OPEN LETTER TO FIRST LADY OF SIERRA LEONE: GIRLS & WOMEN NEED A COMPASSIONATE FIRST LADY

By Fatima Babih

Dear First Lady Fatima Bio:

Congratulations on your husband’s victory at the 2018 elections in Sierra Leone!

I write this letter on behalf of the majority of women and girls in Sierra Leone, who are illiterate, living in abject poverty and are in dire need of a Compassionate First Lady; one who is willing and able to put aside personal ambition and fame to genuinely contribute to women’s struggle for socioeconomic, civil and political change in our beloved country.

First Lady of Sierra Leone Fatima Bio

First Lady of Sierra Leone Fatima Bio

As First Lady in a country where women are grossly disadvantaged and conditioned to seek redemption through men, you are automatically a role model; in an influential position to either perpetuate this caustic societal norm or contribute to making changes that would put women on a progressive trajectory.

I would, therefore, implore you to carefully choose how you proceed in performing your role as First Lady. As you navigate the limelight, please keep in mind the predicament of girls in Sierra Leone whose future rests on the shoulders of the generation of women before them.

Being the 5th First Lady in less than 50 years, a role that started with the wife of Siaka Stevens when her husband became the first president of Sierra Leone, your position has a relatively short history and practically no template for how to perform your role. Other than perceiving them as distant celebrities, the Sierra Leone public has generally not been privy to the work or activities of their First Ladies. There is no national narrative about how Rebecca Stevens, Hannah Momoh, Patricia Kabba and Sia Koroma performed their roles, nor is the role of the First Lady known to be a great source of respite for girl’s and women’s issues in our nation.

Former First Lady Sia Koroma

Former First Lady of S. Leone Sia Koroma

In her decade long tenure, your immediate predecessor, First Lady Sia Koroma, who was the first to come into her role in the era of the internet and social media, the public got to learn a little about her activities through her website and social media postings. Even so, little was known about Mrs. Koroma’s “initiates” and activities beyond Freetown.  Therefore, your predecessors have not set a trend for how the first lady’s role should be performed.

Is the lack of a model for the First Lady’s role in Sierra Leone a hurdle or opportunity for you to make meaningful contributions to women’s struggles? The answer to this question depends on which of two pathways you choose to proceed as Sierra Leone’s current First Lady: Famous First Lady or Compassionate First Lady.

Famous First Lady

A Famous First Lady is an ambitious woman who views her First Lady position as a performing stage for personal celebrity, as well as a pathway to achieving fame, fortune and political gains for herself and her husband. Should you choose to proceed as the Famous First Lady, your chances of contributing meaningfully to women’s empowerment in Sierra Leone will be diminished.

On the path of being a Famous First Lady, you will focus more on what makes you feel celebrated than what benefits women and girls; your face will be on television, newspaper front pages and your voice will be heard on the radio every day, claiming to champion the issue of the day.  You will endeavor to set the agenda for women’s development while using girls and women as pawns to gain favors with donors, the media, and the international community. Thereby diverting attention and resources from real gender issues, as well as draining vital donor funds that could help sustain legitimate organizations and institutions that have been working in the interest of girls and women for decades in Sierra Leone.

Furthermore, should you proceed on the path of the Famous First Lady, you will self-appoint as the sole arbiter of women’s agenda in your husband’s political party as well as the country. Given your closeness to political power through your husband, and our country’s dependence on donor funds for social programs, you stand to have a huge portion of resources in your control for girls and women.

Given such resource control, a Famous First Lady would be inclined to commandeer and spearhead gender empowerment activities that could be better managed by passionate and seasoned women’s empowerment organizations in Sierra Leone. Commandeering gender movements by a Famous First Lady jeopardizes decades-long struggles to foster sustainable paths to women’s advancement in our highly patriarchal society.

A Famous First Lady, therefore, is a false messiah that grassroots women would look up to as a savior. With a false messiah championing women’s agenda, there will be fragmentation among women and repression of women’s chances for progress in all areas of our society.

In this era of social media, choosing to take center stage and full control of programs and vital resources as a Famous First Lady would lead to disrepute for you worldwide, which would place you on the list of Famous First Ladies around Africa, who have historically strangled women’s empowerment by usurping vital resources for their personal ambitions and husbands’ party politics, at the expense and detriment of girls and women in their countries.

The Flashy Famous First Lady of Cameroon, Chantal Biya

The Flashy Famous First Lady of Cameroon, Chantal Biya

Former Famous First Ladies such as Mrs. Grace Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Mrs. Nana Rawlings of Ghana, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo of Nigeria, Mrs. Vera Chiluba of Zambia (the list could go on), have left nothing behind but their legacy of draining needed resources to promote their own fame and fortunes. These Famous First Ladies are not good role models for the First Lady of Sierra Leone to emulate, because women and girls in Sierra Leone are in such deplorable condition, we simply cannot afford or withstand a Famous First Lady.

Compassionate First Lady

The better option, in my view, is for you to proceed in performing your role as the Compassionate First Lady; a woman who understands the plights of girls and women in Sierra Leone and is ready and willing to contribute to making positive changes.

A Compassionate First Lady will not be focused on the glamour and celebrity of being First Lady, but strives for real results by lending vital support to strengthen organizations and institutions that are working to engender change in the lives of girls and women in Sierra Leone.

Should you choose the path of the Compassionate First Lady, you will have a great chance to develop positive synergy with existing women’s movements for advancement in our society and be a more effective First Lady for your husband’s administration and his political career.

President & First Lady of Sierra Leone

President & First Lady of Sierra Leone

Being a Compassionate First Lady, you would recognize that the political power and prestige you have today was granted first by the Almighty, and by virtue of you being the wife of the president of our beloved nation. As such, you are in a transient position of trust and must be a willing partner of gender empowerment institutions and organizations, through which you could contribute more sustainably to women’s struggle for advancement in Sierra Leone.

In a grossly patriarchal society, such as Sierra Leone, women are mainly able to gain political power and leadership through the favors of the male power brokers, which is why women’s self-sufficiency is not valued nor promoted in our society. Instead of aspiring for leadership, girls in Sierra Leone are conditioned to aspire to become wives or mistresses of men of means or power. But this social paradigm must shift in order for women to realize any significant advancement in Sierra Leone.

Though transient, your position as First Lady provides a window of opportunity to contribute to this needed change in our society; by performing your role judiciously, not just for self-promotion, but in genuine support of girls and women’s progress in our society, you will triumph as a Compassionate First Lady.

Whether your position impacts the lives of girls, women and all in our society positively or negatively would be determined by your choice to proceed either as the Famous First Lady or the Compassionate First Lady.

May the Almighty guide you in your role & bless women’s struggle in Sierra Leone!

 

 

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NonRoaring Lionesses of Salone: The silence of women perpetuates their marginalization

Lionesses roar to mark their territory, call their cubs and send messages to would-be attackers. In other words, lionesses roar to communicate their stance and prowess to those within and outside their environment.

Not the lionesses in the pride of Mama Salone; women in Sierra Leone continue to silently endure marginalization, as one leader hands the country over to another.

As advocates and activists for girls and women in Mama Salone, one of the main factors we attribute to women’s silence and reluctance to call out injustices against their lot, is the society’s heavy-handedness in treating women who attempt to speak out and voice their stance on women’s issues.

Photo Source: Animalia-Life

Photo source: Animalia-Life.Club

If you are a Sierra Leonean who has not recently been called ‘imprudent, impatient and unrealistic,’ then you have not criticized President Bio’s slow pace to appoint women; which is in utter disregard for his campaign promise to bring change for women.

Every time the topic of Mr. Bio’s shortfall in appointing women comes up, ‘self-appointed defense ministers’ would quickly attack you, throwing at you all the words in the dictionary that describe you as ‘irrational,’ especially by people whose friends or family members are appointed.

The main justification usually given is that Mr. Bio’s government is too new to be assessed. But Mr. Bio, whose inauguration took place on May 12, 2018, has not put off appointing his political, financial and familial sponsors and supporters to key positions; including his friends, wives of his friends and friends of his wife.

Mr. Bio (Right) and his predecessor Mr. Koroma (left)

Mr. Bio (Right) and his predecessor Mr. Koroma (left)

Recently, we have seen many newspapers and social media postings, by disgruntled members of Mr. Bio’s Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) members, who have been complaining about Mr. Bio’s disregard for many of the active members of his party. Mr. Bio is allegedly not on speaking terms with some of the top officials of his party after his victory. Advocates have been urging him to consider appointing some of them.

Mr. Bio campaigned on a promise of a New Direction; however, there is nothing new about the direction of his appointment pattern for women. His predecessors appointed women to cabinet position on similar patterns. Mr. Bio is disregarding even the women in his party, who were the grassroots lifeblood for his victory.

Nonetheless, discord between Mr. Bio and his party is not our concern, as we are focused on women’s situation. We bring this issue up, however, to illustrate how other segments of society freely speak up when they believe they have been slighted, and how they advocate for their lot.

Not the marginalized women of Sierra Leone. There are hardly any newspaper or social media postings complaining about Mr. Bio’s scorn of women in his appointments; nor are there any concerted effort to push for women’s appointments generally.

Taking Mr. Bio’s pattern of appointment as a sign, he has so far failed to show his commitment to being the change he wants to see for women. With his colossal failure to set the right pace for women through his appointments, it is now up to women of Salone to take proactive democratic actions to change Mr. Bio’s not so new direction.

Otherwise, for the next five years, women will remain voiceless and continue to languish, in a country best known for high illiteracy among women, high rate of teen pregnancy, high rate of maternal and infant mortalities and the lowest representation of women in government, leadership, and non-agricultural labor force.

PRESIDENT BIO HAS MET 30% QUOTA FOR WOMEN’S REPRESENTATION: CLAIMED NEWLY APPOINTED FEMALE MINISTER

In an interview on AYV TV in Freetown, Dr. Memunatu Pratt, the newly appointed Minister of Tourism and culture, defended President Maada Bio’s slow pace in appointing women. Dr. Pratt argued that the president is “committed to gender equality and also committed to making sure that we immediately pass the 30% quota for women” (AYVTV.com).

How could the ordinary person who cannot read the president’s mind tell that he is committed to gender equality when out of 35 appointments, only 5 are women? It is only logical for majority marginalized women in Sierra Leone to expect the president to show his commitment to gender equality right from the start of his presidency.

In his campaign Manifesto, President Bio promised to, “Review and enact the minimum 30% Quota Bill, which creates the chance for women to hold 30% of positions in elective and appointive positions” (p. 47). This is a promise that gave women the confidence that should Mr. Bio win, not only would he enact this law that his predecessor failed to pass, but he would also set an example by appointing women, at the minimum, within the 30% threshold.

But the newly appointed female Minister, who has yet to commence her duties in office, argued that it is “too early for us to pass judgment” on the president based on his dismal regard to women in his appointments.

Dr. Pratt claimed that she was not just saying this because she has been appointed, but that given the number of appointees so far, “the 5 women he has appointed has met the threshold of 30%” (AYV TV)

Dr. Fatou Taqi, President of the 50/50 women’s organization, disputed Dr. Pratt’s claim and pointed out that the president appointing 5 women out of 35 appointments does not even come close to the 30% quota he promised.

It would have been less damaging to women’s cause in Sierra Leone if Dr. Pratt had stayed neutral; since she is a new appointee who does not know the president that well yet. But to go as far as making such a factual error, makes us wonder whether we could expect Dr. Pratt to support or advocate for women’s causes through her newly acquired power and voice in the current leadership.

We find Dr. Pratt’s warning for women to exercise patience as an attempt to silence women who would want to raise their voices and urge the president to keep to his promise. It is no secret that President Bio’s appointments so far have been mainly along political interest, for both male and female appointees.

When interviewed by AYV TV, the Press Secretary Mr. Keketoma argued that the president is not trying to appoint women just for “window dressing,” that he is looking for qualified women; suggesting that finding qualified women is challenging for the president.

Mr. Keketoma’s claim is also far from the truth. If truly the president is committed to gender balance in his appointments, finding qualified Sierra Leonean women to meet his 30% promise would not be any more challenging than finding qualified men.

We know for sure that the women appointed so far are well qualified and capable; however, we also know that they are politically connected. For instance, one of the 5 appointed women was the running mate for an opposition party; another is the wife of a Member of Parliament in President Bio’s party, etc.

In fact, all of President Bio’s appointments so far have been politically motivated, either as rewards for campaign support or as a trade for regional and other political gains. As we all know, there is that little nagging problem in Parliament, where the president’s party only has 33% of seats. We understand trading must take place.

But that is not our focus; we will continue to focus on the situation for women in President Bio’s appointments and other activities. We hope that the president would keep gender balance in mind as he continues his trading and rewarding appointments.

A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

IN THE PICTURE THAT PRESIDENT MAADA BIO HAS PAINTED BY HIS APPOINTMENTS SO FAR, WOMEN IN SIERRA LEONE ARE NOT FARING WELL!

 

57 YEARS OF POLITICAL INDEPENDENCE: 57 YEARS OF SOCIOECONOMIC DEPENDANCE

Today, April 27, 2018, is the 57th Anniversary of Sierra Leone’s political Independence. I pray for the Almighty’s mercy on our small nation, which is rich in natural and mineral resources, yet one of the poorest in the world. I also pray that the Almighty forgive us, as a people, whose shortcomings keep us in the dire socioeconomic bondage that is wrecking havoc on the most vulnerable among us.

Photo credit: The Sierra Leone Telegraph

This is not ‘Happy Independence.’ I know some might disagree with me, I respect that, but I believe it is foolhardy to celebrate an anniversary for which we have nothing to show; this is the bitter pill we must ingest, just as we swallowed quinine to cure our malaria in those days when we were children.

  • It is not ”Happy Independence” when, half the population is food insecure, which means over 3 million people do not have sufficient food to eat in Sierra Leone (World food program, 2016).

  • It is not “Happy Independence” when the majority of women in our nation is illiterate and our nation has been labeled the worst place to be a pregnant woman due to the high maternal mortality rate.
Photo credit: Amnesty International

Photo credit: Amnesty International

  • It is not “Happy Independence” when a high number of adolescent girls are dropping out of junior secondary school due to pregnancy, never to return
  • It is not a “Happy Independence” when the majority of the youth are under-educated, unemployed and out of school
  • It is not “Happy Independence” when a good number of our citizens are dying from curable and preventable illnesses, including children and the youth, because we lack the most basic healthcare

This is not the time to celebrate “Independence” when our nation is so heavily dependent on donors for our most basic needs, especially donor aid that come with strings attached.

On this 57th Independence Anniversary, we as a people must do some serious soul-searching. A country does not fall into such decay without the thoughts, actions, and behaviors of its citizens. We must reflect on our role in what has led to our nation being in such a deplorable state.

We can blame the leaders all we want, but that does not change the fact that we the people are a major contributor.

As we gradually inch our way to the next independent anniversary, we need to reflect on what choices we are going to make to be sure positive change is actualized for the next generation.

Please watch the video below, a poignant message from a man who understands his Naga society, a society with which ours has similarities.

What kind of person are you in Salone society?

Are you the,

  • Idiot?
  • Tribesman/tribeswoman? or
  • Ideal Citizen?

please leave a comment below!

President Bio Appoints 12 Men and 2 Women to Cabinet

Sierra Leone’s new President, Julius Maada Bio, has started appointing members of his cabinet. As promised, Mama Salone is paying close attention to the gender mix of this administration. The Press Release indicates that more appointments will be following soon.

Meanwhile, out of 14 appointments, only 2 are women, so far. Since this is just the beginning, we are hoping that Mr. Bio will do better than his predecessor, Mr. Koroma of the opposition APC party, whose first full cabinet of 21 members consisted of only 3 women.

Even though this is just the beginning for President Bio, and we do want to remain positive, we cannot help but feel that 2 out of 14 is not an impressive start.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabba of the SLPP, who was replaced by the APC President Koroma, was not much of a friend to women in his appointments either. His first full cabinet of 25 members consisted of only 2 women. Pathetic!

Is President Bio heading down the same path as his predecessors of both parties in his cabinet appointments? Is he going to change this misogynistic trend in the cabinet and administrative appointments by Sierra Leone presidents?

Time will tel!

 

An Open Letter to Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio: Our Nation is a Half-Baked Cake Without Women’s Contribution

Contributed by Fatima (Wahab) Babih

Photo credit: nairaland.com

Congratulations Your Excellency, Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, on becoming president of the Republic of Sierra Leone!

Mama Salone Blog wishes to express our utmost respect for you and sincere support of your leadership. May the Almighty bless our nation with abundant Peace. May He guide and protect you every step of the way. And May He guide your leadership decisions as you rule our beloved country in the next five years or beyond!!

Mama Salone Blog may not be on the band wagon with many of our compatriots whose way of showing patriotism is by glorifying you, before you even get the chance to tackle the smallest of our national issues. Rest assured, however, that Mama Salone Blog will commend you whenever your performance deserves it.

Mr. President, as the election dust settles, and the reality of governing a nation with dire challenges sets in, we hereby take this opportunity to call your attention to girls’ and women’s issues in our beloved country.

Mr. President, as you well know, a little over half of our country’s population is female (51%). But majority (63%) of this better half of the nation is illiterate and absent in the non-agricultural labor force and national governance.

This means that you have inherited a nation in which a huge percentage of its vital human capital is unable to contribute meaningfully to the development of our nation.

You are also no stranger to the fact that women in our country are perishing every day in the performance of the most natural of their human function in society, childbirth.

Our maternal mortality rate is so high (1,360 deaths per 100,000 live births) that our country has been labeled by international media as the worst place in the world to be a pregnant woman.

You are also aware, Mr. President, that the majority of our girls (over 60%) do not complete senior secondary school, that a high number of our adolescent girls (68%) succumb to early pregnancy, and that a high number of pregnant adolescent girls are dying in childbirth (40% of maternal deaths in the country).

To make matters worst, a huge number of our girls (52%) are married before the age of 18.

From the perspective of Mama Salone Blog, these problems are tantamount to national crisis, no less devastating to the nation than disease outbreaks and natural disasters.

Mr. President, would you eat a half-baked cake?

 

Given its current deplorable condition, if our country were a cake, Mr. President, it would be a half-baked cake because of the incapacity of women to fully partake in its development, due to the systemic gender discrimination in our society.

As we are sure you would not eat a half-baked cake, so is our assurance that there could never be true socioeconomic progress for Sierra Leone, until girls and women attain equal opportunity to develop their capacity and fully contribute in nation-building.

In Mama Salone Blog’s view, the gravest crime committed by your predecessors, (both APC & SLPP administrations), is their neglect of issues affecting girls and women in our country.

Your predecessors failed girls and women woefully; they did not treat women’s issues as national priorities. Instead, your predecessors paid lip service by enacting toothless laws and policy instruments that were never effected. At the end of the day, your predecessors left women and girls in worse conditions than they found them.

As you can see Mr. President, the majority of girls and women in our country have endured a dreadful existence for decades, due to actions and inaction of your predecessors.

But make no mistakes, Mr. President, our Salone women are some of the most intelligent, resourceful, capable and resilient human beings you could ever find anywhere in the world. With beauty and grace to boost!

We are quite sure you will agree with us, especially since you know very well that you could not have won this election without the massive effort of women. Even though the surface of your campaign was male dominated, we all know that women were the grassroots foot soldiers that maintained the lifeline of your campaign. Not even illiteracy could stand in their way.

Mr. President, girls and women are not asking for charity or handout from you or anyone else. All they need from you is to level the playing field, by empowering them through education, healthcare and equal chances in national governance.

Mr. President, it is a moral imperative for you to shift the paradigm for women in Sierra Leone, so that our national cake could be fully baked for all to enjoy.

We believe in the honor system; therefore, Mr. President, we are putting our trust in your words, as expressed during your campaign and in your Manifesto (New Direction). We know that you have the ability to right many of the wrongs your processors inflicted on girls and women in our country. We have faith in your willingness to make good on your promise to take, not only the nation, but the trajectory of girls and women of Sierra Leone in a “New Direction.”

On this note, Mr. President, Mama Salone Blog will, henceforth, pay close attention to your decisions, actions, inaction, and general treatment of socioeconomic, civil, political, and other relevant issues pertaining to the welfare and empowerment of girls and women in the Land That We Love.

Once more, Congratulations president bio!

May the Almighty guide you and

may he bless Sierra Leone!!

 

References

Maternal deaths in Sierra Leone

Girls out of school in Sierra Leone