The Sierra Leone Web



Abuja, 27 May 2000


Mr. Chairman,
Heads of State colleagues,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me start by associating myself with the sentiments expressed by my colleagues, in extending our sincere thanks to the Government and people of Nigeria for the generous and warm hospitality extended to us in this great city. We are delighted to be here for this Silver Jubilee celebrations of ECOWAS.

Mr. Chairman, at twenty-five, ECOWAS has come of age. It has grown and matured to one of the most effective regional organisations in the Continent. In an era of the emergence of numerous regional and sub-regional groupings, some of which have competitive or overlapping functions, the efficacy of ECOWAS has been unquestionable. For this, we should all with pride.

We all know that the primary objective of our organisation is economic cooperation and integration. We also know, and are proud to say that we have made rapid strides in pursuit of this objective, in such areas as the free movement of persons, goods and services, and the harmonisation of monetary and related sectors of our economies. The fact is that all of these successes tend to be overshadowed by the activities of one mechanism of ECOWAS, namely our peace monitoring group, ECOMOG. This should be expected, and the reason is simple. Economic cooperation cannot be sustained without political stability. The benefits of economic integration cannot be fully realized unless there is political stability and adequate state security within each and every member state of ECOWAS.

I believe that the greatest challenge facing our organisation today is its ability to prevent, manage and resolve current and future conflicts, especially armed conflicts. If we fail in this respect, we would be eroding the future of this community of states. This is why I believe the role of ECOMOG is crucial to the very existence of its parent body, ECOWAS.

Mr. Chairman, everyone would understand why I have decided to devote the greater part of my remarks on this auspicious occasion to one aspect of our organisation's work, namely ECOMOG.

Over the past ten years, ECOMOG has been instrumental in the management of conflicts in the sub-region. It has proven beyond all doubt that it is the most effective regional peacekeeping machinery in post-colonial Africa. For its exemplary performance in Sierra Leone ECOMOG has earned the distinction of the best role model in the maintenance of peace and security in the African Continent.

The objective of ECOMOG's operations in Sierra Leone was not to wage war, nor was it merely to defend the principle of democracy and to restore constitutional order. Together with our Civil Defence Force (CDF) and the loyal members of our army, ECOMOG's principal objective in my country was to help protect innocent and defenceless Sierra Leoneans against further death, mutilation and other inhuman atrocities committed by those who had chosen to wage a merciless war against our people. In short, it was there to protect the right of all Sierra Leoneans to live in peace and security. At the same time ECOMOG's role in Sierra Leone should be seen in the context of the commitment of the Heads of State of ECOWAS to take collective action in the maintenance of stability and security in the sub-region as a whole. After all, as the saying goes, we are each our brother's keeper.

It was understandable why many people felt that the departure of ECOMOG from Sierra Leone could create a security vacuum in the country. That perception was in itself complimentary. It testified to the vital role which Nigerian, Ghanaian, Guinean and Malian contingents serving under ECOMOG, had played in the maintenance of security in Sierra Leone. On behalf of our people, I should like to take this opportunity to express our profound appreciation to ECOWAS, and to the troop contributing countries for the great sacrifice they have made in Sierra Leone. Of course, we cannot forget the leadership role which this great nation of Nigeria has played in ensuring that ECOMOG fulfill its mission. Let me also on behalf of the Government and people of Sierra Leone extend our sympathy to the families of the gallant soldiers of ECOMOG who, in the course of their duty, made the supreme sacrifice of giving up their lives so that others may live in peace. May their souls rest in perfect peace. I would like to assure all ECOMOG veterans who have served in my country, that we owe them a huge debt.

Mr. Chairman, it is relevant to point out that ECOMOG did not only win the confidence of the people of Sierra Leone, it also earned the respect of the United Nations. When, in October 1997 for instance, the UN Security Council imposed an arms and oil embargo against the military/rebel junta, it gave our sub-regional Organization ECOWAS, full authority to ensure implementation of the embargo. In subsequent resolutions the Security Council commended ECOWAS and ECOMOG for the important role they played in the return of the democratically elected government, in order "to reestablish effective administration and the democratic process" in my country. In calling on all Member States to provide ECOMOG with the necessary financial and logistical support, the Security Council had also commended ECOWAS and ECOMOG for their "positive role in their efforts to restore peace, security and stability throughout the country."

Of course, we believe that a more positive and timely response from Member States of the United Nations to the Security Council's calls for the provision of logistical support to ECOMOG, would have saved the lives and limbs of thousands of Sierra Leoneans, including innocent children.

Mr. Chairman, I should like to convey to this anniversary summit, the following message from the people of Sierra Leone:

"We congratulate ECOWAS on this its twenty-five anniversary. We commend the Organization for its achievements in the economic, political and security fields. We were sorry to see ECOMOG leave. Now, we would like to see ECOMOG return to Sierra Leone as soon as possible."

This is not just a wish, but the sincere expectation of our people. ECOMOG still has a job to do in Sierra Leone. What we need in is a collective effort -- national, regional and international -- to restore peace and security in the Sierra Leone. Over the past two weeks, we have seen what a special coalition of forces can do in this regard.

Today, I wish to appeal for the establishment of a new "Partnership for Peace and Security Peace" in Sierra Leone. We already have a solid foundation for such a partnership. It is already in operation, and comprises UNAMSIL, the restructured Sierra Leone Army, our Civil Defence Forces and other national loyal forces, as well as military and security personnel from the United Kingdom. This "Partnership for Peace and Security" should be strengthened. In this connection, I would like to thank the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan for his recommendation for a further increase in the troop strength of UNAMSIL. I would also like to express our appreciation to the UNAMSIL troop contributing countries, and to the Government of the United Kingdom, for their respective operations in Sierra Leone.

Of course, we cannot forget the ordeal that hundreds of UNAMSIL peacekeepers have experienced over the past two weeks during their illegal detention by rebel forces. In extending our sympathy to the governments and families of those who, regrettably lost their lives, I would like to assure the surviving victims of the abduction that their suffering was not in vain. Theirs was not only a service to their own countries or to UNAMSIL, but to humanity as a whole.

Let me at this stage acknowledge the positive role which President Charles Taylor of Liberia, consistent with the mandate entrusted to him by the ECOWAS Heads of State, played in the release of the abducted peacekeepers.

Mr. Chairman, while we celebrate our achievements of the past twenty-five years, indeed we have every reason for doing so, we should also be aware of our immediate task; the task of managing and resolving present or ongoing conflicts in our sub-region. This is why we strongly believe that ECOMOG still has a role to play in Sierra Leone.

We also believe that ECOMOG, with its considerable ground experience in Sierra Leone, should join this new "Partnership for Peace and Security" which is now in operation, through the early deployment of an appreciable number of contingents from Member States of the sub-region. In doing so, ECOWAS would, in effect, be implementing important provisions of the Lomé Peace Agreement, namely Articles 13 and 14. It would also be consolidating what it has achieved over the past twenty-five years.

In my view, the specific mandates of the contributing forces in the new "Partnership" I am now proposing, may be different. But, let me emphasizes that their mission is and should be the same, that is, to cooperate in ending one of the most brutal conflicts in modern history, and to restore peace and security in my country.

The people of Sierra Leone have suffered for far too long. We must not allow this opportunity for lasting peace and security to slip by.

Mr. Chairman, your Excellencies, distinguished delegates, I thank you for your attention.