By John Baimba Sesay (Press Attaché in China)
Women in governance has been a major pillar in the running of state affairs in post war Sierra Leone especially in the last half a decade of the Ernest Koroma administration. In the last five years, Sierra Leone has implemented modifications that seek to trim down gender variation. For instance, the realization of the Gender Acts 2007 apparently made into law the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The ‘Agenda for Prosperity' is Sierra Leone's blueprint for national development. Chapter 8 of this document highlights the progress that Sierra Leone has made, in the direction of protecting and promoting women issues in society.
It states, that there has been an increased access to micro-finance for women, support for girl child education, and the mainstreaming of gender in the public sphere, coupled with the appointment of women to high profile and critical public positions like : ministers and deputy ministers, (Health, Local Government, Office of the Vice President, Finance, et el ministries where we have women ) the Chief Justice, the Chairperson of the National Electoral Commission, the Auditor-General, and recently the first female Solicitor-General and first female Brigadier, the Commissioner-General of the revenue generating institution, NRA, the recently appointed Special Executive Assistant (SEA), Office of the President, and women mayor amongst other positions in society. At the local authority level, women are said to have constituted 50% of the membership of Ward Committees. Facts also be stated, that the Tejan Kabba (h) led government did its best as was seen in the case of the first female Mayor in Kono City and also women in ministerial positions. However what we today see is an increase in number of women in the management of state affairs even at the level of diplomatic postings- Liberia and Senegal having female Ambassadors today.
Despite these success stories, there still, are a number of challenges, as also outlined in the document referred to above. Challenges like; upgrading the economic status of women; increasing the number of women in decision making positions at both national and local levels; full implementation of laws that make illegal violence against women especially in remote rural areas, amongst others are still in our society. The fact remains, there is the strongest of commitment on the part of the Ernest Koroma led government to see tackle these challenges head-on and ensure the full empowerment of women in order to maximize their contribution to society.
It is with the given pragmatic action taken by government toward encouraging some sort of affirmative action for women in elective and appointive positions that I requested for an interview (online email) with the recently elected first female Mayor in the city of Makeni, Northern Province of Sierra Leone, Madam Sunkarie Kabba Kamara on issues of governance. I first asked her to give an impression of how it has been like, with just few weeks in office as Mayor of Makeni:
Mayor: I was inaugurated by His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma January, 2013 to officially assume office as first provincial female Mayor of the Municipality of Makeni. So basically, I am barely a month old in office, to be precise. However with regard my impression of the job so far, it has been great. I am basically determined to stay focused on our core values and the strategic priorities that will make our city, the city of Makeni stronger and sustainable. I felt within my very self that I indeed have an obligation, a great one at that, to make and leave Makeni city a better place than I will find it- a stronger, safer, healthier and more equitable and greater city if you like.
JBS: What can you say about President Koroma's commitment to promoting women in state governance?
Mayor: The President has indeed demonstrated his political acumen in the field of politics both in Sierra Leone and at international level. He has thus learnt to get things done because of public involvement, and he is very much committed to public participation, especially that of women. Public involvement and participation in decisions especially that of women reflect the determination of the President to get an inclusive public in the process of governance
JBS: What plans have you, for the city of Makeni to grow?
Mayor: There are great plans. First is to build and consolidate the human capacity. This would involve building a culture of respect for each other, a culture of openness, a culture of participation, a culture of inclusion and most importantly a culture of confidence in what we are, and be optimistic in what we can be. We should believe in ourselves and in our ability to become what we want to. This will be good in our dream for a better and great city. I have learned that things are achieved because of both public and government involvement. The central government no doubt, is being quite supportive of the council, and has been very responsive to its constitutional mandate so far. Things are getting done in that light. We are committed. Like all Sierra Leonean cities, we have diverse groups whose interests do not naturally align. However, we constantly face the challenge of governing in a way that respects our disagreements.
JBS: Community participation is very crucial in the success of your work, as even stated in the Local Government Act 2004. How would you ensure this?
Mayor: Definitely it is very paramount in our success. In addition to that we must be bold in charting our economic future, we must be willing to think in new ways, embracing new technologies and working in stronger partnerships among the private and public sectors to capitalize on our assets, the strengths of our outstanding institutions and the talents of our workforce, and we must always be mindful of our limited natural resources. We must also be willing to forgo the lure of short term gains for long term prosperity. But in all of this, their participation is paramount and we surely will ensure this as a council. The people will be encouraged to work with their city council. We are committed to public participation.
JBS: The Local Government Act is very clear in terms of promoting transparency and openness in all the nineteen council operations across the country. This must be a core in your agenda for the next five years?
Mayor: Indeed, it is. As said inter alia, I am entrusted with an opportunity and indeed an obligation among other things to leave the city of Makeni a better place, than I found it. We need a great city that can provide solid stewardship of taxpayers' monies, along with dependable and efficient city services. I will always remember that city revenues are the peoples' hard earn monies, and thus will be fiscally responsible and accountable to the people.
JBS: How do you hope to utilize the services of the media in taking the city of Makeni to not just its citizens but the world in general?
Mayor: This is an exciting question. For me it is a time of renewal and rediscovery, serious challenges and a time of great opportunities. I pledge to meet those challenges and opportunities with an unmatched enthusiasm- fueled by your (media) trust and confidence of the people. A healthy and working relationship with the press would no doubt thoroughly and positively reflect our individual and collective actions to unite our city and build on an even greater Makeni for our children and grand children.