Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 April 2021:
Today, Sierra Leone marks 60 years of independence from British colonial rule. As frantic, last minute preparations are being made for what State House has been careful not to describe as ‘celebration’ amid growing and widespread economic hardship across the country, President Bio yesterday welcomed fellow West African leaders arriving in Freetown ahead of today’s “commemoration”.
President Bio was at the Lungi International Airport, where he met Adama Barrow of The Republic of The Gambia, and President Nana Akufo-Addo of the Republic of Ghana.
President Alpha Conde of Guinea, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo of Nigeria, President George Manneh Weah of Liberia and Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam of Guinea Bissau are all expected to arrive in Freetown today, 27 April 2021 to join the people of Sierra Leone in “commemorating” the country’s 60th Independence Anniversary.
But as the people of Sierra Leone wake up to witness their nation’s 60th year of independence, the government is being accused of failing to use this opportunity to promote national cohesion and political tolerance, after failing to extend invitation to former president Ernest Bai Koroma on time to attend the official ceremonies today.
Former president Koroma is the leader and chairman of the country’s main opposition All People’s Congress Party (APC).
Since winning presidential election in 2018, there have been calls for president Bio to cultivate and promote national cohesion through political tolerance, dialogue and inclusion after a series of violent confrontation between the ruling SLPP and the opposition APC.
Although the ruling SLPP won the presidential election in 2018, it failed however to achieve a majority in parliament and went on to nullify and take away ten parliamentary seats won by the APC, in order to secure control of the country’s parliament.
This single act of “political perversion” – as critics describe it, has dangerously damaged relations between the ruling SLPP and the main opposition APC – a chasm that is in need of serious and urgent repair, if Sierra Leone is to avoid the risk of seeing its hard-won peace derailed by rogue politicians.
Writing in a public statement released yesterday, this is what the Office of the Former President Koroma said:
“The Office of the Former President, H.E. Dr Ernest Bai Koroma, hereby informs the general public that it has received verbal information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation at 17:00hrs today 26th April, 2021, that they have just this moment, received invitations extended to the former president, H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma, by State House.
“The invitations are for the former president to attend the ‘Decoration Ceremony of Distinguished Heads of States’ and to the ‘State Lunch in Honour of Visiting Heads of State’ slated for tomorrow 27th April, 2021 at 11:00: AM and 1:00 PM respectively.
“Former President Koroma believes that, without due consideration of his own schedule, such last minute informal back channelling of what is supposed to be an official invitation to an important state function relating to the 60th Independence Anniversary celebrations is on purpose to ensure that he does not attend [the said state functions].
“We believe that the State is well aware that the former president resides in Makeni and will need time to travel for an 11:00AM state function in the capital. If the State truly wanted the former president to attend, they would have officially delivered the invitation in good time to the former President’s Freetown Residence which they also know very well.
“In as much as he would have loved to join in the state commemoration of our nation’s 60th Independence Anniversary, former President Koroma is very disappointed that even for such an important national event, which should have been a rallying point for national unity and cohesion, the State could still choose political grandstanding over genuine reconciliation.”
Today’s commemoration of 60 years of independence will commence at 9am, with school children and inter-forces marching from the country’s Parliament to the national stadium in the capital Freetown. President Bio will take salute at State House.
At 4pm, president Bio will present national awards and insignia to worthy Sierra Leoneans and foreign citizens at State House; followed by the beating of the retreat by the Armed Forces and Police.
Today’s ceremony will culminate in a State reception hosted by the president at State House.
But for the third year running since coming to power, the government has ensured that there will be no street celebration by ordinary citizens, who normally would dress in their national colours and dance along with masquerades, as well as put on a colourful show of lantern parade.
In the meantime, the Freetown City Council has been working hard to clean and spruce-up the city’s main roads with fresh paint ahead of today’s commemoration. (Photo above).