The Sierra Leone Web



Saturday 18 December 1999


Mr. Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Court
Honourable Vice-President; Mr. Speaker
My Lord Chief Justice
Mr. Vice-Chancellor
Honourable Ministers
Chairman, Freetown City Council Committee of Management
Your Excellencies
Faculty and Staff, Graduands and Students
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

This is obviously an occasion of pomp and circumstance. It is one of celebration enhanced by the proud display of academic regalia -- symbols of scholarship, of individual resourcefulness, perseverance and discipline. This Congregation is indeed an occasion for celebration, a celebration of the success of the graduands, as well as those who steered them along the often tortuous paths to graduation, namely, the faculty, staff, parents, guardians and educational benefactors. I am delighted to join in the celebration. I share your pride in your accomplishments, and congratulate you.

A Congregation for the award of degrees and diplomas is always a milestone in the life of a university. For the University of Sierra Leone, which like the nation itself has been through some life-threatening experiences in recent times, the very act of holding this Congregation is, without exaggeration, a near miracle. Let me therefore take this opportunity to wholeheartedly commend the faculty, staff and others connected with the constituent colleges, for their dedication and resilience in keeping the University physically and academically alive. We have safely arrived at yet another milestone in the one hundred and twenty years of university education in Sierra Leone.

Members of this Congregation,

We have every reason to look back on the tragic events of the rebel war since the last Congregation, and their impact on the constituent colleges, and the University as a whole. Those events certainly compounded the perennial problems which the University had faced, even before the outbreak of the war. However, in spite of all the problems of inadequate resources and facilities, and in spite of the seemingly unending interruptions of academic life and programmes, the University has made some laudable contributions to the development of higher education in the country. The fact that we have succeeded in convening this ceremony should inspire us to look ahead beyond the clouds of yesterday, and chart a new course for the coming millennium. In this regard, it is relevant to ask: Quo vadimus, Universitas Sierra Leone?

In my view the starting point of the way ahead was the signing last July, of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement by the Government and the former rebel movement, the RUF. We should take comfort in the realisation that the document offers opportunities for positive change and progress in all spheres of Sierra Leonean life. Without the Peace Agreement, the prospects of realising our dreams, and of achieving our academic and other goals would have remained dim. I was encouraged by the general acceptance of the Agreement by members of the academic community. It was in their interest, and in the interest of us all, to endorse it.

A second and equally important phenomenon which I believe this University should adopt as a guide in formulating its plans for the years ahead, is the consolidation of peace through successful implementation of the Lome Agreement. The University should therefore devise a strategy for contributing to the consolidation of peace. It is in the interest of the academic community itself to be part of this process. I welcome the idea that the University will try to incorporate peace education into its curricula.

Let me suggest that the peace education or peace studies which is envisaged should include such elements as "conflict prevention", "conflict management", "mediation", and "conflict resolution". For a nation which is entering a post-conflict era, and in which tolerance in all its aspects should be encouraged, the need for some form of peace education, particularly at the university level, cannot be overemphasised. The University itself, which often has to deal with, I should say far too many internal grievances and even conflicts, could benefit from peace education or peace studies, and thus enhance its ability to achieve its goals and objectives in the coming years.

Fourah Bay College was once described as "a citadel of independent thought and action, but without which Sierra Leone would be the poorer." This description applies equally to the University as a whole. In essence, it means that the University is not a department of Government, nor is it a branch of any political party. It is an independent institution devoted exclusively to learning. However, it is an integral part of the nation. Indeed, one can venture to say that the status and quality of a university is often a reflection of the state of the nation to which it belongs. Therefore, in charting its future course this University should, more than ever before, be aware that it is not immune to the problems of the country as a whole, or can it afford to distance itself from the economic and social aspirations of the vast majority of people in Sierra Leone.

My concept of partnership in development applies not only to cooperation between the Government of Sierra Leone, foreign governments and external institutions, and our local business community, but also to our academic community and civil society. The capacity of the University to achieve its goals in the years ahead will be greatly enhanced by the viability of this partnership.

Let me assure you, in my capacity as Head of State, that the Government for its part, would not abandon its responsibility to support the University, if for no other reason than the fact that the Government and the nation need the University. As Chancellor, I consider myself an important cooperative link between the University and the Government. The scope for strengthening this link is wide, especially as both the Government and the University are embarking on postwar rehabilitation and long term development. I should mention here that the Government would encourage the establishment of a Think Tank within the University to complement, from time to time, the work of the established policy making and advisory mechanism of the Government.

Members of this Congregation, the University's visions and plans for the coming years in the new millennium, should at the same time be based on the recognition of the principle of competitive demands and expectations in the context of present realities. As part of its strategy to achieve its goals, the University may wish to consider creating more innovative ways of income generation from external sources. I have in mind for example, the strengthening of current university-alumni relations. There are many alumni and alumnae of the constituent colleges of the University and their friends abroad who could increase their assistance to their respective alma mater in the university system. I am sure there are other ways of supplementing the sources of income from internal sources as well.

Members of this Congregation, my own vision of the University in the coming years of the new millennium entails a revitalisation of the concept of education for national development. We must admit that many of the problems which continue to retard and plague our developmental aspirations are intrinsically related to our inability to rescue ourselves from the stranglehold of ignorance and illiteracy. Two weeks ago, at the Convocation ceremony of the Milton Margai College of Education I spoke of our determination to ensure that every Sierra Leonean child had access to formal education. I also identified some of the advantages and benefits of universal education, and suggested that our efforts to achieve those benefits constitute a major challenge to all tertiary institutions in this country.

I would like today, to throw another challenge to the University of Sierra Leone. One of the major tasks we have in our drive to transform Sierra Leone into a prosperous nation is the changing of attitudes at all levels. It would seem that too many people are self-seeking and cannot focus on the national good. This is perhaps due to the system of political patronage developed and nurtured through the years. For example, politicians and political party members/supporters have come to believe that victory of the party to which they belong means direct personal benefits. How can they get our people to regard political contests as contesting ideas and policies rather than people of individuals? How can they get our people to become more self-reliant and less dependent of government? How can we overcome the "PHD" (pull him/her down) syndrome?

I believe the University can lead the search for a methodology to change these and other negative attitudes which are either stagnating or retarding our progress as a nation.

I therefore envisage a more vibrant University of Sierra Leone, adequately equipped in both human and material resources to enable it serve as a powerhouse for the economic and social transformation of this county. In this way it would be contributing not only to the maintenance of peace and stability, but also to the very survival of this nation.

Just as we are achieving success in bringing the rebel war to a definitive end, our parallel efforts at laying the foundation for the prosperity of the nation are also bearing fruits. Even as many peaceful countries are having difficulty receiving IMF support, the IMF yesterday, 17th December 1999, approved US$35 million for Sierra Leone, as assistance for our emergency post-conflict programme. This represents a valuable vote of confidence not only in my Government's proven commitment to prudent economic management, but also in the viability of the peace process in out country.

This IMF vote of confidence in our country is now expected to generate substantial international financial assistance towards our economic reconstruction and peace-building programmes which will have great benefits to this University, as indeed it will for the nation as a whole.

Already, we are expecting the World Bank to speedily approve a $30 million Economic Rehabilitation and Recovery credit, as well as the release of $9 million grant funds by the European Union. We have now also qualified for the estimated $160 million United States debt relief to Sierra Leone which was contingent upon IMF approval; as was announced by the US Secretary of State Madeline Albright during her recent visit to Sierra Leone. We are also expecting the British Government to write off an even larger amount for debt relief, in addition to substantial amounts of aid in the pipeline for our development programmes.

Let me at this point acknowledge the valuable role which ECOMOG has continued to play towards the restoration of peace in our country. In particular, I would like to commend the ECOMOG Force Commander, Major-General Gabriel Kpamber, for his diligence and astuteness in helping to maintain a delicate balance in the country pending the deployment of the UN Peacekeeping Force. In this regard, I wish on behalf of Government and the people of Sierra Leone to extend sincere gratitude to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not only for role in ECOMOG, but also for their direct financial and other support to the people of this country. I would also like to thank the governments and people of the Republic of Guinea and the Republic of Ghana, for their long-standing support to the people of Sierra Leone, particularly through their participation in ECOMOG.

The distinguished role of the United Nations in Sierra Leone is also highly appreciated, and for this I would like to extend our sincere thanks to the Security Council, the Secretary-General and member states of the Organization for approving the deployment of a 6000-strong Peacekeeping Force in Sierra Leone. I note that a substantial component of this Force is already in Sierra Leone, and that it will start taking up positions very soon.

In closing, allow me to paraphrase a distinguished Principal Emeritus of one of the constituent colleges of our University, Professor Eldred Jones. The institution, he said some twenty-three years ago, has survived on a diet of faith, courage and sacrifice. Those who have entered into the results of the labours of others will do well to look back, in our difficult times, over darker days in the institution's history and derive courage from it for the future.

With his permission, this is my message to you the graduands, as well as all those who have benefited and hope to benefit, directly or indirectly, from this the highest institution of learning in the country.

Once again, I would like to congratulate the graduands and wish them every success in their future endeavours.

Mr. Pro Chancellor, members of this Congregation, I thank you for your attention, and wish you all a prosperous New Year 2000, in advance.