By Amin Kef (Ranger)
President Bio delivered a compelling address during the General Debate of the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) High-Level Week in New York on Wednesday, September 20, 2023. President Bio presented Sierra Leone’s National Statement to a prestigious audience that included Dennis Francis, President of the 78th session of the General Assembly, António Guterres, the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), and various Heads of State and Government.
Aligning Sierra Leone’s policy direction with this year’s theme of “Rebuilding Trust and Reigniting Global Solidarity”, President Bio provided an insightful overview of his Government’s achievements during his first five-year term, highlighting significant milestones that include fighting corruption, abolishing the death penalty, increasing education funding by 22 percent, and ensuring tuition-free access to primary and secondary education for all school-age children.
In his speech, President Bio underscored his Government’s commitment to gender issues, notably recognizing November 18 as the World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Violence. He also pointed to the groundbreaking Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act of 2022, which mandates that 30 percent of elected and appointed seats in Sierra Leone are reserved for women.
Looking ahead to his second term, President Bio outlined a five-pillar-based agenda that encompasses food security, human capital development, youth empowerment, technological advancement, and public service reform. These pillars represent his vision for Sierra Leone’s future growth and development.
President Bio didn’t limit his address to domestic affairs. He called upon member States to uphold the principles of the United Nations Charter to foster international cooperation. He urged accelerated action on the Sustainable Development Goals, emphasizing that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is not merely an outline but a solemn pact to craft a world marked by peace and prosperity.
Expressing concern about the rising insecurity and coups in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sub-region, President Bio added his voice to regional and international calls against illegitimate changes in Governments. He stated that these challenges stem from deeper issues, including historical injustices, poverty, widespread unemployment, and discrimination. President Bio emphasized the need to lift people out of poverty and create opportunities through measures such as job creation, poverty alleviation, and government industry support.
Regarding extra-constitutional changes of Government, he echoed ECOWAS’s clear dissent, asserting that such actions threaten not only the stability of individual nations but also the collective African identity. To address historic electoral challenges, President Bio established a National Electoral Systems Review Committee to strengthen electoral integrity in Sierra Leone.
President Bio expressed regret over a certain member State’s unilateral coercive measure, including visa restrictions, imposed on some Sierra Leonean citizens following the June 24 multi-tier elections. He called for the respect of sovereignty and political independence among member States, emphasizing the importance of open dialogue and communication on all matters.
He underscored Sierra Leone’s commitment to regional security, electoral system reforms, and UN Security Council reforms. He also touched upon his Government’s achievements during the first five-year mandate and outlined the priorities for his second term in office.
One of the central themes of President Bio’s address was the call for collective efforts, mutual trust, and the rekindling of global solidarity. He emphasized the urgent need to address widespread poverty, food insecurity, climate change, and emerging conflicts. President Bio reminded the international community of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and urged member states to redouble their efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while leaving no one behind.
President Bio drew attention to Sierra Leone’s democratic spirit, exemplified by the peaceful and fair multi-tier elections held on June 24. He saw his re-election as a testament to his Government’s commitment to a united, peaceful, and prosperous Sierra Leone where justice and opportunity are accessible to all.
During his first term, President Bio’s administration made significant strides in various areas, including education, gender equality, and justice. Over 800,000 new learners were introduced into the educational system, and domestic educational funding was increased. The Government championed inclusivity by providing tuition-free access to quality primary and secondary school education for all, including expectant girls, adult learners, and children with disabilities.
President Bio also declared a state of emergency on rape and sexual and gender-based violence, promoting justice for marginalized and underprivileged individuals. He urged the global community to stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence and recognized November 18 as World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Violence.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment were further highlighted through the enactment of the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act of 2022. The Act guarantees a minimum of 30% representation for women in elected and appointed offices and addresses other gender-related issues.
He stressed the importance of these endeavors and highlighted the diverse and youthful composition of his Cabinet, which includes members under the age of 40 and representatives from all 16 districts of Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone’s commitment to achieving middle-income status by 2035 was emphasized, with President Bio acknowledging the interconnectedness of global fate and the need for collective efforts and global solidarity.
As Sierra Leone prepares to assume a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2024-2025 term, President Bio expressed the country’s commitment to upholding international peace and security. He emphasized the importance of peace, democracy, and human rights in West Africa and the Sahel region.
President Bio called for reform and rejuvenation of the UN Security Council and General Assembly, advocating for equitable representation and transparency. He highlighted Africa’s demand for permanent and non-permanent seats within the Security Council to rectify historical injustices.
The address also covered Sierra Leone’s response to climate change, emphasizing the importance of sustainable development and climate action. The country’s National Adaptation Plan, launched in 2018, aims to reduce vulnerability to climate change by 2030.
President Bio welcomed the Nairobi Declaration at the Africa Climate Summit and called on the international community to prioritize economic and ecological needs for sustainable growth and development.
In conclusion, President Julius Maada Bio urged the global community to rebuild trust, strengthen global unity, and adopt a cooperative approach to tackle the world’s challenges. He emphasized the importance of dialogue, peaceful resolution of disputes, and fostering a world where everyone can live in unity and peace.
As the international community navigates the complexities of the modern world, President Bio’s address served as a call to action, urging nations to choose the path of equity, justice, and collective responsibility for the betterment of future generations.