The Sierra Leone Web


Statement by H.E. President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
at launching of the "Peace and Development Initiative" project
Freetown, 15 February 2001


Mr. Chairman,
Your Excellencies
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me thank the organizers and sponsors for inviting me to officially launch the peace and development initiative project. Over the past several years, there have been dozens and may be scores of workshops, seminars, consultative conferences, sensitization exercises, religious and other public gatherings related to peace in our country. We also have many institutions whose objectives are related to issues of peace. They range from the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, the Commission for Democracy and Human Rights, and a host of local non-governmental organizations. According to current estimates the number of these peace organizations have increased more than twenty-fold since the start of the rebel war.

Without questioning the credibility of any of these organizations and the activities they undertake in the name of peace, I can venture to say that as a whole their numbers and membership underscore one salient fact which we must never forget. Namely, that the quest for peace is not the exclusive prerogative of Government. It is a collective effort. It is one that requires everybody, individually or in partnership with others, to contribute to any of the processes designed for promoting peace, for building peace, and for maintaining peace. The belief that only Government can bring about lasting peace in this country is a fallacy. The roles played by civil society, our youth, women, the civil defence forces, students, and others, especially during the periods of illegal military/rebel rule, clearly attest to this.

Today, my appeal to you is that we must maintain that strategy for addressing national issues. We must not relent. We must not relent because we continue to face new challenges to our collective efforts for peace, security and national development. Some of these challenges are part of the normal problems of underdevelopment. Others are artificial obstacles, deliberately molded by detractors, buttressed by those who continue to seek personal gain from armed conflict, and placed along the paths of peace. Some of them are like land mines, hidden from the naked eye, but dangerous and ready to cause destruction at contact. So we must beware. This is why we must, through this PDI project and other initiatives for promoting peace and development, continue to work together; each of us playing his or her part in the interest of the nation as a whole.

Let me put it this way. Although the guns of war have been silent for a while, and notwithstanding a marked improvement in the general state of affairs in the country, the threat to peace and security is still around us.

This threat takes several forms.

One such threat, a serious one I should add, is the plight of thousands of our people, refugees who find themselves caught between cross border raids by armed elements. The main of objective of these elements and those who provide them with material, financial and logistical support, often in exchange of diamonds, is to derail the peace process. They do so by terrorizing thousands of innocent civilians who had already been uprooted from their towns and villages during the past several years of armed rebel activities.

Now, of course our priority is to secure safe and unhindered corridors for the refugees to return home. As you are aware I emphasized this point two days ago during the visit of the new UN High Commissioner for Refugees. We hope that the establishment of these corridors through areas that Government has suggested will facilitate their return.

Meanwhile, there is the obvious problem of resettlement; a problem compounded by the fact that many of their homes had been destroyed during the rebel war. The link between peace, security and development is clearly manifested in the current status of these refugees and the internally displaced. In cooperation with our national and international development partners, including the UN Development Programme (UNDP), we have to devise strategies for coping with this new human tragedy. In this regard, the input of civil society and others who are genuinely interested in promoting and building peace, is welcome. We should all regard this as a matter of national concern, free from any short-term political consideration.

Mr. Chairman, allow me to take this opportunity to briefly say something about another current artificial obstacle to peace and development.

There are those who claim that the only way we can achieve peace in Sierra Leone today is to offer cabinet posts to a few individuals. In the current state of affairs no one can convince the people of this nation that we can end the war and bring peace by merely playing a game of simple addition and subtraction in the allocation of ministerial positions. This is nothing but an attempt to plant a political land mine in the path of real peace. Here again we have to tread cautiously. Events after Lome, especially those of May 1999, and all the rhetoric about interim government and so called government of national unity, have taught us a lesson we shall never forget.

The holding of a ministerial portfolio is not the only means by which an individual can contribute to the promotion of peace, security and development of his or her country. There are other ways of making meaningful contributions to nation building.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, let us be honest and admit that the greatest problem we face today is definitely not the composition of the cabinet, a cabinet that is in fact the most inclusive in the post-independence history of this nation. On the contrary, the main problem is one of getting rid of the weapons that threaten the security and safety of all of us, including those who want or demand cabinet positions.

It is my prerogative and within my constitutional power to appoint members of my cabinet. My political philosophy is still based on the principles of consultation and dialogue. My operational code remains ‘government by inclusion.’ I can assure you that I will continue to be guided by these principles in fulfilling my constitutional responsibilities as President.

Let me reiterate that peace today depends not on the composition of the cabinet, but on the will of the RUF to implement fully its obligations under the Cease-fire Agreement we signed in Abuja last November. My Government regards scrupulous implementation of the cease-fire agreement by the RUF as the most effective confidence-building measure necessary for advancing the peace process.

In closing, let me say that every one of us has a right to dream. Everyone has a right to develop and disseminate our individual visions of tomorrow. Everyone has a right to have personal aspirations, including political aspirations. However, I believe that we should not allow ourselves to be distracted from the need to focus on the priorities of the nation as a whole.

I note that the Peace and Development Initiative project, which as the support of Government, envisages a series of constructive dialogue among civil society and relevant national development partners. It therefor creates another opportunity for individuals to contribute to the formulation of Government policies on issues of national concern. We should see this also as modest but meaningful contribution to promoting real peace in our beloved country.

I thank you for your presence and attention.