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“Sierra Leone: Towards a Model of Democracy in Africa”

Address to the Nation
By His Excellency the President
Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
On the 41st independence anniversary
27 April 2002


Fellow Citizens:

I have already received a large number of messages from leaders all over the world, congratulating us on this the forty-first anniversary of our country’s independence. Many of them acknowledge the important strides we have taken towards peace. The leaders express the hope that we the people of Sierra Leone will continue to enjoy the benefits of peace and prosperity in years to come. We appreciate such sentiments of goodwill. In the current political and security atmosphere these messages are appropriate. They should inspire us to continue our efforts to achieve sustainable peace.

This time last year I suggested that we had every reason to celebrate the anniversary, and we did because the peace that had eluded us for so long was already emerging in the horizon. Today, we deserve to celebrate our independence anniversary with greater splendour and in a spirit of hope for the future. Disarmament and demobilization of ex-combatants have been accomplished. The conditions that necessitated the maintenance of a state of national emergency no longer exist, and the emergency has been lifted. We certainly feel safer today than we were a year ago. We are far more confident to go about and live our normal lives. We are also more optimistic about the future of our children and for the nation as a whole.

These are some of the reasons why this independence anniversary is special. It is the first in peace time. So, let us congratulate ourselves on this momentous occasion.

Fellow citizens, this anniversary is also special because in about two weeks’ time we shall be making one of the most important and far-reaching decisions in the current history of Sierra Leone; namely the holding of General and Presidential elections. We shall be putting our democracy to another test. We shall be making another bold attempt to resume our status as a model of peace, stability and democracy in Africa.

Fellow citizens, democracy is challenging. Democracy is demanding. Democracy is also an expensive form of governance. It is not cheap. For instance, it costs money, considerable amounts of money to hold elections, to set up and operate polling stations; to print and secure ballot papers; to transport ballot boxes; to provide electricity or generators if necessary, at polling stations; to provide support services for electoral staff, and other logistics for the smooth running of this important aspect of democracy. Thanks to the support of friendly governments, organizations including the United Nations through UNAMSIL, and some non-governmental organizations, we have managed to raise the money and other resources to organize the elections next month.

Yes, elections are expensive, but fellow citizens we should see the elections not as an end, but as a necessary means of achieving our national goals and objectives. Elections are an investment in peace and peace-building. Elections are an investment in the political stability of our country. As nations throughout the world have come to realize, political stability creates conditions for economic stability and prosperity. In short, elections are an investment in the promotion and maintenance of peace. So, let’s invest in peace. Let’s invest in the future of Sierra Leone. Let’s go out on Election Day and vote.

The fact is that whether we can afford it or not, our Constitution requires us to hold general and Presidential elections every five years. The only exception for a delay is a state of public emergency. In other words, whether we can afford it or not we are bound by the supreme law of the land to conduct the elections. This is another reason why we should take the coming elections seriously. This is why on polling day we should go out and vote. In doing so, each of us will be exercising a sacred constitutional right as citizens of a democratic Sierra Leone. In the words of the Constitution:

“Every citizen… shall participate in and defend all democratic processes and practices…”

If you have a right to vote, you also have a responsibility to exercise that right.

So, on May the 14th let us participate and defend our democracy. Let’s go out and exercise our right and responsibility. Let’s go out and vote.

The conduct of the General and Presidential Elections is the responsibility of the State of Sierra Leone. To put it simply, the process is our internal affair. However, fellow citizens, the world has changed. Elections, especially in developing countries such as ours, are no longer the internal affairs of the states concerned. We can no longer ignore the fact that the whole world is watching us, and watching us closely. Logistical constraints notwithstanding, they expect us, as far as possible, to have elections periodically. They expect us to have elections that are free, fair and credible. The merit of this is that if we do things right, there would be a transparent and independent assessment of our democracy which will give Sierra Leone a positive image in the eyes of the world.

Let me add however, that we are not holding these elections because the outside world is watching us. We are certainly not going to the polls because other people want us to have free and fair elections. On the contrary, we ourselves need a free, fair, credible and violence-free electoral process. It is in our own national interest to ensure that people vote without fear or threat that they will be harmed in the process. I have said it on several occasions, and I am going to repeat it once again. As the day approaches, we should remind ourselves that elections are not wars. They are friendly civil contests of choosing men and women who the electorate is convinced are capable of serving the people faithfully.

Regrettably, there are those who propagate the belief that Africans are still incapable of holding transparent elections, free from violence, during and after the electoral process. This perception is not unrelated to the serious political disturbances that have been taking place in some parts of our Continent.

Fellow citizens, on Election Day, May the 14th. 2002, we Sierra Leoneans must erase that perception. We must demonstrate to the rest of Africa and the world at large that we are a democracy, and that we are capable of holding peaceful, free, fair and credible elections.

Of course we know that there were some misguided individuals who believed, and forced others, including innocent young people, to believe, that the only way to bring about change in the political leadership of this country was by armed force. In other words, as they saw it, armed force for the overthrow of legitimate and democratically elected governments should be the norm of political behaviour.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, you have already dispelled that myth once and for all. How did you do it?  You did so by rejecting the forceful imposition of undemocratic elements on the will of you the people. Only a few years ago you made a great sacrifice to restore democracy, constitutional order and the rule of law. More importantly, you struggled for your  survival and for the survival of the State of Sierra Leone.

So, on May the 14th. 2002, Election Day, we have to reinforce that determination to survive in a democratic environment through the ballot box. We have to send a message to our detractors that Sierra Leone is a democracy, and will remain a democracy. Let’s go out and vote.  

However, it is not enough to go to the polling station and vote for the candidates of your choice. We must also ensure that we accept the results of the elections. I repeat: We must ensure that we accept the outcome of the elections. If for any reason someone is dissatisfied with a result I urge him or her to go to court. Seek redress for any grievance through the courts, and not through the instruments of physical violence. After some ten years of a bloody conflict, we cannot afford to become victims of any form of violence.

Fellow citizens, I must say that I was impressed by the manner in which differences between factions in some of the political parties were settled peacefully within the party machinery, or through the legal system of our country.

We should also be proud of the manner in which the registration process was conducted. In spite of logistical and administrative problems, problems that are not unusual even in some technologically affluent and older democracies, the recent registration process in Sierra Leone was completed fairly successfully.

I am also pleased with the nomination process regarding the Presidential and Parliamentary elections. By all accounts, this seemed to have passed off peacefully, compared to the past when such occasions have been regarded as an opportunity to eliminate opponents, sometimes physically so as to declare a violent candidate as “unopposed.” Thank God such practices now seem to be a thing of the past.

Once again, I call on each and every one of you to ensure that these elections remain peaceful and violence free.

We must continue this method for the settlement of all grievances and disputes. Those who are not chosen or elected must have the courage and a sense of magnanimity to accept the outcome and congratulate their opponents. That's the spirit of democracy and friendly contests.

Fellow citizens, this is the seventh general elections in our country since independence. That is an average of one election every six years. The first was held in 1962. Since then, and in spite of the series of military coups, counter coups, and other illegal disruptions of the democratic system, Sierra Leone has been on the whole a model of democracy in Africa. We now have a golden opportunity on May the 14th 2002, to demonstrate that we have the ability, and the will to regain our glory as a peaceful and truly democratic nation, a beacon of enlightenment in Africa.

I have no doubt whatsoever that we shall succeed. These elections will represent one long step towards that goal. I would therefore appeal to everyone to help make this the most peaceful and credible elections in the history of ‘The land that we love our Sierra Leone.’ There is no better way to mark our independence anniversary.

I wish you all a pleasant independence anniversary celebration.