Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 August 2023:
It is now over seven weeks since President Bio was sworn in as the elected President of Sierra Leone, marking his second and final term in office, following a controversial election held in June 2023 that saw the main opposition All Peoples Congress Party (APC) refusing to accept the results and boycotting the country’s parliament. (Photo above: APC Leader and 2023 presidential candidate – Dr Samura Kamara).
In his address at the State opening of Parliament on Thursday, 3rd August, 2023 President Bio appeared to have taken the moral high when he offered an olive branch to the opposition APC, calling for political dialogue to end the crisis that has engulfed the country. He said: “Today, we gather here to reflect upon the importance of cohesion in politics and to recognise the paramount significance of unity and collaboration in our noble endeavour to serve the people”.
“In this very Parliament, where no party has attained a two-thirds majority, the need for dialogue and negotiation resonates with utmost urgency. We must find common ground within the political divides. Through unity, we can achieve stability, progress, and prosperity in our democracy”.
“Let us not forget that the true holders of power in a democracy are the people we represent. We must always remember their voices, aspirations, and hopes for a better future in every debate and conflict”.
“Our individual egos must yield to the greater national cause, and our quest for power must never overshadow our deep-rooted desire to be a government that genuinely serves the people. Our purpose transcends personal enrichment or fleeting fame; it is firmly grounded in pursuing our nation’s and people’s collective well-being”.
Sadly, no sooner President Bio made that lofty call for political dialogue, he then changed his mind and went on to instead proposed the formation of a committee led by vice president Juldeh Jalloh to conduct a review of the country’s electoral processes.
President Bio’s proposed electoral review committee has been met with strong rebuke, not least from the opposition APC, and yesterday the US Ambassador to Sierra Leone was critical, calling for political dialogue and a review led by someone outside of Sierra Leone.
On 9 August 2023, the Commonwealth Secretary-General – Patricia Scotland, offered to facilitate such dialogue aimed at ending the political crisis that is threatening to destabilise Sierra Leone.
Writing in a statement, Patricia Scotland said: “On 25 May, following months of peaceful and constructive dialogue, the leaders of all of Sierra Leone’s political parties accepted the invitation to stand before the nation and pledged themselves and their supporters to peace. Today, I call on all to honour the terms of that commitment.
“The democratic process requires calm and responsible leadership, functioning institutions, a commitment to justice and the rule of law, and an active, collective choice to unite rather than to divide.
“This is not always easy, but it is the essential foundation for peace and progress, and Sierra Leone’s own history underlines its importance.
“In challenging times, leadership matters. This is the moment for Sierra Leone’s leaders to engage in peaceful, constructive dialogue to honour the promises they made to the people when we stood together in Freetown, and to ensure a strong democratic inheritance for future generations.
“I said then, and I say again now, that the Commonwealth is with you. I offer my full support and engagement in helping to facilitate that peaceful, constructive dialogue, and I share the hopes of millions across Sierra Leone, Africa and the world that the courage, integrity and love which make this nation so special will not fail.”
President Bio is yet to accept the Commonwealth Secretariat’s offer to lead political dialogue and talks that could peacefully bring an end to Sierra Leone’s political crisis.
Pressure is also mounting internally within the APC party towards resolving the political impasse. Former APC presidential candidate, who was also Attorney General under the Koroma-led APC government – Barrister Joseph F. Kamara (Photo), said on Twitter last week : “Our All Peoples Congress Party is dancing shoeless on broken bottles. Priorities misplaced, ultimatums unenforceable, indecisiveness and hopes shattered. Most of us bury heads in the sand like the Ostrich. APC thinking needs urgent recalibration. A knee is on the neck of the APC.”
Dr Samura Kamara, leader of the APC and 2023 Presidential candidate, has responded positively to the Commonwealth Secretariat’s dialogue proposal.
Last weekend Dr Samura said: “We note with appreciation the recent statement by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, and welcome the opportunity to engage in a mediated dialogue as soon as possible for the good of all in SL. Grateful as always for the support of the Commonwealth SG in restoring our democracy, social Justice and national unity.”
And Dr Samura’s acceptance of the proposed political dialogue was reinforced by the APC party national executive body – the NAC yesterday in a statement, saying: “We want the public to know that the APC’s position of non-participation in governance still stand. However, just like all conflicts are resolved at the table, the APC is not averse to sitting at the table and talk through their demands, subject to such dialogue being facilitated by a credible external independent arbiter or institution.”
The people of Sierra Leone and beyond are waiting for a response from President Bio to the Commonwealth Secretariat’s offer to lead and facilitate political dialogue.
Will President Bio continue to be intransigent so as to keep his soiled presidency at the cost of instability in the country, or will he commit to external facilitation of political dialogue with the APC?