News of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio having a telephone conversation with the Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on 24th August 2023 is breathtaking and a huge milestone as a result of sustained faith-based diplomacy from organizations like the Israel Allies Foundation (IAF), Africa Israel Initiative (AII), Israel Allies Foundation (IAF), Sierra Leone -Israel Parliamentary Caucus (SLI-PC) and like-minded dedicated individuals.
In a post on the Presidency’s official Twitter handle, the two gentlemen, "discussed the warm relations between both countries that date back to 1961 when Sierra Leone gained independence from the British.As part of efforts to strengthen the relationship between the two nations."
It was also reported that President Bio expressed his government’s readiness to establish an Embassy of Sierra Leone.
This announcement has been greeted with enormous appreciation and high expectations, especially by former lawmakers who have been relentlessly pursuing the cause of restoring ties between Sierra Leone and Israel.
In 2019, the Fifth Parliament of Sierra Leone announced the successful composition of the Sierra Leone Parliamentary Israel Allies Caucus with Hon. Rev. Sama Ishmeal Sandy being the Chairman along with a full membership of twenty like minds who were approved by the House amidst thunderous applause and expression of happiness.
Ever since the launch of this caucus, efforts have been sustained behind the scenes to get a Sierra Leone Embassy in Israel and vice versa.
It is worth mentioning that Sierra Leone is a secular state, a nonaligned state, and with the majority of its population being Muslims and Christians with a minute number of other religions, like African Traditional Religion, Judahists, Hindu, etc.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) that would divide Great Britain’s former Palestine mandate into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948 when the British mandate was scheduled to end.
The city of Jerusalem is a separate entity to be governed by a special international regime.
Dispute, sometimes violent, has marred the partition that created Israel.
An organization known as the Israel Allies Foundation (IAF) in a statement expressed solidarity for Israel’s Application of Sovereignty.
The continental faith-based organization comprising Chairmen of the Israel Allies Caucus in Africa pledged full support to Israel as an ally, "the State of Israel in her rights to apply sovereignty to the communities of Judea and Samaria, as outlined in the Trump administration Peace to Prosperity plan."
They affirmed that the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria have been key parts of the biblical and ancestral homeland of the Jewish nation for centuries.
"We maintained that Israel is not annexing the territory of any other state," the statement read.
It is worth mentioning that Sierra Leone signed up to this statement of solidarity and support towards the sustainment of the State of Israel.
In September 2020, the IAF also held a Zoom meeting for African Parliamentary Caucus Leaders, which was chaired by Sharon Weinstein, Knesset Christian Allies Caucus Assistant Director.
The meeting focused on the importance of faith-based diplomacy.
Sierra Leone was ably represented by Hon. Rev. Sama Sandy as the Sierra Leone Caucus Chairperson and the National Director, Thomas Coker.
That meeting saw the presentation of the Caucus Progress Reports regarding their accreditation from the National Assembly and plans for the future including the official launching event for new caucuses.
Sierra Leone was competently represented among countries like Malawi, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Congo DRC, Botswana, Zambia, Kenya, and South Africa, some of which now have embassies or consulates in the State of Israel.
The meeting also discussed the role of Africa towards Israel presented by Bishop Scott Mwanza, IAF Africa Director, Embassy Status by Rev. Emike Selle, Founder/President Africa Israel Initiative (AII), followed by the launch of Israel Allies Foundation (IAF) Operations Manual and a look ahead on the way forward.
On a diplomatic level, Israel has 82 embassies abroad and 144 consulates, and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem host 95 embassies. Although Israel has ties with 42 African states, it only has 12 embassies on the continent, with just 4 in West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal).
At the national level, in August 2020, a letter from the Sierra Leone -Israel Parliamentary Caucus (SL-IPC) addressed Mr. Haim Biton, a member (2021-2023) of the Israel Knesset and former Minister of Education requested his support in promoting the diplomatic and political relationship between Sierra Leone and Israel.
In its conclusion, the letter highlighted that "The Sierra Leone-Israel Parliamentary Caucus and the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone by extension will be grateful for your assistance in any way suitable in promoting the mutual interests of our two nations, particularly in creating the necessary arrangement for a meeting between the Government of Sierra Leone led by H.E the President Brig. Rtd. Dr. Julius Maada Bio and the government of Israel led by Prime Minister Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu."
Campaigners and Lobbyists say the telephone conversation between President Bio and Foreign Minister Cohen is a positive sign and that a meeting between the two leaders could be imminent.
It is worth recalling that Sierra Leone has no embassy in Israel and Israel is not in Sierra Leone despite being represented by its ambassador in Senegal, a notion that efforts have been frantic to change with the establishment of an embassy of Sierra Leone in Israel.
The Nation of Israel has contributed immensely to Sierra Leone, having constructed the country’s Parliament Building, Ministerial Building, Post Office, Musaya Livestock Center, the Kingdom Power Station, Kissy Oil Refinery, Queen Elizabeth the Second Quay, and most recently, donated a dialysis machine to the main national referral Connaught Hospital.
In 1975, Sierra Leone abstained from a United Nations vote that attempted to define Zionism as racism and later in 1991 supported a UN resolution that repealed the same resolution.
Unfortunately, the ties between both countries soured in 1973 when the then OAU now African Union (AU) resolved that Africa must cut ties with Israel for its war with Egypt.
The frosty ties between the continent and two countries are being relentlessly reconstructed and restored by the efforts from within and outside after the unfortunate decision to declare some Israelis as persona non grata.
The effort to restore ties with Israel has been purposeful and carefully persuaded by men of goodwill at home and abroad, with the Sierra Leone Parliament Israel-Allies Caucus and partners playing remarkable roles not just with personal in-person and online interactions but also with published literature explaining the purpose of the caucus itself, it statutory provision, historical ties and developmental strides between the two countries.
Many people believe that with the new developments at the highest political level, hopes should be high about the composition of a sound mission, leadership, and the establishment of a Sierra Leone Embassy in Israel for which all hands must be on deck.
The new Parliament is yet to reestablish the Caucus of Christian lawmakers, a good number of whom suffered attrition including the Chairman as a fallout from the just concluded June 24th, 2023 general elections.