September 18, 2020
By Freddie Hayward
President Julius Maada Bio is returning to Sierra Leone from Lebanon on Saturday after spending more than three weeks in the country where coronavirus cases have recently surpassed 25,000, according to Sierra Leone’s Consul in Lebanon, Hashem Hashem.
The president left Sierra Leone on the 27th August and at the time the government claimed that he would return to Freetown within one week. Speculation has abounded regarding the purpose of the president’s trip which was originally described in a press release by State House as a ‘private visit’.
Speaking to the Concord Times, Mr Hashem has confirmed that the president is taking a vacation in Lebanon and has also seen his doctor for a medical check-up. The consul strongly denied claims that the president was receiving treatment for Covid-19 following reports from the Lebanese TV station MTV that the president was transferred to hospital for treatment when he landed.
When asked for a reason why the president had extended his stay in Lebanon,Mr Hashem claimed that he had to be quarantined in the country, perhaps for up to two weeks. Yet, according to the Lebanese Ministry of Public Works and Transport, the quarantine period for arrivals from Sierra Leone is only 5 days.
In a statement to Lebanon’s National News Agency, Mr Hashem said that the president required a ‘short recovery period’ following his discharge from the American University Hospital in Beirut on 2nd September, six days after he arrived in the country. If the president returns to Sierra Leone on Saturday, he will have been on vacation for more than two weeks once his quarantine period and hospital visit are taken into account.
On Monday, First Lady Fatima Jabbe Maada Bio, who is travelling with the president, posted on social media photos of the couple in front of a sunset with the caption ‘Honeymoon mood activated’, suggesting that the president’s visit to Lebanon was for their honeymoon. The couple were married under the Christian tradition in February, after holding a Muslim wedding in 2013.
Spokesperson for the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC), Sidie Y.Tunis, told the Concord Times: “We are still recording Covid cases, we have lost people to Covid in Sierra Leone, our economy is struggling because of Covid mismanagement, corruption and bad governance. And yet, while other leaders are doing all they can to end this pandemic and redeem their economies, ours is out there on honeymoon.
“This is complete disregard for the plight and the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone.”
More than 600 new cases were recorded in Lebanon on Wednesday as the country continues to grapple with the pandemic and the fallout from the explosion in Beirut’s port in August.
During his visit abroad, the president missed the 57th Summit of ECOWAS where the region’s leaders sought to coordinate a response to the coronavirus pandemic and to discuss political and security problems facing the region such as the situation in Mali. Sierra Leone was represented at the summit by Foreign Minister Nabeela Tunis, whereas most other countries were represented by their head of state.
“I don’t know how ECOWAS will view us as a nation when at this particular moment our president would prefer to go on honeymoon than show leadership in our country and in the region,” said Mr Tunis.
Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh has been deputising for the president whilst he has been abroad.