An Op-ed by:
Moris Ibrahim Kanteh
Former First Lady of the United States, Rosalynn Carter once said, “a leader takes people where they want to go; a great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” President Bio’s revelation in his public lecture at the American University in Washington, that he strongly declined the United States Government’s attempt to interference into the June 2023 election after they (US Embassy in Freetown) instructed him to stop the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) from announcing final election results at the peak of the recent electoral process; has presented a whole new perspective on this ongoing impasse.
It even gives further credence to the failed regime change conspiracy which many commentators believe the United States Government and the European Union Observer Mission contributed to orchestrating during Sierra Leone’s recent election. President Bio’s accusation against the U.S Government is truly eye-opening. It comes in the wake of unrelenting assaults on Sierra Leone’s democratic institutions, especially the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone, by the United States Government and the European Union since the June 2023 election- with complete disregard for the nation’s sovereignty and the serious consequences of those actions. All manner of bullying tactics – from withdrawal of aid monies to the issuance of visa bans on select Sierra Leonean leaders have also been deployed. Such unnecessary actions, especially at this critical period, continue to undermine the nation’s democracy, fuel dissent and promote instability- with the Government of Sierra Leone recently reporting that it successfully thwarted an attempted coup d’etat.
The inciting actions of these foreign actors, in collaboration with the opposition party, against the Government and people of Sierra Leone, is akin to the actions of Donald Trump – which led to the incitement of an angry mob that attacked the U.S Capitol building on January 6, 2021, following frivolous and unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud by former President Trump and his supporters.
However, just as the majority of citizens of the United States rose to the defense of their democratic institutions against the unfortunate actions of Trump and his angry supporters; Sierra Leone’s President, H. E Julius Maada Bio has rightly, equally protected Sierra Leone’s electoral process and democratic institutions with uncommon bravery- especially the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone and other democratic institutions, from foreign meddling, influence and control. Any impartial political commentator will agree that President Bio easily won the June 2023 Presidential election. Also, Sierra Leone’s elections, like elections all over the World, have always had minor challenges- a point President Bio reiterated in Washington during his public lecture at the American University; so nothing peculiar really happened in the June 2023 election. This entire situation, however, is really not about electoral integrity, strengthening Sierra Leone’s democracy or good governance; it is purely about power, control and influence. Some opposition politicians in Sierra Leone, emboldened by their enablers, view political power as their birthright – they are willing to do anything to be in control – even at the country’s detriment. While some foreign actors also believe they should always maintain direct or indirect control of our political and economic affairs.
Suspension of aid monies:
Preceding Governments in Sierra Leone have always relied on aid to function efficiently. However, it is important to note that we have received aid monies since independence, yet we remain poor and backward. So, those selling the narrative that President Bio and his Government should remain completely diplomatic (even at their own detriment) and completely succumb to foreign demands concerning the recent election as a way of constantly accessing these aid monies; may need to review their positions from a non-partisan and critical perspective. Throughout the history of State interactions, no single State has achieved its development aspirations or created wealth for its people by solely depending on aid monies and completely tolerating foreign domination and control. Aid money is simply a tool of control by the giver. And whenever the giver’s interest is threatened – even for the right reasons- there is instant withdrawal.
Sierra Leone is currently experiencing a similar situation- which is a vestige of colonialism. There is urgent need to redeem ourselves and aspire for true political and economic freedom- without the over-reliance on foreign aid.
However, we need to also understand that there are always temporary discomforts for ultimate freedoms. This requires the brave, patriotic, courageous and focused leadership that President Bio is currently providing. Most importantly, it requires unity of purpose among Sierra Leoneans in confronting the common enemy; and staunchly rejecting the divide and rule tactic that has been used against us for decades.
Let us remain hopeful:
Even in the midst of global economic challenges, President Bio has made progressive reforms and taken calculated actions to disrupt the status quo, and usher in a new era for our common benefit. He has introduced free quality education, which has resulted to millions of Sierra Leonean children getting freely educated at primary and secondary school levels (to equip and prepare them with the necessary skills and tools to actively participate in carving out the future of the nation); protected and empowered women through progressive legislative reforms for increased female participation in governance; young people are now at the center of critical decision making ( his current cabinet is the youngest in the history of Sierra Leone); revolutionized the mining sector by protecting the mineral resources of our country (unlike the previous administration that signed a 99 year mining concession agreement with western mining corporations, while the country got paid a pittance).
President Bio, upon assuming office in 2018, revoked those licenses and renegotiated those bad mining deals. Few months ago, some mining communities received, for the first time, royalties in monetary forms amounting to billions of Leones for community development.
There is also monumental progress in the fight against corruption. Immediately after his re-election in June 2023, President Bio launched his FEED Salone initiative- an agenda aimed at attaining food sufficiency for the nation in the next five years. The foundation is already laid for the emergence of a thriving nation that is poised to shape its own destiny.
Let us learn from history:
History, however, has taught us that African leaders who often take such a nationalistic, patriotic and progressive path and stand their grounds in protecting the sovereignty and resources of their nations against foreign invasion, end up incurring the displeasure of foreign actors- who prefer to maintain the same system that has kept African nations weak, dependent, and vulnerable to exploitation.
So, a leader like President Bio will definitely be a target. It is no surprise to critical minds, that petty internal considerations are currently being used against him. Also, the claim that United States and the European Union are only trying to protect our democracy or strengthen good governance holds very little credence.
According to Naomi Klein, “democracy is not just the right to vote; it the right to live in dignity”. Sierra Leone has experienced bad governance for decades- with majority of the citizens living in perpetual poverty and stripped of all dignity. The previous administration, for example, left the country in austerity. I wonder why the United States and the European Union have not previously displayed this same energy or instituted similar tougher actions to hold past corrupt leaders accountable- especially when their aid monies had also been lost to those corrupt leaders?
Why have they never placed visa bans on politicians from Sierra Leone who have been investigated and convicted for corruption? Politicians whose bad governance and corrupt practices have prevented majority of Sierra Leoneans from living in dignity ,which is the true hallmark of democracy.
Let us, therefore, reject and resist foreign manipulation. While our political preferences and associations might differ, we still share a common destiny. We need to also reject and resist the petty considerations and worn-out dogma that has always defined our political interaction- preventing us from achieving our development aspirations, while leaving us weak and incapacitated to protect our country from the common enemy. We need to learn from the Libyan experience. Therefore, those of our compatriots persistently calling for direct foreign intervention in settling our domestic disputes should get a second thought.
The Libyan people, fuelled by propaganda, revolted against the regime of Colonel Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi and invited NATO into the crisis- with the hope of entrenching democracy and good governance. Libya, a once thriving nation that was rapidly gaining global prominence and influence under former President Gaddafi, has been relegated to a failed state- after NATO’s invasion and subsequent murder of the former President. NATO has abandoned the Libyan people. They have only come to the realization now that NATO’s interest in intervening was not really about strengthening democracy or good governance.
Sierra Leone is a nation still suffering from the ruin and convulsion of imperialism- with extreme over reliance on foreign aid. It is unsurprising that some compatriots believe the country should completely avoid every form of diplomatic disagreement with the United States or the European Union because we simply depend on them for our survival. Some even make it appear as if any disagreement with the United States and the European Union will lead to starvation and death for all of us. The reality is this: we can never be truly free if we remain entirely dependent on aid. And every aspiration for freedom and independence comes at a price. President Bio has displayed an uncommon bravery that only few African leaders have the vision and courage to do- by guarding our sovereignty against foreign control. While diplomatic engagements between both the United States Government and the Government of Sierra Leone continue, I humbly urge President Bio to remain resolute and unwavering.