Magazine article New African

'I Want to See a New Sierra Leone'

Magazine article New African

'I Want to See a New Sierra Leone'

Article excerpt

Sierra Leone goes to the polls on 17 November. Incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma (pictured) is seeking a second term. Our correspondent, Lansana Gberie, interviewed him on the security situation in the country ahead of the elections, his relationship with the key opposition leader, Julius Maada Bio; and on his signature policy of infrastructural development as part of his Agenda for Change programme. Here are excerpts.

Q: There are concerns, most notably expressed in the UN Security Council on 22 March, about the importation of millions of dollars worth of arms for Sierra Leone's already notorious paramilitary force, the Operational Services Division (OSD). How do you respond to these concerns?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

First of all, you have to ask, "who raised the concern?" Clearly, it was not the UN Security Council as some people would want it to be seen. The so-called concern was raised by the out-going Representative of the UN Secretary-General who apparently has a bone to pick with this government without any concrete progressive reason. But to answer your question, the importation of arms for the security forces is a normal, routine affair that should not raise any eyebrows or be misconstrued. We are a sovereign state, and we have the responsibility to safeguard lives and property from threats or potential threats to peace. A state cannot be taken seriously if it cannot provide sufficient security for its people, and that is what we are doing.

We have built or are building the capacity of the security forces, and we also need to equip them. You have to remember two things here: firstly, the security forces, after the departure of the UN peacekeepers, have not been adequately armed to face the challenges of armed robbery, political violence, border insecurity, and so on and so forth.

Secondly, the procurement of these arms was completed about four years ago; it is just that they have been delivered at this time, and you can bet that this government will not use them unless it is absolutely necessary. We are not going to give a gun to every security officer. We will be very judicious, conscientious, and cautious in the use of these weapons.

Also, I would not subscribe to the view that the OSD is notorious. There could be one or two personality problems with some personnel, like in any force in the world, but the Sierra Leonean security forces are more professional today than ever before. The weapons we purchased are certainly needed to give the security forces the facelift they deserve and the confidence they desire.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Q: There are talks here and abroad that you are not on speaking terms with the main opposition candidate, Julius Maada Bit Why is that so?

I cannot understand where people get their information from. It is not true that I am not on speaking terms with Maada Bio. I am a very open person, very accommodating to all and sundry, including the opposition.

The moment I was elected president of this country, one of the first people I travelled with, out of this country, was Maada Bio.

I can't be speaking to him every day or every week or every month; I don't need to. I don't think there is a personal problem between us. We belong to different political parties, we have different platforms; so we don't need to create a false picture of camaraderie, but we are all Sierra Leoneans and I respect the views of the opposition.

Q: Many people blame your internal affairs minister, Musa Tarawallie, for masterminding violent attacks against opposition supporters? Is that true?

The issue of Musa Tarawallie has been recurring, and my response to the concerns of the public are embedded in the White Paper the government has issued about him. For the record, we have stated that we are considering the recommendations of the Shears-Moses report. As a government, we do not make knee-jerk responses but thoroughly study the situation and then take the appropriate action. …

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