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S. Leone heads to polls widely expected to return ex-progressive army general to power

Retired General Julius Maada Wonie Bio

FREETOWN––Over four million voters in the West African nation of Sierra Leone went out to vote on Saturday in the final round of a presidential stump evident by vocal wrangling, intermittent violence, and a last-minute legal fracas.

Although a narrow margin separated the two frontrunners in the first round of March 7, 2018, presidential election, analysts and political commentators say former military ruler, General Julius Maada Bio is widely expected to win the second round comfortably if all goes well in the African country where political loyalties are and association often divided along ethnic lines.

The main opposition challenger, retired Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) had a slim lead over Foreign Minister Samura Kamara of the ruling All Peoples’ Congress (APC), in the first ballot on March 7 with a turnout of more than 80 percent of voters.

Edmond Abu, director of the Native Consortium and Research Center, said: “The race is too close to call.”

Like Abu, many in Sierra Leone think similarly but most people expect the retired general to be the winner over the ruling party’s candidate, Kamara, a respected bureaucrat who has served as governor of central bank, minister of finance and now foreign minister.

Local political observers including Edmond Abu, say the key to the presidential victory lies with whoever wins district of Kono, a diamond-rich territory in the east of the country.

The presidential election runoff should have taken place last Tuesday but had been delayed to allow the country’s High Court to hear a complaint filed by the ruling APC that some ballots had been tampered with.

Maada Bio tours Sierra Leone with his message of change and progress.

On Monday, the High Court lifted an injunction, but the National Electoral Commission argued that it needed four extra days for preparation because of lost time.

Retired General Bio, 53, considered as a champion of modern democracy in Sierra Leone after returning the country to multiparty democracy in the late 1990s, is campaign and seeking to end a decade of the ruling APC rule while veteran bureaucrat Samura Kamara regarded as a much experienced public service official in recent Sierra Leone’s history is advocating continuity to build on progress made by outgoing president His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma of the APC.

Retired General Bio is a blunt-talking energetic young politician who took part in a 1992 coup by the Army and briefly led a junta in 1996 that helped pave the way for democratic elections. In 2012, he lost the presidential election to the APC’s incumbent president Ernest Bai Koroma, who is stepping down after a decade in power.

Retired General Bio’s platform is largely focused on education and criticisms of the Sierra Leonean government’s coziness to China, while incumbent Foreign Minister and the APC’s flagbearer Samura Kamara presents himself as a continuity candidate who will develop Koroma’s socio-economic programmes in the areas of health care and infrastructure.

Brief Bio of Julius Maada Wonie Bio

Brigadier (Ret.) Julius Maada Wonie Bio (born May 12, 1964) is a Sierra Leonean politician and a retired Brigadier in the Sierra Leone Military. He was the military Head of State of Sierra Leone from January 16, 1996, to March 29, 1996, under the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) military Junta government.

Bio is the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential candidate for the 2018 Sierra Leone presidential election. Bio was elected as the SLPP candidate at the party’s convention held on October 15, 2017, in Freetown.

Bio was the SLPP presidential candidate in the 2012 presidential election, having won the nomination on July 31, 2011, SLPP national convention held at the Miatta Conference Hall in Freetown.

Bio led a military coup in Sierra Leone on January 16, 1996, ousting his close friend and the leader of the NPRC junta government, Captain Valentine Strasser, following a division within senior members of the NPRC junta. In his first public speech after the coup, Bio justified his actions as a means to return Sierra Leone to a democratically elected civilian government and end the Sierra Leone civil war.  Bio fulfilled his promise to return Sierra Leone to democracy, and he handed power to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP following the latter’s victory in the 1996 presidential election.

After retiring from the military in 1996, Bio moved to the United States, where he earned a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C. He also served as the president of International Systems Science Corporation, a consulting and investment management firm based in the United States.

Bio is an ethnic Sherbro and a native of Bonthe District in Southern Sierra Leone. Bio is a practicing Roman Catholic Christian. Bio’s wife Fatima is a practicing Muslim, and an ethnic Mandingo from Koidu, Kono District in eastern Sierra Leone.

Participation in 1992 military coup

Julius Maada Wonie Bio, the democrat and the general.

On April 29, 1992, Bio was one of a group of young Sierra Leonean soldiers including Captain Valentine Strasser, Lieutenant Sahr Sandy, Lieutenant Solomon Musa, Lieutenant Tom Nyuma and Captain Komba Mondeh that toppled president Joseph Saidu Momoh’s All People’s Congress (APC) government in a bloodless military coup. The young soldiers formed the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) with Strasser as their leader and Head of State of Sierra Leone.

Bio’s first appointment following the formation of the NPRC was as the Secretary of State South, stationed in the country’s second capital Bo. He was later moved to Freetown to serve as Secretary of State in charge of Information and Broadcasting. At this point, he was promoted to Captain alongside other junior lieutenants. As a leading member of the coup that kicked out the APC government, Bio served as Supreme Council of State member throughout the NPRC’s stay in power and when Strasser’s deputy, captain S.A.J. Musa, was sacked and exiled to the UK, Bio was appointed to the position of Deputy Chairman of the NPRC.

1996 military coup

On January 16, 1996, Bio led a military coup, ousting captain Valentine Strasser following a dispute within the governing Supreme Council of State (SCS) over whether to seek peace with the RUF before multi-party elections, planned for March 1996, or go ahead with the election notwithstanding the ongoing war in the country, and the conditions for participation (or disqualification) of junta members in the elections. The coup was backed by many high ranking NPRC soldiers including Colonel Tom Nyuma, Lt Colonel Komba Mondeh, Lt Colonel Reginald Glover, Lt Colonel Idriss Kamara, and Lt Colonel Karefa-Kargbo. Captain Valentine Strasser then the leader of the NPRC and the military Head of State of Sierra Leone was handcuffed at gunpoint by his own military bodyguards who were supposed to protect him and was immediately flown into exile in a military helicopter to Conakry.

Political career

Bio officially became a member of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in 2005. That same year, Bio sought the leadership of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) at its national convention in Makeni on September 3–4, 2005; he took third place, with 33 votes, behind Vice President Solomon Berewa, who received 291 votes, and Charles Margai, who won 34 votes.  In the Sierra Leonean press, Bio was quoted in 2007 as saying he would overthrow a new APC government if the APC won the 2007 election. According to Bio, this was taken out of context, and he said that if the “appalling” conditions that existed in 1992 were to return, he would seize power.

On the night of 31 July 2011, Julius Maada Bio won the election to become the SLPP’s 2012 presidential candidate at the SLPP convention, which was held at the Youyi Building in the heart of Freetown. He faced off with President Ernest Bai Koroma of the ruling APC and was defeated, winning 37% of the vote, but established the SLPP as the only viable opposition party in Sierra Leone.

Personal life

Maada Bio is an ethnic Sherbro and a practicing Roman Catholic Christian. Bio’s wife, Fatima Bio is a practicing Muslim and a Gambian national, though she grew up in Kono District in Sierra Leone; and her mother was born in Kono District, Sierra Leone and her father is a Gambian native. Bio and Fatima were married in 2013 in London in an interfaith wedding ceremony that was held in a Church and a Mosque prayer services in London. The couple has one child together that was born in London. Bio has three children, all three born in the United States from a previous marriage.

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Ben Mabande

Ben Mabande is a researcher and senior contributing reporter with Globe Afrique Media.

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