and vested interests of the President of the Day, then there is currently, little hope of consolidating democracy in Sierra Leone today.
Opportunities for Consolidating Democracy in Post-war Sierra Leone
Against this background, what is the hope for consolidating democracy in post-war Sierra Leone? Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you our New Direction for Democratic Consolidation and Inclusive Development.
The Sierra Leone Peoples Party, one of Africa’s oldest political parties, if elected into Government, will focus on 4 Key Policy Areas to transform Sierra Leone.
And they are: the Economy; Human Development; Infrastructure and Governance.
These 4 Board Policy Areas are further outlined into a 12-Point Development and Governance Plan including:
- Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Skills Training + Jobs = Development and Peace for All:
- Domestic Revenue Mobilisation and Collection
- Free Education for National Development & Economic Growth
- ‘People First’ Diversified Economy
- Governance, Governance, Governance: effective Governance of the State and Natural Resources
- Food Security for ALL
- Health Security: for a productive economy and national development
- Energy & Water Security
- Power to the Youth, Women and Disadvantaged
- Lands, Country Planning & Affordable Housing for ALL
- Infrastructure Connecting Sierra Leone by Roads, Air and Sea
- Peace and Security for All
Our Strategic Objective for this 12-Point Plan is to offer a STARK CHOICE between the current ‘Business as Usual Status Quo’ that has ensured that Sierra Leone is mired in Poverty, Rampant Corruption, Gross Indiscipline and Underdevelopment and ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world.
OR the New Direction Opportunity to Change and Transform Sierra Leone for the Better through Inclusive Politics, Inclusive Economic Growth and Inclusive Development where every Sierra Leonean is given the Ladder of Opportunity to Climb and achieve their greatest Potential for Development; where Efficient Political and Economic Management of the State and natural Resources will ensure that we are able, as a Country, to Pay and Finance ALL our Basic and Essential Service Provisions and Invest in our Critical Infrastructure.
Mr. Chairman, if elected, my Government will implement, through a National Referendum, the findings of the Constitutional Review Commission to establish a Liberal and Progressive national Constitution that will enshrine into law:
Two-Term Presidential Limit, with no President ever able to unilaterally sack his / her Vice President, in contravention of the constitution; Presidential and General Elections Date and Date for Presidential Inauguration; By enshrining into the Constitution these key elements of the democratic and electoral politics processes, we want to make sure that the next SLPP Government will make a meaningful contribution to the consolidation of democracy in Sierra Leone and to ensure that the post-war gains of democracy are not reversed.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, to secure this much-needed Change and Transformation in Sierra Leone, the New Direction is based on the political ideology of Social Democracy.
The New Direction Social Democracy Political Ideology is fundamentally commitment to peace, freedom, security, justice, equality, unity and solidarity.
It promotes and guarantees political, social, economic and cultural rights of all Sierra Leoneans through Entitlement and Access to basic necessities of life.
Our New Direction Social Democratic politics aspires to create a more just and equal society in Sierra Leone as the only guarantee to avoid another war and recurrent political instability.
The Social Democracy foundation of our New Direction Development focus is based on inclusive politics, inclusive development and inclusive economic growth whereby the benefits of economic growth are re-distributed to all Sierra Leoneans through the provision of Free Education, Free public healthcare services, affordable housing, guaranteed access to electricity and water provision.
Our New Direction Social Democracy gives every Sierra Leonean a Voice, a Role, Ownership and a Stake in the country and its future.
Mr. Chairman, to conclude, what hope do we have for consolidating democracy in Sierra Leone? I am of the view that the democratisation challenges faced by Sierra Leone is not different from some of the challenges faced by other African states as they make the difficult, and sometimes, chaotic and violent democratic transition.
But the Hope that the people of Sierra Leone have is a new SLPP Government in Sierra Leone that is committed to; Democracy, Democracy and Democratic Empowerment and Consolidation – a new SLPP Government that is committed to Governance, Governance and Efficient Political Economic Governance of the State and our Natural Resources; a new SLPP Government with the Strategic Vision of Inclusive Politics, Inclusive Economic Growth and Inclusive Development.