The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 March 2013
President Ernest Koroma’s invitation to the White House, joining three other African heads of state – Cape Verde, Malawi and Senegal, to discuss democracy and economic opportunities with President Obama is causing a stir.
Critics say that president Obama is likely to use his closed door meeting with Koroma to express his concern over reports of serious electoral malpractice at last November’s general elections in Sierra Leone, which the president won by a huge majority.
The country’s main opposition SLPP has taken their allegations of vote rigging and other malpractices to the country’s Supreme Court.
But Sierra Leone’s Minister of Information and Communications – Mr. Alpha Kanu, said the gesture by the US has been received with great joy by the government and people of Sierra Leone.
“President Koroma sees this as a great honour, while we the people he leads, see it as a cardinal endorsement of his impeccable democratic credentials, underpinned by the successful conclusion of the 2012 presidential, parliamentary and local council elections in an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity,” says Mr. Kanu.
The Minister, who also doubles as Presidential and Government spokesperson made the remarks Monday, via email from the capital Freetown, in the middle of preparations for his departure on a three-day visit to Washington with President Koroma
Pro-government news outlets are welcoming the invitation as a status upgrade, for Sierra Leone to be recognized as a viable, democratically governed country, earning such prestigious invitation from the president of the United States – President Barack Obama.
But opposition newspapers and critics of the Koroma administration are deprecating the importance of the visit.
Speaking in his capacity as presidential spokesperson, Minister Kanu gave this statement:
“It is recognition of his brilliant human rights record – where he placed a permanent lid on executions, persecution of journalists, the complete absence of political prisoners in our prisons, the maintenance of law and order that earned him the award of abolitionist of the year by the “Hands off Caine” organization.
“His incessant concern for timely and effective delivery on the Agenda for Change, in such a transformative manner that the UNDP Human Development Index has not only moved 10 places up from the bottom of the scale, where the nation had been trapped for the last two decades prior to 2007.
“For his governance strategy firmly focused on the MDGs as end points, the Agenda for Change as a road mapping strategy and the MCC indicators as benchmarking milestones leading to the invitation for Sierra Leone to prepare an MCC Compact proposal.”
But what is certain to start a renewed debate is that contrary to published Reports on the country’s economic performance and Human Development Index, the Minister said that:
“This apparent defiance of the gravity like pull down factor on one of two competing interests of economic growth and social delivery has rendered the effect of the expected Pareto optimality concept negligible.
“President Koroma may not have won a Nobel Prize for leadership nor does an Oscar for political dexterity, however, his invitation to the White House by President Barack Obama, the most powerful man on earth today, more than compensate for that.”
However, Minister Kanu did not comment on a transparency related issue – the status of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill – a legislation that would allow members of the public and the media to obtain access to information held by public bodies.
The draft Bill is yet to make it into the Statute Books.
Critics argue that unemployment, high cost of living and other economic and social ills affecting the country are sufficient reasons not to celebrate the president’s visit to the White House.
Steven Ruder, spokesperson for USIP in a statement Monday on the invitation, said that “these four heads of state are in Washington DC together, at the invitation of President Obama.”
Ruder further explained that “the USIP is hosting this event at the request of the U.S. Department of State. USIP hosted a similar event; ‘Assessing Progress Toward Democracy in Francophone Africa,’ on July 28, 2011, with the heads of state of Benin, Guinea, Niger, and Cote d’Ivoire.”
The aims of USIP at this event, according to Ruder is “ to have an important conversation on the link between good governance and increasing prosperity in their countries and across Africa,” underscoring “promoting democracy, transparency, economic advancement, their countries’ roles as regional leaders, and how partnering with organizations like the Millennium Challenge Corporation has helped motivate and sustain democratic reforms.”
Ruder also advised that requests for comment on the invitation of these heads of state to the United States, should be directed to the Department of State in Washington.