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Sierra Leone democracy on the spot

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By KEMO CHAM
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A possible huge protest awaits Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio in New York this week, in his maiden attendance of the UN General Assembly as head of state.

The demonstration is being organised by supporters of the main opposition All Peoples Congress (APC), who say they were defending democracy, which was under threat by the new administration.

Mr Bio’s election did not only raise the bar in Sierra Leone’s democratisation journey, but also rekindled hope among many citizens who had grown fed-up with some of the policies of the APC administration, which dominated politics for the past 10 years.

When APC, under Ernest Bai Koroma, took over from the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in 2007, it was the first time in the country’s history for a peaceful transfer of power from one civilian leader to another.

During his first five-year term, President Koroma attracted praises for major reforms, including the fight against graft. He was also credited for improving the infrastructure, which was almost entirely destroyed during the civil war.

But things began taking a downward trend during his second term, following his re-election in 2012. By the time President Koroma left office, civil liberty had suffered greatly. Corruption had become rampant, and a number of his actions raised questions about his commitment to the rule of law. A notable example was his sacking of his vice-president, which prompted a constitutional crisis.

Bio, a former military man, won the presidency at his second attempt. As an opposition candidate, he promised a new path, notably to instil discipline in governance and fight graft. He also spoke against nepotism, which was deepening the ethnic divisions.

But the last five months of the new administration have left many wondering about the ‘New Direction’. The new president wasted no time to institute measures towards his goals. And there have been signs of positive outcome.

Between April and September, the government says its budget has been funded 100 per cent on locally generated resources. That has been possible only because of a robust revenue generation strategy, backed by prudent spending.

Some of those measures have, however, placed the new government on the path it had promised to end – nepotism and regionalism. Hundreds of public officials have been dismissed in the name of cleansing the civil service and saving the public purse.

In an apparent desperation to replace officials in key positions with his allies, President Bio has been accused of disregarding the law. Two good illustrations were the replacement of the head of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Central

Bank Governor, offices crucial in determining his success. Both offices have security of tenue, yet the officials were given marching orders regardless.

In an attempt to right the wrongs created by alleged nepotistic appointments, many of the new appointees have come from the southeast, SLPP’s support base. Given Sierra Leone’s geopolitical divide, that means one ethnic group looks more favoured than the others.

There was still uncertainty about the fate of parliament amidst a threat of opposition boycott over a planned commission of enquiry. This new parliament was unique in that for the first time, it is dominated by the opposition. APC controls 68 seats against SLPP’s 49. There were 12 other seats occupied by two smaller opposition parties and three Independent seats.

Even though no party holds an absolute majority, APC’s votes were enough to prevent a smooth governance for SLPP. Perhaps that is why the ruling party appears bent on violating every rule to get its way, as was witnessed in the controversial election of the Speaker of the House and the parliamentary approval of the ACC boss. Dr Abass Bundu was practically imposed on the lawmakers as Speaker. During his election, the SLPP government made another history with the storming of of parliament by armed police officers, who ejected opposition MPs who had stood their grounds in questioning the process.

Like the case of the approval of the ACC head, that came and passed.

But what does not seem to pass yet is the constitutional instrument that should pave the way for the creation of the commission of enquiry. APC accused SLPP of violating the parliamentary Standing Order in a bid to prevent any debate on the bill. While a debate cannot prevent the constitution of the commission, analysts say it can shine the spot on the many anomalies that characterise the Government Transition Team (GTT) report.

GTT was a presidential committee to look into the activities of the former government. Its findings, which exposed massive alleged corruption in the Koroma administration, informed the formation of the enquiry commission. APC says the committee members deliberately targeted people they wanted and left out others with well-known dark past.

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And again, there were compelling proofs for that claim. The current Trade minister, Mr Peter Bayuku Conteh, served as Tourism minister under the Koroma administration until he was sacked amidst corruption allegation. An even more controversial figure is Mr Musaa Tarawallie. He served in the Koroma government for many years, holding key offices that included Lands and the Environment ministry.

Mr Tarawallie was also sacked amidst allegations of corruption, and later formed his own political party under whose ticket he ran for the presidency. He was the first to back opposition candidate Bio after the first round of voting.

Sierra Leone's former President Ernest Bai

Sierra Leone’s former President Ernest Bai Koroma. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

While Mr Tarawallie has not been named to any formal state position, his level of interaction with the government has left many, even within the ruling party itself, uncomfortable.

In a very recent incident, Mr Tarawallie turned up as a delegate at the China-Africa Summit in Beijing. The government was forced to deny that he was on the official state delegates’ list. Still, some wonder how Mr Tarawallie managed to travel to China in the first place, despite a blanket ban on former government officials.

Another discrepancy the Bio administration has not been able to explain is how those two men managed to not make it to the GTT report.

The ever questioning media had its first awakening lesson last week when the Speaker of Parliament ordered a leading privately owned TV station to retract a report deemed as critical of the House. Mr Bundu threatened unspecified action against AYV.

And that came as a slap in the face of media rights campaigners, who were hoping for a fulfilment of President Bio’s election promises of repealing the criminal libel law.

It followed an announcement by the police in July, warning the public against publicly criticising the government’s policies. Since then, the police have demonstrated the seriousness in their threat with the arrest of a civil society activist, Mr Edmund Abu, for attempting to stage a protest over harsh economic conditions.

The firebrand opposition leader, Mr Mohamed Kamaraimba Mansaray, was also detained for criticising the government.

The New York demonstrations were being organised against the backdrop of an international campaign spearheaded by a lone British MP. Mr Neil Coyle, a member of the Labour Party, has mounted an online petition titled: ‘the campaign to uphold human rights and the constitution in Sierra Leone’.

A delegation from the British Parliament last week visited Freetown and held a meeting with President Bio. The headlines of reports from the meeting were hard to miss.

“British Parliamentarians commend President Bio on initial steps,” screamed one.

“Not all British MPs take information from social media,” the second one said, quoting one of the visiting MPs.

All what the public knows about the highly publicised meeting is what the State House Communications people released and the reports on the pro-government outlets that cover the presidency. So, it was not clear how the issue of Mr Coyle’s campaign came up for discussion at the meeting. But the fact that it did, shows that it was a concern for someone.

President Bio was quoted saying he was determined to pursue his reforms and anti-graft crusade, and he assured that whatever he did, would be in line with the law.

The relations between the new government and its international partners, particularly UK and US, so far remain cordial. But the next few months will be crucial in determining the direction of the relationship. That was so especially in light of China’s domineering influence on the West African country.

President Bio earlier this month made his maiden visit to China. That came following rumours of shaky relationship between the two governments, given China’s alleged interference in the Sierra Leonean election.

There were still crucial decisions to be made about some controversial Chinese investments, notably the toll road and the new airport projects. As opposition, SLPP criticised the terms of the agreement for the –Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) arrangement on the toll road, which was costing the taxpayer over $160 million.

An even more controversial deal is the planned new airport. The former APC government disregarded all opposition from the West, particularly the IMF, against that project. The Bio government has already said it would review it. But that was before the president’s recent trip to China, which appears to have changed the tone of the government.

A crucial meeting was slated between the Sierra Leone’s Finance minister and the head of the IMF this week in London. On the agenda is the outstanding issue of a suspended loan to the government. Some of those Chinese projects were also likely to feature.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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