By Hadi Bah of the Sierra Leone 365 website :
His fight to change Sierra Leonean society started within his own All People’s Congress (APC) party where his route to the leadership had to go through the courts. As president of a poor country, he has worked hard, day and night, rain or shine on his stated goal of transforming Sierra Leone into a middle income country. Not an easy task. But only with blinders on will visitors to Sierra Leone not be aware of the tangible differences taking place now from yesteryea
His fight to change Sierra Leonean society started within his own All People’s Congress (APC) party where his route to the leadership had to go through the courts. As president of a poor country, he has worked hard, day and night, rain or shine on his stated goal of transforming Sierra Leone into a middle income country. Not an easy task. But only with blinders on will visitors to Sierra Leone not be aware of the tangible differences taking place now from yesteryear.

For decades, Lunsar, Makeni and Port Loko were depressed, almost moribund towns. Today, the three towns have been brought to life by African Minerals, a mining company which employs thousands of Sierra Leoneans. The trickle down effect has Sierra Leoneans opening all kind of businesses including those who hire out their vehicles to the mining companies at competitive rates.

Now enjoying real estate booms, it is not uncommon to hear unemployed youths in Freetown talk about moving to the region to take advantage of the employment opportunities. Sierra Leoneans who have never seen a train before now stare in awe as the trains connecting the mines to the port of Pepel glide by.

Bo, Sierra Leone’s second largest city, used to be a bone crushing day drive away from Freetown on a road full of potholes. Today, for travelers with their own cars, Bo is less than three hours away on cruise control. Without the numerous checkpoints at the international border, Coankry, Guinea is less than four hours away from Freetown. The journey used to take the better part of a day. The good roads have made it possible for commerce to take off.

In Freetown, once reputed to be darkest city in the world, visitors will notice the continuous electricity supply not just in the affluent West End, but also in the poorer parts of the East End.

Unlike leaders who are detached and out of touch, President Koroma tries to maintain his relationship with ordinary citizens. On a visit to Kabala last December to open the Koinadugu District Agricultural Show, President Ernest Bai Koroma alighted from his vehicle at the entrance to town and started walking and shaking citizens’ hands with a wide smile on his face.

Late last year, when President Koroma visited Lalehun to inaugurate the Gola Rainforest Reserve, his concerned bodyguards tried to shoo eager villagers away from him. “Leave them alone, they are my children,” Ngolehun, a villager fondly recalled the president telling his Secret Service contingent.

Listening to talk radio hosts skewer the government would make visitors to today’s Sierra Leone believe that like the USA, the country has a First Amendment guarantee of free speech. Emboldened radio presenters who only a few years ago would have found themselves at Pademba Road Prisons, invite government officials to answer questions and take calls from ordinary Sierra Leoneans.

The newspapers were even livelier, with reporters writing stories that in years past would have earned them prosecution. Yet, the country’s prisons are free of journalists and political prisoners.

One parliamentarian worries for the president’s health because of his hectic schedule attending conferences, working the phones and persuading world business and political leaders to invest in Sierra Leone.

The vote on November 17 will be a contest between development and freedom on the one hand and retrogression and repression on the other. Analogically, it will be like a choice between Nelson Mandela and Sudanese President Omar El Bashir over whose head human rights abuse charges hang.

Elsewhere on the development front, Chinese technicians are building a mini hydroelectric power plant near Bathurst to bring electricity to the mountain villages. Preparations are also underway to pave the road from Regent to Jui Junction. The construction of the mountain bypass road around Freetown continues on schedule, so is the road connecting Lumley to Tokeh Village.

With anti-foreigner feelings running high all over the world, Sierra Leoneans abroad will only be helping themselves by seeing the light and the truth and uniting behind a president who deserves a second term to continue the good work he started.

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