Many are wondering about President Julius Maada Bio’s sincerity with regards pushing for peace and national cohesion. He undoubtedly has a very rich record of having facilitated the brokering of peace talks between the RUF rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, and also subsequently leading to the holding of the first democratic elections in the country in 1996.
He is also on record of having organized the Bintumani 1 and 11 Conferences, which preceded the peace talks and the conduct of the elections. It would therefore be a disservice for anyone to talk about peace in Sierra Leone and leaving out the contributions of President Bio.
This notwithstanding his critics have a different story all together about the events leading to the conduct of the first democratic elections in 1996 and the holding of the peace talks in Lome, Togo.
They have maintained that President Bio had wanted to hold on to power if not for the very strong resistance from the firmly united civil society and religious groups in the country coupled with the determination of the international community to usher in democracy.
It was therefore no doubt that the same individual, President Bio, has come again to establish a Peace and National Cohesion Commission, decades after it was recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report.
President Bio made a very strong election campaign promise that he is not pleased about the polarized nature of the country and that if he wins he will push for national cohesion and sustainable peace in Sierra Leone.
One year down the line, he has been able to put a lot of work on the development of the Green Paper and the conduct of the Bintumani III conference, which was well attended by all groups and sectors in the country.
The International Community was also well represented with very high level representations from the United Nations, ECOWAS and the Mano River Union.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary General in West Africa and the Sahel, spoke very well about the efforts of the Bio Government to restore and sustain peace and national cohesion, citing the Medium Term Development Framework, which had pegged the issue of peace and national cohesion as a huge priority.
The UN envoy expressed concerns that the United Nations was concerned that the situation that has culminated into the elections of March, 2018 is still around and that there is every need for collaborative efforts to end and solve this situation. He called on political party leaders, Universities, the media, civil society and religious groups to work together around this.
It is therefore necessary to state that, with all the work the President has placed into ensuring that we have peace and national cohesion, backed up with his past record of facilitating and working for peace, we are witnessing actions and events from the government that have the tendency to taint the President’s fantastic record on peace and democracy.
The massive and rampant sacking of Sierra Leoneans from their works and the several constitutional breaches by the government, coupled with the politicization of the judiciary and the police, are completely in contrast with the public commitment of the government to search for peace.
These actions are heavily weighing on the sincerity and practical commitment of President Bio to peace. It is becoming clear that the government is just preaching peace in principle.
The President should translate his brilliant speeches on peace and national cohesion on the ground and stop the genocide that is going on in the country. He should depoliticize those critical state institutions like the police and judiciary.
The establishment of the Peace Commission would mean nothing if the government does not take a step further to make these institutions independent and credible. The panelists from Kenya and Uganda made it very clear that the peace commission would not do it alone and that it would only work where there are already strong institutions that are fully executing their mandate.
This explains why the Civil Society have proffered that, while we wait to carefully put together the structures of the peace commission, government should, as a short term measure, build and strengthen the critical state institutions such as the Ombudsman’s Office, PPRC, NEC, the Human Rights Commission, the police and the judiciary, amongst others.
The National Grand Coalition, in their position paper at the Bintumani Conference, has called on the government to match words with action, noting that government should take concrete actions that would shame their detractors.
Similar sentiments were also expressed by other groups, including the Children Forum Network of Sierra Leone.
President Bio should not allow his record of peace and democratic tolerance to be dented just because certain people want him to revenge on the All People’s Congress for their ten years of misrule and undemocratic posture.
Most of the brilliant and developmental aspirations of his government stand to be challenged due to the rising political tensions. As the father of the nation, he should despise all what his immediate people are saying, which are not in line with forgiveness, tolerance and sustainable peace and national cohesion.
He should strive to achieve peace and national cohesion just like he is being remembered for peace and democracy. The road is tough but he should strive to reach the journey for the benefit of Mama Salone. Economic Development and private sector growth would not thrive where there are tensions and conflicts.