The Sierra Leone Web


10 MARCH 1998


My fellow Sierra Leoneans:

Since I departed the shores of our beloved country, following the events of the 25th of May last year, I always maintained that I would be back to proceed with the mandate you gave me. Today, I am happy to tell you that I am back in our capital city, and I am sure you will want to give thanks to the Almighty God for allowing us to see this significant day in the history of our country. This our country which was once justly regarded as the beacon of light throughout our region, a citadel of learning in this our sub-region, and a shining example of peaceful co-existence, was torn asunder and dragged back to the dark ages by the activities of some evil men and women and their fellow travellers. The fact that we are here today to share the joy of a new beginning is a manifestation of God's great love for us as a people. Let us pause for a moment and thank him for this and for ECOMOG and all our brothers, sisters and children who gave their lives for us to see this day. (Pause) They are among the brave who sacrificed their lives today so that their fellow citizens may live tomorrow.

My countrymen, women and children:

In my first year in office, as your President, I strove to demonstrate to Sierra Leoneans and the world at large, that we could conduct our politics in a civilised and honest manner. One of the first things I did was to embark upon a course of reconciliation, the healing of wound and closing of the rifts that had existed within our society. For that reason, I treated the misdemeanors and misdeeds of certain people with compassion and a spirit of forgiveness. With open arms, I welcomed them like prodigal sons who had left the shores of Sierra Leone, perhaps for good, and others who were forced into exile. I did all this in full knowledge that I was running a risk of an unpopular backlash from the nation. I did this also in order to restore dignity and self-respect to people who I believed had served our country in the past. But events have proved that some of these beneficiaries of my kind gestures interpreted them as a sign of weakness, because I did not practise the usual inequities with which they had treated others when they had the upper hand.

Today, we know that the people we forgave and those whose misdeeds we overlooked were the key collaborators with those who raped our women and children, killed unarmed men and women and almost destroyed our country. They collaborated with the men who enjoyed all the special facilities we gave to them and used the uniforms and guns we bought for them with your money, to inflict death and destruction on you the citizens they took an oath to protect. The treachery and betrayal of these men brought out of you the noblest quality that can be found in any people in the world, namely, the courage to fight and die, if necessary, for your freedom to choose the people you want to govern you in the democratic way of life.

Many patriots left the country and endured the suffering and humiliation of exile rather than serve or live with the traitors of our fledging democracy. Those who remained behind risked their lives daily, and some even died rather than serve the murderers and rapists who called themselves the AFRC, and their collaborators. I admired your courage and honoured you all, but I was anxious to prevent you from being murdered en masse. The justification for my anxiety and fear for your safety was made clear when our defenceless students engaged in a peaceful demonstration for their democratic rights were slaughtered by this callous junta and their collaborators. That was why I urgently looked for help from friendly countries and organisations, particularly ECOWAS, to rescue you and our country from the hands of those mutinous rabbles and their collaborators. It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I say to you that ECOMOG came at once to our rescue on being mandated to do so. As you have seen, it is because of the high professionalism of these magnificent men and the gallant efforts of our Civil Defence Forces that we are here today to restart our lives. Our grateful thanks go to all of them.

There is destruction in many parts of our country, and we have lost property and loved ones all over the country. For this, all Sierra Leoneans should be ashamed of such dastardly conduct of their compatriots. We all know who did it. And I know that but for the timely intervention of ECOMOG, the situation would have been far worse. The AFRC and its collaborators would have razed this city in particular to the ground and buried you under the rubble.

As we usher in a new era today, my happiness knows no bounds. I am personally happy that I have been granted an opportunity to continue to serve my country, and for your loyalty during those difficult months. I am happy for Sierra Leone that we as a people have shown to the world that we are determined to take our place among civilized nations, our fledging democracy has been put to a servere test, and it has not failed. We have undergone our baptism of fire, and we have survived. I congratulate every loyal Sierra Leonean for this wonderful achievement. And thank you, thank you, thank you!

While we unreservedly condemn the junta and its RUF allies, we must not forget to ask ourselves why it happened. Where did we go wrong as a nation? I have already told you of the greed and treachery that were the underlying causes of this tragedy which befell our nation. We must not, however, overlook the atmosphere of greed, corruption, injustice and tribal jealousies in which the rebellion took root and grew to such dreadful proportions. Some of the collaborators were the very people who presided over this system of corruption and incompetence. It encouraged others to deny justice and fair play to the ordinary citizen of this country. If we allow this state of affairs to continue after today, then all our suffering and the death of our close relations and compatriots would have been in vain.

Despite all of this, our image as a civilized nation will be greatly enhanced if we are seen to be promoting reconciliation. Let me state, however, that reconciliation should not be construed as letting off the hook those who have brought untold suffering upon our people. Accordingly, these people will be brought to justice as swiftly as possible. It is only then that reconciliation can be meaningful.

Also of great concern to me is the spate of revenge killing and other forms of violence that followed our liberation. I am aware that people were hurt and are still being hurt in other parts of the country by the atrocities of the RUF rebels and the remnants of the junta. However, this negative era in Sierra Leone's history can be used as a redefining moment for our country as we move towards the millennium.

To start with a personal note on my part, I must emphasise that when I was elected President of Sierra Leone, I became President of all the people of Sierra, and my duty is to serve the entire population of Sierra Leone, which means that no one religious group or tribal group, and no one section of our population can lay claims to preferential treatment from my administration. I am determined to serve Sierra Leone and all Sierra Leoneans equally, fairly and justly.

My fellow Sierra Leoneans:

I am also resolved to take all possible measures to ensure the security of all Sierra Leoneans. My respect for the institution of the armed forces has not been diminished by our recent experience. The army can be a noble institution, and with proper vision and leadership it is the guarantor of the security of the State and its people. What a dedicated, committed and well trained army can be and can do has been clearly demonstrated by the brave professionalism and dignity displayed by our ECOMOG brothers and sisters. The big question, however, is what kind and how large an army does Sierra Leone need and deserve? This question will come up for discussion when disarmament and demobilization of the combatants have been completed.

I pledge to you today that I shall endeavour to run my Government with integrity and a high level of competence to achieve the best for Sierra Leone, within our resources. To this end, I have decided to reduce the size of the cabinet to fifteen. Within that margin, I shall continue to ensure that it will be a broadly-based Government. I am also appointing a Policy Advisory Committee of people with good education, good track record and good relevant experience to evaluate and advise me on policy matters. The Committee will also monitor the performance of public officers, parastatals and public corporations.

Let me at this stage remind all Sierra Leoneans that we can all serve our country effectively and loyally without serving any particular government. I am confident that the great potential that many of you have can be utilized in the private sector for the greater good of our country. We shall encourage foreign enterprise so long as they abide by our laws. In particular, we shall adopt means to safeguard our fishing industry and stop the smuggling of our diamonds.

I expect you, my people, to cooperate with me to achieve these goals. We have given tears and blood for our country. What I ask you to give Sierra Leone now is sweat and honesty. I exhort you all to work hard for your country, and to acknowledge the industry displayed by some, and encourage others to emulate it. We should desist from the habit of pulling down enterprising members of our community. But you should each be a vigilante for good government and the elimination of corruption in our society.

To those who were still undergoing formal education in schools and colleges before the crisis, I say return to your studies if you have not already done so, and prepare yourselves well and adequately to be the future leaders of tomorrow, by merit. The road ahead is not easy because our country, like our economy, is in ruins. But if we all put our shoulders to the wheel and work as a team, we shall surely regain our prosperity and happiness.

To the press and information media, I say you too have had your share of suffering. My Government will create and sustain the atmosphere in which you can operate without fear or favour. This, however, places upon you a duty to be fair and honest in your reporting and editorials.

I now turn to a special aspect of this speech. I have deliberately and purposefully delayed this subject here just before the close of my statement. This is because the words of gratitude I wish to express here will linger, hopefully for a long time, if not for ever, in the minds of my compatriots. We share the joys of this day with the leaders and peoples of ECOWAS, the OAU, the Commonwealth, the United Nations, and the rest of the international community. On behalf of the people and Government of Sierra Leone, I extend our grateful thanks and appreciation to you all for your unflinching support and encouragement which we received from you throughout the period of our turbulence and suffering. We are particularly grateful to the Republics of Nigeria, Guinea, Ghana and the other member Republics of ECOWAS, and also to the Organisation of African Unity for the support they all gave to us in our struggler to sustain democracy in our country. We are particularly thankful to these countries and organisations for their refusal to grant any form of recognition to the junta, which made it the most isolated regime ever. The British Prime Minister and his Government also deserve our special thanks for their support and assistance in every respect, and for the generous hospitality accorded to me and my delegation during the recent meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers and Heads of Government. Our thanks also go to President Clinton, the United States Government and the American people for their political and diplomatic support. We thank the ECOWAS Committee of Five, General Victor Mahlu, General Timothy Shelpidi, General Abdul One Mohammed, Commandeer Maxwell Khobe and their gallant officers and men. We owe them a debt of gratitude which we can never fully repay. We shall always remember them in our prayers.

I have reserved our thanks for His Excellency General Sani Abacha to the end of my speech, because I want to ensure that if you forget the rest of my speech you should never forget the tribute I am about to pay to that great friend of Sierra Leone. It is to his commitment and unremarkable determination that we owe our survival. There were times in the last nine months when things seemed to be falling apart in ECOWAS over the question of Sierra Leone, but he always stood up firmly and retrieved the situation. He was a source of hope and courage to me personally in those days of tribulation, and I cannot fully repay him enough. His country must be proud of his achievement in this matter, because it has finally confirmed the role of Nigeria in our region. And this is now internationally recognised. I am therefore happy to end this address by saying: