President Bio delivers a powerful speech at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 March 2019:

Yesterday, Thursday 7th March 2019, president Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone was at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Massachusetts, Boston, USA, where he delivered a powerful keynote speech about his vision for Sierra Leone’s development.

His address, titled – ‘Toward a New Renaissance in Sierra Leone: A New, Bolder Vision’ was keenly absorbed by academics, researchers, political leaders, and students, as he spoke about his passion for rooting out corruption, building a new and sustainable economy, and embedding the principles of good governance in Sierra Leone.

“Good governance involves institutionalising best practices into norms that make our democracy resilient. So, when we clamp down on corruption, waste, abuse, and fraud or when we stringently apply anti-corruption laws without fear or favour or institute commissions of inquiry presided over by foreign judges of great standing, we are fostering a culture of deterrence and accountability. Corruption hinders national development and social cohesion and it is a potent trigger for civil unrest.

“We have undertaken institutional reforms that promote greater public financial management and more efficient revenue mobilisation. We can now track down financial inflows and outflows. We have made the price of corruption very high and in the first months of my administration alone, we have recovered over a million US dollars from corrupt public officials. We will use the recovered loot as down-payment for the first and only diagnostic and cancer care hospital that will serve all Sierra Leoneans,” said the president.

“Sierra Leone wants more trade and less aid and where aid is granted it should be aligned with our national development priorities and not duplicate other external actor interventions.”

But he began by setting the context for the change that he is now pioneering in Sierra Leone. This is what he said:

Deans, Faculty, Students, and Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. Allow me to begin this evening’s conversation about Sierra Leone with two rather hackneyed expressions: a) “a bad reputation is easy to make and hard to break”; and b) “a good reputation is hard to destroy.”

Sierra Leone, in the popular imagination of some, has yet to shake off persistent narratives of a quaint place in the jungles of Africa, where drugged, marauding teenagers with AK-47s ran riot, killing women and children, indiscriminately lopping off limbs and razing down houses in an orgy of violence over blood diamonds.

To some, Sierra Leone is still the place of Ebola with hundreds of people dying helplessly and being buried in mass graves. To some still, Sierra Leone is still the subject of international diplomacy about peace-making, peacebuilding, and reconciliation and how the international community could get it all wrong again and how everything could go up in flames.

It is further imagined as the playground of irrational warlords uninterested in the civilised norms of democratic rule waging war against a corrupt and repressive regime. Sierra Leone is also perceived as the site of activity for multiple international charities feeding malnourished babies and pouring in conspicuous amounts of money in order to save Sierra Leoneans from themselves.

Unfortunately, most people have yet to update that imagination of Sierra Leone as either just another unsafe, failed state or one teetering at the brink of failure and relapse into anarchy.

Sierra Leone continues to pay a hefty price for the failure or refusal of huge sections of the west to shake off their wrong perceptions of Sierra Leone. Insurance agencies continue to rate the country as a very dangerous place and hence unfairly levy very high insurance rates. Tourism is down to a trickle. Potential investors imagine that their businesses are safer if kept well out of Sierra Leone.

It is seen wrongly as a haven for predatory hawks, red tape, and illicit financial flows. It is seen as a place where leaders are not interested in maximising gains from their natural resources or training their population into a skilled workforce.

Foreign policy analysts, some development partners, and risks analysts, in equal measure, still see Sierra Leone as an object of intense fascination and conjecture.

Then there is the Sierra Leone that some of you may have encountered in your Political Sciences or International Relations and Politics lecture halls – Sierra Leone as an intellectual construct; Sierra Leone as a site of intellectual contestation where scholars test out “new insights” into resource curse and state collapse, neo-patrimonialism and clientelism, liberal peacebuilding, truth and reconciliation best practices or hybrid justice systems for human rights, post conflict and peace-making models, ethno-politics in emerging democracies and many more.

I want to steer away from the many “Sierra Leones” imagined, constructed, and contested. I want to talk about the Sierra Leone where there has been democratic elections and three peaceful and seamless transfers of power over the last 23 years. I want to talk about the peaceful Sierra Leone that has continuously been a pluralistic democracy for the last 23 years.

I want to talk about the Sierra Leone with great potential – a youthful population, rich seas, breath-taking touristic beaches and landscape, vast arable land crisscrossed by more than 12 major rivers, very significant and diverse mineral deposits, and with neighbours at peace with themselves and at peace with one another.

I want to talk about the Sierra Leone providing leadership in the sub-region. I want to talk about the new Sierra Leone that provides every Sierra Leonean with security, access, and the opportunity to prosper in a well-governed Sierra Leone.

So there is a strong and irreversible shift in focus from a Sierra Leone that does not define itself in terms of a distant past and imagined or real pathologies of politics but in terms of a new direction.

This strategic shift is anchored on four key staples: a) good governance, b), purposeful planning and domestication of development priorities c) investment in human capital development, and d) negotiating new modes of engagement with the world and development partners with emphasis on trade and developing the private sector and not aid.

Good governance involves institutionalising best practices into norms that make our democracy resilient. So, when we clamp down on corruption, waste, abuse, and fraud or when we stringently apply anti-corruption laws without fear or favour or institute commissions of inquiry presided over by foreign judges of great standing, we are fostering a culture of deterrence and accountability. Corruption hinders national development and social cohesion and it is a potent trigger for civil unrest.

We have undertaken institutional reforms that promote greater public financial management and more efficient revenue mobilisation. We can now track down financial inflows and outflows. We have made the price of corruption very high and in the first months of my administration alone, we have recovered over a million US dollars from corrupt public officials. We will use the recovered loot as down-payment for the first and only diagnostic and cancer care hospital that will serve all Sierra Leoneans.

We are encouraged by the Millennium Corporation Challenge’s rating of our country, for the very first time at 71 from a lowly 49. We will sustain the fight against corruption because it guarantees investor confidence and insures that public finances and resources are well managed for the public good.

We have commissioned a geophysical survey to help us determine the location, types, and volume of mineral deposits in our country.  We have instituted progressive extractives governance policies that will guarantee transparency in that sector.

In addition to a new investment code, we have removed red tape and constituted an Investment Board co-chaired by me and the Vice President. This will be a one stop shop for addressing investor needs and questions.

Democratic accountability works best in a milieu of trust and confidence in institutions and processes. We believe that by simplifying and making government processes predictable, we will promote trust and confidence in our governance institutions.

Part of that predictability is to use science, technology, and innovation to fast-track government processes and make them more transparent. Also, citizens must have buy-in on how governance functions. We will keep democratic spaces open and ensure civic participation and inclusion in our democratic decision-making processes.

We are finalising the repeal process and libel will no longer be a criminal offence in Sierra Leone as it is currently. A free press enriches our democracy. We have also fast-tracked devolution and decentralisation.

We have also opened up spaces for civic engagement and participation and continue to collaborate with civil society and advocacy organisations on resolving some of our thorniest problems.

In mapping out our development priorities as a nation, my government has launched a medium term national development plan which is part of a longer twenty-year development plan. The priorities were determined by citizens through an inclusive, consultative process owned and driven by us and tailored to our country’s specific development needs and context.

The plan also needed to be achievable, sustainable with measurable outcomes that are consistent with regional and global development targets and indicators as set in the AU Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Future annual budgets would also be fully aligned with the national development priorities.

We also laid out how we would engage our development partners in order to avoid duplicity and waste and together, we negotiated a continual relationship of continuous dialogue guided by the principles of transparency and mutual accountability. My argument is that Africa’s development needs not be driven by and determined by external actors and donor countries.

Additionally, we also want to establish a robust, diversified, and effective private sector in agriculture, fisheries, tourism, energy, and ICT among others because we believe that it will be a critical bulwark that shores up the development of our economy and therefore makes it less susceptible to shocks.

Sierra Leone grants incentives that ease the establishment and the transaction of business and also enjoys duty free access for certain goods through the United States’ African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the European Union’s Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) contains incentives to spur private sector investment.

Sierra Leone wants more trade and less aid and where aid is granted it should be aligned with our national development priorities and not duplicate other external actor interventions. But just reviewing regulatory frameworks, undertaking infrastructural developments, and institutionalising democratic accountability is not enough to drive development.

As a country, we have identified human capital development as the most critical factor in the development process. We have significantly increased investments in human capital development up to 21% of the entire budget.

We have launched the free quality education programme as the government’s flagship programme with five core components: equitable access and free especially for the girl-child and children with disabilities; ensuring quality and providing free teaching and learning resources; retention including providing safe spaces for girls and tackling residual cultural attitudes that scupper the education of the girl-child; completion, and strong post-completion training.

Nations that have leapfrogged in the development process have a well-educated and trained workforce and have taken advantage of science and innovation. The government has also established a Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation to seed, test, and scale innovations in collaboration with and in consideration of the needs of the private sector, government, and academic institutions.

In further pursuit of human capital development, we have also invested in healthcare infrastructure and the training of healthcare workers in order to provide access to quality healthcare. We are also investing in various food security initiatives. In addition to investing in human capital development, my government is working on ensuring social protection and safety for every Sierra Leonean especially women and girls.

In addition to women’s financial inclusion and empowerment initiatives, we have declared a national emergency on rape and sexual violence. Thus, we can allocate resources to dealing with the emergency while reviewing all applicable laws on women’s rights and eliminating all forms of gender-violence.

Within the wider sub-regional context, Sierra Leone provides leadership for the Committee of Ten for the reform of the United Nations. The singular objective is to gain Africa’s rightful place in the global governance system.

We argue that Africa’s non-representation and under-representation in the Permanent and Non-permanent categories of the Security Council is grossly unfair and unjust. We further argue that Africa makes its fair contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security and Africa is affected by the majority of the decisions of the United Nations Security Council.

Moreover, Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent and its 1.2 billion people collectively deserve representation in the Permanent category of the premier Organ of the United Nations entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining international peace and security on behalf of Member States.

Sierra Leone as a nation continues also to contribute to the preservation of world peace and security by actively participating in United Nations Peacekeeping missions in various countries in the world.

Let me close by emphasising that our vision of the new Sierra Leone is one developed on the principles of democratic governance and accountability; one that makes informed choices through inclusive consultative processes about and drives its own development priorities; one that continues to escalate investments in human capital development and innovation; one that  protects and provides equal opportunity to vulnerable populations; one that develops its economy around private sector growth and trade (not aid); and, one that continues to provide regional leadership.

That is the new Sierra Leone we are building. Our mission is to develop a Sierra Leone whose reputation is hard to destroy.

You can watch the full speech here and president Bio answering questions:

7 Comments

  1. President Bio has once again shown his true character as a humble person during the question time when some foreign students from Africa asked him very critical and difficult questions about his role in our region.

    They saw him as a role model based on the positive steps he has taken in transforming Sierra Leone in less than a year.

    I personally believe that they are now expecting him to be the policeman of Africa, but he cleverly replied that “ he is the new kid on the block and he doesn’t want to be seen as if he is poking his nose into everyone’s business.’

    May the almighty continue to give him wisdom and understanding so that he can raise our country to higher heights.

  2. I applaud everyone welcoming the presidents speech. I also respect all those who might have reservations or even criticised the president’s speech. It depends which way you look at it. But on the average, it was a positive speech.

    The president is telling us to be patient and look into the future because everything will be fine. But on the other hand, there are certain things that will be achieved in the short time.

    What I take from the speech personally is that the president is telling us not to be worried but be happy. This just reminds me of the music of BOBBY McFERRIN. ENJOY – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-diB65scQU – DON’T WORRY BE HAPPY by Mcferrin there.
    There are many positive things in the president’s speech which will be very good for the country in both the short and the long terms.
    One thing I found interesting was the integration of the First Lady’s Cancer project with the president’s Medical Diagnostics project. The First Lady sometime ago clearly stated that she has helped with the architectural part of the cancer centre and has submitted the proposals to the government for action.

    Now the president has made it clear that the cancer centre will be constructed. This is what he said and I quote – ‘We will use the recovered loot as down-payment for the first and only diagnostic and cancer care hospital that will serve all Sierra Leoneans.’.

    What a brilliant move by the First Lady to achieve her promise to the people of Sierra Leone. She deserves praise. Thank you very much Madam First Lady and God Bless you. My only advice to you is to be yourself. Continue doing what you believe in. I say that because I did not see you with the president in the US on this trip.

    Furthermore, it was interesting to hear the president talking about more trade and less aid among other very interesting topics. But talking about the reduction in foreign aid is a very good step towards our economic sovereignty. Sierra Leone needs it’s economic sovereignty to prosper.
    I don’t have time to comment on all what the president said, because the speech has a wide range of topics for a diverse audience. Again, on the average, the speech was EXCELLENT AND SUPER.

    However, I was disappointed with two topics that the president did not mention. I did not hear the president speak about his government’s commitment to ant-smuggling and secondly, I did not hear anything concerning corruption during the slave trade, colonial and the protectorate eras.

    The country needs money for development. Sierra Leone was used as a country to bring freed slaves to settle after the abolition of the slave trade. Did the authorities then pay tax for that? Also, did those merchants pay the country or the people in-charge the correct duties for the slaves imported and exported? From history, a local business named Samuel Samo continued to sell slaves even after the abolition of the slave trade. He was tried, but pleaded his innocence although there was a bill of laden to prove it. There were also other issues including the problems during the HUT TAX war and other corruption and malpractices.

    I don’t blame the president for not saying anything about that. Is there a way for the government to ask all the governments during that era to help find documents to prove our case. If there is proof that corruption existed those days with what history tells us, then Sierra Leone will have Billions of Dollars or Pounds Sterling to claim. Will that not be fantastic? I hope it happens one day.

    Finally, let us all praise the president where he deserves praise and correct him where he makes mistakes.

  3. Thank you Prezzo for all your hard work. You and your dynamic team especially the foreign minister, vice president and First Minister are always making us proud and I want to say a big thank you. President Bio has and is putting the name of Sierra Leone on the world map again. This poor nation has been ravaged and raped by unpatriotic politicians beyond repairs and this is only way to fix it.

    Every level headed Sierra Leonean who mean well for their country will applaud you. The fact that you chose this path to bring your country from the doldrums, even the international communities are pleased with you. The fact that you are putting the country first, is worrying the opposition, so please continue the good job.

    You have employed your detractors with full time employment without salary. They are now in a over drive looking for avenues again to attack you. They have all failed. They said you will never go to America but you have been there twice and in grand style. You have gone places where they never expected you to go. Places that they will never dream of going. The other thing I like about you is your consistence of show casing our powerful African attire. I admire you for that and I hope people will learn to embrace our culture more and more. Keep it up Sir, I respect you.

  4. It is interesting that some would question who pays for the president’s trip to Boston for engagements with the academic communities in MIT and Harvard. Well, for a president that wants to remove his country from the wretchedness of corruption, deadly diseases and self-imposed global isolation, what better place to do that than on the platforms of two of the world’s foremost academic institutions? And what a brilliant way to spend taxpayers’ money!

    Sierra Leone needs rebranding and who better to do that than the first gentleman of the state? As the president correctly remarks, Sierra Leone is “negotiating new modes of engagement with the world and development partners with emphasis on trade and developing the private sectors and not aid”.

    Indeed, the Sierra Leone that was aid-dependent, riddled with deadly diseases and crumbling under the catastrophe of mudslides is dead. It died with the inept, maladroit and unscrupulous APC. And on its tombstone are inscripted the words, “Dead and Never to Rise Again”.

    The new Sierra Leone is the Sierra Leone that has initiated a free quality education program and established the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation. It is the Sierra Leone that has created the basis for good governance and the rule of law, the Sierra Leone that is in pursuit of human capital development and a good foundation in healthcare.

    The new Sierra Leone is the Sierra Leone that is expected to leapfrog in the development process and assume its historic leadership role in West Africa.

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