The Sierra Leone Web



Speech by His Excellency the President
and Minister of Defence
Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
At the opening of the new
Ministry of Defence Building
Tower Hill, Freetown
21 January 2002


Your Excellencies
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Day by day, and step by step we are moving ahead towards a peaceful, safer and prosperous Sierra Leone. This past week, we finally arrived at the end of along and tortuous road - the end of the disarmament of ex-combatants. With the assistance of the international community we have formally concluded the difficult but ultimately successful process. Last Friday, in the presence of some many foreign dignitaries including the Ghanaian Head of State, we witnessed the dramatic "flame of peace" ceremony symbolizing the conclusion of disarmament and the end of the war.

As we celebrate this milestone in the history of Sierra Leone, we also welcome the progress we have made in the Community Arms Collection Programme that is now underway outside the DDR process. The objective is to reduce the number of weapons in the wider community.

Over the past year, we have been fortunate to benefit from an investment of human and financial resources for the purpose of restructuring and retraining the Sierra Leone army. Many of us have been to the Benguema Training Centre, at a number of passing-out parades, to witness the re-birth of our national armed forces. Our servicemen and servicewomen, including many ex-combatants, now have a new focus, a new commitment and a new zeal to defend the country and our people from any external threat. I am convinced that as they deploy on our borders around the country the local population will see them not as oppressors, but as a force for good. I am also convinced that the various communities will continue to receive them, and that these new corps of loyal defenders of the nation will in no time earn the respect as well as the confidence of their compatriots.

We now stand at the threshold of a new era of security, safety and stability in our country. This is the point where we can speak with confidence that we have achieved peace. We now have the opportunity, indeed the momentum, to work together for the economic and social well being of our country and people. Security will remain at the top of our national agenda, not for its own sake but also as a catalyst of economic growth and human development. This is why we are happy to see the return of business activities in many areas of the country that were previously unsafe.

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, today we are here to take another important step forward in the area of peace, security and development - the opening of the new premises of the Ministry of Defence. In order to feel secure within our borders, it is also necessary for us to have an appropriate and efficient administrative support service for our national defence forces.

This is the function of my Ministry, the Ministry of Defence. It gives me great pleasure to be here today as Head of State and Minister of Defence to perform the official opening of the new premises at the foot of Tower Hill.

It goes without saying that improvement in the physical-working environment of any institution contributes to efficiency and high productivity. However, what is more significant is what actually takes place within the premises. So, this is not a simple tape-cutting event. Our presence here today marks the implementation of our plan to reorganise an important branch of State. I should add that ministries of Government are expected to combine the expertise of civil servants and administrators with those of other specialists or technocrats.

The Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Sierra Leone, as a joint civilian-military organisation is now a reality, under the Permanent Secretary with the support of the Chief of Defence Staff. Together, under my authority as Minister of Defence, they have the formidable task of developing the Ministry into an effective mechanism for the delivery of the defence capability required for the protection of our country.

The reorganisation we are undertaking within the higher structures of the Ministry is also dictated by the need for good management and lessons-learned over the past ten years of war. I am pleased to know that with the assistance of our British advisers, a Sierra Leone delegation is planning to visit the Republic of South Africa soon, to see and learn how the South African Ministry of Defence had adapted to major changes in that country in recent years. I welcome this initiative as an important part of the invaluable assistance that DfID, the United Kingdom Department for International Development, has been providing, with the support activities of the International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT). In my capacity as Chairman of the Defence Council I am also fully acquainted with the work and services they perform. I admire their professionalism and dedication.

The formal opening of the new home of the Ministry of Defence provides an opportunity for me to announce a number of changes with effect from today.

Ladies and Gentlemen: For many years "SLA" (Sierra Leone Army) has been used as the common term to describe the armed forces of this country. Now, our Armed Forces have been restructured in such a way that there is no longer a separate Navy, Army and Air Force command structure.

Accordingly, to reflect these changes, as of today our armed forces will be known as The Republic Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF). Furthermore, and in the spirit of a change for the better, there will be two Commands based at Cockerill barracks on Wilkinson Road. One will be called The Joint Force Command, and will be responsible for military operations and training. The other will be called The Joint Support Command, with responsibility for personnel and logistic support, and individual training to units and individuals. The term Defence Headquarters (DHQ) will no longer be used.

New establishments for the two Commands - the Joint Force Command and the Joint Support Command - will come into effect on the 1st of April 2002. Over the next two to three years these establishments will lead to a force level of 11,000 military personnel.

Transformation, renewal, reconstruction and restructuring - these are some of the concepts that pervade our current post-war national environment. Transformation is evident in the action we have taken for a Defence Ministry where civilian and military personnel will be working together to support our armed forces The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) - for the common good of the country. I should point out that not only have the Armed Forces been restructured and trained from the lower to the upper ranks, we are also witnessing a restructuring from the top down.

The concepts of transformation and renewal are also evident in the two command structures and arrangements I have just described, to foster joint operations among the various elements in our Armed Forces.

Of course, it will take some time for the new structures to take shape, and for us to reap the full benefits of these changes. However, I trust that every individual on both sides of this joint venture will cooperate in the implementation of the changes.

I have no doubt that the Ministry of Defence has the capacity to be a model institution of State in post-war Sierra Leone. I say this, not because this is my Ministry. On the contrary, it is precisely because it a high-profile Ministry and public expectation of its performance has increased considerably. Secondly, because the structures and operational arrangements we are now putting in place, as well as the dedication of the staff, should propel the Ministry to greater heights.

Before we cut the tape it is interesting to note that the building we are about to enter is symbolic of transformation and renewal. As you know, in recent years this building was a hotel - the Paramount - one of the finest commercial buildings in the centre of our capital. It was strategically located to cater for business people, within walking distance to other business houses such as banks and private firms. At this juncture, let me pause to provide you with another important historical detail about this building. This was the site of the first British Council. At independence it was turned over to the Sierra Leone Government while new premises were constructed at Tower Hill for the present British Council building. Therefore, this site has played a very important role in the cultural, commercial and political developments of our nation.

However, like many of our public, institutional and private buildings, the Paramount Hotel became a victim of the tragic events of the past several years. It was rundown, and was in many respects a mere shell of its original physical status. Now, the dilapidated building has been splendidly refurbished and transformed into our new Ministry of Defence.

This was made possible by the generous financial assistance of the Government of the United Kingdom. I would therefore like to request the British High Commissioner to convey to his Government our sincere appreciation for providing separate funding for this task.

I would like to commend Lieutenant Colonel John Gale of the IMATT, for his contribution in the form of the day-to-day coordination of work on the project. Finally, our thanks go to the consultants, DTI, and the contractors, NIMO Construction and CEC, for completing the project without any cost overruns. I should add that this has been an important contract for you all. We are impressed by the high quality of your work. You have set a standard which I trust others will emulate in the refurbishment of other public buildings over the next few years.

There is a lot of work ahead of us. However, I think you will agree with me that in many ways, including the latest developments in our Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence, we have laid the foundation on which we can rebuild this nation and transform it into safe, secure, peaceful and prosperous haven for present and future generations.

Please join me in wishing the Permanent Secretary, the Chief of Defence Staff and all the civil servants and members of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), every success in their effort to contribute to this national transformation.

I thank you.