President Maada Bio is locked in diaspora catch 22

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 October 2021:

President Bio recently attended EXPO Dubai 2020, during which he urged all Sierra Leoneans living in Dubai to continue to be patriotic. The government saw the EXPO Dubai 2020 as an opportunity to showcase the best that Sierra Leone has to offer. By so doing, it was a chance to attract badly needed investments to the country.

Many have criticised the President, that such an occasion should have been graced by other high-level dignitaries such as his Vice President and the Minister of Tourism. They criticise Bio that he is moonlighting as a pilot, thanks to his “love for travelling”.

On the other hand, others believe that the President is doing a good job traversing the world, and that it was fitting for President Bio to spearhead his continuing search for investments in our country. During his speech, he urged all Sierra Leoneans in Dubai to act as ambassadors for our country. The programme was a major success.

But no sooner had President Bio stepped off the red carpet in Dubai, than the German government pulled the rug under him. Since taking the reins in 2005, Angela Merkel became the first incumbent Chancellor of the federal Republic of Germany not to seek re-election. Germany held its federal elections on 26 September and with the Social Democratic Party holding a slender majority of 25.7% of the total votes, Germany has been plunged into a complex coalition process. This has left the other parties horse trading and justling for power.

It comes as no surprise that some of their policies are playing to the gallery; with anti-immigrant policies used as vote winners. Angela Merkel is renowned for having a soft spot for immigrants. Germany took in the highest number of refugees, especially during the Syrian debacle. Some critics see this as Germany’s way of atoning for presiding over the largest exodus of people during the second World War.

Germany is now embarking on a mass deportation of “illegal” immigrants, including asylum seekers, and many of whose cases remain unresolved. President Bio’s government has been accused of “colluding” with the German government by providing emergency and temporary documents to facilitate the “expulsions”.  Some call it “repatriation”.

Social media including Tik Tok, Instagram and Facebook have been flooded with video clips, with some condemning and others pleading with President Bio not to carry out Germany’s bidding. At this point, it is worth stressing that the programme of deportation is not restricted to Sierra Leone alone. But that is exactly what seems to incense some Sierra Leoneans.

In neighbouring Gambia, the ancestral home of the First Lady Fatima Bio, President Adama Barrow has flatly rejected Germany’s request to accept Gambian deportees. Many Gambians see this as a temporary relief and are not holding their breath. With the Gambian general elections scheduled for December this year, many see accepting deportees back in The Gambian as tantamount to political self-harm or suicide.  Barrow’s refusal is therefore seen as megaphone diplomacy and buying time for political expediency. They believe that the stone that Barrow is refusing shall be the head corner stone, but only after the general elections in which he will be vying for re-election.

Proportionally, Gambia has one of the highest numbers of its citizens in the diaspora. It goes without saying that like Sierra Leone, remittances from the diaspora account for large chunks of its GDP. While some have hailed his stance as sticking it to an imperial power, others feel that it is disgraceful for Barrow to reject his fellow citizens. It just goes to show that in politics, you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

So, what’s with the furore about this deportation debacle? One thing we can all agree on is that all the key players involved in this are making decisions based on political expediency. The yet to be Germany coalesced German government is trying to increase its favourability with the right-wing side of its populace. Adama barrow is trying to stay on course for re-election. As for president Bio, it might be too early to say. The general elections are a few years away, in 2023.

But we know that Western governments are notorious for arm twisting lesser countries. This is especially so, when you consider that these countries have their hands in the mouths of developed countries. And the begging bowl is never far away. They have been known to use threats of withholding foreign aid to get countries to do their bidding.

The former Prime Minister of Britain David Cameron once threatened to withhold foreign aid from African nations that were not LGBT friendly. Yoweri Museveni famously told him where to stick his aid. America under Trump withdrew visa allocations from countries that refused to take back their deportees.

If truth be told, it is a dangerous and tricky situation for our leaders. Should they risk the possibly of losing millions in aid, to protect the interests of their “illegal” migrants living in Western countries? Or should they risk losing all the inherent benefits that come with these “illegals” remitting money and in effect contributing to the employment quotient of their respective countries? Should these governments jeopardise their international standing and relations with their paymasters in the west?  By so doing, should they risk diplomatic wrangles with the big boys? If so, at what price? You be the judge.

But before we rush to make judgments on the rights and wrongs of our leaders’ decision making in this unfortunate situation, it might be worth asking “Why do we migrate to “greener pastures” or countries” in the first place? Why do people brave the high seas, unforgiving deserts and place themselves in dangerous and life denying situations at the mercy of traffickers; just to get to these “promised lands”?

Why would someone sell up their family heirlooms and venture into the unknown? What drives a person to abandon family, friends, and even all the beauties and riches of our natural resources to brave the cold and unforgiving climates in foreign lands? Don’t answer that.

Before our leaders make their difficult decisions, which in fact looks like a no-win situation, it might be worth looking in the mirror. Our leaders could benefit from trying to hazard “guesses” to these questions. It goes without question that it is these same political decisions and policies that have led to and continue to drive our youth into these situations in the first place.

Let us take Sierra Leone as a case in point.  It might sound like flogging a dead horse or telling people that the Pope is catholic; but since independence our country has been plunged into successive periods of regression. Our country has gone through times that have seen gradual and incessant loss of job opportunities; hence the unemployment rate remains sky high. No one needs a lecture on the difficulties we face as a nation.

However, it will be disingenuous to lay all ills on the doorstep of the Bio administration. It doesn’t make him a saint either, but our national decline and continued exodus has been going on for far too long. The war did not help either, which was a major catalyst for the single most exodus of our population. It generated a whole generation of refugees and asylum seekers.

While some have been hasty to blame President Bio for his government’s alleged cooperation with the German government, others have been realistic enough to accept the undesirable and painful truth of the matter. Like the Government of Sierra Leone, its German counterpart has a duty to protect its borders and oversee who goes in and out of their country. Some have argued that the German government is only targeting “illegal” migrants, though it is legally unlawful to be an illegal immigrant in any country. They conclude that the only people criticising the Bio administration are those residing unlawfully in the country.

On the other hand, others would feel that “na tin mek tin be”, and hope that President Bio and the German government can come to some understanding with less severe consequences. Imagine the consequences of sending such many people back home. Imagine how many homes would lose their main source of sustenance? How many building contractors, taxi drivers, Okada riders, fiancées, wives, husbands, parents and even side chicks would lose a major chunk of their stipends or employment?

This looks like a classic catch 22 situation for us all. If our government refuses to accept them, it risks the wrath of a major financial donor and international partner. Others with ethical considerations might accuse the government as “denying” and disowning its citizens as if they are persona non grata. If the administration accepts their deportation, repatriations or whatever you want to call it, you wonder what repercussions these may have in political, social or financial terms. Either way, it’s the rock and the deep blue sea (pardon the pun).

Those of us that are familiar with such situations from experience, know the feelings. And it’s not a good one. If you were in Maada Bio’s shoes today, and it’s a big shoe though – what would you do?

We hope that common sense would prevail, and the law would be tempered with compassion. Most of us did not venture across those terrible seas for a better life. We did so to find better OPPORTUNITIES. With OPPORTUNITIES come better options.

I hate to say that I ventured out for a, “better life”, because for every life, there is always some draw backs. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if those opportunities where available. Guess.  I don’t know when last I ate a freshly picked, pounded and cooked casava leaves. You see? Still waiting to sample a freshly baked Cassada bread or take in the breeze at Lumley Beach.

Should Bio stick or twist? Don’t forget to close the door when you leave the room.

4 Comments

  1. Good Mr Africanus who by the don’t have the foggiest thing about the history of the Fulanis can claim that all would be passport holders in Europe or America or which ever part of the world claiming asylum as refugees are Fulani. What a load of horseshxxt from someone who claimed tp know history of Fulani people. The Fulanis have been roaming west Africa, North, and Central Africa for a thousand of years. Tgey are a nomadic people that have no respect for artificial boundaries. And we are the largest tribe in the west African region that don’t have a country of our own Currently we can be found in fifteen west African countries. From Senegal to the West all the way to the South of Egypt to South Sudan. And the only country that the Fulanis are concentrated in large number making up 45%of the population is in Guinea. That is why there is so much talk of Guinea. The vice president of Sierra Leone is a Fulani. The Nigerian president Buhari is a Fulani.

    Adama Barrow of Gambia is a Fulani. Makay Sall of Senegal is a Fulani. So goodness shake Fulanis are every where. And I supposed Mr Africanus you haven’t done your research on the population growth of Sierra Leone. In the 1980s Fulanis make up 2% of our population. Today tbat figure is almost 12% percent. A Fulanis man can marry up four women and produce as many children as they are capable of looking after. So I don’t know how you arrived at the figures of our countrys population to 3 million.? Probably you can point us to an accurate data on populations growth records in Sierra Leone since 1970s.Maybe if the World’s population is growing at almost 8 billion I wonder how much is Sierra Leones contribution to that population growth. Right now the only countries that seem to having problems growing their population is Japan and Russia. Also some other European countries.

    Maybe we should ship some Fulanis in those countries to help them with population growth. In your view we Sierra Leoneans Fulanis are surplus to service. That was what we used to endure back in our schools days. Calling us foreigners in our own country. Please Mr Africanus try and get your facts right before you come on this noble forum to peddle fake news.

  2. Mr Leo Africanus, your comment on Mr Abdulai Mansaray’s article sets me thinking, leading me to call into question a couple of points you make. The civil war in our country began in 1991, ending eleven years later in 2002. You claim that our population at the start of the war was no more than 2.5 million. Yet official sources show that it was close to 4.5 million. It is therefore perfectly probable that that thirty years on, that figure has risen at the very least to 8 million. After all, is Africa including our own Sierra Leone not among the fastest growing continents today in terms of population size? Take our subregional behemoth, Nigeria, for instance. Its population in 1991 was according to official records 97 million. Three decades on, that country’s population is well over 200 million and counting: an increase of more than 100%! Remember also that Nigeria too had its own brutal, fratricidal war from 1967 to 1970, resulting in a huge loss of lives.

    And who precisely are the ‘real Sierra Leoneans’ that you speak of? Do we not all at home and in the diaspora laying claim to Sierra Leonean nationality or heritage have at the same time affinities with people beyond the immediate geophysical boundaries of our homeland? The Mende as indeed the Kono and Kissi people on grounds of geographical proximity have direct family and cultural links with many people living across the Liberian and Guinean borders. The Fula, Koranko, Yalunka, Mandinka and Susu-speaking communities of our country themselves have direct ties with identical ethnic groups in again neighbouring Guinea, who in turn are affiliated to similar groups in say Mali, the Gambia and Senegal. And the Krios of Sierra Leone have historical and cultural links with say the Yoruba and Igbo peoples of Nigeria. We can in fact go farther and trace affinities Sierra Leoneans have had with the peoples of the entire West African subregion and even beyond. Our boundaries as a human community have always been porous, fluid, changing and changeable, from precolonial times through the colonial era to our postcolonial present.

    My point is that it is downright wrong to assume that our country’s population size has not budged significantly over the last thirty years or so. The current level of population growth is definitely in line with what can be observed elsewhere in our subregion. And perhaps more importantly, I have no problem with people of African descent holding Sierra Leonean passports laying claim to Sierra Leonean nationality so long as there is no justifiable, indeed demonstrable legal ground for denying them that identity. In an increasingly globalised and interconnected world, national identities are a complex thing; they are variable, multi-faceted, in constant flux, and should thus be delinked from notions of purity and exclusiveness – a slippery and dangerous slope leading to a spurious sense of perfect and irreproachable national selfhood. Like the people of any other African country beset with poverty, chronic underdevelopment and internecine wars, there are indeed Sierra Leonean asylum seekers ‘doing mayhem in the developed world’. But is it really mayhem for people to wish and strive to improve their lot? After all, why are many of us posting comments to this news outlet not currently in Sierra Leone?

  3. The Government of Maada Bio is not only deceitful but criminal and cabal of racketeers who should bow their heads in shame.

  4. I would give a 100 quid for an authentic 80’s cassava bread and fried fish. The majority of asylum seekers in Europe claiming to be Sierra Leoneans are Guineans, Nigerians and Ghanaians. Its a pity that our immigration system is so lax, that we do not know ourselves. I do not believe that the actual poulation of Sierra Leone is 8 million. The real Sierra Leoneans are like 2 million. The rest are foreigners. How can a population increase from 2.5 million to 8 million during a war. These foreigners with our passports are causing mayhem in the developed world, however, when they are caught, they claim Sierra Leonean nationality, yet, when its time to build a house or invest, they claim to be Guinean,Malian or Nigerian.

    An example is the first lady, who claims to be Sierra Leonean, born and raised in Kono, however, does she identify as Sierra Leonean or Gambian? We have Sierra Leonean Fulanis, but is a distinction made between them and Fulanis from Guinea, or the whole of The Futa Jallon can move into Sierra Leone? We have truly become a banana republic.

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