News From Lebanon

What has President Bio brought home after a three-week stay in the Asian country of Lebanon is a frequently asked question, but answers are yet to be provided by government.

The public’s curiosity about the President’s travel started on the day he left Sierra Leone for Lebanon.

Their curiosity is anchored on questions revolving why he left in the presence of a devouring plague.

A source in Britain who closely monitored President Bio’s stay in Lebanon has told Nightwatch that the President’s visit was to see how he can persuade investors to come to Sierra Leone.

The source however informed Nightwatch that Lebanon is short of the investment the country needs.

He however preferred the President visiting Britain for investment to going to Lebanon considering the economic nightmare into which the Asian country has been trapped.

“What can Lebanon offer to Sierra Leone at this critical moment when the deadly Corona Virus has badly affected world economies,” the source wondered.

The source, apparently an investor, had stayed in Sierra Leone for years before he left the country for Britain where he currently stays.

The investor’s departure from Sierra Leone had close connection with government’s seeming unreadiness to accept his investment plan in the country, a move he described as “unreasonable” and “unjustifiable.”

The claims made by the source about Lebanon could be seen in the actions of the Lebanese community who have shut sown most of their business owing to what they referred to as a hike in tax.

Most have moved their dollars from Sierra Leone through dubious means owing to what they say an unfavourable business climate.

The arrest of a Lebanese national at the country’s only international airport in the North-western town of Lungi is a case in point.

The actions of the Lebanese community in Sierra Leone run contrary to the expectations and aspirations of Sierra Leoneans considering that they once control a greater percentage of the country’s economy.

Currently, they still remain a dominant force in Sierra Leone’s business sector.

Sierra Leoneans’ particular concern emanates from an extension of a Visa Ban on Sierra Leoneans immediately President Bio landed in Sierra    Leone.

President Julius Maada Bio has been out of the country for over three weeks sparking a lot of questions and debates about his whereabouts and reasons for his depature at a time boots are needed on the ground.

Credible sources indicated that the President was in Lebanon to take a break from work while others have linked his movement to the Asian country on health checks.

At a press briefing almost three weeks back, the Minister of Information and Communication, Mohamed Rado Swarray informed the journalists that President Bio was in Lebanon on a private visit.

Minister Swarray further informed journalists that the President is entitled to his private life which must be respected by everyone.

Sierra Leone apart from the horrors of Covid-19, is still confronted with a dire economic hardship ever seen before.

Prices of basic food stuff keep rising, and the people’s expectations for a positive turnaround is high, but they say things are not going as expected.

Sierra Leoneans were hopeful that the President’s continued stay in Lebanon will bring the loaves they need in the form of investment.

The visa ban on Sierra Leone came in 2019 came after a diplomatic row between the United States and Sierra Leone over the deportation of Sierra Leoneans.

Initially, the ban was meant for only officials of the Immigration Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At the height of the row, The United States was of the view that she had been misled by the Sierra Leone Government over the exact identity of Sierra Leonean deportees.

The new visa ban that greeted President Bio upon his return home on Saturday was a blanket visa ban on all Sierra Leoneans save few exceptional cases.

Most Sierra Leoneans have linked the ban to the President’s recent visit to Lebanon, the home of the Hezbollah Islamic sect, a group tagged as a terrorist organisation.

The United States and Lebanon has always got a strained relationship owing to the existence of the Hezbollah terrorist unit.

The two countries of recent times cannot see eye-to-eye on international issues.

It is no gainsaying that the United States and terrorism are strange bed fellows in light of the dangerous terrorist attacks America has suffered over the years.

The bombing raid on US Naval Base on Pearl Harbour in 1945 by Japanese Fighters was the first terrorist attacks on an American soil.

The attack claimed the lives of over two thousand US naval officers compelling the US to fire back.

Since that time, threats of terrorist attacks hang on the US territory forcing the US to enter alliance with a number of international organisations for defence and intelligence-sharing purposes.

The US to date remains the biggest funder for most of the organisations of which she is a member notably the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The US is also a key member of International Atomic Energy Agency, an organisation that curbs atomic energy and also removes treats of atomic warfare.

However, the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the US World Trade Centre popularly Known as the Twin Towers in September 2001 was the second tragic incident in the US.

The attack also claimed the lives of over 2,000 Americans forcing America to fight back.

The US since that time has not been at ease with most Asian countries considered to be a spring board and a landing place for terrorists including Lebanon.

The maxim that guides America in its campaign against terrorism has the principle that there is no difference between a terrorist and the country harbouring a terrorist.

The existence of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation has not only affected her relations with US but also other Asian countries notably, Israel.

Over the years, bitter exchanges have taken place between Israel and Lebanon as the two sides had engaged on a crossfires of rockets and missiles.

No doubt that the United States will definitely frown at any country that nurtures and builds relationship with a country tagged as a terrorist zone.

The slam of the visa ban on Sierra Leone by the US points towards that direction.

A document seen by Nightwatch indicates that as of September 11, this year, the US had discontinued issuing almost all immigrant and nonimmigrant visas for Sierra Leone citizens and nationals applying at the Embassy in Freetown.

The document however indicates that those covered by limited exceptions and those consistent with US obligations or commitments under international agreements such as the UN headquarters agreement.

“Under the Immigration and Nationality Act…the Secretary of Homeland Security may notify the Secretary of State when a country denies or unreasonably delays accepting one or more of its nationals who are subject to a final order of removal,” the document reads in part.

The document however recognises government’s recent effort to issue travel documents and accept some nationals who were subject to a final order of removal.

The US government also is less satisfactory with what she referred to as a lack of consistent, repeatable removal processes that has resulted in continued delays in accepting the return of its citizens.

It hopes that the country’s cooperation with US on removals will continue and improve.

The US embassies and consulates globally, including Sierra Leone cancelled routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa appointments as of March, this year in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

 

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