By Charles Onyango-Obbo
In an October interview with Al Jazeera, Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio was asked if there are “good military coups”. He said “yes”. Yesterday, he was singing a different tune. How did we get here?
•On January 16,1996, Bio led a military coup in Sierra Leone, ousting Captain Valentine Strasser, following a dispute within the governing Supreme Council of State. As military head of state, Bio returned Sierra Leone to a democratically elected government, when he handed power to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, following Kabbah’s victory in the 1996 presidential election.
•Upon retiring from the military in 1996, Bio moved to the United States, where he was granted political asylum, and he did not visit Sierra Leone from the U.S until 2005.
•Bio was the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential candidate in the 2012 election, but he received 37% of the vote as he was defeated by the incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma who won 58% of the votes.
•In 2018 as the candidate of the SLPP, Bio defeated Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) in the runoff vote of the Sierra Leonean presidential election with 51.8% of the votes to Kamara’s 48.2%.
•In the June 24, 2023, election President Bio was re-elected with 56% of the vote and his SLPP won 81 seats in Parliament. The main the main opposition party, the All People’s Congress, won 54 seats. The opposition rejected the election as stolen. Foreign observers stated that there were “statistical inconsistencies” in the presidential results.
•Two months later, in August, hundreds of people in Sierra Leone took to the streets in frustration at rising inflation and economic hardship. The protests turned violent and led to deaths.
•On October 21, Al Jazeera aired an interview with President Bio. Asked about the recent spate of coups in West Africa/Sahel, and whether there are “good coups”, Bio said contexts are different in each country, but speaking about Sierra Leone, “Yes”, there can be good coups, giving his as a good example.
•On Nov. 26, President Bio declared a national curfew until further notice after ra security breach by unidentified attackers at a military armoury in the capital Freetown that sparked armed clashes. Bio said most of the leaders of the Sunday had been arrested. If their aim was to stage a coup, then Bio doesn’t consider it as falling in the good coup category.