The Sierra Leone Web


Speech by the British High Commissioner at the Queens Birthday Party, Sierra Leone 2003


This is the third Queens Birthday party I have had the honour to host in Freetown. How time flies. And how things change. We all remember the dark days of May 2000 when I first arrived. An evacuation of the community within the first few days. A furtive visit to Paddy's at 11am on a Tuesday morning just to say I had been there in case I too had to leave. Yes on that particular occasion my wife was with me at the bar.

The prospects for Sierra Leone at that time looked bleak. Three years on we have made more progress than I could have imagined. The war is over. Democratic elections have been held for the President, Parliament and Paramount Chiefs. Planning for the next phase of the democratic process, local elections, is in hand. Attention has been turned to the reconstruction of Sierra Leone and considerable progress has already been made.

The Special Court and the TRC are well advanced. These two bodies have an important role to play and my government has been a major supporter of both bodies. It must be made clear that there is to be no impunity for those who commit war crimes wherever that may be. There is also a need for a body such as the TRC to find out what went wrong and continue bridge building within the community.

We have also made considerable progress with the security sector in Sierra Leone. The army has been reorganised and continues to be trained. The RSLAF is a totally different organisation from the old SLA. Yes more needs to be done but we are helping Sierra Leone to develop an army accountable to the government and people of the country and able to defend Sierra Leone's borders.

The UK has also been supportive of the immense effort the UN has put into Sierra Leone. The role of UNAMSIL and the UN agencies has been a major success story for the organisation. I congratulate the UN family as a whole for what they have achieved.

But credit for what has happened in Sierra Leone does not just lie with the international community. Primarily it lies with the people of Sierra Leone. They were the ones who suffered the horrors of 11 years of civil war. They are the ones who fought against injustice whether perpetrated by rebel forces or by army coupists.

I said this was my third QBP. It is also my last. An announcement was made on Monday that my successor will arrive here in the autumn. I shall myself leave in early June. My successor is John Mitchiner who most recently was in Calcutta.

I shall of course leave with regret. But I shall at least have the feeling that there is a far rosier future for Sierra Leone now than when I first arrived. I take no credit for that but will keep a close eye on how this country develops over the next few years. My daughter Emma, who is now two, has never been here. I always say that when I change her nappy she has a little label stuck to her leg which says Made In Sierra Leone. I hope one day to bring her back here on holiday to see where she came from.

Before I close I should also pay credit to one man who has made a difference here. Some of you will know that the Inspector General of Police Keith Biddle will be leaving Sierra Leone in a few weeks time at the end of a five year stint. He and Sue, who has so ably supported him, have done a great job here with the police. The police project is a credit to Keith personally, to the Commonwealth Police team and to the ordinary police officers serving in the force well represented here tonight by the police band.

I have said little about bilateral relations between Sierra Leone and UK. I need not do so. They remain excellent. We have a strong bilateral relationship which I believe is mutually beneficial. I can assure you interest in Sierra Leone remains as strong in London now as it was when I first arrived.

I should now like to propose a toast to the President of Sierra Leone His Excellency Alhaji Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, Ladies and Gentlemen President Kabbah...