DIARY OF PRESIDENT KOROMA’S WASHINGTON VISIT

SHEKA TARAWALIE, PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SECRETARY, THE WILLARD INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL WASHINGTON

The President arrived from New York on board an express Acela train and was welcomed by Washington police/Secret Service and Sierra Leoneans led by Ambassador Bockarie Stevens in the evening. The President and entourage checked in at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel.

SATURDAY 27TH SEPTEMBER
President Koroma attended a big business forum luncheon organized by the Sierra Leone America Business Association (SLABA) at the conference room of the Willard Hotel. In attendance were various Sierra Leonean and non-Sierra Leonean personalities. One of the notables was TV and movie star Isaiah Washington who took the podium to declare the result of a DNA test proving that he is a Mende-Temne descendant. He told the gathering this could not have been an accident as ‘tribalism will pass away’ in Sierra Leone. ‘I’ll do whatever I can to raise awareness, awareness, awareness, awareness about Sierra Leone. It’s time to move forward,’ followed by a thunderous applause from nearly 300 attendants.
The Master of Ceremonies of the occasion, popular former local Sierra Leonean radio presenter now working for the Voice of America David Vandi, said ‘our country has been looking for a leader like President Koroma: humble, looks after his people, and even in difficult times can talk to the ordinary man,’ citing the example of the then Opposition Leader coming to the VOA studio to grant an interview after a snap request.’Mr President, I am proud of you,’ he declared.

Introducing members of the President’s entourage, Foreign Affairs Minister Zainab Bangura said the President feels strongly about the participation of Sierra Leoneans abroad that’s why he has set up the Office of the Diaspora.
An executive member of SLABA, Desmond Bishop, said history was being repeated in the sense that the same hall had hosted historic personalities like revered former US President Abraham Lincoln who held his first meeting as President-elect there; Woodrow Wilson, who formulated there the idea of a league of nations that was later transformed to the United Nations; and Martin Luther King Jnr who wrote his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech from the same hotel. He said SLABA was exactly seven weeks and one day old and has been assiduously working with the Sierra Leone embassy in the US for the establishment of a public-private sector investment channel in order to promote small and large-scale business entities as a way of following up the President’s call for a new direction. He thanked the government for making it easy to set up a business in Sierra Leone now. ‘We’ll act as liaison between American businesses and the Sierra Leone government, functioning as a chamber of commerce.’ He introduced members of SLABA and representatives from the US Congress, Senate, and Washington DC’s Mayor’s office.

In his remarks, President Koroma thanked SLABA for the luncheon and for the impressive turn-out. ‘I must thank the Sierra Leone embassy, particularly Ambassador Bockarie Stevens, and SLABA for taking up the bold initiative of setting up an organization like this in response to my call for Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora to participate in the agenda for change.’ The President said Sierra Leone is now ready for business, as his government is providing a safe business environment, and that the momentum can only be sustained with the support of the international community and Sierra Leoneans abroad.

The President outlined the steps he has taken to re-brand the country’s image, and the priorities presently being given to the growth sectors, namely energy, agriculture, and infrastructural development. He said the diaspora can invest in agriculture, mining, fishing, and tourism. He made mention of his zero-tolerance to corruption and having enacted one of the most robust anti-corruption Acts in Africa. ‘There is no hiding place for corrupt activities. It is now mandatory for public officials to declare their assets, and I have been the first public servant to comply with the law,’ the President announced amid a standing ovation. He also said Sierra Leone is a no-go area for drug dealers as manifested in the impounding of a plane full of cocaine and passing a tough anti-drug law.

President Koroma said his commitment to the improvement of Sierra Leone remains unwavered and he asked Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora to rise up to the challenge. ‘This is the time for all of us to do it. We have no option but to d it; and we must, as Sierra Leoneans, do it,’ he ended in rapturous applause.

SLABA member Hawa Sanu gave the vote of thanks, stating that ‘SLABA stands ready and willing to take Sierra Leone where it should be.’

In another engagement in the afternoon, the President and entourage went to George Mason University to sign a memorandum of understanding for the construction of four community colleges in Lunsar, Makeni, Kono and Pujehun, and the establishment of 46 vocational institutions across the country.

Speaking at the ceremony, President Koroma said when a delegation from the university came to Sierra Leone earlier this year he made a commitment to provide the land for the proposed institutions, and that now the communities have been fully sensitised and are anxiously waiting for the commencement of the projects. He said this would greatly help in the development of Sierra Leone’s human stock. On behalf of the government and people of Sierra Leone, the President thanked the university staff and students, while looking forward to welcoming them in Sierra Leone soon.

Earlier, Gail Kettlewell, Principal in the International Center for Arts Culture ad Education in the College of Visual and Performing Arts of the university, who developed the model, said they are creating a system of international community college town centres (ICCTC) in Sierra Leone.

‘As Mason is the first university to be using the ICCTC model to develop a community college system, I am very excited to be part of this project,’ said Kettlewell. ‘Mason’s goal is to help the government of Sierra Leone build the system, hire personnel and develop degree programmes and anything else necessary.’

George Mason and Sierra Leone officials at the signing of a memorandum of understanding

Dr. Alusine Kanu (a Sierra Leonean who studied at George Mason and earned his bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees and is now a lecturer there) was hailed as the visionary who pioneered the idea.

Minister of Education Minkailu Bah signed on behalf of Sierra Leone, while President Koroma was conferred with an honorary induction to the Phi Beta Delta, the International Honour Society.

At night, President Koroma and entourage attended the APC North America branch’s black-tie dinner and dance at the Hampton Conference Hall, Capitol Heights, Maryland. The ceremony was organized to raise funds for the Kissy Mental Home in Freetown.

SUNDAY 28TH SEPTEMBER
The President and entourage attended service at the United Wesleyan Church in Alexandria, Virginia. Given an opportunity to address the congregation which included a large number of Sierra Leoneans, President Koroma brought greetings and love from the people of Sierra Leone, expressing happiness to be at the wonderful fellowship, thanking the church (which he visited before the elections that brought him to power) for prayers before, during and after the elections. He said the Wesleyan Church is doing great things in Sierra Leone. He asked the congregation to join him sing ‘Have Faith in God’, afterwards stating that ‘Indeed wonderful things have happened to the people of Sierra Leone. Indeed, wonderful things have happened to me; because I firmly believe that my election was by the grace of God.’ He asked the church to continue to pray for Sierra Leone to regain its past glory, because ‘until the Lord builds, our efforts will be in vain.’

The senior pastor of the church, Wayne Lyon, delivered a message on the Third Commandment, ‘You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord.’ The President and entourage were treated to a reception.

In the evening, the President was Special Guest at the American University in Washington DC. The town-hall meeting, organized by Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora in collaboration with university authorities, provided another opportunity for the President to outline his government’s goals and to answer questions from the audience.

President Koroma, who was overwhelmed by ‘the biggest group of Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora’ and the presence of many American students and staff, repeated his message of commitment to improve Sierra Leone through his government’s agenda for change, giving priority to energy, agriculture and infrastructural development which would form he basis for efficient social-service delivery especially in health and education. He reiterated his determination to drastically minimize the cancer of corruption and sending a message to drug dealers that Sierra Leone can neither be used as a transit point nor a destination for their nefarious actions. He told Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora that, ‘Sierra Leone needs you more than America does.’

The President received a standing ovation before he was asked several questions ranging from female genital mutilation through the country’s security to civil servants salaries, to which the President responded with answers that apparently impressed his audience.

Notable Sierra Leonean attendants were veteran politician John Karefa-Smart and a blind former senior civil servant Fred Kamara who advised the President to ‘beware of wolves in sheep clothing’.

MONDAY 29TH SEPTEMBER
Among other things, the President will have further meetings with potential investors in Sierra Leone and a press conference before departing for Sierra Leone in the evening.

(The US Secret Service/police have provided security/escort for the President throughout).

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