Is Globetrotting Thy Name, Mr President?
By Mohamed Sankoh (One Drop)
I am not a “Drunkardnomics” like most of those who are, at present, managing Sierra Leone’s economy. I have been a teetotal all my life. And I did not study Economics beyond Secondary School. My area of specialty has been Journalism and Mass Communications. But if in its simplest of definitions, Economics can be said to be “the study of how society uses its limited resources”; then I am respectfully asking if President Julius Maada Bio has been using Sierra Leone’s limited resources judiciously?
I am asking that question because President Bio’s perennial globetrotting, which seems to have become his presidential pastime, appears to be producing the same outcome like that of a fisherman trying to transport water from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to the Aberdeen Beach in his fishing net! The President has travelled a million-and-one time in search of investors, yet foreign investors appear to be treating Sierra Leone like a leprous person who is infected with the Ebola Virus.
And one basic sagacious business principle is that one should always get dividends from one’s investments. The country has been investing heavily on air tickets, per diems and other travel expenses on both the President and his hangers-on but what have been the returns on those trips? What has Sierra Leone, as a nation, benefitted or benefitting from those overseas expeditions? Are the foreign investors, which our president has been looking for, still in transit at the airport in the Moon?
And for the very first time in Sierra Leone’s chequered history, her Head of State has been, or is being, taken as a fodder for some international comedians’ scripts. The humourist of the “Mock News” of a Nigerian television station seems to be having a field day with our Commander-in-Chief. And one local comedian, in a WhatsApp audio late last week, quipped that if President Bio loved travelling so much then the State should think of buying him an aeroplane. Such is the persona which our president appears to have built for himself in the eyes of even jokers let alone right-thinking Sierra Leoneans.
And even some Sierra Leoneans have now taken President Bio as an epitome of hyperbole. Commenting on the supposed money which the State might have spent on travelling expenses on the Head of State of the Republic of Sierra Leone; one ‘WhatsApper’ jokes that the per diems which our President has received so far might serve as seed money for the construction of the Mamamah Airport complete with a new city. Another ‘Social Mediarite’ (don’t dash for your dictionaries because this is another One Dropian dropped word!) jests that the amount of money spent on chartered flights for the Sierra Leonean president could be an advance payment for the purchase of the latest Boeing plane. And the amount of expensive wines, I’m being told and which could provoke a supposition here, which some of the president’s hangers-on consume while on some of those foreign investors-seeking trips will keep the Titanic floating for weeks. Such Dickensian exaggerations just show the derision which ordinary Sierra Leoneans have for their Head of State’s globetrotting.
But to give the Sierra Leonean Head of State his globetrotting dues, President Bio’s trip to Kenya was the most successful to date (in my opinion). His reported visit to that lions’ zoo was, and still is, the most meaningful. Sierra Leone, since time immemorial, has been incorrectly referred to as “Lion Mountains”. But there are no lions in the mountains of the country and majority of Sierra Leoneans have never seen a breathing lion in their entire lives (only in movies). The president might be thinking of making Sierra Leone truly a “Lion Mountain” by exploring the possibility of Kenya donating a male and female lions to Sierra Leone. So, we should not be surprised in the coming weeks if the Office of the President announces that the Government will be opening a lions’ lair at Tihun in Bonthe District, southern Sierra Leone, as a precursor to Idris Elba’s proposed “modern tourists’ city”.
But on a more serious note, if President Bio is really serious about “plugging the leakages” he needs to borrow the style of the President of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli aka “The Bulldozer”, who is on record as saying that he is eschewing overseas travels to save money for his country. According to the BBC website, “[Magufuli]… has not travelled outside East Africa since becoming president. He has only toured neighbouring Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. His longest journey so far was to Ethiopia to attend an African Union meeting in January 2017”. And because of limiting his foreign travels and that of top government officials, BBC website notes, “a central bank report in early 2017 revealed that the [Tanzanian] government had saved $430m (£330m) by limiting foreign travel between November 2015 to November 2016”.
That’s exactly how a sober-minded government could “plug the leakages”, save money, and look after the bread-and-butter issues of its citizens. But our own President Julius Maada Bio seems to be spending more time inside aeroplanes than his office at State House or State Lodge.
Little wonder whenever he is chanced to be in Sierra Leone, he is so over-worked that he has to “sit at his desk till 3AM” (according to the sycophantic Squealer-ish Information Minister, Mohamed Swarray, in a radio interview recently).
I am beginning to suspect that potential foreign investors might be hiding right inside Sierra Leone where they believe they will not be found by President Bio who is always overseas looking out for them. But as the late Chinua Achebe would have said, a man looking for his lost horse will look everywhere including the roof. That’s why, albeit Sierra Leone has its trademark “Red Lion Bread”, the President had to go all the way to neighbouring Guinea to look for a “tapalapa” bread investor!