The Sierra Leone Web


"Unity, Freedom and Justice"


27 APRIL 2000


Fellow citizens:

Let us congratulate ourselves on this joyous occasion, the thirty-ninth anniversary of our independence. We have every reason to be do so because this time last year the tragedy of our capital, Freetown, was still fresh in our minds. We had mixed feelings about peace and security in our beloved country. We were also at that precarious stage between the threat of a continuation of a brutal rebel war, and the hope that the internal consultations among the rebels which were about to begin in Lome would lead to the long-awaited peace accord. Most of us were optimistic. Others were apprehensive. Still others were not sure whether the RUF and its allies would finally respond positively to our numerous overtures for dialogue; and whether they would ever listen to the cry of our people and accept the fact that each and every one of us in this country has a right, an inalienable right, to live in peace and security.

Today, a year later, we have a Peace Agreement, an agreement which has laid a strong foundation for lasting peace and security in our war-torn country. Granted that the pace of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, the most important provisions of the Agreement, could have been faster. Granted that there have been too many interruptions and acts of defiance in the process of consolidating the peace. However, can anyone imagine where we would have been today without the Lomé Peace Agreement? By all accounts the Lomé Peace Agreement has brought us some relief, great relief. I firmly believe that the present momentum in the DDR programme will be maintained, and that we shall soon reap the full benefits of the bold decision, indeed the sacrifice we made last July to sign that historic document on your behalf.

Fellow citizens, I have chosen "Unity, Freedom and Justice" as the theme of this independence anniversary message. This, as you know is the motto of our country. I chose it because we should, at this turning point in our history, seriously try to understand our national principles and objectives, and apply them in our relations with each other. Having experienced the destructive consequences of divisiveness during the last nine years, now is the time for us to unite our strength in the larger interest of the nation.

We cannot speak about peace without guarantees for the safety and security of all Sierra Leoneans. By the same token, we cannot expect to succeed in consolidating the peace if we encourage and exploit regional, tribal and even gender differences to the detriment of the unity and integrity of the nation. We cannot expect to achieve national integration, or maintain stability, if we continue to create spheres of influence and indiscriminate exploitation within the territory of Sierra Leone. It is worth restating that there is one and only one united Sierra Leone, with one and only one government. In this regard, I would like to assure you that my concept of unity is still based on ethnic and religious tolerance, political inclusion, and consensus in decision-making. These are and should remain the hallmarks of our democracy.

When the Union Jack was lowered, and our green white and blue flag raised at the Brookfields Stadium at midnight thirty-nine years ago on April 26, 1961, there was jubilation throughout the country. Sierra Leoneans were elated to witness the birth of our new independent sovereign nation. We were all proud that the process towards independence was, on the whole, peaceful. We had achieved our goal of freedom from colonialism without armed conflict, without the bloodshed generally associated with liberation struggles in other parts of the world.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, we seemed to have lost the spirit which had inspired our leaders to make the peaceful transition to freedom and independence. Unlike our former leaders who believed that freedom could be achieved without armed force, many of our compatriots regrettably, over the past eight or nine years, chose force, brute force, as the only means to pursue their objectives.

Today I would like us to renew the pledge we made in Lomé, that henceforth, Sierra Leoneans will not only settle all past, present and future differences and grievances by peaceful means, but will also refrain from the threat and use of armed force to bring about any change in our country. Our current efforts to consolidate the peace would be futile if we fail to remove the threat of armed force. The guns of war may be silent, but the continued possession of such weapons poses a threat to peace.

The word "freedom" in our national motto transcends the political concepts of self-determination and political independence. Therefore, as we celebrate this anniversary of our freedom from colonialism, I would like to send a message to all faction leaders and their ex-combatants who are still outside the DDR process, that we should also at this time be celebrating our freedom from the threat posed to the entire nation by their continued possession of arms and ammunition. The benefits to be derived from complete disarmament and demobilisation of all ex-combatants to the nation as a whole cannot be over-emphasised. Considering what we stand to gain from the process, and notwithstanding the progress we have made in the past few weeks, it is not unreasonable to observe that we could have done better.

Fellow citizens, as we reflect on the word "freedom" in our national motto, we are reminded that it also implies freedom in the area of economic and social rights. When we speak of "justice" we are also reminded that our Constitution makes ample provisions for "the recognition and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual" and an appropriate mechanism for the administration of justice based on the rule of law. Unfortunately, our efforts to uphold these ideals have been overshadowed by serious human rights violations committed during the course of the rebel war.

The recent establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as the proposed Human Rights Commission, should go a long way to convincing the victims and the international community at large that we are still committed to enhancing the sanctity of the human person and human dignity. By the same token, I take the opportunity to reiterate my appeal to the victims to forgive the perpetrators of the atrocities committed against them. I am convinced that with a successful disarmament it is only by such act of forgiveness and reconciliation that lasting peace can return to Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile, in the context of our efforts to consolidate peace, we cannot ignore nor condone recent acts of human rights abuses. The United Nations for its part has made it clear that all reports of such abuses, committed since the signing of the Lomé Peace Agreement, should be investigated. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to those concerned to put an immediate end to all such acts. Continued human rights abuses are inimical to national reconciliation.

Fellow citizens, as we reflect on my theme for this independence anniversary message, it is relevant to ask: "Unity, Freedom and Justice" for whom? I believe the answer should be "Unity, Freedom and Justice" for all of us, but especially for our children who are by far the most vulnerable victims of the nine year armed conflict. Let us dedicate this anniversary to all the children of Sierra Leone. From this day on, when we sing our national anthem, let us pay special attention to the line which says "we pray that no more harm on our children may fall." As a signatory of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, we are obligated to ensure that they receive special care and protection.

As a further manifestation of our commitment to the full implementation of the Convention, and taking into account the scope of our post-conflict obligations, I am pleased to announce that my Government will this year initiate action for the establishment of a National Commission for Children, a new umbrella institution will ensure that the concerns and special needs of children are placed and maintained at the highest level of our national post-conflict agenda. This will be an important contribution to the consolidation of peace and human security in our beloved country.

I wish you all a pleasant and memorable independence anniversary. Long live Sierra Leone.