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Address by the President
H.E. Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
at the Ecumenical Service on
Dedication Day 2002
held at the Sewa Grounds
Freetown, Sunday 6 January 2002


Fellow Sierra Leoneans,
Fellow worshippers:

We thank God Almighty for another opportunity to worship together in an ecumenical service of remembrance and thanksgiving. I believe that God is here with us today. As the Bible says, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst." Let me express my heartfelt thanks to the organizers and sponsors of this service for bringing us together once again to honour our fallen heroes.

Three years ago in January 1999, the National Stadium was over-crowded, not with football fans or spectators of a gala artistic performance, but with hundreds of our traumatized compatriots who had sought refuge from the horrors of a rebel onslaught on our capital city. Regrettably, thousands of others in the city and throughout the country did not survive the brutal war that was imposed on our people for almost a decade. From Freetown to Moyamba, from Masiaka to Koidu, from Makeni to Pujehun, from Kailahun to Kambia, and from Kabala to Koidu, tens of thousands of precious lives were lost in what has become the greatest tragedy in our nation's history. We are here once again to mourn our loss and to pay tribute to the memory of all our departed brothers and sisters, parents, children and others who were dear to us. They are gone, but not forgotten.

Last year when we assembled for a similar service, I proposed that we observe January the 6th each year as "Dedication Day." I said that it should be a day of remembrance and thanksgiving. I also suggested that we adopt a symbol that would reflect the spirit of the observance, namely a white rosette, symbolising peace and reconciliation, with a red spot in the centre, symbolising the blood of those who had died in the course of the conflict. I am glad to see that many of us are wearing our white and red rosettes with pride. White is the dominant colour because we really need reconciliation, which is one of the principal components of peace. But the red spot means that we should never, ever forget the agony we have suffered during the rebel war, and the scar that a large number of our people have to carry for the rest of their lives.

The purpose of Dedication Day is not only to remember and honour our fallen heroes, but also to remind us of our individual and collective obligation to ensure that never again will this nation experience the horrors of war, especially internal armed conflict. We have seen enough bloodshed. We have seen enough destruction of personal property and public infrastructure. Yes, our children have experienced enough pain and trauma. Peace is long overdue. Indeed, every one of us has a right to live in peace and security.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, fellow worshippers, the rest of the world has been impressed by our resilience. Many people still find it difficult to understand how we have survived the terrible war. We ourselves have been amazed by our courage. A few months after the January 1999 massive attack, I spoke to a gathering of world religious leaders, on the theme: "Faith Unlimited." I told the audience that never before in the history of our country had the faith of our people been so aggressively tested and challenged. I expressed the view that after all our trials and tribulations, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that Sierra Leone has survived as a nation through faith, both spiritual and temporal. We still believe that faith has been a bulwark against our adversities over the last several years.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, fellow worshippers, faith is not just a belief. It also implies doing something. Prayer is one of the cornerstones of our respective religions and religious denominations, but we should not only pray for peace; we must also do something to achieve peace and security. Our faith must inspire and equip us to work for peace. In this regard, I would like to pay tribute to the various religious organizations that have continued to provide for both the spiritual and material needs of the people of this country, in particular the victims of the rebel war.

Today, it is appropriate for us to recall the historic 1999 Lomé Peace Agreement. Many people will remember it because it contained specific provisions for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants. These are of course provisions that have paved the way for the peace process and the high level of security that we have achieved so far. Others will remember it as a political document that offered positions to certain individuals. Still others will continue to evaluate it in terms of what in their view it failed to address.

On this Dedication Day 2002, I would like us to focus our attention on what I often referred to as the spirit of Lomé, and on the core principle on which that Agreement is based, a principle that transcends the political elements of the document. Today we should remember that the Agreement perhaps more than anything else, opened the main door to national reconciliation. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to appeal to every Sierra Leone, wherever you are, to rededicate yourself to the principle of national reconciliation. That door must remain open as we embark on the equally formidable task of consolidating the peace that we have so far achieved. That door must also remain open as a sign of our determination to establish lasting or sustainable peace. Cabinet positions and other political offices will change. Disarmament and demobilization will end, but the spirit of Lomé, the spirit of reconciliation will and should remain as a bulwark of this nation against any adversity.

I must caution, however that reconciliation is not a one-way street. It implies, and does require mutual trust and confidence between the perpetrators and their victims. This is why both Parties to the Lomé Peace Agreement, in expressing their determination to establish sustainable peace and security, pledged, and I quote:

"...forthwith, to settle all past, present and future differences and grievances by peaceful means; and to refrain from the threat and use of armed force to bring about any change in Sierra Leone..." Unquote.

We cannot speak about real conciliation unless we uphold that pledge.

Dedication Day 2002 reminds us of that pledge and of our obligation as responsible citizens of Sierra Leone never to abandon the search for peaceful means for reconciling our differences.

Of course, as in our private and religious lives, we shall continue to have differences at the national level. We shall always have different perceptions of how this nation should or should not be governed. We shall continue to encounter difficulties in uprooting the evils that deter our progress towards social justice and economic self-sufficiency. But, these should never be used as a pretext for launching acts of aggression against the people of this country. Never, never, again!

Finally, as you may have heard, disarmament in Kailahun and Kenema Districts ended yesterday January 5. There will be a tripartite meeting between representatives of Government, UNAMSIL and the RUF in Freetown on January 17, to wrap up the disarmament process. This will be followed by a symbolic burning of collected weapons and an announcement about the lifting of the curfew. These activities will in effect mark the end of the war. We intend to invite some foreign Heads of State to witness this occasion.

It is a blessing for me to join in this special service. May God bless us all.