Maada Bio: My experiences in government as Head of State and reflections since handing over power to a democratically elected government have shown democracy cannot be built on an empty stomach….
Most of my values, the driving principles of my life, I acquired from my mother…
Brisk, ambitious, supremely un-awed, with that bearing that suggests purpose and authority. He is the fresh-faced junta that ruled Sierra Leone from 1992 to 1996 and the handed over power to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Julius Maada Bio has somewhat thrived, and has remained a national figure. He then returned to start a pharmaceutical business, exporting cocoa and coffee. He also re-entered politics and he is contesting as flag bearer of the main opposition on the heels of Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) leadership position. He speaks to bnpluse team on credentials and his plans for Sierria Leone….
The Run-off Presidential Elections- All eyes on Sierria Leone….
For political gladiators and ardent followers of politics, there is no gain saying that all eyes are focused on the diamond country – Sierria Leone especially after the dramatic announcement of the recent presidential election results seeing the two frontrunners asides 12 other minor candidates, in a neck-and-neck battle for the country’s top job.
The main opposition leader and projected President elect, Julius Maada Bio, candidate of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, took a lead with over 15,000 votes ahead totalling 43.3 percent of the vote, against ruling All People’s Congress candidate and ex-foreign minister Samura Kamara’s 42.6 percent.
For international journalists and observers who monitored the first phase of the country’s elections, Sierria Leone citizens expected the results given by the electoral body. For others, they anticipated a landslide victory from the main opposition candidate. With a second round in view, Maada Bio, a former military leader is projected to win the run-off elections to hold next week.
In the heat of the second face of the run-off Presidential elections in Sierria Leone, the country’s main opposition candidate, Julius Maada Bio, with a rather calm demeanour has criticised the move, after the APC- led authorities visited his office without a search warrant, with a view to fomenting trouble, especially following the melee that erupted recently in the state capital after the first round of results were announced.
A country hanging on the balance….
For a country that has lived through a brutal, diamond-fuelled civil war in the 1990s, the projected winner of the run-off elections is faced with the herculean task of kick starting Sierria Leone’s economy that has been ravaged by low prices for iron ore, its main export, and an Ebola epidemic.
If any past government of Sierria Leone, at the least in the past 20 years, has started the structural shift of the country’s strategic economic fundamentals, as the visionary main opposition candidate plans through his blueprint, Sierria Leone would have taken its pride of place among the emerging and middle income economies, especially in the light of its huge potentials unharnessed. The avoidable spread of poverty and misery ravaging the country currently, would not have found Sierria Leonians hapless victims they are today, to needless destitution.
The making of contemporary emerging economies rests on three strategic pillars-agricultural modernisation, infrastructure construction especially transports network featuring road, rail, air and, of course, power and the third decisive pillar is industrialization. These three strategic pillars of modern emerging economy did not receive any appreciable and consistent attention in Sierria Leone under the Bai Koroma led administration all through its two terms tenure and its conspicuous absence, in the priority consideration of economic planning, at least in the past ten years, account for the massive structural disconnect that has hampered any meaningful and sustainable economic progress in the country.
The taciturn politician’s Childhood…
On a chance meeting with the Presidential candidate and main opposition leader, the mild-mannered, humble and patriotic Julius Maada Bio is markedly different from the usually violent and brash individual frequently presented by his critics and opponents.
In a peep into his childhood, the taciturn politician’s childhood and teenage years began at the famous Bo School, in Sierra Leone’s second largest city in the south of the country where the true headquarters of the SLPP is located.
There is something extraordinary about Bio. The fresh-faced junta that ruled Sierra Leone from 1992 to 1996, Bio has somewhat thrived, and has remained a national figure. When he handed over power to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah after elections in 1996, Bio went to the American University, where he earned a Master’s degree in International Relations. He then returned to his country and started a pharmaceutical business, exporting cocoa and coffee respectively. He also re-entered politics, joining and contesting on the platform of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) leadership position.
Although this may be unfair, but political analysts hold that Bio’s continuing gravitas – compared to his ex-junta colleagues – is due to his background, his descent from a ruling house: he has a distinctly regal demeanour and perhaps sense of entitlement. Bio would have none of that. “I am one of 35 children of Paramount Chief Charlie Vonie Bio. In fact, I was the 33rd child,” he said. “That’s not the greatest start in life,” he added, scathingly.
Continuing, “Most of my values, the driving principles of my life, I acquired from my mother. She was a calm, hardworking and calculated person, and she had a strong belief in God.” Bio is associated, among his friends and colleagues, with three of those qualities and a strong belief in God. “Yes, I am a life-long Catholic. I went to a Roman Catholic primary school, and was baptised early. My belief in God has remained unshaken through all these years.”
My Proudest achievements as Head of State. …
Talking about the killings was the most uncomfortable point of the conversation with Bio. He still clearly thinks that it was the most disastrous thing that happened under the NPRC, and Bio’s bitterness at SAJ Musa’s murderous behaviour is undisguised.
The revulsion that the killings caused for the NPRC became very infectious: things began to fall apart for the junta. In a move that was orchestrated by Bio, SAJ Musa was chased out of the country, and Bio, rapidly promoted to Brigadier, became Strasser’s deputy and Chief Secretary of State. That reduced the influence of Benjamin, a potential source of grudge. Bio became the most powerful man in the country: Strasser, now remote and un-engaged, was rather something of a figurehead who was finally despatched out of the country, in a helicopter, to Guinea in 1996, and Bio took over as Head of State. It was a palace coup, an anti-climax of sorts.
Speaking on his proudest achievements, “We had three goals as a government,” he said.” We wanted to end the war, revive the economy, and then hand over to a democratically-elected government. You can judge us on what we did. The war derailed all of our plans. But even so, electricity was largely restored, there were no longer long queues for petrol and rice as was common under Momoh, roads were being constructed, substantive peace talks were begun with the RUF, and most importantly, we handed over the government to a democratically-elected President. We re-introduced credible plural politics, and we left peacefully, setting a standard which would be hard to mess with.”
There had been some speculations that Bio wasn’t serious about the peace talks or the democratic process. On taking over from Strasser, Bio made a terse appeal, broadcast live on national TV and radio: “To you, Corporal Foday Sankoh, the message from my government is that we are prepared to meet with you anywhere, any time and without precondition”. The RUF, it seemed, had been waiting for such a gesture; Sankoh quickly sent word through the International Committee of the Red Cross that he was willing to talk to Bio, who responded publicly that he too was ready to talk. He announced that both Ivorian president Henri Konan Bedié and Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaoré were actively attempting “to get the NPRC and the RUF to the table”. A few days later, over an ICRC radio hook-up at the British High Commission, Sankoh told Bio that he had to postpone the scheduled elections before any progress towards negotiations could be made.
Bio’s response was that such a decision was ultimately up to Sierra Leoneans and suggested that the two meet in Côte d’Ivoire or Burkina Faso. These venues were rejected by Sankoh at first in favour of talks within Sierra Leone, but his resistance quickly evaporated and a meeting was set in Abidjan for the end of February 1996.
The peace talks, at least as far as Bio’s involvement went, didn’t at all appear rigged; and Bio certainly kept to the timetable to hand over power. That power went to SLPP and its new leader, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Bio’s colleagues, including Benjamin, were not all that happy: they had set up a new party, the National Unity Party (NUP), and they had expected Bio to manipulate the outcome of the polls so that they power would win. That, perhaps, is another source of grudge against Bio who handed power peacefully. In 1996, Bio had the difficult task, against the background of an on-going brutal civil war, to organise the first democratic elections in more than 20 years and peacefully handed over political power to the democratically elected government
Bio left the country after handing over power, and took two degrees in the US. Strasser, on the other hand, flunked his studies at Warwick University in the UK, and returned to Sierra Leone a diminished man.
Reflecting on the unique essence of why he is seeking office and the challenges and opportunities for democratic consolidation in post-war Sierra Leone, he said that ‘‘I am contesting to make a change in the Spirit of One Country, One People and the struggles Sierria Leone has gone through.’’
Unlike the tale of its Ghanaian counterpart, Ibrahim and John Mahama who stole the country blind, leaving Ghana’s President Nana Akuffor Addo on a wild goose chase to unravel stolen, laundered funds and a raft of scandals that rocked their reign. When compared side by side, the average Sierria -Leonian of his age and position in life in the course of Bai Koroma’s regime, too much dirt and unprintable things are all the citizens have to say about the President and his younger brothers, who have almost bled the country to death.
A gaudy story on the streets of Sierria Leone can be likened to the resentment and discontent which pervaded the social, economic and political space in Nigeria’s 2015 Presidential election, thus seeing the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari, a leadership in crisis.
According to an aggrieved citizen, Finda Pessima, ‘the Bai Koroma led- government seems to be following the footsteps of its Nigerian counterpart, a far more worse, yet shameful comparison. From a structural and critical perspective, the fact is that the ruling party, APC has failed the people such that this time-15 years down the line, they cannot complain Maada Bio undemocratically took over the reins of power from them, as we the voters are speaking, and are keen to speak again at the re-run. Believe me when I tell you Sierria Leoneans democratically want Maada Bio back in power- this time with a view to changing Sierria Leone for the better.’’ She said
In the words of Aminata Lukulay, a school teacher who waited in line for three hours to vote, ‘‘I have come to vote for the dis-continuation of what the present government has done. As a Sierra Leonean, it is my right to vote and I am voting for change in terms of the educational system, job opportunities, and development of the country as a whole.” She enthused.
After more than 20 years of the historic moment, Bio has had ample time to reflect on the state of and the future of democracy in Sierra Leone.
Speaking on Sierra Leone and the challenges of democratic consolidation where he outlined some of the key challenges that threaten the consolidation of democracy in Sierra Leone. He said, ‘‘democracy cannot be built on an empty stomach; my experiences in government as Head of State and reflections since handing over power to a democratically elected government have all shown that democracy cannot be built, sustained and consolidated on an empty stomach. Poverty, illiteracy, underdevelopment and lack of existential necessities of life, that is, food, shelter, clothing and healthcare are a threat to the consolidation of democracy.’’
In a population of 7 million, Sierra Leone has 3 million registered voters. The youth vote, including those who have turned 18 since the 2012 general elections, are expected to make an impact in this run-off election, with 800,000 voters. The runoff slated for the 27th March, 2017 as observer’s project, is likely the main opposition candidate will likely take the lead in the next voting exercise.
The incumbent Koroma who has served two terms and is barred by the constitution from running again, has hand-picked successor, Kamara, one largely seen as a favourite and has served as Sierra Leone’s foreign minister, finance minister, as well as governor of the Central Bank of Sierra Leone.
With leaked investigations indicting and linking President Bai Koroma to double digits in number of bank accounts in China alone whilst many Sierria Leonians don’t even have enough to eat let alone a single bank account to ‘hide’ money. And to talk of Bai’s younger brother ‘what a man’ (Indeed, what a name), Sylvanus Koroma, who has looted the country for private benefit, formed unhealthy associations, breached the Constitution several times and cornered all the juicy and mouth- watering government contracts to the multi-million dollar billings, it is safe to say he has not don’t done badly in the last 10 years of his elder brother’s reign as President.
Like the Trump- Hilary presidential outcome in 2017, political gladiators forecast the leaked investigations on looted funds stashed in 12 foreign accounts linked to china, might greatly hamper his successor’s chances at the run-off election, thus giving room for the main opposition leader who won the first round by a lead with over 15,000 votes to possibly clinch the top job.
The winner will be tasked with helping the country to continue to rebuild after the devastating 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic, and also the capital which was also was battered by a deadly mudslide in August that claimed about 1,000 lives.
Pyrrhus the Greek defeated the Romans at Asculum in 279BC. However, his losses were so heavy, that it seemed tantamount to a defeat. In a sense, should the ‘nearly man’ win, Maada Bio’s victory at the runoff elections next week may turn out to be a Pyrrhic one. The incoming government should be prepared to inherit a mess. The question is how does he clean it up with his deputy?
And so, as with everything in Sierra Leone, nothing is ever simple and the way in which one reads this result depends greatly on whether one generally sees the glass half-empty or half-full. The recent results which itself indicated how divided the APC actually is. The interminable back and forth, that in and of itself was an indicator of exactly how dysfunctional the electoral commission is regarding its internal processes.
Given the invidious position the ruling party is now in, it would need to be contend with change around the edges of its challenges. The way the voting has gone has probably tempered all expectations and the real question now is whether there is political support within the citizens for the Koromo-led APC.
According to a strong figure in the incumbent government’s camp who would rather remain annonymous, ‘‘Sierria Leone cannot afford to have the APC led-government in power for a minute longer really. His transferable capacity for self-enrichment and his recklessness with power will drive the country, through his stooge, further into economic ruin.’’
Without getting ahead of itself, APC had a window of opportunity now to win the people’s trust and to rid the state of some of the most obvious rot. If the incumbent party could have done that ahead of 2018 the elections, it may have done very well indeed.