The Sierra Leone Web


"Self-reliance, Interdependence, and Political Tolerance"

Address to the Nation
By His Excellency the President
Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
on the Fortieth Independence Anniversary

27 April 2001


Fellow Sierra Leoneans,

Forty years ago we decided to exercise our right to self-determination. While, occasionally, there is still disagreement as to when it should be exercised, and what form it should take, self-determination is now universally recognized as a basic human right, a right to which all countries and peoples are entitled. Colonial Powers have adjusted to the reality that their territories and dependencies should be given the choice of how and by whom they should be governed. Sierra Leone chose to be an independent sovereign state. It was our right. We are proud that it was a peaceful and orderly transition from colonial to independent sovereign status. We are also proud to be a member of that great family of independent sovereign nations, the Commonwealth.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans,

Over the past few years the observance of our independence anniversary has been, understandably so, somewhat low-keyed. There was perhaps a feeling of disenchantment due primarily to the rebel war. Today, however the spirit of this nation is the highest we have witnessed for a very long time. For instance, the newly acquired capability of our military, the forward movement and deployment of United Nations peacekeepers in some areas of rebel concentration, as well as on-going efforts for the resettlement of Sierra Leonean refugees and internally-displaced persons, have given us a feeling of optimism.

Judging from the elaborate festivities being planned or now underway, such as parades, traditional dances, symposiums, receptions and parties, we can conclude that despite the many unresolved problems that still confront us in the peace process, we are more confident about the state of this nation than we were a year ago.

There is hope, brothers and sisters. There is no need to despair. We have gone a long way towards regaining our former glory, and to justify our existence as an independent nation. So, let us congratulate ourselves. Let us celebrate in whatever way we can, or choose to observe this landmark anniversary.

Obviously, an anniversary is an occasion for celebration. It is also a time for reflection, a time to look back and take stock of past successes and failures. On this our fortieth anniversary we may wish, for instance, to recall the glory that was Sierra Leone before and even soon after independence. We can still remember the days when, among other things, we enjoyed a thriving economy, when we were self-sufficient in rice production, and when there was relative peace and political stability. And of course, we can always recall the days when the standard of education in Sierra Leone was the envy of all, to the extent that our country was often referred to as the Athens of West Africa. Those are all part of our history, and part of our heritage.

At the same time, we can also look back with deep sorrow at the fact that we virtually wasted a quarter of our life as an independent nation in a senseless and brutal armed conflict, a conflict that has caused irreparable damage to the future of a large proportion of our youth population. Honestly, I think that whatever the causes of the conflict we should as a nation be ashamed of what some of us, in collusion with foreign arms and diamond merchants, and others in the neighbourhood, have done to our own people and our country during the past ten years. Unfortunately, this sad event has also become part of our history.

However, my fellow Sierra Leoneans, today, I would like us to look ahead. I would like us from this day on to open a brand new chapter in our history. Let us pledge to create a new Sierra Leone, a nation based on what I urge should be the three cardinal principles that should guide us through the next decade towards our jubilee anniversary in the year 2011. The first of these is self-reliance.

Political independence, by definition, implies a certain degree of national self-reliance. In other words, as a nation we are expected to, and must try to reduce our dependence on other nations, reduce our dependence on foreign donor institutions. The idea is to try as far as possible to rely more on our own human and natural resources. But alas, the sad events of the past ten years, and the circumstances immediately leading to those events, have made us too dependent on outsiders for our very survival. Fellow compatriots, let us resolve that from now on we shall conduct our national affairs in such a way as to reduce this level of dependence on others.

Unfortunately, our children are the most affected victims of the brutal ten-year rebel war. Therefore, the development of children and the protection of their right to growth in an environment of peace, is at the centre of our commitment to creating a self-reliant nation. This is why we have established a National Commission for War Affected Children, with full responsibility for implementing the policies of government for the benefit of our children.

My fellow compatriots, while government has to take the lead in encouraging self-reliance, each of us as individuals should, in our daily lives, try to manage our affairs in such a way as to reduce our level of dependence on government; reduce our dependence on state institutions for all our needs, and reduce our dependence on other individuals. The lesson which I urge us to learn is that as a nation, and as individuals we cannot remain permanent recipients. In other words, we must, first and foremost, and as far as possible, try to depend on ourselves by efficiently exploiting our own national human and material resources, and our individual talents and potential.

The second cardinal principle which I suggest should guide us in the coming years is inter-dependence. To borrow a popular saying, "no man, no nation is an island." We live in an inter-dependent world, a world where nations, big and small, rich and potentially rich, militarily powerful and relatively weak, find it necessary to cooperate with each other and among themselves, for the very survival of our planet Earth.

This is in essence the rationale behind international trade, international assistance, international investment, and other legitimate transactions across frontiers. This is why we are members of the United Nations, the OAU, ECOWAS, the Commonwealth and the Mano River Union, and other international and regional organizations. Indeed, this is why we establish and maintain relations with friendly countries. We should continue to see them not as permanent donors or benefactors, but as partners in development, partners working together to create the conditions for our mutual benefit.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans,

I firmly believe that this same concept of inter-dependence among states should be applied and developed within our own country. We have to cooperate with each other and create the conditions which will enable our compatriots to be self-sufficient, to stand on their own, to reduce their dependence on charity and hand-outs. It is for this reason that every citizen is urged to participate in the governance of the state in whatever way he or she can. It is also in this way that each of us can assist in enhancing the performance of the Government for the good of the nation. Each citizen should be willing to assist the Government in formulating and implementing its national programmes, by making positive suggestions, and even constructive criticism, with this objective in mind.

This is what national inter-dependence is all about. Of course, I know this is difficult. I can hear someone say "yes, but that's easier said than done." But I also know that we Sierra Leoneans are capable of creating the conditions for helping one another become self-reliant. The idea is cooperation, collaboration and partnership, the weak and the strong among us working together for the common good.

Of course, one way it can demonstrate a practical application of the principle of inter-dependence between Government and citizens, is for Government to create, within its means, opportunities for economic and social advancement of the citizens of this country.

It is for this reason that the level of Government's input into social services, such as health and education, is increasing every year. It is for the same reason that my Government is vigorously pursuing the establishment of a national social security scheme. When it becomes operational it will be a source of sustenance for most Sierra Leoneans. It would assure them of an independent means of livelihood even in their old age. The scheme would reduce and eventually remove the total dependence of most Sierra Leoneans on hand-outs from Government or family members. I am glad to inform the nation that the modalities for implementing this scheme are now far advanced.

The introduction of our micro-credit scheme is to create opportunities for the social and economic development of our people. At the same time it is intended to reduce the level of dependence on others and help reduce poverty through a revolving fund. It is my hope that those individuals who think that the programme is for them and them alone, would soon realize that they are undermining the very foundations of self-reliance and economic stability in our country.

And this brings me to the third cardinal principle which I would like us to uphold as we begin the next decade of our independence. That is, political tolerance.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans,

In the next several months, we shall be going to the polls in democratic parliamentary and presidential elections. Just as Sierra Leone decided some forty years ago to exercise its right to independence, so will each of us citizens have another opportunity to exercise our right to determine who should lead us as a nation in the succeeding five years.

All I can say at the moment is that the right to vote is a human right. That means that the enjoyment or exercise of that right should not be hindered or obstructed by anyone. But the exercise of that right is also a responsibility, one that should be taken seriously, and for the sole purpose of choosing preferred representatives in state elections. The process of choosing leaders and representatives in any election is not a war. It is not an excuse for armed intervention nor for fomenting civil disturbance and violence. We have had enough violence and bloodshed in this country. Election is and should be a process of peaceful competition. In exercising that right the ultimate objective should be the long-term interest of the nation, and not as a bridge to the acquisition of personal wealth.

It is not too early for me to make a solemn appeal to all of us, to ensure that we have a peaceful, fair and transparent election. As a distinguished Sierra Leone once said, "I hope that someday, some time in the not too distant future, no African state would have to depend on foreigners to observe and determine the transparency and fairness of the process by which Africa chooses its leaders." The same hope should apply to Sierra Leone. I firmly believe that in the general elections of 1996, we set a good example for the rest of the Continent on the holding of democratic elections, an example on which we must build.

My fellow Sierra Leoneans, one of the best ways we can set such an example and achieve a peaceful and fair election is by developing a culture of political tolerance. Neither the electorate, nor the candidates should see each other as enemies, or even as opponents, but rather as competitors in a race; competitors with one common goal, stability, security and sustainable economic development for our beloved country, Sierra Leone.

Many Sierra Leoneans, including myself, always boast about the high degree of religious tolerance that we enjoy in our country. Religious tolerance has become a national resource, an instrument for promoting peace, harmony and reconciliation.

On this our fortieth independence anniversary, I would like us to start reflecting our religious tolerance in all our political activities. This means that we must always be prepared to respect, within reason, the political beliefs of our competitors. Political tolerance, which incidentally is reflected in my own policy of "government of inclusion" also implies the ability to exercise restraint in our interaction with those with whom we compete for political offices through the democratic process.

I therefore call on all Sierra Leoneans who might hold divergent views on substantive issues, to come together, reconcile and work together for the development of the nation. In particular I call on members of the RUF to lay down their arms, and to join us in building a prosperous Sierra Leone.

I wish again to express on this occasion my own personal appreciation and the appreciation of all Sierra Leoneans to ECOWAS, the Government of the United Kingdom and UNAMSIL, for all that they have done to ensure that we are in a position to celebrate this national day.

May the spirit of Independence Day April 27, 1961, and the feeling of hope surrounding this 40th anniversary, April 27, 2001, inspire us all to forge ahead in building a new Sierra Leone, a nation whose credo is based on the principles of self-reliance, tolerance and the interdependence of states and peoples.

In the words of our National Anthem: "May blessing and peace be ever thine own, Land that we love, our Sierra Leone."