The Sierra Leone Web


"Empowering the Youth for National Development"

27 APRIL 2003


Fellow Citizens:

I bring you warm greetings from your Government, on this anniversary of our Independence. It is always a joyous occasion as we recall the thrill we felt as a new nation taking its destiny in its own hands 42 years ago. We have since been through good and bad times, but we should all feel proud that we have survived and are now firmly on the path to achieving some of our dreams - dreams that in recent times some of us may have felt would never be achieved.

In the past three years, my Independence Anniversary messages centred on principles and ideas of nation building. I highlighted the cardinal principles of unity, freedom and justice; self-reliance, interdependence and political tolerance, as the guiding principles we need to journey through the next decade, towards our jubilee Independence anniversary in the year 2011.

Today, the focus of my message is on that special core of our citizens that we collectively described as youths, defined as people between the ages of 15 and 35 years. The roles, responsibilities, and the future of this most vital segment of our population constitutes the main theme of my address, which I have entitled "Empowering the youths for National Development."

But first, I would like to review some of the major developments in our beloved Sierra Leone, since my last Independence Anniversary address.

Fellow citizens, have you, like me tried to recall how many times you heard the sound of gunfire during the last 12 months? Have you compared that to the situation, one or two years ago? Yes, indeed my compatriots "peace done cam en e don sidom good"! Our armed forces and police, as well as our civil society groups deserve our praise for their work during the last 12 months. We commend the UK led International Military Advisory Training Team (IMATT) which has significantly raised the professional competence of our Armed Forces; the continued dedication and hard work of our Police Inspector General Mr Keith Biddle, OBE to whom we shall be saying farewell soon, and his team of advisers for considerably enhancing the effectiveness of our Police Force and moving it along the long path of transformation into a "force for good"; the continued robust deployment and humanitarian assistance rendered by the UN Peace Keeping force UNAMSIL, building on the foundations laid by our own West African force ECOMOG; as well as the numerous peace building activities of our civil society organizations, which are helping us overcome the trauma of the recent conflict.

In spite of problems, the Anti-Corruption Commission made progress during the year. We should all continue to maintain zero tolerance for corruption. With the arrival soon of the two Judges and Prosecutor to be provided to this nation by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Kingdom with specific responsibilities to deal with corruption cases, the work of the Commission will gain added momentum. We should all look forward to the day, hopefully soon, when an Anti-Corruption Commission will have little to do in Sierra Leone.

As demanded by the ordinary people of Sierra Leone - the so-called "small people" who have for years been abused and down-trodden by people they have put in authority, two independent and impartial institutions -The Special Court, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been set up and have commenced their work in earnest. We have thus taken important steps as a Nation to address impunity and reconciliation.

In the area of political achievements we recall the successful conduct of our world acclaimed free-and-fair general elections, as well as over 60 Paramount Chieftaincy elections. These took place without the rancour characteristically associated with such elections, and without government interference and without violence. When we see what is happening in some of our sister countries, we should take pride in our achievements, and be spurred on to do more of the same - for example in the impending District Council elections. It is only when we have completely institutionalised the principle of free-and-fair elections as a mechanism for change at all levels of Government that we can claim to have established the foundations of democracy, and we can focus all our attention, and the resources of the State, in pursuing the economic benefits of democracy - the well being of all our citizens.

Also on the economic front we made significant progress. Our poverty alleviation drive, and our programmes for achieving food security in fulfilment of my pledge that no Sierra Leonean should go to bed hungry by the end of my term in office in 2007, gathered momentum. We managed to contain inflationary pressures and prevented any significant depreciation in our currency the Leone. This was a reflection of the economic discipline of your government.

It has been necessary to control expenditure within our means. We had to do this so that income levels can be fairly spread right across the board. This will enable all our citizens to continue to benefit from our emerging economic recovery while at the same time making provision for the rehabilitation of our battered infrastructure without which we cannot kick-start our economy effectively.

We have justification to expect better days before long, having regard to the encouraging strides we have made so far in our economic performance and in building a solid foundation for rapid economic growth. It is my earnest conviction that unless the wealth of this country and the opportunities for personal development it offers are somehow made to reach every citizen, the consequences will not be much dissimilar from what we have experienced within the past 11 years. It is my belief also that it is not beyond the ability and ingenuity of your present government to prevent this happening by its continuation with its prevailing prudent economic policies. The management of our economy has therefore been dictated by these policies so that there would be fairness in the distribution of the resources of this nation and so that there would not emerge again a group of disenchanted and disaffected citizens who may regard themselves as not being appropriately catered for.

It is for this reason that we are committed to our current policies of rigorous financial discipline in the face of understandably numerous requests for funds to address the demands of our citizens for salary increases, education, health, and food security.

It is, however, important to note that our aim is to raise the general welfare of our society. Therefore, even as incomes may not have risen as much as we may desire, rising Government expenditure on education, health and other social sectors, as well as containment of inflation, have considerably raised the value of the earnings of every Sierra Leonean, and as a result improved the general well-being of all of us.

We are very grateful to our foreign partners for their continued generous support. We have taken steps to enhance our own contributions towards the funding of our national budget by establishing the National Revenue Authority which we expect to considerably improve the mobilization of internal resources. We are also working on policies to encourage local and direct foreign investments so as to generate wealth. In this way we can reduce our dependence on foreign aid.

Fellow citizens, coming now to my main theme, may I remind you that for far too long, especially since independence, the youth of this country have been marginalized, and used for fomenting civil disturbance. As we painfully experienced during the rebel war, many young people were misled to exploit legitimate grievances in our society by resorting to armed conflict. Youths were manipulated and coerced into abandoning their families, and to waste their lives in the service of those whose sole objective for taking up arms was to plunder the mineral and other resources of our country for their own personal benefit.

However, we also recall that the vast majority of young men and women refused to be manipulated, and never took up arms to destroy their country. Under the umbrella of a Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, student groups and similar organisations, many of them formed ad-hoc neighbourhood security units to defend their communities against merciless rebel attacks.

My Government recognises the important contributions that our youth must make to their country, if we are to fulfil our development aspirations. To ensure that we tap this great potential I set up a full Ministry of Youth and Sports last year, and we have since developed a comprehensive National Youth Policy. The National Youth Policy is anchored on the twin notion of youth empowerment and the creation of a responsible citizenry. Empowerment in our post-conflict context involves articulating and mainstreaming youth related activities in the overall process of national reconstruction. Our ultimate goal is to again instil the time-honoured notion of dignity in labour and national consciousness and patriotism in our young citizens, so as to lay the foundation for the emergence of a responsible citizenry in the service of a one-and-indivisible Sierra Leone. We aim to create a level playing field for youths in Sierra Leone to achieve self-realisation and make their contribution as responsible citizens to the development of their country.

We recognise the rights of young women and men, principal among which are:

  • The right to education.
  • The right to participate in all decision-making processes relating to the welfare of the youth.
  • Protection from the scourge of harmful drugs, use of firearms and all forms of exploitation
  • The right, especially of the girl-child, to take part in decisions about their marriage, as well as
  • The right to gainful employment.

With these rights come responsibilities, principal among which are the following:

  • Youths must strive to meaningfully contribute to the social, cultural, economic and political development of the nation
  • Youths must respect and maintain the laws of Sierra Leone.
  • Youths must refrain from all forms of violence, and drug abuse.
  • Youths must practise safe and responsible sex habits, and in these days must actively participate in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • Youths must respect and protect public property, and
  • Youths must respect our culture and traditions.

As parents and adults, we also have responsibilities. Apart from being agents of socialization we must serve as key role models for the youths. In recent history, we have upheld too few role models for our youths in Sierra Leone. It is our responsibility as parents and adults to provide our youths with examples of what we expect them to become - good citizens.

It is also our responsibility to ensure that the youths exercise all their rights in full including, in particular, the right to participate in decision-making processes relating to their welfare. In this regard, I am pleased to note that the Sierra Leone Vision 2025 Study, initiated by my government, which contains strategies for national transformation has been completed. Since this document provides a road map for the transformation of our society over the next 25 years or so, it is the young people, the youths, who have the greatest stake in it and must therefore be allowed a correspondingly high level of participating in its validation. Therefore, in addition to the wide consultations carried out with all groups of society, including the youths, during the study process, I am going to issue specific instructions for further consultations with the youths on the document under the supervision of the Ministry of Youth and Sports in collaboration with the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning before a final version of the Sierra Leone Vision 2025 is adopted.

Even the private sector has important responsibilities in this area. Private sector initiatives should take the form of financial contributions to youth organisations, employment creation, and skills training. If effectively developed these initiatives would attract possible tax relief from government.

Fellow Citizens, throughout the country, our youths have become very proactive. At all levels of society, young people are now organizing themselves to articulate solutions to the many social problems that confront us, and make practical contribution to community and national development; for example, in eradicating the health and environmental hazards posed by the excessive and unsightly accumulation of garbage in sections of our urban areas. Many of you saw the massive turn out of our youth in cleaning the City of Freetown last Saturday.

The scope for similar projects to complement the efforts of the Central and local governments is virtually unlimited. In fact, we only have to look around our immediate environment to realize that a large proportion of our youth population is still under-utilized. There are many young men and women roaming the streets of our larger towns. They are idle but able, and ready to work or to be trained to make themselves more useful citizens of their beloved country.

Fellow citizens, in whatever way you choose to celebrate this forty-second anniversary of our independence, I would like you to reflect deeply and recognize the contributions of youths to our national recovery efforts. I sense a new dynamism among the youths, irrespective of their age or level of education. There are many examples of their capacity, their zeal and determination to translate into reality many of those cardinal principles and concepts that we espouse, if given the opportunity to do so.

Let us applaud their initiatives and encourage them. They need the support and cooperation not only of Government and local authorities, but also of private companies and individuals. As I have already indicated, the creation of a Ministry of Youth and Sports underscores the importance my Government attaches to youth issues and the crucial role that young people ought to play in national development. I call on you all to make special effort this year to create avenues for gainful employment of our youth in agriculture, mining, industry, and other sectors of our economy. We should give full endorsement and encouragement to all governmental, private sector, non-governmental, community and chiefdom initiatives that are geared towards providing skills training, civic education, recreation and general social services for all-round development of our youths.

I also call on our youth to continue to play their patriotic role in confronting and combating the social ills that afflict our country, such as national indiscipline, corruption and environmental conditions that may not give a good image to our country, as well as spearheading development at all levels.

Fellow citizens, let me close by reiterating my firm belief that we "cannot ignore the cry of our young people, because they are our best investment, our hope for the future, our promise for the continuity of the Nation." I thank you for listening, and wish you all a pleasant and memorable forty-second Independence Anniversary.