By Dennis Kabatto – When Sierra Leone Government Spokesman, Abdulai Bayraytay extended a cordial invitation to the pro democracy group, Concerned Sierra Leoneans USA to attend a town hall meeting at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington on post Ebola Recovery, he naively was not expecting a rejection. But boy was he in for a rude awakening?
“I see the Sierra Leone Embassy’s invitation to a meeting with Bayraytay as a very cheap public relations stunt at taking attention away from the laudable efforts of CSLUSA movement,” Dr. Sheik Umar Kamarah, the newly elected Public Relations Officer (PRO) said in a statement.
“But the stunts uncover the shallowness, incompetence, insensitivity and terrible lack of imagination our government often brings to serious national issues. To attend such meeting is to contribute to the rot that threatens the healthy survival of our country,” Dr. Kamarah said justifying his organization’s rejection of Mr. Bayraytay’s town hall meeting invitation.
Mr. Bayraytay calls the meetings at the embassy in Washington and five other venues a socio-political outreach to Sierra Leoneans living in the United States and Canada to engage the Sierra Leone Diaspora in articulating government policies and programs rather than relying on skewed or distorted information posted on social media especially on face book and whatsapp.
“I can say, I am leaving North America specifically the United States and Canada, very much satisfied because all of the town hall meetings that I held, a lot of Sierra Leoneans spared their precious time to attend,” Mr. Bayraytay reflected during a phone interview in New York.
Adding, “Some of them who had hitherto indicated a decline to attend the meetings ended up attending. Because when I engaged them informally prior to the meeting, some of them even disassociated themselves from the press release issued by CSLUSA that indeed the issues were fabricated.”
He said members of the audiences were bemused after he had educated them on contrary claims of stolen Ebola funds that no money, not a single penny from all contributions into the Ebola Trust Fund established by the United Nations went to none of the three Heads of States whose countries are plagued by the killer Ebola virus disease.
CSLUSA issued a scathing press release in May publicly denouncing Mr. Bayraytay’s invitation stating that the meetings show the government’s “lack of seriousness” in handling of national issues and “total disregard” of its citizens demands to provide answers about misappropriated Ebola funds.
Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, President of Kono Union USA Inc., (KUUSA) admitted she was also invited along with other Sierra Leonean community leaders to attend the meeting at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington but she declined.
Dr. Ahmadu, recently elected Vice Chair of CSLUSA said in a statement “As far as we are concerned, Bayraytay’s presence here is another publicity sham for a discredited regime and an effort to drive a wedge between our Diaspora communities.”
Dr. Ahmadu insisted, “We called for a boycott because we seriously question the Government’s sincerity in meeting the key concerns of the people of Sierra Leone including the reinstatement of Vice President Sam Sumana and a lifting of the state of emergency” is paramount “since it is being abused and unevenly applied to muzzle opponents of President Koroma’s regime.”
President Koroma has come under mounting criticisms and calls by the opposition Sierra Leone’s People Party, Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission and Sierra Leone Association of Journalists for the lifting of the Ebola state of emergency now that schools have reopened and cases of the Ebola disease are dwindling.
Even Amnesty International urged the Koroma administration to stop using the emergency regulations brought in to combat Ebola as a pretext to restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
Nevertheless, President Koroma remains adamant vowing not to lift the state of emergency imposed eleven months ago until the World Health Organization declares Sierra Leone Ebola free.