By Pa Baimba Sesay –China
Have we ever sat down in our quite moment to reflect on individuals like Tony Blair, who could speak great of Sierra Leone during the governance period of President Koroma? Have we ever reflected on why the Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative has developed great interest in supporting Sierra Leone after years of civil war? The reasons abound for such to have occurred. One of the leading newspapers in the world is the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. Writing in the said newspaper, the Former British Prime Minister wrote, thus, “First, his government brought light to the darkest city in Africa, when it saw through and finished the Bumbuna hydroelectric dam. Next, he took on healthcare – with some of the worst infant mortality rates in the world, Sierra Leone’s programme to abolish user fees for children under five and pregnant mothers was an ambitious and impressive programme of reform. Six months on, Sierra Leoneans are seeing the results for themselves in their local communities. The number of pregnant women delivering in hospitals has more than doubled and almost a million children are expected to benefit before the end of the year.”
The Blair case:
It makes an interesting reading, that one is bound to quote further what the great Former British Prime Minister said of President Koroma that “Koroma is now turning his attention to agriculture, with his bold Farm for Business programme to help the rural poor move from subsistence farming to selling what they grow in the market. The opportunity for impact is huge: two-thirds of Sierra Leone’s working population is smallholder farmers, and yet 70% of them live below the poverty line. One of our AGI teams is in Freetown supporting the ministry of agriculture, helping it to design and implement the systems that will ensure the programme reaches its intended beneficiaries. (This is what Britain, through its former Prime Minister thinks about our development progress in Sierra Leone. I can’t agree with him more when he argued, in the article, that Sierra Leone’s president has taken on the challenges faced by his country and “we are helping him to turn political will and international aid into real results on the ground…”
Tony Blair’s case for Sierra Leone as presented in a reputable newspaper like the Guardian makes sense and calls for us as a people to now see why we should even endeavor to ask President Koroma to go for another term in office, taking into account the strides that he has kept making, in his desire to make Sierra Leone a paradise. We are a nation that has all what it takes to move on, with all our natural resource, our diamonds, gold and bauxite among others, but what we lacked years back was the type of leadership that this present one, in the person of Ernest Koroma has been providing.
Our resolve as a people:
We have seen how past leaders have used our mineral resources to enrich themselves, at the expense of the very poor in society. Take for instance what followed immediately after the Government’s Gold and Diamond Department started a diamond certification programme in 2000. Within the first three years, following the end to our civil war, the value of GDD diamond exports increased from $10 million in 2000 to $75 millions in 2003 and by the time we signed the Kimberly Process in 2003, it had gone up to $141 million dollars in 2005(source: Ruben Koning in a work, titled Resource-conflict links in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo No. 2008/2) But the question you may begin to ask is how did the government at the time, utilize these revenue figures? .The issue of corruption was, it would appear at the time, a daily activity in governance. But is that the same today under the Koroma leadership? A big no! There comes in the issue of a nation being in a rather paradoxical state of having plenty in few; plenty of resources but only to few benefiting at the time.
Delivering a statement on the occasion of the state opening of the second session of the third parliament of Sierra Leone, President Siaka Stevens in 1978 stated that Sierra Leoneans as a people “have demonstrated that we are ready to chart our destiny, resolve our problems and live in peace with one another and the rest of mankind…” That was then, and sadly, things changed immediately we saw how a selected few used the Kailahun route to destabilize the country by early 1991 through what became famously known as a revolution under the code name –RUF. Following this ugly development in our country’s history, we witnessed a rather bad situation with Sierra Leoneans getting a different description each time they attempt travelling our of the country. Then came some small and inexperienced military boys-in what was known as NPRC, forgetting that there is no military academy that gives training on how to govern a state, for the role of the military is to safeguard her nation’s territorial borders. But these military boys had the best of advisers at the time t the point that, within hours, over 29 poor Sierra Leoneans, including a pregnant woman, were slaughters, in the name of deterring a coup. But let us now reflect on present day happenings in post war Sierra Leone, giving the sincerity of our leaders now, in moving the country in the right direction. Years after Siaka Stevens delivered the word I referred to above, we now see a true picture, in line with his statement at the time .Today we are resolved, the readiness on our part to live as a people and in our desire to finding solutions to our trying moments.
Try not to pretend, since we gained independence, we have had progress and challenges in our socio-economic and political growth. But today, there has been practical development. From the progress that we have made in the area of free health care delivery scheme introduced by President Koroma over a year ago, even as referred to by Tony Blair, to the success we have made in fight against corruption, we could boast that indeed we are a progressing nation that only demands more concerted nationalistic efforts and support, for us to reach the apex of development. And the practical and phenomenal development that we have been seeing under the Koroma Presidency serves as enough justification for him to be reelected on the first ballot come November 17th this year, coupled with the good case that a person like Tony Blair has made for him. And I even see the need for President Koroma himself to boast of his records within a period of four years. He came in at a time that people wanted a change, a time that people wanted development, despite the fact that the environment was there for us to have got what we were expecting right from the era of Tejan Kabba (h). Leave the military boys out of this, for the best military regime is the worst of democratic rule, but for a democratic government not to have performed was unpardonable, to say the least. In eleven years, we could not get free health care for children within age 18. It therefore calls for further examination, when one hears a candidate talk of his desire to extend the free health care scheme to children within age 18 and I had no option but to kindly ask, why the sudden twist and admiration for this programme when President Koroma had been criticized for such an initiative? But in fact how can this be achieved? Not just saying it, but telling us how, is what matters. Interesting indeed!! You see, during the month of April, I had the opportunity of having an exclusive interview with President Ernest Bai Koroma. I was eager to learn from him, his state of readiness for the November 17th presidential and Parliamentary elections from the viewpoint of him, wining and not just winning, but winning on the first ballot. Speaking in a rather relaxed mood, he confidently informed, that he was “going for the first ballot victory’” Hear him speak: “The evidence is all over the country and people have been appreciative of our achievements as a government…we have sustained our progress as a government…there has been tremendous progress in the implementation of the ‘Agenda for Change’. The provision of electricity to every household in the country has been a major priority of government…”
I need not say more but to refer people to cities like Bo, Kenema, and even Kambia and Bombali, coming down to Freetown, you will see a new twist in the road network of our country. A nation that is bound to develop will start off with her road network. We all know that the Bumbuna Dam has seen its completion under the tenure of President Koroma. A nation’s energy sector should be placed at the very top of her development agenda and this is what we have seen in the era of President Ernest Bai Koroma. To date, Bumbuna has helped largely in the supply of electricity in Freetown. Still in the energy sector, the government ensured the installation of a 10MW thermal plant at the Kingtom Power Station, West of Freetown.
A new Sierra Leone:
Another reason why we should give President Koroma a first ballot victory has to do with his belief in the concept of public communication. Independent and critical minded media practitioners could best help in terms of analyzing how we have seen past government not having trust in effectively communicating with their people, thus, the term, ‘Mumu government’ .This is today a different ball game and I think, we have also seen how this has helped in the promotion of an open, transparent and clean government.
Looking at where the current government has made a difference, I wrote over two years ago, that corruption was and is still one of those several areas. I referred to the era of President Kabba (h), arguing at the time that, no doubt he wanted to pursue corruption to his finger tips. He made an attempt, in fact, several attempts to prosecute corrupt officials, but I have always argued that, he could not meet the expectations of the general populace. During the Kabba (h) era, the fight against corruption was more of a political weapon that what the expected result was. Most, if not all those chased by the ACC during the Kabba (h) ear were political targets. Forget even the basic fact at the time that all decisions regarding charging people to court on corruption related matters were taken by the Attorney General’s office. This is a different ball game today under the Ernest Koroma’s era. We have seen how government ministers are charged, prosecuted and fined and also losing their jobs. If President Kabba (h) and his party had done this, I wonder where we could have been today in terms of TI raking of Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone is also today an investment friendly country, there is a boom in the country’s oil industry, and there is a great level of political freedom with nobody ever jailed for his or her political beliefs. The country has continued to receive international commendations, from the World Bank to the UN system, we have kept moving. Only recently was a serving government minister appointed by no less a person that the Secretary-General of the UN body.
We have a new Sierra Leone, a Sierra Leone that is commitment ted to the values of democracy, the rule of law and the fight against corruption, a county with a direction that can’t be changed overnight. But even when Prime Minister Blair writes, he acknowledges the tremendous progress that President Koroma has made within his years in governance.