Ernest In the Good Book of Obama – Bockarie Stevens Speaks!
Sierra Leone Arc Of Hope – A New Hope For Sierra Leone
Ambassador Bockarie Stevens is a household name in Sierra Leone. Apart from being the son of Dr. Siaka Probyn Stevens, the former President ofÂ Sierra Leone, H.E. Bockarie Stevens, said to be the engine behind the Ernest Koroma administration and doyen of the ruling All People’s Congress has manifested great concern for his country. Ambassador Stevens also has a drive in initiating positive aspects of development as shown in his initiative in the establishment and support of the Sierra Leone Arc of Hope (SLAH), a non profit making organization aimed at bringing new hope into a country formerly seen as hopeless.
In this interview, the ambassador talked about his role as the representative of his nation’s interest in the powerful state of the US, his work in making Sierra Leone a viable partner with the World Bank and the IMF and his plans for the development of the country. Ambassador Stevens is in town from the US on a diplomatic mission and took away time from his busy schedule to grant an exclusive interview with Sierra Express Media. Read on.
SEM: Your Excellency, how is Sierra Leone’s present standing in the eyes of the Obama administration?
Amb. Stevens: Well, the fact that President Ernest Koroma won a landslide victory in the democratic elections is one of the high points of esteem that is held about him in the United States. Further to that his background as a businessman and his decision to run Sierra Leone as a business concern has also won him great admiration. So I will say he has a lot of respect not only from the Obama administration but from Congressmen and women and Senators alike. At the last economic forum held in the UK the US was represented at that forum so also were a lot of business people from the US who attended. That indeed is a sign of confidence in the administration of President Koroma. And also when he was at the UN, he met with a lot of high functionaries, and all of them could not hold back the admiration that they had for President Koroma. Within a space of two years the president has several development laurels to his credit, and the Obama administration follows this with keen interest.
SEM: The main story now on the lips of several citizens is the establishment of the Sierra Leone Arc of Hope and how you were instrumental in its establishment. How did this come about?
Amb. Stevens: Sierra Leone Arc of Hope came about as a result of the interest shown by Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora who are desirous of doing something for their country. It started by the holding of a brain storming session held at the embassy to discuss what role the Diaspora can play in celebrations marking the 53rd independence celebration in 2011. As a result of this brain storming session, which included Sierra Leoneans from the majority of the states in the US, they agreed that the building of a hospital to address the infant and maternal concerns of the country would be a fitting birthday present to Sierra Leone. So that was how the idea came about to bring in the Sierra Leone Arc of Hope during a seminar and it was debated and later a majority decision was taken that a hospital will be a fitting present.
SEM: What are the main concerns of the Sierra Leone Arc of Hope and how are these being translated into reality, considering the fact that this is the first Sierra Leonean organization in the Diaspora with plans to engage in development projects.
Amb. Stevens: I believe it was triggered by an article in the Los Angeles Times which had graphic details of the deficiencies in the health sector in Sierra Leone. As a result of this article, Sierra Leoneans thought they should do something for their country. The spirit of voluntarism denotes that the government cannot do everything for the country. But if we as Sierra Leoneans, especially the fortunate ones living in Europe and America, can just decide to put a dollar a day aside, this we believe will help develop our country. Many other countries have done it, including the UK, Ghana etc. so we don’t see why we cannot do it in Sierra Leone, and the pride that we have at Sierra Leone Arc of Hope is that every Sierra Leonean that hears about this organisation, are often happy and prepared to be part of the project.
SEM: How far do you think our country has gone in withstanding the challenges of the global economic crunch?
Amb. Stevens: By surviving alone as a nation is a measure of success. There are countries which because of the Global recession have seen wars, strikes and other debilitating factors. Even at the height the crisis when our staple food rice sky rocket, the situation remained stable. I recently signed an agreement with the World Bank and the people at the bank were very much impressed with the way President Ernest Koroma is handling the economy and this was a vote of confidence for the president and his administration. And I believe the credit should also go to the people of Sierra Leone that they were able to understand the globality of the financial crisis.
SEM: President Ernest Bai Koroma has been accused by the opposition of running a failed government which is corrupt and not in the interest of the people. What is your comment?
Amb. Stevens: I will say let them come out with the evidence. In the two years that the president has been in office, he has been able to make good on his promises on electricity, agriculture, and infrastructural development. I have been up-country and I have seen the marks wherein the people of this country have now intensified agricultural production. I do not need to talk about infrastructure as all know about the many projects now in the making. Already, some of these projects have taken off while others will be done soon. Sometimes people use, or as I should say abuse press freedom to concoct lies and innuendoes, but one thing stands clear, the president has a genuine desire to develop this country and nothing will stop him. The Anti-Corruption Commission is at work, and has already indicted very senior officers of government. That is the transparent way the president is running his administration. People say he runs a corrupt administration. Let them give the evidence to the ACC and the ACC will do the rest.
SEM: What has been the reaction of the Sierra Leonean community in the US to the present government’s policies?
Amb. Stevens: Well, I do not know what to say on that because the policies of the present government have been very divergent but when the President was in the US he had a huge meeting attended by over five thousand Sierra Leoneans. He informed them about the development that is taking place in the country, and then he opened himself for questions and answers. After the Q & A session, we took a barometric reading by asking all those present to rate the president on what he had said. It will interest you to know that the president had over 90 percent rating at that Town Hall meeting. That I believe is the barometer of the views of the people of the US on the work of their president.
SEM: You are said to have been instrumental in the recent thirty million dollars package given to the present government by the World Bank as well as other interests. How do you see our present status with the Breton Woods institution and other donor agencies and organizations?
Amb. Stevens: I often hold discussions with World Bank officers and I can tell you they are very much impressed with the fiscal policies of the government. Certain organisatins that merit this is like NaCSA, that is why they received double the allocation made by the World Bank, and this was because the World Bank was pleased with the work NaCSA is doing and that is why they doubled the credit made available to them. That shows that the World Bank is pleased with the policies of the government and that is why they have been supporting us in our endeavors. In addition we also have a record number of investors who will be coming in to identify areas of collaboration.Â
SEM: Do you believe that the government is succeeding in its mandate, as promised by President Koroma during his inaugural speech?
Amb. Stevens: Sometimes I believe people are in a hurry. The president made several promises, and I think it is unfair to deliver final judgment on him only two years in his administration. But be it as it may, he was able within one hundred days to deliver his promises on electrification. That was a major promise and he kept it. In many other areas he is keeping up his promises. But like I said, we cannot expect the president to rectify eleven years of bad SLPP misrule, but from what we have seen in this two years, there is more to come in terms of the president fulfilling his promises. The many times I have had the opportunity of being with the president he sleeps and thinks about the betterment of Sierra Leone and I believe that with the cooperation of all Sierra Leoneans, outside of political boundaries, we will succeed as a nation.
SEM: What is your last word?
Amb. Stevens: The last word I have is to ask Sierra Leoneans to rally round the president, to support him and give him time to deliver. As a nation, we ought to give him all the support that is necessary for him to succeed. Sometimes as well, we should be aware of the unsavory criticisms and patented lies that people use on the internet and on the newspapers to project a negative picture about the government and their own country. A case in point is the letter written by the SLPP leader on the eve of the economic forum. I don’t believe there were good intentions behind that letter. One can be made to believe it was meant to dent the forum itself. We need the support of all the political parties including the SLPP to assist the current government to undertake the developments promised.
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