By Abubakarr Qulux Bangura
His Excellency President Dr. Julius Maada Bio, speaking to a small group of politicians in the Upper House of the UK Parliament – the House of Lords, along with the actor – Idris Elba, who along with the African Leadership Magazine were instrumental in organising the president’s visit to the U.K Parliament said Sierra Leone needs investments in critical sectors.
According to State House report in Freetown, President Bio “is in the United Kingdom to share his leadership strategies that kept Sierra Leone comparatively stable during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the current global economic crisis.”
“As the pandemic spread and we lost loved ones, we relied upon each other to act in ways that would end the spread. We learned very clearly how central people are to all our economies and political stability everywhere. As a human race, our ultimate strength has definitely been tested in the past few years. Through it all, we have shown resilience, grit, ingenuity and determination to evolve stronger from the troubled times we’re passing through,” President Bio said.
President Bio said that the last few years have reaffirmed that the fortunes of every country in the world are inextricably intertwined, and how a few people infected with a disease in one town can lead to deaths globally.
“We have also witnessed a crisis in one geographical region of the world having a widespread impact across the globe. This attests to the fact that we have a shared destiny, and the sooner we work collectively towards a common global good, the better for our generation and our children.
“How rewarding will it be if prosperity, equity, and relationships in one part of the world lead to prosperity elsewhere?” he asked, noting that if the events of the past few years have taught the world anything, it is that people are far more important than any possessions or politics, and that people’s collective success depends on each other.
“Since assuming political leadership in May 2018, rather than focusing on digging in the ground and mining the natural resources – like diamonds – that Sierra Leone is renowned for, our New Direction Agenda focuses on nurturing the potential of our children and then mining their talents to become productive citizens.
“Investing in quality education for the future generation is the most valuable and the only truly renewable resource in the world today. My Government’s New Direction Agenda is premised on what I like to call the ‘Sierra Leone Brain Mining Company (SLBMC)’ – we nurture the talents and would eventually mine the full potential of every child in Sierra Leone,” the president told the UK politicians.
The President said it is significant to note that even a global pandemic that caused and was causing unprecedented disruptions, irrational spikes and uncertainties in the global economy, had not weakened his government’s resolve to keep investing in human capital development and building sustainable education systems.
“Granted this, and the war in Europe, makes the task at hand more challenging, but we remain confident that this investment is the right thing to do. I am proud to say that despite these global challenges, our investment in education increased from 11% to 22% of our annual budgetary allocation to support primary, secondary, higher, technical and vocational education and training. My Government’s flagship Free Quality School Education program caters for two million pupils nationwide,” he said.
That, he added, is in addition to the gains already made in education by improving school governance, building more school infrastructure, expanding school feeding, accelerating the use of technology and innovation in education delivery and management, publishing appropriate learning resources and materials, and implementing a new school curriculum.
President Bio said over 600,000 additional children, especially girls, accessed schools in 2021 and over 5,000 additional qualified teachers were recruited and consequently the country recorded a higher success rate in public examinations at all levels.
“My Government particularly takes the education of girls very seriously. As a result of our policy assuring free STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths] education for girls, we have recorded ground-breaking numbers of girls who are now opting to study STEM disciplines and doing exceptionally well.
“Many parents no longer resist sending their daughters to school, knowing that our Government pays for their tuition, teaching and learning materials, and public examination fees. As we say, the future of Sierra Leone is female.”
President Bio made reference to what he referred to as his government’s impressive achievements in the education sector in four and a half years, despite the worldwide challenges, which he said solidifies Sierra Leone’s position as a global champion for education.
He said he is not speaking of education as merely a means of producing skilled labour for investors in the resource-rich West African nation, but speaking of education as a means of liberating the country’s citizens and empowering them with the tools to lead healthy, productive, fulfilling, and prosperous lives.
With the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank no longer eager to prop up President Bio’s extravagant spending, foreign investors are finding the country far too risky to invest in. Since coming to office in 2018, no credible foreign investor has trusted the Bio-led government enough to include Sierra Leone in their portfolio
“I will end with a clarion call to strengthen ties with Sierra Leone. As we turn our near recession from the pandemic and the Russia/Ukraine war into recovery, we need all the support from our friends and partners in the UK.
“We need investments in critical sectors, including education, agriculture, health, infrastructure and the extractive sector. My Government welcomes all potential investors. The perception of risk is high, but we have deliberately made tough policy choices to attract and retain investors in Sierra Leone.