Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 June 2023:
Depending on the lens you are using, it has been a while since Sierra Leone made positive waves on the international stage. While some maintain that like the world over, good deeds and good news hardly get the kind of coverage that bad news attracts from the media, Sierra Leone has been making strides that have gone unnoticed.
According to the Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 June 2023, “Five countries including Sierra Leone were yesterday elected as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council following a vote in the General Assembly. Algeria, Guyana, Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone and Slovenia will join the UN body responsible for maintaining international peace and security for a two-year term starting 1st January 2024. Belarus – a country closely supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was not elected”. Amidst the doom and gloom that seem to permeate our senses on mainstream and social media, we cannot ignore the fact that this is a stride, practical or symbolic in the right direction for our country. Such a recognition on the international stage, for a country that once tethered on the brink of annihilation is worth shouting about.
Our country is on the eve of conducting a democratic election. To all intents and purposes, there is a strong whiff of foreboding wafting across our political landscape; thanks to the tension that usually characterises such civil activities. It is an open secret that accusations and counter accusations are on steroids. The competition, I refuse to call it “battle”, between the APC and SLPP is reaching its crescendo. There are no prizes for guessing the kind of propaganda, intrigues, politicking and gerrymandering on show. Both parties display their” mammoth” crowds, as if to say they are winning the election. The plebian enthusiasm is not in doubt, as both parties exchange crowd rotas. Some have been conducted in a carnival atmosphere while others have required “pehtehteh leaf “to deal with the atmosphere.
And that is exactly where the irony of Sierra Leone’s recent accolade “as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council” becomes tellingly paradoxical. Sierra Leone and Slovenia will join the UN body responsible for maintaining international peace and security for a two-year term starting 1st January 2024.
Sierra Leone will be a member of a selected group that is charged with the responsibility of maintaining peace and security to all men on earth. How quaint. Far from being a doom merchant, we cannot deny the anxiety around the risk of violence surrounding our upcoming elections. With Sierra Leone’s newly acquired recognition as an agent of peace and security at the UN security council, it becomes doubly imperative for political leaders and the electorate, to ensure that we conduct a free, fair and peaceful election. It’s our first and big test, to gauge our credentials as a nation and agent of peace and security on the world stage.
As a nation, it’s a collective responsibility, irrespective of our political persuasions to justify the world’s confidence in our country. When we recall the periods of interregna our country went through, we should feel indebted to showcase our country as a deserving candidate of the membership. President Bio and the SLPP government may have presided over the intricate gymnastics leading to achieving this status. It is as another feather to his hat and a collective recognition. We need to use this opportunity to restore confidence and belief in the ability of ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It may have required a triple bypass surgery to rise, like a phoenix from the ashes of near extinction.
As utopian as it may sound to some, it’s not criminal to wish and dream. To say that this has put more pressure on our leaders, President Maada Bio and Mr Samura Kamara to do their utmost in promoting and ensuring a peaceful election is like saying that water is wet.
In response to the news, President Bio said that “On this momentous day, I call on every Sierra Leonean to hold their head high, celebrate, and be proud of Sierra Leone’s historic achievement at the heart of the international system.” He described it as a “generational accomplishment” “a transformation of Sierra Leone’s international reputation”, and a demonstration of “our unique success as a democratic and peaceful country of resilience and unbounded optimism” …. country that successfully transitioned from war to peace… that is “no longer defined by the stigma of the past” but “a beacon of hope and fortitude”. He further described Sierra Leone as “a place of great belief that the future will be better, more just and more peaceful”. (Sierraleonetelegraph.com-07/06/23). Drop your political hat and let’s all say Amen, Hallelujah and Ameena to that.
Sadly, the veracity and validity of the coming elections have already been questioned from certain quarters. We used to question election results with accusations of ballot stuffing, rigging, violence and many more. Thanks to some Trumpian cancel culture, election results are now cancelled even before a ballot is cast. Others declare themselves winners, and dance themselves lame, when the main dance is yet to come. That is always a recipe for violence and chaos.
As our country prepares to vote on June 24th, there is the small matter of coincidences that seem to catch the eye. Sierra Leone became a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and “The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published a statement saying it has approved SDR 15.555 million (about US$20.7 million) to help cushion the impact of the accelerating decline of Sierra Leone’s economy”. (Thesierraleonetelegraph-06/06/2023). According to The Sierra Leone Telegraph, this is in response to the “government’s request for rephasing, and extension of the ECF Arrangement by five months to November 29, 2023, after the government failed to achieve key economic targets”. The paper continues to say that “Many analysts believe that the government’s failure to meet those IMF performance criteria are the root causes of Sierra Leone’s economic woes, compounded by the war in Ukraine”.
Critics and supporters of the Bio government have been reading into these coincidences. This is against the backdrop of a significant presence of the international community, though not unusual, as observers, referees, monitors and VARs for the coming election in our country. Thanks to events leading to our elections, we cannot ignore the scrutiny this election has attracted. However, it is the disbursement of funds from the IMF to Bio’s government, just on the eve of an election that seem to raise eyebrows in some quarters. Some believe that the coincidence is too coincidental to be a coincidence.
The critics of President Bio see the gesture from the IMF and by association the International Community as business as usual. With our diminishing ability and capability to produce and exchange anything to export or attract foreign exchange, and with our economy becoming a donor led entity, some people see the fund as nothing out of the ordinary. According to one writer in thesierraleonetelegraph.com (June 10,2023), “IMF disbursement to Sierra Leone is not a vote of confidence – it’s an emergency rescue package”. “If this money was not provided with immediate effect, the government would not have been able to even pay salaries or pay for its running costs. With elections barely three weeks away, this would have been a disaster not just for Bio’s administration but also for the peace and security of the state”. The government has been described as cash strapped and that the country is on the brink of collapse. Sounds like emergency financial blood transfusion here.
However, others have begged to differ and see this as a vote of confidence in President Bio’s government. Some have questioned that if Bio’s government was fiscally inept by “the government’s failure to meet those IMF performance criteria” as “the root causes of Sierra Leone’s economic woes, compounded by the war in Ukraine”, why would the IMF throw good money after bad? To buttress their point, Bio’s admirers have pointed out that, “by 2018 when Ernest Bai Koroma handed power over to President Julius Maada Bio, Sierra Leone’s debt was 1.7Billion dollars. The country’s financial situation was so rotten that the World Bank, the IMF, other financial institutions, donors and development partners stopped doing business with the APC government of Ernest Bai Koroma one year before the 2018 elections. Koroma one year before the 2018 elections”. Sounds like an unusual coincidence.
Some believe that “coincidences can mean that you are on the right path”. Others see coincidences as spiritual puns, and that we can participate in its unfolding, even if we cannot create our own destiny. They conclude that coincidence leads to stability which brings success and vice versa. But debt in any shape or form should not be seen as necessarily a positive thing. It is like any other trap that is easy enough to get into but difficult enough to get out of. Debt is usually the slavery of the free. Many see foreign aid as taking money from the poor people of rich countries and giving it to the rich people of poor countries. But giving should not be about donating. It should be about making a difference.
In the meantime, some have cast doubts on whether the election will take place. The whole process has come under scrutiny rightly or wrongly for various reasons. While some have suggested a postponement, others have talked about a boycott by the opposition APC.
If voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another and our country. Not voting is not a protest. It is a surrender. If people don’t vote, everything stays the same. We can protest until the sky turns yellow or the moon turns blue, and it’s not going to change anything if we don’t vote.
So, is the funding a vote of confidence in President Bio, or a financial blood transfusion to keep the state oxygenated and deoxygenated blood moving? Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.