Photo caption: Ambassador Wai hosting a dinner with community leaders in honor of Dr. John Kelly, former administrator of Gulf Port, Mississippi.
New Years is a time for resolutions with commitments looking ahead to a brighter future. Despite malaise I have noticed people have about making resolutions this year, given uncertainty about the future due to the ongoing pandemic, I still encourage such declarations. Science proves that saying what you want makes it more likely it will happen.
In selecting an inspirational person to interview about this issue, I chose the Ambassador of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United States, H.E. Sidique Abou-Bakarr Wai, given his always-insightful views, vast understanding and experience about the United States and Africa, and leadership in the diplomatic community.
Since his diplomatic appointment in 2018 by Sierra Leone President H.E. Julius Maada Bio, Ambassador Wai has perspectives about the United States as well as his own country, Africa, and the world, given that he is concurrently accredited to Canada, Brazil, Chile, Guyana, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, and recruited by his African political peers to be Secretary-General of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States).
A charismatic visionary, previous to his Washington post, Ambassador Wai was a brilliant public sector organizer and activist, serving as President of the United African Congress, and as community affairs analyst and adviser to the New York City Police Department headquartered in New York City.
Here are my questions and his answers to pressing issues for the New Year.
Q: As a psychologist, I am always in favor of seizing the opportunity of the New Year to reflect on hopes for the future. Yet, current frustrations and fears from the ongoing pandemic are making more people pessimistic about making such commitments. What would you say to these people?
A: Amidst the current uncertainty and anxieties we are all facing with regard to present economic and health challenges, I recommend remembering, and reviving, your vision and plans before COVID-19. Stay your course and never stray from your core beliefs. Follow your dream and passion for excellence in all that you can do. Surround yourself with friends and partners you can count on. Replace despair with trust that you will realize your goals. Never quit. Believe in yourself.
Q: These holiday times are traditionally for family, which some people cherish while others dread disputes and disagreements. Yet, more people today yearn for family connection after long-term separation during this lingering pandemic. What are your plans and recommendations?
A: Reunions after painful separation by current pandemic restrictions, employment, or other circumstances, should remind everyone about the unequaled value of heritage. In my case, I hail from two sides of my family, one in the Northern region of Sierra Leone and the other in the Southern region, physically separated by hundreds of miles, making interaction difficult. As a proud son connected to both families, I have decided to organize a gala family reunion to bring both sides together. Since I have visited the south branch, this event will take place in the north, where I have not been since my appointment as Sierra Leone Ambassador to the United States. At this homecoming, I will introduce them to each other, especially children and siblings who have never met, and offer an interfaith memorial service, with our traditional practices, to honor all the family members who have passed. This heart-warming, ground-breaking celebration will give them a chance to appreciate their oneness, which is critical during these times of grave uncertainty in the regions.
Q: How do you resolve to take care of your health and recommend actions that others take?
A: I believe “Health is wealth.” I am fully vaccinated, wear a mask, avoid unnecessary crowds, wash my hands, use hand sanitizers, and practice physical distancing as much as possible. I encourage everyone to do the same, taking health matters seriously. Stay in touch by “telephone encounters” to check in on each other often. Also, help others in this crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I mobilized my diaspora friends, families, and international partners to send medical and material resources to help my country of Sierra Leone by establishing the only COVID-19 Task Force among my diplomatic colleagues in the United States, whereby we raised over USD$7.5 million dollars in goods and financial assistance for the people in Sierra Leone to fight the virus. To make this effort sustainable, especially after our recent Tanker tragedy (an explosion that left hundreds of people dead or burned), I have already started to create a public-private partnership to establish in a Center of Excellence for Emergency Readiness in my country, teaming up with the Brennan Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Thinking of others at this time of year is important, so we will extend this Center’s services to the surrounding countries within the Mano River Union.
Q: New variants of the virus, and resulting unknown about the future, has led many people to lose faith in belief systems and organized religion, while others look more to prayer to save the planet. The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called on interfaith leaders to motivate people to stop conflict and stigma. What do you recommend about faith?
A: I have always believed in a Supreme Being at the core of my life, and equally respect the faith of others. This acceptance has led me and my colleagues over many years to co-host a World Interfaith Harmony Week event at the United Nations. The theme this year of “The Pivotal Role of Faith Leaders to Promote Solidarity, Human Rights, and a Culture of Peace to Combat Stigma and Conflict during the Pandemic Recovery” expresses well my feelings about our commonality as peoples.
Q: With inflation escalating in the U.S. and the global negative economic impact of the pandemic, what are your plans for yourself and others for economic security in the New Year?
A: This year, I am escalating action for economic development in my country by co-hosting an investment and economic development summit in mid-March. I have been working with more than 30 diaspora investors who have met with the President of Sierra Leone and high-level cabinet ministers to discuss investment opportunities in the country. I would like to see others equally focus on areas where they have capacity and resources to invest with partners in my country and elsewhere, to form business deals to boost the economy.
Q: Resolving to deepen friendships and appreciate others is always a good resolution. You are known for that; tell me about it.
A: Deepening friendships and appreciating others is a part of my DNA. I always tell people how they enrich my life. I also ask others for help when needed. No man is an island. We need each other. I am blessed to have men and women in my life who care about me and the benefit of others. Together, we accomplish the impossible for the good of humanity. I remain humble and grateful for these wonderful partners and friends in my life. May God bless and guide our friendship and relationships always!