IN 1992, JULIUS MAADA BIO WAS among a group of six young Sierra Leonean soldiers (that included Captain Valentine Strasser) who toppled President Joseph Momoh's All People's Congress government in a bloodless military coup.
Bio later led a palace coup in 1996, to overthrow Captain Strasser's military government, following a division within the ruling Supreme Council of State over whether to introduce multi-party elections that year, and the conditions for participation of the junta members in the elections.
Bio's "palace coup" returned the country to democracy. In 2005, he officially became a member of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and last year won the party's election to become its 2012 presidential candidate.
Q: What are the main challenges facing Sierra Leone today?
A: We have a highly polarised country and also a difficulty with the democratic process, in the sense that the transition of power from one government to another is problematic. When you have a smooth change from one government to another, it creates confidence. When there is a lack of it, it leads to problems.
We are also concerned with political violence. What is particularly worrying is that there is clear evidence that, going towards the elections, weapons like rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, and sub-machine guns are being stockpiled by the government.
Q: So you don't identify the root of the development problem to be simply that the government does not have adequate finance to roll out services to the people?
A: I wouldn't confine it to that. The country has very low levels of savings so we definitely require large flows of foreign direct investment--and it will be the responsibility of my government to provide an environment conducive for this to take place. It is necessary for the investment community in our country to embark on crucial projects and business activities that will provide the revenue for development and give us a competitive edge with the international business community.
Our problem is not just limited to the lack of capital, but also the functioning of the government, the quality of leadership, and the sort of policies that will assure investors that their investment in Sierra Leone is safe, and that they can repatriate their profits. We must assure them that Sierra Leone respects the rule of law, and it is a country that protects investments.
Q: Have you identified particular sectors in Sierra Leone that are ripe for inward investment?
A: Yes. Most developed countries began growing their economies by first developing their agricultural sector. In our country, agriculture has not received adequate attention. Around 70% of our people are involved in agriculture in one way or another. It is my ardent belief that we should provide the necessary support to this sector. It will not only provide us with the food we need, but also allow us to export to the world and bring in foreign currency. So agriculture is one area.
We have also had some recent discoveries of rutile, bauxite, iron ore, gold, and diamond deposits, and of course the recently discovered off-shore oil. We have proposed to put in place an effective management system for the extractive industries. We have looked to the experience of other countries like Ghana that has just started lifting its oil, and we want to have a system in place to make sure that our oil becomes a blessing. We must have a fiscal and tax regime agreement that will provide for the country.
Q: You have a military background, don't you?
A: Yes, I was part of the military government that came into power in 1992 after nearly 20 years of one-party rule in our country. Everybody had given up that we would ever have a democratic dispensation. We had had several elections before, but the members of the government in power just amassed wealth for themselves and kept everybody under control. …