The Sierra Leone Web


Statement by the President of Sierra Leone
H.E. Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
to the Commission of Foreign Affairs
of the Italian Parliament

Rome, 12 June 2002


Mr. Chairman:

Please forgive me for starting my brief remarks with an apology.

I am sorry that I don't speak Italian. I apologise because Italian would have been the most appropriate language for me to express the depth of my gratitude for this opportunity to meet with members of this important parliamentary body. However, let me try and express it all in one word: Grazie.

I am sure that all members of this Commission know a lot about Sierra Leone and the unfortunate events of the last eleven years. You have seen images of the country on television, in the pages of newspapers and magazines, images terror, armed conflict and some of its inhuman consequences. Today, I would like to briefly share with you not just the other images, positive images of Sierra Leone, but the emerging reality of Sierra Leone. That reality is one of a people that have demonstrated to the world an extraordinary propensity for building and maintaining self-confidence at all times.

We have certainly been through very difficult times. I cannot recount the agony that the rebel war brought on our people for over a decade. It is difficult to even assess the physical destruction of a conflict that was virtually imposed on our people. But, the good news is that we have triumphed. We are determined to forge ahead towards sustainable peace and development. The reality is that Sierra Leone has abundant natural and human resources. Sierra Leoneans also have the will and the capacity to use those resources for the benefit of the people. Let me add that we also encourage and welcome those who wish to collaborate as partners in development.

As members of the Italian Parliament and symbols of a vibrant multi-party democracy, you will be interested in another reality of Sierra Leone. The people of Sierra Leone have always had faith in the principles and practices of democratic governance. Against all odds they have once again succeeded in resisting attempts to deprive them of their right to live in peace and to pursue their individual objectives. Their determination and self-confidence were recently manifested in what turned out to be one of the most peaceful, fair, and transparent elections ever held in Africa in the past several years. The elections and the end of the rebel war have opened a new chapter in our history. We would like the rest of the world to acknowledge this reality; the reality that the people of Sierra Leone are in the process of using the same determination and confidence that they had employed in ending armed conflict to continue the process of political and economic transformation.

Mr. President and members of the Foreign Affairs Commission, the principles of democracy and good governance are ideals that we all cherish. But people cannot live on principles alone. We have to translate principles into substantive action, in the form of programmes and projects that will improve the lives and livelihood of our people. They must see and enjoy the practical benefits of democracy. This is why, after achieving the principal objective of my first term as President, namely peace, I have made agriculture and food security the top priority items on the agenda of my second term.

It is significant that my first foreign visit outside Africa since my re-election is to Italy, the host country of the foremost international institutions specializing in agricultural development and food security. I have no doubt that your Commission and the Italian Parliament as a whole have a keen interest in the work of those institutions. I can assure you that your continued support of their activities will indirectly enhance our effort to achieve a significant reduction in poverty and to ensure that no Sierra Leonean should ever go to bed hungry.

As I said earlier, the people of Sierra Leone have a high level of self-confidence and determination. They are aware that the primary responsibility for their economic and social development lies in their own hands. However, we live in an inter-dependent world, a world where international cooperation among nations, big and small, developed and developing, must be strengthened for the survival of the human family.

Mr. President, members of the Foreign Affairs Commission, recent events in several parts of the world have underscored the relevance of international cooperation and the imperative of multilateralism over unilateralism, especially in the areas of personal and state security, trade, the transfer of financial resources and technology, as well as information exchange.

Your Commission is one of the most influential instruments of foreign policy in this great democracy. Your activities, to a large extent, determine the course of this country's approach to international affairs and cooperation. As part of the European Union your Commission may obviously be focusing much of its attention on cooperation within the Union. However, we hope that in the course of such preoccupation you will not forget Africa, and you will not forget Sierra Leone.

For more than four decades our two countries have had cordial and mutually beneficial relations at the highest diplomatic level. However, in the late 1980s serious financial constraints compelled Sierra Leone to reduce or close many of its foreign diplomatic missions, including its Embassy here in Rome. For its part, Italy maintained its mission in Freetown until the early part of the rebel war.

However, diplomatic relations between Sierra Leone and Italy have continued with fully accredited non-resident Heads of Mission in Bonn and Abidjan respectively.

As we in Sierra Leone embark on the process of national transformation, from conflict to peace, reconstruction and sustainable development, I believe that this is an opportune time for us to initiate discussions on how we can revitalize and strengthen diplomatic and other relations between our two friendly countries. This Commission could play an important role in this regard. In the course of my stay in Rome, I hope to raise the issue with other branches of the State of Italy.

Once again, let me express my appreciation, in English of course, for this opportunity of sharing some of my thoughts about my country and its determination not only to remain a peaceful democracy, but also to eradicate poverty through, among things, adequate food security.