Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 February 2020:
Today president Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone takes his wife – Mrs. Fatima Bio to the altar at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Regent , where they will renew their matrimonial vows which they first took in London in 2013 at a low-key Islamic wedding.
According to ministry of information sources, today’s ‘wedding’ will be a private affair. But critics say it will have all the trappings of public office – the Presidency, which makes the wedding a public matter.
Although a public holiday has not been declared, few in Sierra Leone will have much to talk about today other than what is now dubbed “Sierra Leone’s Royal Wedding”.
Estimates put the cost of the wedding at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But according to ministry of information officials, not a penny of this cost will be met by the taxpayer. But many in Sierra Leone are doubtful.
Some are suggesting that the Bios have used their public offices as President and First Lady to raise most of the cash they will be splashing out today, in a country where over 4 million of its citizens will be going to bed hungry tonight.
Sierra Leone has one of the highest mortality rates in the world, with fewer than 50% of all adults expected to live to see their 50th birthday; almost 20% of pregnant women and children under 5 years old – dying needlessly because of poor healthcare and poverty.
A recent World Bank report warns that Sierra Leone’s economy is facing serious challenges, as the government runs out of cash to pay the salaries of public sector workers; export revenue falling at an alarming rate; prices of basic goods and foods in the markets and shops rising; the value of the Leone falling against global currencies.
Unemployment, especially youth unemployment continues to grow – year on year, as the capacity of businesses to expand and create jobs, are hampered by high interest rates and poor access to investment finance.
Hundreds of university graduates entering the labour market every year, are faced with the hard choice of staying on the path of ‘honest living’ or enter the world of criminality. Many, turn to drugs to dull the pain of daily existence.
Sierra Leone’s economy has been in serious recession for the past five years, especially as a result of the twin shocks of Ebola and global economic downturn in 2014.
The former APC government of president Koroma was voted out of office after two terms in power, as citizens became disenchanted with its inability to manage the economy and the rampant corruption at all levels of government, costing hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
The Koroma government survived on foreign aid and rising government borrowing, raised mainly through the weekly sale of treasury bills, as well as taking cash from commercial banks that should have gone into private sector business expansion.
In 2018, after winning presidential election with a very narrow majority of about a few thousand votes, and unable to win parliamentary votes, president Bio vowed not to default to similar pattern of reckless economic behaviour in governance. He began with an economic austerity many applauded, which he said was designed to close leakages in government finances.
Two years on, there are signs of avarice and vanity creeping into the psyche of the Bio-led government, stemming from State House, from where much discipline was promised. There are financial leakages reported by the Auditor General in her latest report across government, as Billions of Leones cannot be accounted for.
Today as president Bio and the First lady renew their wedding vows, most people in the country will be worrying about where their next meal will come from.
The wedding celebrations started in earnest last night with a lavish, mouth-watering all night party, few in Sierra Leone can afford.
Has president Bio got his priorities upside down, as the economy goes belly up?
In three years’ time, president Bio will face the people at a general and presidential election, where he will seek to renew his vows to the people of Sierra Leone. Will he be remembered as the president who took his eyes off the painful economic circumstances people are facing today?
Will he also be remembered as the president who looked inwards for self-gratification and fulfilment, rather than the gratitude and happiness that comes from the people after a job well done as president?
President Bio is not alone in seeking self-gratification in painful times of economic misery. Take a look at his Finance Minister – JJ Saffa throwing cash at his wife’s birthday party, and you will begin to see where this New Direction government is heading (see video below).
This is the Finance Minister who promised to fix the economy and ease the suffering of the people in six months. Today he is one of the wealthiest people in a country classed as one of the poorest in the world.
Wedding bells will be ringing in Freetown today, but few will hear the sounds which will be drowned by crying mothers, who will lose their babies in hospitals lacking vital medicines, trained staff, and suitable medical equipment.
Wedding bells will be ringing in Freetown today, but few will hear the sounds which will be drowned by the hustling and bustling sounds of unemployed youths, elderly and disabled men and women with young children begging in the streets for their next meal.
No one is denying the Bio’s right to renewing their wedding vows if that’s their priority. But when the private life and decisions of the president affect his public life, questions must surely be asked about his sense of judgement, his ability to govern and lead the nation out of the deep economic mess and social divisions that have opened up in the last twelve years.
Highlights of the wedding so far: