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Brothers and Sisters:

Greetings to you all, in the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful; in the name of God the Father Almighty.

2. This year, 2002, Eid-ul-Fitri and Christmas are approximately three weeks apart. However, the link between these two great religious observances is very close. The ties that bind us Muslims and Christians in Sierra Leone have always been strong. They are anchored on the principles of tolerance, peace and mutual respect for each other's faith. More importantly, and we must not ever forget this, Muslims and Christians in Sierra Leone and in the world at large, belong to the same human family.

3. We may hold different beliefs and speak in different tongues. We may interpret our understanding of our respective Holy Scriptures differently. We may even try to justify many of our individual or denominational actions on different religious grounds. However, the fact remains that Christians and Muslims share one Deity, the same Creator, the Merciful, the Omnipotent One, and the Source of all that we possess. In short, the world's three great religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism are described as the Abrahamic religions, because they have a common Patriarch in the person of Abraham or Ibrahim, the father of both Ishmael and Isaac.

4. In this respect it is a great privilege for me to send this message to you all, on these two joyous festivals on the Islamic and Christian calendars; the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan and the start of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

5. Once again, these observances provide us with another opportunity to take pride in the ability we have developed over the years, to live amicably with one another irrespective of our religious beliefs, and our denominational allegiances. When we survey current world events, and when we read about the revival of the debate on the so-called 'clash of civilizations', we in Sierra Leone have no alternative but to redouble our effort to carefully preserve what has become one of our greatest national assets, namely religious tolerance. In this day and age, one cannot over-emphasize the need for us to at least maintain the level of religious tolerance that we have been blessed with. As I suggested some time ago, religious tolerance is an effective instrument for national reconciliation. It is a powerful tool for nation-building and the consolidation of peace.

6. The celebration of Eid-ul-Fitri and Christmas this month is indeed a reminder that we must use the common denominators of Islam and Christianity positively and constructively. For instance, we can use them to remove those stumbling blocks that tend to separate us from one another and deter our progress as a nation - the stumbling blocks of tribalism and regionalism, the stumbling blocks of corruption and exploitation, and the stumbling blocks of character assassination and unjustified suspicion, to name a few.

7. Brothers and Sisters, once again the two religious festivals of Eid-ul-Fitri and Christmas bring us to two important secular events, namely the end of another year and the dawn of a New Year. So, I would like to say a few words about the passing year, and what I believe should be the resolutions for our country in the next twelve months, in 2003.

8. Upon reflection we must first of all acknowledge that 2002 has been a very good year for the nation as a whole. It has been a blessed year for all well-meaning Sierra Leoneans and a year full of hope and promise for the future. Many happenings and events during the year have led me to make this point.

9. Who can forget the flames of peace that rose above the piles of weapons at Lungi on January 18, 2002? Who can forget the jubilation, the excitement, as well as the tears of joy that streamed down the faces of many of our compatriots as they witnessed or heard about the symbolic declaration of the end of the nearly eleven agonizing years of a rebel war? And who can forget the words, "Di wah dohn dohn." Yes, conflict is over, at last! And a new dawn has arrived. A new dawn of re-awakening and hope, and of opportunity.

10. I know that for the overwhelming majority of us, there were many, perhaps far too many personal disappointments in the course of the year 2002. But, based on our experiences of seemingly unending atrocities, massive human displacement, and hopelessness, we are bold to say that this nation can now breathe a sigh of relief. We have come a long way indeed. Of course, we cannot forget that in the year 2002, we Sierra Leoneans set a new record in modern African politics. We successfully conducted democratic and fair Presidential and Parliamentary elections. And that was not all. The elections were free of violence.

11. Granted, that the end of the war and the successful democratic process will not by themselves solve all our problems. But believe me, they are prerequisites for current and future development of this country. They have created a conducive environment for us to concentrate on the task of improving the economic and social well being of our people, of rebuilding our battered infrastructure and of reconstructing the national psyche, so that from now onward we shall move forward as a Nation that has learnt from its bitter past experiences and resolute in our determination to break from that ugly past.

12. Already, and as the year 2002 draws to a close, we have seen signs of economic recovery - a 6% growth, in less than a year and other important macro-economic strides. For a country that is still emerging from a devastating conflict, we have done fairly well. Perhaps, a better indicator of our achievement has been the virtual disappearance of inflation. The results of the consultative group meeting in Paris a few weeks ago also marked an important step forward in our effort to achieve the principal objectives of our post-conflict development agenda, namely growth and poverty reduction. The results of the Consultative Group Meeting in Paris also send a very important message. That is, the confidence of our development partners in our preparedness and capacity to build together a framework for reconstructing and developing our country, along lines that complement our mutual trust in a future that we shall all be proud of.

13. Brothers and sisters, many of you will soon be making your personal resolutions for the coming year, 2003. I would also like you to join me in making at least two national resolutions.

14. Our first national resolution for the New Year, I suggest, is about confidence. With confidence we shall be able to surmount the obstacles and challenges that confront us, and we shall find dignity in putting our country first.

15. We are delighted to know that our development partners now have great confidence in Sierra Leone. For example, this was clearly demonstrated in Paris a few weeks ago in pledges and commitments to our post-conflict development strategies. We need their confidence in Sierra Leone. We need the confidence of the international community in our ability to make good use of foreign investments and other forms of assistance that are being extended to our country.

16. But, brothers and sisters, we also need to have confidence in ourselves. Confidence and self-motivation conquer fear. Confidence leads to a more enterprising way of doing things and planning for the future.

17. Let us therefore resolve to be more confident in ourselves during the New Year 2003.

18. Incidentally, we gladly welcome the confidence that thousands of Sierra Leonean expatriates now have in the future of their motherland. I understand that hundreds of them are coming home during this joyous season with great expectation. A large number of them will be here not just on casual family visits, but also to prepare the groundwork for either repatriation or direct contribution to the national development effort.

19. Our second national resolution for 2003 should be about patience.

20. As a nation let us resolve to exercise patience. I know it is difficult, but it is something we need as we try to overcome all the problems associated with underdevelopment. I am not an Imam or a Priest, but having been nurtured in an environment where Islam and Christianity co-exist, I am reminded of two complementary spiritual references about patience.

21. The Holy Koran says: "Blessed is the reward of those who labour patiently and put their trust in Allah." The Holy Bible says: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary; they shall walk, not faint." I believe these profound words of wisdom should inspire and reenergize us all as we enter the New Year, 2003.

22. If we exercise patience and maintain confidence in ourselves, I have no doubt that 2003 will be not just another good year, but a year that is better than the one that will soon pass away.

23. May I take this opportunity to wish you all Eid Mubarak, Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year 2003, in advance.