Key takeaways from President Bio’s Speech

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By Alfred Koroma      

President Julius Maada Bio has on Tuesday 20 June addressed the nation ahead of Saturday’s election. The speech comes amidst rising tension as the country heads to the pool this weekend. Here are key takeaways from the speech.

But first thing first: the election holds on Saturday June 24, 2023 as scheduled. There is no postponement or cancellation, the President has reiterated, dispelling widespread rumors that the election will not hold.

 Call for peace

Now we know the election will hold as scheduled, but we don’t know how its outcome will look like. Already, tensions are rising, casting doubt on whether the election will be peaceful. In the last five years, government has made several moves to ensure peace is consolidated and the country’s democratic principles are followed.

On May 23rd, 2019, President Bio convened Bintumani III Conference on peace and national cohesion. The three-day conference brought together registered political parties, traditional leaders, civil society groups, religious leaders, engaged citizens, the international development partners, and representatives of sub regional organizations. This was the conference that gave birth to the establishment of a permanent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion. But the effort has not yielded much to prevent the state of panic citizens are locked into presently.

Recently, on the 25th May 2023, all Presidential Candidates and Political Party Leaders signed to the National Election Peace Pledge.  President Bio called on his main challenger, Dr. Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara of the APC Party, to remain committed to the pledge.

Again in his Tuesday night address to the nation, the President emphasized the need for peace, reminding citizens of steps government has taken to ensure peace in the nation.

As devoted citizens, he appealed, let us remain resolute in leaving behind the tragic and violent past that plagued our beloved nation. Let us forge ahead with our peaceful and democratic national development agenda, ensuring a brighter future for both present and future generations. But still in a soft tone, President Bio moved slightly from the appeal for peace to warning those seeking to undermine the country’s democracy.

 “Sierra Leone is a sovereign state governed by laws and principles, and we shall not tolerate any threats to our beloved country’s peace, tranquility and security.”  Again, he emphasized: “Let it be known that we shall firmly reject any temptation to circumvent the sacred mantle of the rule of law, for it is our solemn duty to rise unwaveringly in defense of democracy’s noble ideals.”

Social media

Unfiltered use of social media is the biggest new challenge for global stability. Social media has broken barriers, infringed on cultures and made governance complex.  In Sierra Leone, the platform has become even more challenging as the country’s prepares for its fifth democratic election.

It’s now a perfect tool for the conception of alternative facts, fake news, hate speech, incitement and a tool for political propaganda. In the last five years bloggers home and abroad have used the platform to spread fake news, hate speech with frightening speed and spark furious backlashes from people who take what they read and listen hook line and sinker.

“We find ourselves amidst an alarming surge in the propagation of fake news, propaganda, and alternative facts, a phenomenon amplified through the reckless exploitation of social media. These tools are immensely capable of shaping public opinion and occasionally influencing political outcomes. Yet, regrettably, they have transformed into breeding grounds for misinformation and the dissemination of falsehoods, particularly during electoral seasons,” President Bio notes.

“Unfounded allegations, divisive rhetoric, and vehement hate speech, along with the threats of violence directed at the police, electoral commissioners, the justice sector, and political opponents do not augur well for peaceful elections, he said, calling for total condemnation of the practice and encouraging citizens not to perpetuate the distribution of unverified social media contents.

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