Monday, June 25, 2012

Sierra Leone Health Minister Bags Top UN Assignment

UN Undersecretary Geneneral
and Health Minister Bangura

One of Sierra Leone's foremost human rights activists, the Health and Sanitation Minister Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura, one of the few current  government ministers with a demonstrated commitment to the welfare of the Sierra Leone people as a whole and a real national patriot,  a woman who stood up to and talked against notorious Sierra Leone warmonger, the Late Cpl. Foday Saybana Sankoh, has been appointed by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict at the level of Under Secretary General, the highest position below the Secretary general himself.

Ms Bangura does not come to the job without the requisite experience. She had extensive on the ground experience when she was in charge of the civilian aspects of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Liberia (UNMIL). In Liberia she was tasked with promoting capacity building in government institutions and encouraging local communities to engage in reconciliation and help put the evils of the past behind them. She left the UN position when the new president of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma decided to appoint her as a foreign affairs minister in 2007, shortly after his elevation to the presidency after many years as opposition leader of the All Peoples Congress Party.
UN Sec Gen Ban Ki-moon

Zainab at the UN
Ms. Zainab Bangura spent a few uncomfortable years as the foreign minister trying to project the image of the All peoples Congress, a party that was notorious for instigating violence against women, and she  had kept loudly quiet when APC agents led by the president's own bodyguards had gone to the opposition SLPP headquarters and raped a group of women in broad daylight with the government quietly minimizing the magnitude of this abominable crime.

Zainab Bangura was later transferred to the health ministry where she had once again decided to focus on helping the people of Sierra Leone as a whole by promoting health care services for women and children in a country where the health care infrastructure is amongst the worst  on the face of the earth and where people would prefer to put their faith in the hands of native healers rather than go to the mostly underfunded and undermanned health care institutions that has made the country the shame of the developing world.
"A man with limited understanding"

Sankoh's Enemy
Ms. Zainab Bangura hails from the northern province of Sierra Leone, where almost 80% of the current government hails from. She was born on December 18, 1959 in Yonibana, Tonkolili district. She followed another foreign minister of the SLPP, Momodu Koroma, who was also born in Yonibana, giving this small town a unique distinction in the history of the country, that is providing back to back foreign ministers from the two main political parties in the country. Zainab graduated from Fourah Bay college with a degree in political science and later bagged some accounting diplomas in London.

During the conflict period in Sierra Leone, Zainab Bangura  co-founded and later became the national coordinator for the Campaign for Good Governance and has also worked with Transparency International amongst many other assignments. During the conflict in Sierra Leone she was vocal in her opposition to the genocidal leader of the RUF Foday Saybana Sankoh who she famously dismissed as "a man of limited understanding". For her opposition to the RUF she became a special target for assassination by the group.

In 2002 she launched her own political party and challenged the incumbent SLPP President Ahmed Tejan Kabba, another UN veteran,  for the presidency.  Zainab Bangura's views on female genital mutilation however proved to be unpopular in a country with a high degree of illiteracy and deeply held cultural traditions. She wound up with less than one percent of the votes cast and her Movement for Progress Party did not get a single seat in parliament, a testament to the huge institutional constraints women faced in African politics.
How does she Work with

Many have wondered how Minister Bangura  with her background in human rights advocacy has been able to function in a government with people like the notorious Interior Minister Musa Tarawallie who brought weapons into the country promising to target the opposition and has let loose police militia who are engaged in killing sprees of innocent civilians across the country by turning guns on protesting civilians. Human rights activists have asked how she could function in government in which senior advisers to the president are complicit in the distribution of illicit drugs like cocaine and bent on making the country a major transit point for drugs on the West African coast. But as they say, "politics makes strange bed fellows". Zainab Bangura is married with children and joins the list of prominent Sierra leone UN diplomats like James Jonah and Ex-president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.

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