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Prospects for Lasting Peace and Development in Sierra Leone
Delivered by
His Excellency Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
President of The Republic of Sierra Leone
to the
Royal Commonwealth Society
The Commonwealth Club
July, 24th 2003



It is with profound pleasure, honour and a great sense of pride that I stand before this assembly today to address you in my capacity as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, a country that has enjoyed the privilege of being a member of the Commonwealth family of nations since she gained independence in 1961. Like many other countries which share the same values of democracy, human rights and the supremacy of the rule of law, Sierra Leone has benefited immensely from programmes of exchange and various forms of economic, social, political and cultural assistance within the framework of Commonwealth international cooperation. However, it is during difficult times that good friends, by their concern, interest and support, reveal their true identity.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the decade of the 1990s has been the worst of times for the people of Sierra Leone. I can attest to the fact that during that period, Commonwealth countries, both multi-laterally and bi-laterally, were always there when needed. The invitation to me to address this gathering is indicative of the continued interest shown by the Commonwealth family over developments in Sierra Leone and I welcome it.

In this talk, I will address the major challenges facing us as we strive hard to achieve lasting peace and development in Sierra Leone, from the perspectives of national security, good governance, economic management, poverty reduction and other social concerns, including the empowerment of the youth and women.


On Friday the 18th of January 2002, all Sierra Leoneans and their friends breathed a sigh of joyous relief. For that memorable day marked the formal end of nearly eleven years of rebel war. The war started as a skirmish in March, 1991, when a small band of rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) crossed the border from Liberia into Sierra Leone and attacked the small border town of Bomaru. No one thought that the skirmish would eventually engulf the entire country in an unprecedented carnage that was to end with the burning down of a large section of the Capital City of Freetown itself, on the 6th of January, 1999.

The rebel war completely devastated most parts of the country and unleashed a campaign of bloodshed whose savage brutality surpasses everything known in the history of our country. Although the war is now over and we all fervently pray that nothing of this kind should ever happen again, the war has left a trail of unbearable suffering and hardship in its wake. As a result of the war, tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans lost their lives and many others were maimed and left homeless. Even as we speak, there are still hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans who are internally displaced or living as refugees in neighbouring countries where they are again being threatened by violent conflicts in those very countries of refuge. The wanton destruction of property, including hospitals and health clinics, roads and schools and other infrastructure by the rampaging rebels have exposed large parts of the countryside to the threat of disease, hunger and serious material deprivation.

It was not surprising therefore, that many people were skeptical when we said that we would hold elections on the 14th of May 2002, barely four months after the end of the war. Many believed that the elections would end in disaster and wondered how we could even contemplate holding elections so soon after such a bloody war. But we held the elections to elect both a President and a Parliament and they turned out to be one of the most successful in the recent history of our country and the whole of Africa. They were also free, fair and totally devoid of violence, and the results were accepted by all parties to the contest. All opposition parties, including the RUFP, the Party of the erstwhile Revolutionary United Front (RUF), gave a commitment to upholding the decision of the National Electoral Commission.

National Security

Pragmatism demands that we assess the prospects for lasting peace and development in Sierra Leone, first and foremost, from the perspective of safety and security. Since the sad events of May 2000 when innocent citizens in a protest march were gunned down in front of the home of the leader of the Revolutionary United Front, Foday Saybana Sankoh, we have had no serious incident of violence.

Today, I can say with confidence that the feeling and assurance of physical security and safety that we are now creating, and are committed to maintaining, augur well for lasting peace and development in Sierra Leone; thanks to the invaluable assistance of our friends, particularly the United Kingdom and Nigeria, other members of the Commonwealth and the wider International Community. The intervention of ECOMOG up to 1999 and British Forces after the breakdown of the peace process in May 2000 is particularly commendable. This was followed by the establishment of a United Nations Peace Keeping Force, which continues to play a very critical role in sustaining the hard-won peace in the country.

Under the leadership of the United Kingdom, an International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT) has raised the professional competence of our Armed Forces to a significant level and the Army is now deployed nationwide, especially in areas of the greatest threat to our borders. Confidence in the Army has also increased and relations between the Army and the civil population have considerably improved. This is largely the result of the extensive restructuring of the Army and the provision of high quality training for all ranks. There has also been widespread sensitization of the Army itself and the citizenry on the role of the Army in a democracy and on civil/military relations. With support from the United Kingdom Government also, considerable improvement to the living conditions of our military personnel and their dependants is progressively being achieved.

The capacity and effectiveness of the Police Force in maintaining law and order have also been considerably enhanced through retraining and the provision of adequate logistical support. The restructuring of the Police has received tremendous support from the Commonwealth and the Government of the United Kingdom. For the first time in our history, we can now boast of a structured national intelligence network operating both within and outside of the country as a preventive measure in our national security strategy.

Another significant security measure has been the setting up of a National Security Council of which I am Chairman, which was created by the enactment of the National Security and Central Intelligence Act of 2002. The Act provides for coordinated, accountable and transparent security structures, comprising key current national and international players in the security sector, for the analysis of domestic and foreign security issues and policies for the attention of the Council.

In summary, in spite of our limited means and resources, we have been able to re-establish Government authority throughout the country and are progressively strengthening civil administration everywhere. As a result, children in all parts of the country are now going back to school, the internally displaced and refugees are gradually returning to their communities and the farmers are resuming work on their farms.

The relative tranquility throughout the country and the return of civil administration have enabled us also to hold Paramount Chieftaincy Elections which could not be held because of the rebel war. Over sixty Paramount Chiefs were elected, including those for chiefdoms where it had not been possible to hold chieftaincy elections for over ten years. Following the pattern of the General Elections, the election of Paramount Chiefs was peaceful. The Paramount Chiefs are not only traditional rulers but represent the first ring of civil administration in the provinces.

In order to safeguard our hard-won peace and stabilize our borders, we have been actively involved in preventive diplomacy and constructive engagement with our immediate neighbours - Guinea and Liberia. For example, the three States of the Union, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia held a summit conference, for the first time in a long while in Rabat, Morocco on the 27th of February 2002.

At that meeting, the three Heads of State mandated the Joint Security Committee of the Mano River Union to meet in Freetown to commence the implementation process and to submit their report to the Foreign Ministers of the three states. The Joint security committee, in conjunction with the Foreign Ministers, duly met in Freetown and agreed on a work plan and time-table for the implementation of important decisions aimed at establishing peace and the rule of law in the member countries.

However, progress on the implementation of these decisions has been stalled largely because of the lack of adequate resources and the continuing conflict in Liberia. The UN has shown considerable interest in the resuscitation of the MRU and has already commissioned several studies to that effect. We would like our other development partners to be involved in this process in like manner. This is because we believe that peace in the Mano River sub-region could have a significant effect on stability in the whole of West Africa.

We realize that Sierra Leone is not an island; our border is long and porous and the current sub-regional instability, particularly in Liberia, is already having a spill-over effect at this stage, through the build-up of large numbers of refugees and soldiers surrendering to our troops. The trade in small arms and the escalation of drug abuse in the region is disturbing. We are aware of these and other challenges confronting us and know that we cannot face them alone. We will continue to need the assistance of the International Community to achieve our objective of sustainable peace and security so that we can realize our development goals. The future stability of Sierra Leone depends to a large degree on our ability to meet the challenge of development. This has been a recurring theme of my public addresses including the one I made at the UN General Assembly last year.

Good Governance

Let me now turn to a subject that I believe is dear to all of us and that is fundamental to the promotion of peace and sustainable development - Good Governance. This concept is now understood to refer not only to the activities of governments, but specifically to the relationship between governments and civil society and the manner in which the society as a whole is governed. It relates to the management of public affairs and the exercise of state authority in a manner that is transparent, accountable, impartial and responsive to the needs of the populace.

Many of the ills that have befallen my country and its inability to tap its considerable human and material resources for the development of the State and its people can be attributed to the lack of democratic governance over the years. We realize that no matter how hard we try to improve the quality of life of our people or how vigorously we pursue prudent fiscal and monetary policies, our objectives can never be achieved if these efforts are not firmly rooted in a solid framework of democratic practices and good governance. That is why we are vigorously pursuing the goals of good governance through reform measures aimed at improving the performance and integrity of state institutions, fiscal and public sector management and the quality of public and political leadership.

On my assumption of office, my Government immediately set about improving the quality of governance and later set up a Governance Steering Committee under the Chairmanship of the Minister of Presidential Affairs with material and financial support from DFID. The Committee has concentrated its efforts on rebuilding democratic governance through:

  • Constitutional and Institutional Reforms
  • Decentralization and Local Government Reforms
  • Public Sector and Civil Service Reforms
  • Promotion of Human Rights
  • Judicial and Legal Reforms
  • Promotion of Accountability and Transparency
  • Reduction of the Incidence of Corruption and Abuse of Power

We have established an Anti-Corruption Commission, an Office of Ombudsman, and a Code of Conduct For Good Governance. In spite of teething problems which are normally associated with any new oversight institution, the integrity of our Anti-Corruption Commission is unquestionable. We will continue to maintain zero tolerance for corruption. In order to reinforce our national anti-corruption strategy, we will ensure the speedy prosecution of corruption cases by appointing a Judge or Judges with sole responsibility over such cases. In this connection, recently, the Chief Justice and one other Supreme Court Judge received an invitation by DFID and the Commonwealth Secretariat to interview two judges and one Prosecutor in London for assignment to Sierra Leone to handle specifically corruption cases.

Additionally, we have embarked on a programme of far-reaching reform in the Government's procurement process, which has been one of the breeding nests of corruption. As a first step, the composition of the Central Tender Board (CTB) has been expanded to include representatives from the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Chamber of Commerce. The procurement process is to be further strengthened by decentralizing the process and setting up District and Regional Tender Boards. A Procurement Reform Steering Committee, which includes our donor partners and is chaired by the Honourable Vice-President, now has the responsibility to ensure that a new and decentralised system is instituted. The CTB is to be converted eventually into an autonomous agency to substantially reduce the incidence of abuse.

In a bid to stimulate economic development in the rural areas and to extend democratic participation to the grass-roots of the population, the Government plans to dissolve all appointed Management Committees and replace them with elected Municipal, Town and District Councils. The subsidiary bodies will eventually be able to exercise some control over local resources and manage their own affairs at the local level.

The dispensation of justice has been a serious source of concern for my Government. Accordingly, the entire Judicial and Legal system is to be overhauled with assistance from the World Bank, UNDP, DFID and other bi-lateral and multi-lateral donors under the Government of Sierra Leone Law Development Reform Project, with a view to developing a more effective and efficient legal and judicial system. In line with our commitment, we now have a fully functioning Law Reform Commission whose mandate is to review all the laws of our country and to make recommendations regarding the need for the updating, amendment or repeal of these laws. The physical infrastructure of the main Law Courts Building in Freetown has also been refurbished and High Courts, Magistrate Courts and Customary Courts throughout the country are to be rehabilitated. Further measures have been taken to provide incentives and improved pay and other conditions of service for personnel in the legal services.

As a result of the various restructuring exercises for the Army, the Police, the Civil Service and the Judicial and Legal Services of the State, as well as the provision of adequate logistical support in the form of vehicles and other equipment, the efficiency and effectiveness of state institutions have considerably improved and the prospects for social justice and fair and equal treatment on public matters greatly enhanced.

The cumulative effect of all of these reforms is that Sierra Leone is gradually becoming the peaceful and wholesome society that it has been known to be sometime in the past.

Economic Management

As we all know, there cannot be meaningful improvement in the welfare of the people nor can there be lasting peace and security without a sound and stable economy. Although the ten-year rebel war did destroy life and property and also severely ruined the economy, the Government prevented the total collapse of the economy. Even at the height of the war, the Government was able to keep inflation down, eliminate shortages of essential goods and maintain a stable currency through prudent fiscal and monetary management with the assistance of our development partners.

Following the end of the war, the Government has now hastened to put in place certain measures and mechanisms to further stabilize the economy, promote economic growth and reduce poverty. Although we still look for continued assistance from our development partners for the achievement of these goals, we cannot continue to rely on foreign assistance forever. We have therefore taken measures that will increasingly shift the burden of development on to our own shoulders.

In this context, we have set ourselves challenging goals under the National Recovery Strategy and Poverty Reduction Strategy with a view to promoting equitable and sustainable development to ensure that Sierra Leone leaves conflict behind forever and provides a better life for its people. We are making efforts to enhance the collection of revenue through the establishment of a National Revenue Authority. This Authority together with new tax laws will considerably improve the mobilization of internal resources and increase the level of revenue collection from income tax and customs, which is currently put at 20% to nearly 80% of collectible revenue. In order to achieve greater efficiency in the management of public finances and to ensure that public enterprises better serve the people of the country, we have established a Public Enterprise Privatisation Commission to oversee and monitor the operations of public enterprises and recommend their privatization, where appropriate.

We attach a high degree of importance to probity, transparency, accountability and efficiency in the management of public finances. In addition to our three-year budgetary planning formula through the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework, we have established community Budget Oversight Committees in all the Districts as part of our decentralization programme. These Committees will participate in the annual budget discussions and will monitor budget implementation in their respective areas. We have also instituted a Public Expenditure Tracking Survey to ensure accountability in the use of public funds.

As we may all be aware, the current trend within the international donor community is to move away from aid to trade. It is in this context that the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) is being implemented. We are therefore assisting the private sector to be actively involved in this process for the benefit of our country. In this regard, we have drawn up a draft bill for a new investment code, which we are currently discussing with our development partners, particularly on the issue of incentives. This, we believe, is an important step that will increase our access to external markets, as well as open up Sierra Leone to greater foreign direct investment.

Effective, open and honest government can do much to stimulate development but it cannot achieve that goal by itself. The private sector has to become a strong partner in development. Government must help to create the conditions for sustainable development by encouraging the private sector, promoting investment and fostering trade. At this time in our history, as we recover from the burden of a long conflict, we are in urgent need of assistance but we recognize that our future lies in direct investment and trade and not in endless aid.

It must be emphasized that access to the markets of the developed countries is vital. We shall remain forever the dumping ground for foreign products if we are denied legitimate access for the goods that we can produce competitively. Farm subsidies in developed countries that make it cheaper for us to import than to produce locally condemn our farmers to lives of perpetual poverty. Africa must grow its way out of poverty but we cannot do so if the tables of international trade are stacked against us. The interest of Africa has to be taken into account by industrialized countries as now seems to be the case, and promoted in the current round of multilateral trade negotiations.

We are deeply encouraged by the offer of trade concessions by industrialized countries, particularly the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) enacted by the United States of America, as well as other concessions by the EU. This development represents a welcome step, and it provides valuable opportunities that we are determined to take full advantage of.

We live in a very competitive world. If Sierra Leone is to make it's way in that world, we shall have to make ourselves attractive to long-term investors - domestic and foreign alike. We have made a start in that direction. At the Consultative Group meeting held last November in Paris, the Government team led by the Vice-President, met with donors and potential investors at a business forum organized by the World Bank. We are greatly encouraged by the results of those meetings.

A very significant outcome of those meetings is our decision to establish a Development Partnership Committee. This committee which comprises representatives of the donor community and senior Government officials, periodically meets in Freetown under the chairmanship of the Vice President to monitor and review the implementation of agreed Government programmes to ensure that focus on the priorities is maintained and that resources are utilized efficiently. The committee has already held well-attended and very successful meetings this year, with another meeting due in about a month from now.

I will now like to comment on efforts to rationalize activities in the mining industry, especially diamond mining, which was the biggest single factor responsible for prolonging the rebel way in my country and therefore poses serious challenges to Government.

We constantly monitored and intensified implementation of the Certificate of Origin Regime for export of diamonds in close collaboration with the United Nations. This was a very critical activity of my Government which has resulted in a steady increase in the export of diamonds and a corresponding increase in fees and taxes paid to government.

The official export of diamonds last year at $41.7 million, was the highest since 1980. My Government has taken steps to strengthen national supervision of diamond resources and to discourage illicit mining and smuggling. We will continue to count on the active cooperation of the diamond importing countries, in particular, to help us curb the smuggling of diamonds.

The Government is committed to bringing about a well-regulated and transparent diamond mining and trading regime for the benefit of the State and people of Sierra Leone. This one-time mainstay of the economy has suffered from deliberate de-regulation in former times, leading to its fuelling the rebel war.

Having taken the advice of the World Bank and other experts in the field, Government intends without delay to:-

  • Rigorously enforce existing diamond mining and trading legislation, empowering the Sierra Leone Police as the primary body for the enforcement of that legislation.
  • Invite an internationally acclaimed diamond mining company to determine and recommend the conditions which must be implemented in order to bring maximum revenue to Sierra Leone.
  • Regularly publish the value of diamonds exported, the taxation raised and the disposal of that revenue.

However, other areas in the sector continue to show great promise, and are attracting interest from investors. In April this year I commissioned a High Resolution Magnetic Survey carried out by the Africa Diamond Holdings Ltd. This survey covered the Koinadugu and Kono Districts. Similar surveys over the rest of the country are planned. One of the objectives of these surveys is to ascertain the extent of existing Kimberlite diamond deposits and to investigate the existence of new ones.

Alluvial diamond mining has recently commenced in the Bombali District and arrangements are being made for mining to start in the Kambia District in due course.

We have recently carried out the bidding process for blocks for oil exploration in the offshore and the evaluation of the bids is now in progress. When this process is completed, successful bidders will be issued with licences to commence exploration.

Poverty Reduction

Another important element that cannot be ignored in the sustenance of peace and development in our country is the problem of poverty. Sierra Leoneans were already being counted among the world's poorest before the advent of the rebel war. The civil conflict exacerbated the situation and further worsened both the incidence and the severity of poverty. Statistics indicate that the vast majority of the population lives below the poverty line. Given the pervasive and deepening poverty facing the population, the key objective of the Government is to fight poverty and improve living conditions for the entire society. The Government has been working therefore, in close partnership with the private sector, civil society groups and the donor community for the achievement of this goal. Our overreaching aim is to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing absolute poverty by half, by the year 2015.

The plan for reducing poverty involves a two-stage strategy - a transitional strategy, whose focus was on the immediate needs of economic recovery, rehabilitation and resettlement, and a medium-term strategy, whose focus is on development-oriented activities geared towards sustained growth and stability.

During the transitional stage, we sought to create an enabling environment for the reduction of poverty, restructure and re-launch the economy and rebuild our foreign exchange reserves. We also re-oriented our focus to certain key sectoral programmes such as food security, basic education, health care and counseling for the most vulnerable victims of the rebel war.

We are currently involved in a strategic review of the food sector within the context of our overall poverty reduction programme, and to increase food production, enhance the capacity of individuals to undertake income-generating activities and exploit our agricultural potential for domestic consumption and export. Consistent with my pledge to ensure that no Sierra Leonean will go to bed hungry by the year 2007, I have undertaken to personally monitor progress towards the achievement of this goal in this vital sector of our national agenda.

Our commitment to the reduction of poverty in our society has been further strengthened by the establishment of a National Social Security Scheme which would raise the welfare of workers and provide a social safety net for the most vulnerable members of our society. In order to protect workers both in the public and private sectors from exploitation, Government also enacted the Minimum Wage Act in 2001.

The Youth and other Social Issues

One of the greatest challenges we face is finding a lasting solution to what has been described as the "youth problem". Indeed, youth development is at the centre of our national agenda. It is estimated that Africa has the youngest population in the world with about 45% of the population under the age of 15 years. This population is also growing very fast. The situation is not different in Sierra Leone and the neglect and marginalization of the youth by past Governments has not helped the situation, producing a whole generation of uneducated, unskilled, unemployed and angry young men and women. Many of these went to swell the ranks of disenchanted youths who became prey to unscrupulous manipulators, such as the leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Although a good number of these young men and women remained law-abiding, the majority of youths that joined the rebels were recruited from this group. We will therefore be consigning the future of our country to doom if we fail to take drastic measures to resolve the youth problem.

Much effort has been made within the framework of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme to provide opportunities for the reintegration of ex-combatants into society. We have now refocused our attention to youths as a whole in order to approach their problem from a broader perspective, involving youth welfare and development for all categories of youth irrespective of their religious, ethnic, regional background or past experiences. We now also provide a wide range of opportunities for education, skills training, health-care and general social protection for the youths, all of which have considerably improved the prospects for youth employment and self- development.

Our women and children bore the brunt of the war, and have been the hardest hit by the past socio-economic and political malaise in our country. We are therefore taking necessary measures to ensure that they are protected from violence and other social abuses and are given the same opportunities and rights as those enjoyed by men. Additionally, we are striving to empower the women politically and economically. Although specific quotas have not yet been set for the level of representation of women in national decision-making institutions, there are conscious efforts on the part of the Government to give women meaningful and adequate representation in these bodies. On the economic front, Government had developed programmes for women to improve their management and organizational skills and their access to credit for a variety of activities undertaken by them.

For those of our children who are traumatized by the war, we have set up the National Commission for War-Affected Children with responsibility to develop programmes for ex-child combatants, street children, displaced children and those children who were sexually abused.

Notably, the July 1999 Lomé Peace Agreement between Government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which aimed at restoring peace and stability to Sierra Leone, provided for the setting up of a Special Trust Fund to help us take care of the war victims, including Amputees. By and large, while our efforts in resettlement and reintegration have yielded significant results, we have not been able to set up the Trust Fund. It is important that this critical component of the Agreement is implemented to ensure that all the war victims are adequately taken care of.

We currently offer free primary education and we aim to make it compulsory. To achieve this goal, we are refurbishing, re-equipping and even increasing the number of educational facilities nationwide. We shall endeavour to reclaim our reputation for educational excellence.

We are also targeting the health sector and offering free health care on an incremental basis. We have started with children and women. We can never claim to have effectively treated the question of peace and sustainable development in Sierra Leone without addressing the problem of HIV/AIDS. In this connection, we have been able to set up a project to address the prevention, control, care and treatment of HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone. This project, designated as the Sierra Leone HIV/AIDS Response Project (SHARP) is directly under the supervision of my Office, with its day-to-day management carried out by National HIV/AIDS Secretariat headed by a University Science Professor.

The Rule of Law

Another lesson that we belatedly learnt at great cost to our nation is that justice and development go hand in hand. The rule of law and the protection of human rights are prerequisites for successful development. That is why I am seeking to quickly improve both the quality and timeliness of justice.

A major problem we have had to contend with in our efforts to sustain lasting peace and development in our country is impunity. We can all recall how the Government had to agree to the granting of a near-blanket amnesty to the RUF and renegade elements of our army, as well as their leaderships, in order to bring the war to an end. The people of Sierra Leone were unanimously against this amnesty but eventually accepted it as the price for peace.

Concern continued to be expressed, however, about granting amnesty to people who had committed some of the most heinous crimes known to man. It was felt that peace could not be sustained without justice and that all human rights violations should be investigated; and redress provided for the victims. We are pleased to report that the Government of Sierra Leone and the UN have been able to set up both a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court to address this issue.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is gradually promoting healing and reconciliation by providing a conducive climate for constructive exchanges between victims and perpetrators so that the victims can regain their human dignity and perpetrators given the opportunity to repent. The Special Court, on the other hand, is set up to bring to book those who bear the greatest responsibility for the atrocities committed during the war. Both institutions are progressing well. We are convinced that they will achieve their objectives of addressing impunity, responding to the needs of the victims of the war and preventing a repetition of the violation of human rights that occurred during the war.

The people of Sierra Leone

Let me pay tribute to the people of Sierra Leone and the role they have played in the search for lasting peace. The UNDP Human Development Reports have constantly reminded us that development is about people. People are both the means and the ends of development. The people of Sierra Leone are no different in their aspirations from the citizens of the other member countries of the Commonwealth, rich or poor. They too seek and yearn for a life of dignity, free of the violence that changed and impoverished our society.

Without the support and determination of the people of Sierra Leone to have peace and their commitment to democracy, I would not be standing here today. They have displayed admirable charity towards those who assaulted them. They have fought for democratic governance. I believe that having secured that and peace, they will not relinquish both lightly. Additionally, for the first time, they have accepted ownership of the development agenda and I also believe that any government will do well to listen attentively to them.

Sierra Leoneans are noted for their tolerance and love for democracy in a continent that is rife with ethnic and religious conflicts as well as undemocratic practices. In spite of the level of violence and the scale of barbarity of the just-ended war, the conflict never assumed ethnic or religious dimensions. There are about fifteen ethnic groups in the country and Islam and Christianity are the major religions in the State, and yet Sierra Leone has never known an ethnic or religious conflict. In fact, it is common for Muslims and Christians to share in celebrating each other's religious festivals. Additionally, marriages between people from different tribes and regions of the country and others of different religious beliefs and practices are common.

In our commitment to involve the population in the governance of Sierra Leone, with a view of rendering our democracy well and truly participatory, we have introduced a rotation of Cabinet meetings between the capital city and the Provincial Headquarters. By this process, the Government literally moves to the people so that Ministers of Government can dialogue directly with the Paramount Chiefs, Chiefdom Elders and local civil society groups about the development aspirations of the regions visited.


At this point, we should also reflect on the role and value of responsible leadership. Because of the volatile environment in which leaders in developing countries operate, they face peculiar problems. The level of education of their people is generally low and the resources for meeting their many needs are scarce. Of late, conflicts have erupted practically everywhere in Africa destroying societies and diverting considerable resources that would otherwise have been used for development. In my view, the leader must therefore be someone who is at once a visionary, patient, and understanding and dedicated, but above all, courageous. I doubt that I or any of my colleagues fully fill this bill, but if there is one trait that one cannot afford to lack, it is courage. And here I am not talking of physical courage, which one might need if one is confronted by mutinous soldiers, but the courage to follow one's convictions and to do what is best for one's country and people.

We are courageous enough to decide to negotiate a peaceful settlement to our conflict rather than fight the rebels to the bitter end. We also decided to grant them amnesty for all the things they did in promoting their cause.

We even amended our laws to enable them to participate in Government. The vast majority of Sierra Leoneans and sections of the International Community condemned our actions and some even branded us as cowards who had sold out to the rebels. It is always difficult to go against the wishes of the majority, but the life of one Sierra Leonean mattered more to me than to be called names. I simply could no longer bear to see my countrymen dying and my country on the verge of destruction. Thanks to God that our courage to take that line of action paid off in the end. We pray that God continues to give us the courage to take the right decisions even if they appear unpopular at the time.

At this juncture, please permit me, Mr. Chairman, to pay tribute to one of the most courageous men I have known. One who faced similar doubts and criticisms when he decided to support our struggle for the restoration of democracy in our country. I mean the Right Honourable Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain. Although we were following events from far away Sierra Leone, we nevertheless felt the heat of the debate in the British Parliament and in the British Newspapers as to whether Britain should be involved at all in our struggle and how far the Government should go in her support of our cause. Today, we can safely say that we are where we are largely because of the contribution of the British Government and its people. The Government and people of Sierra Leone will remain forever grateful.

Support of the International Community

Without the generous and sustained support of the International Community, so much of the progress that we have made of late would not have been possible. The government and the people of Sierra Leone are deeply appreciative of the huge effort that has already been devoted to helping our country regain its place in the civilized world and to build a modern society.

The Commonwealth has played its part in this extraordinary effort. It provided both diplomatic and political support to the legitimate Government during the 1997/98 crises. Significantly, the Commonwealth Secretariat participated actively in the peace negotiations in Abidjan and Lome, assigning a special envoy as a member of the mediation team. This is in addition to several other critical supports provided by this body including the deployment in Sierra Leone of a Commonwealth Police Training Mission together with essential logistics, and significantly, the frequent encouraging telephone calls I received from the then Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoko, particularly during moments of tension.

In the area of reconstruction the Commonwealth provided equipment for the manufacture of building materials using local inputs, and has assigned experts to assist in various areas of government where human capacity is weak.

If the promises and commitments of Paris are translated into reality, and within a reasonable time frame, I can assure you that Sierra Leone will succeed in making the transition from post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction to full economic recovery in reasonable time.


Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, let me end this address by emphasising the linkage between the internal and external dimensions of peace, stability and development in Sierra Leone. I suggest that one cannot discuss the prospects for lasting peace and development in Sierra Leone or, for that matter, any country without taking into account the regional political dynamics.

In the final analysis, the prospects for lasting peace and development in Sierra Leone is hinged, to a large extent, upon the political and security situation in the West African sub-region.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan rightly pointed out in one of his recent reports on the UN peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone and the general situation in the country, that the ongoing conflict in Liberia remains a major concern for sustained stability in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone has no borders with Cote d'Ivoire, but as Mr. Annan warns, the emergence of a new conflict in what was considered a model of political and economic stability in West Africa has complicated the nature of the conflict in Sierra Leone's neighbourhood. I share his view that this worrisome development has complicated the prospect for peace and stability in the sub-region.

The challenge we now face is how the International Community should respond to the ongoing conflicts and threats to peace in the sub-region in order to ensure that they do not destroy the gains already made in Sierra Leone.

We are well on our way to recovery. The prospects for lasting peace and sustainable development are very good. And I mean very good. Nothing should be allowed to stop us or even slow us down. And we believe we can continue to count on the support of the Commonwealth this unique institution dedicated to human progress.

I thank you all for your attention.