Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 October 2021:
As President Bio of Sierra Leone who was democratically elected by the people of Sierra Leone in 2018 after he was branded “a brutal military junta leader” following the extra-judicial killing of dozens of people in 1992 in a coup d’état that brought down an elected government, visited Guinea Conakry on Monday 11th October 2021, he is today being accused of “displaying his military junta credentials” by fraternalizing with the military leaders in Guinea who themselves recently toppled an elected president.
“President Bio is like a leopard that cannot change its spots,” says one commentator. “He cannot be trusted.”
So, what is wrong with president Bio visiting the Guinean military coup leaders, and what are the ramifications for ECOWAS?
Critics of president Bio say that by visiting the Guinean coup leaders, president Bio is violating the spirit of sanctions and executive orders imposed by ECOWAS leaders against the Guinean coup leaders and their junta government.
But according to a Sierra Leone government spokesman, president Bio visited Guinea “to follow-up on the ECOWAS protocol and formalities.”
But the ECOWAS leaders did not appoint president Bio to go on such follow-up mission. They have an appointed standing mission that is led by former president of Nigeria – Jonathan Goodluck.
So, is president Bio undermining the authority of his fellow ECOWAS leaders by visiting the Guinean coup leaders?
“The visit was also a way to show Guineans that Sierra Leone is a sister country that will always help when there is the need to do so,” says the Sierra Leone government official.
President Bio’s visit to Guinea comes as the international community are finding ways – including sanctions to pressure the Guinean coup leaders to respect human rights and democratic order. They are also calling for the coup leaders to hand-over power to a civilian administration to prepare for elections.
President Bio is reported to have been accompanied by the Sierra Leonean Speaker of the House of Parliament – Dr Abass Bundu, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation – Professor David John Francis, Deputy Minister of Defence – Colonel (Rtd) Muana Brima Massaquoi, Chief of Defence Staff – Lieutenant General Sullay I. Sesay.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with the Guinean coup leaders as a show of solidarity, president Bio “expressed the need to reciprocate the sacrifice Guinea made for Sierra Leone during its turmoil of 11 years civil war.”
He told the Guinean coup leaders: “I was a soldier when the war started in my country, and I saw first-hand what the Guinean people and army did for us. It is time to give back at this time which is the purpose of being here.”
But what can president Bio offer the Guinean coup leaders apart from moral support, military boots on the ground and logistic support?
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest nations in the region and its economy is in decline, with most people in the country struggling to make ends meet, as food prices continue to rise.
In response to president Bio’s promise of solidarity with the coup leaders, president Mamady Doumbouya of Guinea is reported to have expressed gratitude for Bio’s visit.
“Being the first President to make such visit since we took over governance, tells it all. We appreciate”, President Doumbouya told Bio.
According to government official report: “President Bio stole the show when he gave a fist bump to President Dounbouya. Journalists present were not able to resist their composure but applauded the gesture.”
Supporters of president Bio are defending his decison to visit the coup leaders in Guinea. They say that it shows president Bio is putting the interest of his country above regional cohesion and solidarity against militarty coup leaders.
But president Bio’s fraternal visit to the Guinean coup leaders will not go down well with the international community, especially West African leaders who are hoping that by tightening the noose around the coup leaders, they can convince the coup leaders to quickly return the country to democratic order.