President Julius Maada Bio has on February 25, received the African of the Year Award at the African Leadership Magazine’s Awards Ceremony held at the InterContinental Resort, Balaclava in Mauritius, emphasising the point that political leadership is about service.
The President emerged as the winner of the “African of the Year 2022” n December last year with over 68% of the total votes cast, attracting a combined total of over 15,000 and over 1 million active online engagements during the voting period. The previous winner was Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, President of the Republic of Malawi.
In his acceptance speech, President Bio said: “On behalf of the Government and people of Sierra Leone, I wish to thank all Africans from within and outside our great Continent who voted for me to emerge as the winner of the African of the Year – 2022. I receive this honour with humility and a deep sense of duty to the people of Africa.
“I may have the privilege of being an elected political leader of my great nation Sierra Leone but allow me to begin with what we share in common in this room. We Are African. I am reminded of the Zulu philosophy of UBUNTU — I AM BECAUSE WE ARE — that we are human only through the humanity of others. We are bound together and can only achieve ourselves by sharing with others.
The President also noted that the UBUNTU philosophy was present across most African cultures and had also guided his life, especially his dealings with people in his profession in the army and politics, his family and friends and even his opponents.
He noted that the word leader was used increasingly loosely these days, adding that leadership training programmes abound and many people wanted to be called leaders but at a very young age, he had been trusted by his friends and colleagues to handle tasks that placed him in leadership roles.
“This has enabled me to learn and understand what makes leadership work, especially in Africa. As a young man finding his way in the world with my strong faith in God inculcated in me by my mother, this idea that we are only human through the humanity of others made me cherish teamwork over individualism and collective progress over self-aggrandizement.
“Political leadership is about service – putting the needs of the people first and upholding the rule of law. At the core of democracy, we also find this idea of humanity towards others. One of the foundational principles of democracy is that government draws its legitimacy through participation by the people.
“We must not be afraid of dissent or debate, but rather recognise that these are the hallmarks of a healthy society. This is why, under my leadership, we have worked to create a culture of openness and transparency in Sierra Leone. We have repealed sedition libel laws, removed barriers to freedom of expression, and allowed a free press – which is essential for good governance and creating an informed citizenry.
“I am proud that no journalist in our country is jailed for practising journalism. We recognise that the freedom to speak one’s mind, criticise the government and hold leaders accountable is not just a right but a vital part of any democracy. We have removed the shackles of repression and developed a culture of participation where all voices can be heard, and all people can contribute to nation-building,” he said.
President Julius Maada Bio further urged that as leaders continued to build the Africa they all wanted and the Africa their children deserved, they must also remember the words of the great African leaders who came before them.
“Kwame Nkrumah once said, ‘We face neither East nor West; we face Forward.’ This forward-looking mindset will guide us as we work towards a better future for our Continent. When I assumed political leadership in May 2018, my vision in moving Sierra Leone forward was to develop its Human Capital. I firmly believe that Human Capital Development is the panacea for a more equitable and prosperous Africa.
“A commitment to education is one of the most critical components of authentic African leadership. Education is the key to unlocking the potential of our people and our Continent. We must invest in education at all levels, from early childhood to higher education, and ensure that our people have the knowledge and skills to transform their communities and become globally competitive.
“My government has made significant strides towards improving access to quality education for all of our children in Sierra Leone. We believe education is a human right, not a luxury. My government’s annual budgetary allocation to the education sector is 22% – one of the highest in the world. This investment in education is critical for our nation’s future as it lays the foundation for a skilled workforce and a vibrant economy,” he concluded.