The Sierra Leone Web


Speech by His Excellency the President
Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
at the opening of the National Consultative Conference
on the Peace Process
held at the Bank of Sierra Leone Complex Building
Kingtom, Freetown, 7 April 1999


Mr. Vice President
Hon, Chief Justice
Hon. Speaker of Parliament
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Honourable Paramount Chiefs

Mr. Chairman

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like us all to rise and observe a minute of silence in memory of all the men, women and children who have lost their lives as a direct result of the tragic conflict which has devastated our country over the past eight years.


May their souls rest in perfect peace. Our hearts also go to the thousands of victims, especially children, who have survived, but who have sustained considerable loss; loss of limbs, arms, property, and loss of their human dignity.

Mr. Chairman,

When I saw the word "skit" on the programme, I asked myself "why a skit, at a national conference?" Well, indeed, a little satire, including political satire, in the midst of a tragedy is sometimes a good therapy for the mind, and theatre has a way of opening our minds by touching our emotions. I would like to thank members of the cast of the Sierra Leone Centre of the International Theatre Institute for their entertaining performance here this morning. At a time like this we need prayer. In our tradition of religious tolerance, we got two, from the Reverend Leslie Shyllon and Alhaji Umaru Jah.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Your meeting here today is symbolic of our African democratic tradition, where representatives from all walks of life assemble in one big barre, to consult, discuss, debate, and try to arrive at a consensus for the common good of all Sierra Leoneans.

The theme of this conference is appropriately "The Peace Process". Indeed, peace is a process. It is not, as some see it, a single act of merely accepting the demands of the aggressor. It is also not the single act of demanding ministerial portfolios and top parastatal positions for a few disgruntled but heavily armed individuals.

I am proud to say that in 1996, following a similar national consultative conference, we sought and received the mandate of the people to govern this country. With that mandate we have produced the most inclusive, and the most broad-based government this country has ever had in thirty-eight years of independence. I venture to suggest that this record could be the subject of a comparative research study by eminent scholars, some of whom are present here today, up at our citadel of learning. Such a study should make interesting reading.

In the last general elections there were no losers, in the sense that virtually every political party is represented in my cabinet and in the governance of this country. We even made room for individuals with no declared political party affiliation, but who fulfilled the constitutional requirement of being registered voters. Is this not power-sharing derived from the people?

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

Among the issues you may wish to discuss during the course of your two-day conference is whether political power-sharing should be based on democratic principles, or whether it should also be a trophy for attempts to overthrow a democratically-elected government and, an act which has perpetuated massive human and material destruction. In other words, are you prepared to hand over political power to those who use terror tactics to force themselves on you? Or do you believe political power should be derived from the will of the majority? Do you think it will be in the national interest for a group of individuals ho take up arms, destroy our country, kill our people, maim others, including women and children, to be rewarded with ministerial or top parastatal positions? Since we can only afford a limited number of such positions, should capable members of other political parties who have participated in governance of this country, be removed just to accommodate RUF members and their supporters? Will this foster national unity, reconciliation and efficiency? I will invite you ladies and gentlemen, to ponder on these issues during your deliberations, especially since our people and our international partners have demanded that we cannot have a large cabinet. Remember that sixty percent of our budget is met from donor funding. We only provide forty percent.

The message to the RUF rebels who have learned to wage war, to destroy, to humiliate and mutilate, should be loud and clear. We must let them know that it is about time they learn to wage peace. We say to them, where ever they are, to come out and learn the meaning of peace, to experience peace, to manage peace. The RUF rebels and their allies cannot claim that they want peace if they continue to deny others the right to live in peace. How can they convince us today that they honestly want dialogue when they never had the courage, in the first place, in 1991, to engage in dialogue as a means of seeking redress for whatever their personal grievances were. Instead of dialogue, they chose war against the people whom they wanted, and still want to rule. We, for our part have chosen, and will steadfastly stay on the double track of stabilising the security situation throughout the country, while pursuing dialogue. This is our strategy in the peace process.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

We who have learned the meaning of peace, we who have made Sierra Leone a beacon of peace and stability in the African Continent, have taken the bold step to continue to give the RUF rebels and their allies another opportunity to make peace, through dialogue. We have done so in spite of the painful experience we have had over the past eight years, and in spite of our conviction that they cannot be trusted. More importantly, we have taken that bold step in the peace process for the sake of our children and the millions of others whose future now hang precariously in the balance of a brutal rebel conflict.

This is why we also made additional overtures for dialogue, in the hope that this time, after their internal consultations, the RUF leadership would have a conscience and the courage to make peace; that they would go beyond that and make a solemn commitment this time to work with us and international observers, to keep the peace; and above all, that they would make a determined effort thereafter, to promote and sustain peace, together. Peace is indeed a process. It goes beyond the act of putting pen to paper and signing a cease-fire agreement, or a document such as the 1996 Abidjan Peace Accord. The parties to those agreements must recognise their obligation and responsibility to the people of this country, to faithfully implement the provisions of those agreements. Implementation is an integral part of the peace process.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it is unacceptable, indeed it is inhuman to leave our children a heritage of crude violence and social disintegration.

I believe that one of your tasks in this consultative conference is to examine and determine how we can move from conflict resolution to peace management. That is, from the single act of signing a document, on to the difficult but necessary concrete steps for implementing the agreement. At the centre of your consultations is the question of how the people of this country can secure from the rebels, not just an assurance, but a guarantee that when they sign an agreement, they would honour it, and help to sustain it.

It is about time the RUF rebels and their allies realise, if indeed they are all true Sierra Leoneans, that it is not in their interest to continue this wanton destruction of our country. It is not in theirs or in anyone's interest to allow this conflict to escalate into a civil war or, for that matter into a sub-regional war involving other states in West Africa. As we say in Sierra Leone, people should not forget that "rain nor de fodom nar wan man doh mot, especially if de ose den de neba den kompin ". For the benefit of our international friends, this means, "rain does not fall only on one house, especially if there are other houses close by".

We in Sierra Leone believe that the stability of any nation in our sub-region should be measured not merely by the strength of its conventional and guerrilla forces, nor by its capacity to aid and abet the disintegration of other countries in the neighbourhood. In the final analysis, its own stability will be determined by its ability to feed, clothe and sustain the life and livelihood of its people. We are determined to devote all our effort, and the bulk of our resources to the welfare of our people. We shall not allow anyone to deny them their right to economic and social development, their right to peace, and their right to life. This is the principal objective of our response to this RUF rebel conflict.

Let me close by extending my appreciation to those two great pillars of our democracy, the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights, and Civil Society Organizations, for organizing this conference.

I now solemnly declare open this National Consultative Conference for the advancement of the Peace Process.

I wish you all success in your deliberations.