Abdul R Thomas – Editor
4 May 2012
In just under a week, Sierra Leone’s main opposition presidential candidate – Julius Maada Bio will be delivering his maiden address in London, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House.
It is expected that a diverse audience from the British and international business community, senior British politicians and the media, will hear Bio speak about his hopes and aspirations for a new Sierra Leone, under his presidency.
Bio calls his vision – ‘The New Direction’.
Although much has been written about Bio, yet to many in Britain and the world at large, he remains an enigma.
He has served as president of Sierra Leone – leading a ‘youthfully’ popular military regime, before handing power to an elected civilian government in 1996. But many of his supporters and party faithful, believe that he is one of the most misunderstood, misinterpreted and misquoted politicians in the country today.
Key members of Maada Bio’s campaign team are hoping that on the 10th May, 2012, he would dispel the ruling party’s negative campaigning and propaganda, which is aimed at damaging his chances of winning the elections in November.
But above all, Bio too, would be hoping that his vision of a ‘New Direction’ for Sierra Leone, will be embraced by the international community and will translate into investment capital for rebuilding the country’s hailing economy.
Although Sierra Leone’s Gross Domestic Product grew by 5% in 2011, yet youth unemployment is one of the highest in the African continent; and an average daily income per head of less than one dollar.
With his Chatham House speech, Bio would quite like to be highly regarded by the international community, as one of the most liberal leaders in Africa, with whom the world can do business; and that foreign investments in Sierra Leone, will be safeguarded and guaranteed to yield a higher return.
The race for State House will be tough. Bio is up against an incumbent president, who is campaigning very hard on his government’s performance in spending over $400 Million in infrastructural development.
But poverty is rising amid plenty of natural resources.
And, when the incumbent President – Ernest Koroma spoke last Friday, 27 April, 2012, in celebration of the country’s 51st independence anniversary, not only did he have in mind the people of Sierra Leone whose votes he is trying to woo, but the international community without whom – Sierra Leone’s economy is most certain to collapse.
President Koroma said that; “….everywhere in the world our country is being lauded for its developmental strides. Our economy is set to grow by over 35% this year, about the fastest in the world; our country has been named as amongst the best ten reformers in the world.
“We are attracting quality investors from all over the world; we have created Agricultural Business Centres everywhere in the country; world class plantations are being established in Kailahun, Pujehun, Port Loko and Bombali; we have just re-opened the Marampa Iron Ore Mines that had been closed for thirty years.
“The re-established railway line is now transporting iron ore to the re-activated ports at Port Loko; Sierra Rutile is increasing its exports; every day new jobs are advertised in our newspapers; and the prospects for this country becoming an oil producing nation are very great,” says president Koroma.
Can Maada Bio deliver a better offer to the international community?
I guess everyone will have to wait until the 10th May, in order to begin to answer such an important question – with only six months remaining before the people of Sierra Leone go to the polls in November.
But, if the wide ranging policy statements made by Bio in the last year, are anything to go by, it should not be too difficult for his Chatham House audience to conclude that Bio is indeed a leader and presidential candidate they cannot afford to underestimate.
This is what Bio thinks of the way ahead for Sierra Leone – his ‘New Direction’, which President Koroma in his Independence Anniversary speech, last Friday, lampooned as nothing but theory:
“After 50 years of independence, the elections in 2012 are about putting the youth at the centre of development and in the driving seat to seek a New Direction for Sierra Leone.
“We live in a country that started mining diamonds in 1930, rutile in the 70s and gold and bauxite for ever so long. Yet our healthcare and education are largely funded by foreign donors.
“Many families are today not sure where the next meal is coming from; the low wages of workers, promised to be changed by the APC, have perpetuated poverty and hopelessness.
“Our youth continue to be the most deprived and unemployed in the world, just as our country is the most unsafe to give birth to children.
“I don’t think any Sierra Leonean is proud of the condition we live in. There is therefore every need for a New Direction for Sierra Leone. For the sake of the young men and women who finish college and go jobless for years, we need a government that cares.
“We need a government that cares about the basic needs of our people. We need a leader who does not blame our economic woes on the global crisis but sits down and solves them.”
An economy desperate for a ‘New Direction’
“Our country is resource-rich but policy-poor. We have a vast sore running through the population: five million people stuck in desperate conditions of poverty amidst the growing affluence of a few.
“Lifting them from those conditions is the struggle we must wage, and it is a struggle we must win. Various strategies for poverty reduction and for the other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are in vogue. We talk about them every day. However, what the MDGs don’t get us to focus upon is the rate of economic growth.
“True, growth is not a cure-all, but the lack of growth is a kill-all. This failure of the growth process over the past 30 years is, for us, the overarching problem that must be cracked if this country is to escape from the poverty trap.
“Development is about giving hope to ordinary people that their children will live in a society that will catch up with the rest of the world. And catching up in Sierra Leone can only mean raising growth radically.
“Growth will not come to us from without; it has to come from within our own country and our own resources. Our international development partners have helped our development process a lot through aid.
“But aid is now so endemic and so pervasive that it is inducing a mind-set of complacency and hardly do you see any incentives for long-term financial planning or for seeking alternative funding for development. The emphasis therefore has to change.
“We see our future as one of collaboration with our partners in designing systematic, co-ordinated and coherent policies and programmes that make our own development commitments more credible not just to investors, but to our own people as well, and so get a surge in private investments.
“Of course, I am aware that the era of private capital in Africa is only just beginning, and we need to embrace and nurture it in a way that will bring forward the ultimate day when foreign aid will no longer be needed.
“Not that we devalue the importance of aid, only that the impasse we have reached in our country’s development, demands of us a new and higher level of consciousness, a greater degree of innovation, and a generous dose of honesty to acknowledge what works and what does not, as far as our development is concerned.
“So, therefore, the development roadmap we shall be crafting after 2012 is more in the realm of collaborating to build a modern market economy for this country along pathways that our development partners have themselves successfully traversed for their own economies.
“Together, I believe we can create the positive environment necessary for foreign direct investment to flow confidently into the country, creating new jobs and new exports and helping the country to escape the mire of poverty and misery.
“Sierra Leone is greatly in need of private investors, especially investors who are genuine and are able to create new jobs and new exports. To them we shall open our doors widely. But we don’t just need investors who come only to make a profit on their investments and then go back home.
“We want genuine investors who are ready to take the quantum leap to become real stakeholders in the country’s economy. For our part, we shall pass the necessary laws to secure their personal safety and property rights, sufficiently for them to establish here and to see Sierra Leone as home away from home.
“So the investors we seek are the real investors who come, not only to invest, but also to stay and build homes of their own here and raise their children here. This is our goal.
Corruption: an enemy of development
“If our long-term goal is sustainable economic growth and the alleviation of poverty, then none of this can occur in an environment riddled with corruption. Our fight against corruption, therefore, has to be robust, complete, transparent and non-political; and we must leave no stone unturned.
“This fight is about ending impunity; it’s about probity, about holding public officials accountable; about compelling them to obey the law and to do things according to the law. President Kabbah’s Government started it all. They passed the seminal legislation in 2002. To his credit, after 2007, President Koroma’s Government strengthened it. Between them, they have put in place the necessary legislative and institutional framework.
“What remains to be done now is really very, very simple. Mr. President, you really have to get more serious in your efforts to tackle corruption. And you can start right now by removing the immunity you have placed around the sacred cows from amongst family, friends and business partners, and allow the anti-corruption laws to bite.
“Do this and you will soon see the difference in public attitude and perception about corruption in this country. Fail to do this, Mr. President, then nothing is going to change and it will all be business as usual.
“Let me make this solemn promise: Where President Koroma fails to act to end corruption in this country, I shall act. So those involved in corruption, be they citizens or foreign nationals, be forewarned.
“The SLPP Government I shall lead after 2012, will not compromise corruption that harms the interests of the people of this country. Everybody knows that corruption is a two-way street: there is always a giver and a taker. If an investor respects the rule of law and acts in the best interest of the country as well as his own, he has nothing to fear.
“It won’t surprise me at all if the mischief-prone APC leadership tried to seize upon this statement to mislabel the SLPP as not investor-friendly.
“Let me assure you all, that the policies of the SLPP shall always remain eminently investor-friendly, and we believe that both the investor, the government and the people of this country stand to benefit enormously if they make it a duty to respect and obey the laws of the land, as an integral part of good governance. This is our stance.
“In the area of natural resource exploitation, for example, we would like to see investors insisting that any contracts, acquisitions or licences granted to them by public authorities are not shielded from public or legislative scrutiny, nor from the applicable rules of international competitive bidding.
“I say this, because our National Constitution says that such agreements, to be valid, require prior parliamentary ratification or authorization. The current Government’s penchant is to rush such agreements through the parliamentary process by way of a certificate of urgency.
“Whilst this procedure might quicken the parliamentary approval process, it has the serious defect of depriving parliamentarians of the opportunity to scrutinise such agreements thoroughly or to do due diligence. It also falls short of international best practice.
“All this generates suspicions of bad faith even where none might exist. To avoid this in future, and in keeping with our avowed policy of encouraging foreign direct investment flows into the country, we would urge all genuine investors to ensure that agreements, concessions and licences granted to them are fully compliant.
“We give this advice as an essential aspect of the rule of law. We believe that where the rule of law takes hold, it creates stability, predictability, trust and empowerment. Rule of law stabilises government and holds it accountable. It creates a predictable environment for both government and investor.
“It creates confidence in the public to seek change, if necessary, within a framework of continuity, and empowers all economic actors to optimise their returns within the confines of the state.
“The Government I shall lead will invest heavily in the health care delivery. We will improve upon what exists now by providing the infrastructure, equipment and trained personnel necessary for a robust health care system. We will introduce a more sustainable heath care financing mechanism.
“The next SLPP Government will progressively provide universal free and compulsory basic education to all and will endeavour to achieve 100 per cent primary school enrolment within the first years of my administration. We will reinstitute the girl child education programme which the present Government has callously abandoned. We will also ensure that teachers and lecturers are paid a decent wage and on time.
A restless Youth
“Recently we have seen how the power of the youth in West and North Africa was harnessed and transformed into revolutionary fervour. The lessons from those uprisings are inescapable.
“They tell us that the plight of young people cannot be neglected by any government without dire consequences.
Second, that without job opportunities to assuage the restlessness of the youth, no government, however despotic, can survive.
Third, that there is no weapon in the hands of a government that is stronger than the will of the people freely expressed.
“Fourth, that the consequences of youth neglect affect not only the delinquent governments concerned but also the wider international community, especially those members of the United Nations responsible for maintaining international peace and security.
“But no country is immune from the whirlwind of youth power. Youth empowerment, therefore, will receive the utmost attention of the Government I shall form after 2012. I have already mentioned that attracting foreign direct investment as the engine for economic growth and for creating new jobs will receive high priority.
“But much more than that, ample provision will also be made for skills training, especially for the youth, to empower and equip them for meeting the challenges of a modern economy.
“Companies, more especially mining companies, will be encouraged to partner with Government in providing specialized training programmes where these are not available in the public sector.”
But to understand Bio’s political values and the principles that guide his vision of a ‘New Direction’, one need to understand his SLPP party’s ideology, which is buried deep within the statement, which says that:
“The Sierra Leone People’s Party’s overriding philosophy of a unified Sierra Leone is enshrined in its motto of ‘One Country, One People’, and is supported by the Party’s ideological brand of Social Democracy, which seeks to merge the effectiveness of the private and market economy with the compassion of state intervention, in protecting the vulnerable and the marginalized in society and ensuring optimal production and wealth creation, whilst assuring social justice.”
Maada Bio says that his party’s brand of ‘social democracy’ is one that works assiduously toward the attainment of “a better Sierra Leone” by embarking on a ‘New Direction’.
But more importantly, it is likely that his 2012 elections manifesto will incorporate and seek to achieve the following policy goals:
- A lean and cost effective government machinery, and the eradication of the complex legal and regulatory processes that restrict and blunt entrepreneurial initiatives
- A private sector – led growth bolstered by public-private sector partnerships
- A sustainable rural agricultural policy that is driven by the immense proficiency and productivity of our scientific research institutions, and an amalgamation of the astuteness of our farmers and the business ingenuity of our entrepreneurs
- Quality education, health care, child care and the provision of other social services for all persons through social partnerships with strategic stakeholders
- A reasoned tax regime that emerges out of consultation and is driven by a common upliftment, mutuality of interest, recognition of our inherent interdependence, willingness on the part of all to make a little sacrifice for the common good
- A sharpened and sustained attack on poverty and the assurance of a more productive life for the vulnerable and the marginalized, through a system of credible social safety nets
- An economic development agenda that efficiently and gainfully manages our mineral, petroleum and other resources, protects the integrity of our environment and takes advantage of the fast growing green markets in recognition of the immense benefits of the rural economy
On the 10th May, 2012, presidential candidate – Mr. Julius Maada Bio, will have the opportunity to tell the international community about his hopes and aspirations for a new Sierra Leone, under his leadership.
According to Chatham House; “At this event, Mr Maada Bio will offer his national vision and explain what policies he would like to see implemented in support of prosperity and justice for all of Sierra Leone’s citizens.”
If elected on the 17 November, 2012, Bio will have his legitimacy endorsed by the people of Sierra Leone to implement his ‘New Direction’ public policy vision. But first, he must square the circle, at the floor of Chatham House.
What stood out to me in Bio’s maiden speech after his election as flagbearer (republished above), was how he emphasized the need to balance the interests of foreign investors with the rights and well being of the people.
Specifically, he pledged to review all contracts, and in light of the recent strike at African Minerals and the report about the land grabbing and labor abuses by Socfin – put out by Oakland Institute, this remains a very pressing priority. It will be interesting to hear more about this in his Chatham house speech.