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Page added on May 12, 2012
It was a day our APC friends had thought would never come and some possibly prayed not to come. The day a former military head of state showed his credentials why he wanted to be the democratically elected president of a poverty-stricken nation of six million people. The very day when a politician of the UK governing conservative party, Chris Bucwell, to the amusement of the audience, begged Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio for his next government to adopt a policy of Compassionate Conservatism. (Photo: Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio presenting his speech at Chatham House, London)
I am really talking about Thursday, 10th May when the Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio was hosted by the Chatham House which has been the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs for ninety years. The Chatham House has been the world’s prestigious Institute of International Affairs which has hosted renowned Heads of State and Heads of Governments like the current British Prime Minister, David Cameroon, Deputy British Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, Current Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Current President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres, The Current Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the list goes on and on. So it was not just an ORDINARY INSTITUTE but a venue for world leaders and the Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio did not let the people of Sierra Leone down.
From his appearance, he looked presidential, composed and knew full well that this was his first chance to convince the world that his journey from a former military Head of State to a democratically elected president is just few months away. Therefore, he had the difficult task of balancing between talking about the present dire state of our country and at the same time offering hope to our people through a vision for his NEW DIRECTION. As he walked up to the podium led by Dr. Alex Vines, Head of African Programme at the Chatham House, the audience spontaneously rose to their feet. One of those many moments throughout his week-long visit when you wish the those APC spin doctors and paid journalists to have been in the audience and witness the Honour, Prestige and International Reputation that are now accorded to the Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.
In his close-to-an-hour presidential-like address he spoke about a range of issues and sectors such as education, mining, private sector investment, respecting human rights and upholding the rule of law, challenges to democratisation and peace consolidation, youth employment and economic management. And in my subsequent pieces I will be discussing these issues and sectors in turn but in this piece I will be focusing on the youths and economy which are both at the heart of his Address at the Chatham House.
It seems obvious why the Presidential Hopeful had to put these two issues at the heart of his first maiden international speech. Like he always says to me “As a young man, youths issues are very close to my heart and I don’t want to let them down” and for the economy he once said to me “our people are stuck in desperate conditions of grinding poverty and lifting them out of those conditions is the struggle we must fight and it is a struggle we must win”.
Therefore, in his address, he started setting out his vision for Sierra Leone with issues of young people which are very close to his heart. He praised our dynamic young people who strive to make impact on national development but he quickly pointed out that the APC’s investment in education, training and youth development has been unacceptably low. He went on “Consequently, the proportion of underutilised and unemployable youth is increasing in alarming proportions and could easily become fodder for future conflict”. However, he did not only stop at exposing the lacklustre APC government on failing the young people but also he presented specific steps which his new government will take to bring smiles on the faces of young people. Amongst the range of steps, he spoke of significant changes to: providing technical skills in areas relevant for our job market; investing in tertiary education to train our youth in employable skills; establishing a National Youth Service Scheme, establishing a Special Youth Empowerment Fund to support youth with entrepreneurial efforts; promoting youth engagement in agriculture and a host of others. One of the Sierra Leonean guests, Ansu Momoh, at the Chatham House event felt so impressed with these steps that he had to say to me “Even the APC government will hardly disagree with these innovative ideas like National Youth Service Scheme and a Special Youth Empowerment Fund because all young people need now is just a new young dynamic leader with fresh ideas”.
The other area which Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio put at the centre of his address was the Sierra Leone economy. Undeniably, he started by saying “Our Country is resource-rich but policy poor”. In a slight ridicule of the APC government and their international lobbyist, he said “If our President is to be believed, then Sierra Leone is booming. Supported by Tony Blair and international lobbyists, he has taken this message around the world. But good PR is no substitute for the truth”. Two western diplomats on the front row could not help but looked each other and laughed. He went on “Economic growth will never materialise while Mr. Koroma presides over at best incompetence and at worst corrupt stewardship of our economy”. Well, in a country where our inflation is well into double digits; our GDP is still projected to be just about 6% in 2012 whilst our neighbouring Liberia is admirably projected at 9%; where the value of our currency as compared to that of dollars and pounds has been on a rapid declined since President Koroma took office and in a country where unemployment is amongst the highest in Africa even our APC friends would be patriotic enough to confess that the economic performance of this APC government has least impressed the world’s economic think tanks. And, ordinary Sierra Leoneans know best whether it is those who are intermittently deprived of withdrawing their hard-earned monies from commercial banks as a result of cash shortage; the millions who have seen the cost of living increases whilst their wages remain static or hundreds of households which battle with the ever increasing prices of food commodities. Maada Bio also took head on the APC’s customary excuse about the economic woes – the global financial crisis. He stated “The global financial crisis created immunity for no country. And, in Sierra Leone the poor received no protection from the ravages of the global financial crisis….the government completely failed to put in place any strategy that would have increased domestic production and reduce food prices. The effect of all this is that today the conditions in Sierra Leone are so terrible that many a poor family cannot even afford a meal a day.
As usual, for a man who is prepared to form the next government he set out the economic objectives of his new government. He stated that his government’s economic objectives shall be: to have a stable and competitive national currency that will promote exports; to reduce public sector deficits through increased revenue; to reduce inflation and to create conditions for essential goods to be available and affordable; to increase domestic production of essential goods, particularly; to expand and improve efficiency in public spending on social services; and to develop public infrastructure with high economic and social benefits. As he finished outlining these objectives, a World Bank economist who sat just next to me nodded his head in agreement to what he just heard. I felt proud as a Sierra Leonean because of the manner Maada Bio’s address had engaged an audience which had a blend of western diplomats, renowned economists, governance specialists, officials of international non-governmental organisations, international press and Sierra Leoneans across the political spectrum from APC, PMDC to SLPP.
No doubt, like he said to me after the address, “I do not have a silver bullet to fix every problem but the issues of youths and the economy are very close to my hearts and my government will start from day one to make our talented young people and a booming economy be the foundations of my NEW DIRECTION”.
By: Yusuf Keketoma Sandi BA(Hons), LLB(Hons), London
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