image

Africa

Sierra Leone’s new president doesn’t mince words. He called China infrastructure projects ‘a sham’

Julius Maada Bio, a straight-talking retired brigadier, has blasted Sierra Leone government’s closeness to China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 11:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 10:35pm

Julius Maada Bio, a former coup-maker who once apologised for exactions carried out by his comrades, secured his first civilian term in office Wednesday in Sierra Leone’s presidential vote.

The straight-talking retired brigadier, who briefly led a junta in 1996, beat incumbent Samura Kamara to end a decade in power for the All Peoples’ Congress (APC) in last month’s run-off, according to official results.

He now faces the difficult task of rebuilding the impoverished West African nation’s economy that was dragged down by the world’s deadliest Ebola epidemic and a global slump in commodity prices.

Dressed in traditional white robes, Maada Bio was sworn in just before midnight at a hotel in the capital Freetown, raising in the air the Bible upon which he swore the oath of office to the cheers of supporters.

“This is the dawn of a new era. The people of this great nation have voted to take a new direction,” he said in a speech following the short ceremony in which he made an appeal for national unity.

“We have only one country, Sierra Leone, and we are all one people.”

Maada Bio, who briefly ruled Sierra Leone as head of a military junta in 1996, replaces outgoing President Ernest Bai Koroma, who could not seek re-election due to term limits.

The former military man was one of a group of young soldiers behind a 1992 coup that would install their leader, Valentine Strasser, as the youngest head of state in the world, at age 25.

Bio ousted Strasser four years later and headed the government for three months to pave the way for democratic elections.

He agreed to step aside for the duly elected Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, allowing Sierra Leone to re-establish democracy.

He later apologised for the conduct of troops who executed more than 20 people after the 1992 coup, and is widely considered to have rehabilitated his image.

Bio, who spent time after leaving power studying in the United States, is not known to mince words.

During a February campaign debate he called Chinese infrastructure projects “a sham with no economic and development benefits to the people” of the poor west African country.

After gaining the presidential nomination for the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in 2012, he lost the election to Koroma.

China’s influence in Sierra Leone looms on eve of long-awaited election

This time, he has promised to review mining concession agreements and to provide free universal education at the primary and secondary levels if elected.

After Bio hit out at corruption on the campaign trail, his opponent Kamara accused the SLPP candidate of stealing US$18 million during his brief time at the helm, though his APC opponent faces corruption allegations of his own.

The SLPP has accused the APC of wanting to cling to power after a lawyer linked to the ruling party filed a complaint of electoral fraud which briefly delayed the vote.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters