The Sierra Leone Web


Held the National Stadium, Brookfields
Freetown, Saturday 6 January 2001


The sponsors of this ceremony invited me to serve as "guest worshipper" and to give the keynote address. I thank them very much for the honour. However, considering the significance of this special ecumenical service, and my own religious faith notwithstanding, I should consider myself a worshipper, and not a mere guest worshipper. So, let me address you as Fellow Worshippers.

Fellow Worshippers:

We Sierra Leoneans are very creative. We are good at coining words and phrases to popularise our ideas and feelings about national issues. In the midst of sorrow, we often come up with light-hearted remarks to soothe our pain, so to speak. In the same way, we are assembled here today to drown some of our sorrows into in a pool of joy and gratitude. It is therefore appropriate to describe today, the 6th of January as a day of remembrance and thanksgiving.

Who can forget January the 6th 1999? Who can forget that day of infamy, two years ago, when rebels and other unpatriotic forces unleashed a massive human and material destruction of this capital and seat of government of our beloved country? We can still picture the flames that engulfed homes in several parts of the city. We can still picture billows of smoke rising far above the roofs of public and buildings. We can still feel the trauma of the hundreds of internally displaced victims of the senseless rebel onslaught who found refuge in this national sports stadium.

How can we forget our desperate pleas on behalf of our young people, especially girls, who were forcibly snatched from their families to be abused and exploited? Yes, we remember with sorrow those gallant individuals, soldiers, civil defence and other security personnel, as well as civilians, who gave their lives in defence of the city and its citizens. Brothers and sisters, two years later the memories of the 6th of January 1999 still linger in our hearts. Today is indeed a day of remembrance.

It is perhaps ironic that this very day should also be observed as a day of thanksgiving. Why, one may ask, would Sierra Leoneans want to give that awful day any recognition? Why should such a day evoke a sense of gratitude?

Fellow worshippers, I submit that we are not here to give thanks for the acts of terror perpetrated on this city and nation two years ago. On the contrary, we are here to give thanks to the Almighty for saving this capital and the seat of government from further destruction. We are thankful that the plotters did not succeed in their deadly design to grab by power by force, or failing that, to annihilate every living thing in sight. We are thankful because the situation and consequences could have been worse. Allow me in this connection to quote from an old but evergreen song in the famous Sankey Book of Sacred Songs:

"When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
It will surprise you what the Lord has done."

Fellow worshippers, granted that there have been many acts of death, destruction and terror in many parts of the country over the past several years, we mourn and regret them all. However, the magnitude of the January 6, 1999 onslaught, the speed and viciousness manner in which it was executed, and the political consequences for the entire nation that could have resulted if the rebels had succeeded, has made the 6th of January an extraordinary day in the history of Sierra Leone.

This is why I am proposing that we consider declaring January the 6th each year as "Dedication Day," a special day set aside for remembrance and thanksgiving. The main objective are to remember and honour all those have given their lives in defence of this country and its people in all the armed conflicts we have experienced; to celebrate our triumphs over adversity; to remind ourselves that the events of the 6th should never happen again and to re-dedicate ourselves to a culture of peace and mutual respect. It will be a day of national reflection and re-dedication rather than a holiday.

I am also proposing that we adopt a symbol that will reflect the spirit of the observance. I suggest a white rosette, symbolising peace, with a red spot in the centre to symbolise the blood of those who died in the course of all the conflicts. I have no doubt that every Sierra Leonean and friend of Sierra Leone would be proud to pin the dedication rosette on their chest, at least once a year on January the 6th.

The Dedication Day I propose would also instill in us a sense of patriotism, and a sense of appreciation and gratitude for what the Almighty has done, and for the sacrifices that others, Sierra Leoneans and non-Sierra Leoneans, have made for us.

I hope that civil society and others will give this proposal serious thought, and help to make it a reality.

Fellow worshippers, as we gather in this special service, let us find comfort in the words of another song in the old Sankey Book of Sacred Songs. They are appropriate for every January the 6th in the history of our country. I quote:

"There is never a day so dreary,
But God can make it bright;
And unto the soul that trusts Him,
He giveth songs in the night.
There is never a path so hidden,
But God will lead the way,
If we seek for the Spirit's guidance,
And patiently wait and pray."

I thank you for your attention, and may God bless us all.