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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

Sierra Leone Women Issues for the 2012 National Elections
By Dr. Sylvia Blyden (Female Publisher)
Jan 9, 2012, 18:41
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Julius Maada Bio is a former NPRC Military Junta Leader who is the main opposition party candidate seeking to unseat the incumbent President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. Mr. Bio is to be applauded for naming a woman to be his Running-Mate and by extension to be the first female Vice President of the Republic if Bio succeeds.

 

Many are interpreting this to mean Bio’s credentials on Women Empowerment are not scalable by the incumbent president unless Ernest Bai Koroma also appoints a woman to be his Running Mate. But is that really so? Let us pause a minute and look at the facts of Julius Maada Bio (his service in NPRC) with Ernest Bai Koroma’s current public record.

 

Firstly, what power does a Sierra Leone Vice President possess which will make attainment of a woman to that position such  monumental achievement for Women’s empowerment?

 

The current lame-duck Vice President Sam-Sumana is a glaring example of a relatively powerless VP. In the Cabinet, only the President and his VP were elected by the citizens. All Cabinet ministers are appointed at the discretion of the President and subject to disciplinary strides. However, lowly ministers have been known to insult VP Sam-Sumana with no disciplinary steps taken.

 

A similar scenario of a lame duck VP position was that held by a former VP under the SLPP’s President Kabbah (ie; Dr. Alfred Joe Demby). So, I’m not sure a woman being Vice President is a real example of Women Empowerment.

 

If we want to look at empowerment of women, we have to do so from a holistic view and in empirical terms and not give emotional value any more importance than it deserves. Now that the hullabaloo has died down over the issue of ‘first female SLPP running-mate’, it is time for us to look at the issue from an empirical point of view with facts and not emotions.

 

First of all, hate him or like him, in terms of Woman Empowerment, this President has empowered far more women than any other President in the History of Sierra Leone. This is a fact and I will elucidate further as we go along this piece.

 

 

Whilst SLPP is making noise about Maada Bio following footsteps of politicians like Amadu Jalloh (NDA) and Hon. Dr. John Karefa-Smart, they forget we should not look at emotional window dressing come 2012 but at empirical hard evidence.

 

When Maada Bio forcibly took over State House with guns in January 1996, he sacked the only woman in the NPRC Cabinet (Dr. Christiana Thorpe) on January 19th 1996*. On the contrary, President Koroma has included several women in his Cabinet.

 

Whilst Koroma could do more to improve the sitting number of women in his Cabinet, he has not done any worse than predecessors because at no point in time did President Kabbah, President Stevens or President Momoh have more than three female Cabinet full-rank Ministers. Koroma named Zainab Bangura, Musu Kandeh & Afsatu Kabba in his first Cabinet.

 

Now in addition to including several women as Ministers and Deputy Ministers, President Koroma has not only given us the first female Chief Justice of the Republic, Hon. Umu-Hawa Tejan Jalloh but he has given us what many APC strategists tell me they are going to be fondly terming as the ‘Female Generals’ when APC Campaigns kick off later this year.

 

Indeed, it is President Koroma who has given us the first female BRIGADIER-GENERAL (Kestoria Olayinka Kabia) and he has also handpicked and catapulted several ‘Female Generals’ into strategic Government Offices. Ernest Bai Koroma has appointed at least four women into extremely important and sensitive positions:


SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Martina Koroma),

COMMISSIONER GENERAL (Haja Kallah Kamara) - acting

ADMINISTRATOR & REGISTRAR GENERAL (Mariama Seray Kallay),

AUDITOR GENERAL (Lara Taylor-Pearce).

 

Of course, we will not forget all the women who have been appointed into the Judiciary apart from Chief Justice Tejan-Jalloh. The Judiciary is virtually manned by women at the moment and they are doing a yeoman’s task with very little funds at their disposal.

 

I must remark that a praise-worthy aspect about the appointment of Chief Justice Tejan Jalloh is the fact that there was resistance to her appointment from within APC circles seeing she is a daughter from a prominent opposition family in Sierra Leone. President Koroma ignored the trepidations of APC members and appointed the woman (of an SLPP family) strictly on merit to become the country’s first female Chief Justice.

 

Similarly, the Auditor-General Lara Taylor Pearce is on record for dragging a Government Minister to court in her personal capacity for attempting to usurp her right to her family’s ancestral lands. Thus, like the Chief Justice, there was some resistance to her appointment but President Koroma ignored all resistance to her appointment. After consulting Public Service Commission, Section 119 of the Constitution gives the President the sole prerogative to appoint an Auditor-General. He appointed a woman.


In the area of appointments to chair State Boards, far more women have chaired Boards than any other time in the History of this country. Dr. Nana Pratt, Mrs. Maude Peacock, Mrs. Shirley Rogers-Wright were named amongst the first set of Board Chairmen appointed by Koroma. Madam Rebecca Conteh was last year named as Board Chair of the country’s Road Transport Corporation.

 

Also last year, President Koroma used his initiative to ensure Mrs. Sarah Bendu who had been impugned for corruption, but later exonerated, was re-instated to head the country’s Road Transport Authority. By re-instating her, President Koroma continued to ensure young girls had positive role models to aspire to be.

 

When his former press secretary opened a newspaper that spewed out sexually explicit insults against the president’s female critics in the media, it caused uproar amongst many women. The presidential secretary, though a trusted aide to the President, was to be relocated away from the sacred Presidency to the Information Ministry.

 

President Koroma has been working overtime to empower the Women of Sierra Leone and give them the respect due them whether they were media persons like myself or judicial figures or military brigadiers or grassroots women. President Koroma has respected and empowered women at all levels of the society.

 

This is why when analysts will be looking at Ernest Bai Koroma and Julius Maada Bio next year insofar as Women’s Empowerment is concerned, they will not be looking at Dr. Kadi Sesay’s ‘first female VP’ aspirations but at the two men’s records with respect to empowering and seeing to the needs of Sierra Leone Womenfolk.

 

 

If the President’s Free Health Care Initiative for Pregnant Women and their Under-Five children which has greatly empowered the socio-economic status of working class and grassroots women, is placed next to NPRC’s record of raping women, breaking up marriages and using Child Soldiers, well, the APC political strategists will be home and dry on issue of WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT.


APC Strategists will not even need to look at the issue of how Julius Maada Bio has confessed that as a uniformed military officer, he partook in a scene of brutal torture of an innocent woman (Salami Coker’s girlfriend Salamatu Kamara) by NPRC soldiers. APC will not need to even recount of how Maada Bio allowed the woman to be slaughtered to death without protecting the woman as a Gentleman Officer or of how Bio later joined in a very despicable NPRC cover-up of gruesome NPRC killing of a woman.


Bottom-line, Julius Maada Bio appointing Dr. Kadi Sesay as his party’s female Running-Mate, is nothing to write home about when placed next to Bio’s NPRC public record on Women or next to President Ernest Bai Koroma’s monumental achievements in the area of Empowerment of the Sierra Leone woman.

 

* EDITOR’S NOTE: Maada Bio was to later add a woman into his NPRC-II Military Junta Cabinet. Margaret Idriss became Bio’s NPRC Information Minister replacing Hindolo Trye in that NPRC post.


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