Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 January 2024:
President Julius Maada Bio is being accused by opposition politicians of pretending to be putting his house in order, ahead of an unconfirmed whistle stop visit to Freetown by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
After months of political instability and unrest in the country, following the controversial elections of June 24th, 2023, which according to international election observers – were seriously rigged in favour of President Bio; and a stage-managed coup that has been used as a pretext for the arrest and detention of opposition leaders and their supporters, Sierra Leone’s economy has stagnated, and the government is facing bankruptcy.
Senior politicians in the US government are blocking a $450 million Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funding earmarked for Sierra Leone, accusing President Bio of poor leadership and bad governance.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Board held its quarterly meeting on 13th December 2023. A statement released after the meeting reads:
“The Board reselected Sierra Leone as eligible to continue developing a compact in recognition of the progress made to advance the national dialogue process, begin implementation of the Agreement for National Unity, and establish the national election review committee.
“These actions constitute a critical beginning of an inclusive process to strengthen Sierra Leone’s democratic and electoral institutions following the June 2023 elections. In making its re-selection decision, the Board noted its expectation of continued progress toward meaningful electoral reform, as outlined in the Agreement for National Unity, prior to considering approval of the proposed compact.”
The US government has called upon President Bio to take concrete steps to improve governance, accountability, transparency, electoral reforms, democracy, justice and human rights as a condition for the release of US government funding for Sierra Leone.
Above all, the US government would like to see meaningful and immediate implementation of the post-election peace accord, signed by the government, the main opposition APC and the international community to restore peace and stability, and build national cohesion.
But since the government’s alleged coup attempt of 26 November 2023, and the subsequent arrest and detention of dozens of opposition politicians – including former President Ernest Bai Koroma, and suspected retired and serving military and police officers, Sierra Leone has become a tinderbox at risk of going up in flames.
Requests by the West African regional block – ECOWAS to release retired President Koroma from house arrest to seek asylum in Nigeria have failed. Koroma is due to appear in court tomorrow 17th January 2024, charged with treason, accused by the government of involvement in an alleged attempt to topple the government on 26 November 2023, a charge his lawyers have strongly denied.
If reports of the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Freetown in the next couple of days are correct, then it would seem that President Bio is frenetically trying to stitch up a deeply divided country together that has come apart at the seams, by inviting senior opposition leaders to State House for photo ops.
Is US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting Sierra Leone? The letter below is fake.
A short statement posted on the US Emabassy (Freetown) Whatsapp Group reads: “There is a false rumor that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is coming to Sierra Leone. This is not true.”
Yesterday, President Bio held talks with the Parliamentary leadership of the opposition APC, according to State House report, “to discuss how they as the opposition can support effective governance and condemn the failed attempted coup of 26 November 2023.”
The State House report which many in the opposition APC have condemned as a propaganda, also says that the “Minority Leader in Parliament, Hon. Abdul Kargbo (APC), on behalf of his colleagues, expressed gratitude to President Bio for meeting them at a crucial time in the country’s governance and expressed admiration for his leadership style.
“He reaffirmed that they wanted the government to succeed at all costs and used the opportunity to condemn the 26th November 2023 failed coup. He expressed their full support and commitment to joining the government to ensure that a proper investigation into the incident was done.
“Hon. Kargbo spoke about the role of the opposition in governance and assured, not only to support the government but to also ensure that they hold the government accountable in the interest of democracy and development.
“His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio responded by first thanking the members of Parliament for the courtesy visit and for also condemning the failed attempted coup on 26th November 2023.
“He said as a politician and a citizen, he believes that “politics is dialogue, dialogue, and dialogue”. His Excellency stressed that it was good for all to learn from each other and to address differences in the interest of peace and national cohesion.”
But a senior member of the opposition APC speaking under anonymity told the Sierra Leone Telegraph that: “Bio’s sudden realisation that it is important to hold direct conversations with the opposition is not borne out of good statesmanship. Only a few days ago, his handpicked chairman of the Political Parties Regulation Commission (PPRC), Abdulai Masianday Bangura, in an interview with the African Young Voice (AYV) television, quoted the APC deputy chairman, Osman Yansaneh as saying that the APC had made several efforts to meet with the president to no avail.
“These hurriedly summoned meetings with the APC leadership, whose repeated requests for a meeting with President Bio have been rejected, are nothing other than a puerile attempt to hoodwink the US Secretary of State.
“Bio is doing this to give a false impression of working with the opposition, as part of his government’s desperation to secure what has become the elusive development funding from the MCC.
“Opposition leaders should not allow Bio to continue to use them only to return to his long-running harassment and vendetta against them. If the APC is serious about anything, this is a time they should resist Bio’s bullying and misrepresentation, and stand up for the public interest.”