Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 May 2019:
Last Friday, 17 May 2019, president Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone arrived in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on a one-day working visit, where he was greeted at the airport by the Ivorian president – Alassane Ouattara.
This followed president Bio’s snap visit last week to neighbouring Guinea for talks with the Guinean president Alpha Conde. It is understood that president Bio is having talks with regional heads of State regarding the ongoing political impasse between his government and the main opposition All People’s Congress party (APC).
The opposition APC is refusing to engage with the government, after accusing the ruling SLPP and the president of human rights abuses and unconstitutional behaviour both in and out of parliament; accusations the ruling party have denied.
President Bio has called for a national peace conference – dubbed Bintumani 3, involving political parties, religious leaders, civil society and stakeholders to discuss the growing political tension and help reconcile political differences. The opposition APC have threatend to boycott the conference.
But there are serious doubts about the relevance of a national peace conference, just twelve months after the president was elected.
Most of the concerns raised by the opposition APC appear to rest largely on the effectiveness of the judiciary in concluding petitions brought before the courts against its party’s parliamentarians, the sacking of opposition party supporters from public service, and dispute over the use of standing orders in parliament.
Also, the decision by the police to change the security staff of former president Ernest Bai Koroma who is also chairman and leader of the opposition APC – without consultation, has not gone down well with the APC.
This has further widened the gulf between the government and the APC, fuelling a deep sense of political unrest and tension in the country.
Regional leaders are hoping that through dialogue, both the government and the opposition APC can resolve their differences.
Concluding his visit to Abidjan last Friday, both leaders held a joint press conference, but making no reference to the current political tension in Sierra Leone.
According to a statement published by State House in Freetown, “president Alassane Ouattara commended president Bio for the progress he has made in recovering the country’s economy and consolidating democracy since he took up office last year”.
President Ouattara said that the visit by President Bio will strengthen the relationship between the two countries as well as develop avenues for further cooperation.
The two presidents are said to have acknowledged the need for both countries to diversify their economies, especially in the area of agriculture.
President Ouattara said that both countries will work on a joint commission to look at many areas of cooperation between the two countries. Air Côte d’Ivoire he said, will soon resume flights to Sierra Leone.
On trade, president Ouattara said that his country will be sending trade missions to Sierra Leone, which will include Ivorian private sector leaders to look at trade and investment opportunities.
During their talks, both presidents discussed various issues, including – national security and the threats of terrorism in the sub-region, the electricity project that will provide energy across the Mano River Union countries, the proposed single currency for ECOWAS countries, and the need for member states to make a strong statement supporting the proposal to promote economic integration in the sub-region.