Yankuba Kai-Samba: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 November 2020:
On 7 December 2020, a press statement published by the State House press secretary announced that the president will be travelling to Gabon to strengthen bilateral relations between Sierra Leone and Gabon.
This is the second time president Bio has travelled overseas since the COVID 19 pandemic obstructed his penchant for costly and non-essential overseas trips.
President Bio has become known rather unflatteringly as the” flying president” because within two years of becoming president, he travelled to more than 50 countries, setting a record and costing taxpayers huge sums of money that could be used to help build the country’s healthcare system.
His latest unnecessary trip to Gabon, follows an equally eyebrows raising holiday trip he made to Lebanon over three months ago.
Prior to his holidaying in Lebanon, his press secretary said the president would stay in Lebanon for a week, during which he would promote bilateral relations with Lebanon.
But Sierra Leoneans were left bemused as to why the president was in Lebanon in the middle of a raging Global Covid-19 pandemic. They also question the secrecy surrounding his visit to a country rocked by significant instability and conflict.
A trip we were told would be for a week stretched out to nearly a month, without any news or statement from either the president himself or his press secretary, who did not travel with the president, until at the tail end of their sojourn when for the first time, the first lady, Mrs Fatima Jabbie Bio, mentioned on Facebook that they were “enjoying their honeymoon” in Lebanon.
Up to this day, the people of Sierra Leone who elected president Bio in 2018, have not been told, with clarity, the true reason as to why the president had travelled to Lebanon.
It is against this opaque background that further questions must be raised about the president’s mind-boggling trip to Gabon, and more importantly, especially as there is developing a fast and serious breakdown in diplomatic relations between Sierra Leone and her next-door neighbour – Guinea.
About a month prior to this year’s general and presidential elections in Guinea, the Guinean President Alpha conde, closed his country’s borders with Sierra Leone, after accusing the vice president of Sierra Leone of recruiting mercenaries to disrupt his country’s elections.
In recent days, the Guinean president has again raised the temperature by imposing a trade blockade on Sierra Leone.
Gabon is a central African country – farther away from Sierra Leone. It is 2,787 km from Sierra Leone whereas Guinea which is across the road from Sierra Leone. This is what the Gabonese think about president Bio’s visit to Gbon:
One would have expected president Bio to have prioritised the re-building of diplomatic relations with Guinea and respond to this fast-declining relationship with Alpha Conde as a matter of utmost urgency, by travelling with a high-level delegation to sit down with his Guinean counterpart to iron out their differences and misunderstanding.
Sierra Leone stands to lose greatly if president Bio does not show leadership but rely on ECOWAS and AU to intervene on his behalf.
Most traders in Sierra Leone travel to Guinea almost every week to buy goods for sale in Sierra Leone. This informal business sector provides much needed income for significant number of households in Sierra Leone. It is also a source of tax revenue for the government of Sierra Leone.
Any delay on the part of president Bio to resolve the deteriorating diplomatic relations with Guinea, rather than sitting down with president Conde to restore trust and confidence between the two countries, will further damage the already battered economy of Sierra Leone.
This will lead to more suffering and increasing poverty for large swathes of poor communities along the border, especially the business community in Sierra Leone who are largely women.