The Sierra Leone Web



Freetown, 31 December 1999/1 January 2000


Fellow Sierra Leoneans:

We are at the dawn of a New Year, a new decade, a new century and a new millennium. The transition we are making, from the year 1999 to the year 2000, is more than the act of bringing down the old calendar or almanac, and hanging up a new one. We should realise that whatever our status, whatever our level of development, Sierra Leone together with other nations of the world, is entering a brand new world -- a world in which technology and other forces of change will, whether we like it or not, determine more than ever before, how we live.

One hundred years ago who would have thought that the leader of this country would today be able to reach almost the entire population at the same time, directly through the radio. Who would have thought that one could travel from Freetown to Bo, and from Hastings to Makeni by helicopter or airplane? Admittedly, the pace of technological change in this and other developing countries has been slow, but we are an integral part of the modern world. For instance, whether we in this country can afford them or not, computers and satellites are rapidly changing our lives. Therefore, we have no alternative but to be prepared for the changes which the new century, and the new millennium are expected to bring.

Obviously, a lot of changes have taken place in our country over the past century, and over the past three decades. Some of them were sad and disruptive. Others brought us joy and happiness. Still others brought mixed feelings. There are a number of events which we remember with pride and refer to as "the good old days". There are others which we would rather forget because they invoke nightmares. Yet they are all part of the lessons of history.

Compatriots, throughout the world the history of nations tend to be dominated by accounts of wars, disasters and other tragedies. Sierra Leone is no exception. We too have had our own share of conflicts and tragedies throughout the century. The worst of which, we must admit, has been the nine year atrocious rebel war. They were significant chapters in our history books. They have made a lasting impact on the lives of us all. Together, they constitute lessons learned, lessons which we should use to identify pitfalls that we must avoid in future.

However, history should be more than just a catalogue of armed conflicts, rebellion, and other attempts to distabilise or even to destroy a nation. Yes, history is not just a litany of woes, or of sorrowful, sensational and negative events. History, our history, must also include those events that reflect our traditional values, such as compassion, sharing, self-denial, independence, tolerance, and of course those values associated with the concept of the extended family.

In this regard, I would like to pay tribute to all the unsung heroes in our towns, villages and chiefdoms, -- farmers, teachers, midwives, fishermen, nurses, artisans, volunteer workers, labourers, petty traders, and others -- ordinary folks whose activities have enhanced the lives and livelihoods of past and present generations of this country. Their positive contributions to nation-building do not make the national or international news headlines. Their voices are not heard on the radio. Their faces and working environments are hardly ever seen on television screens. However, you will agree with me that what these ordinary folks have done, and are doing, are indeed a vital part of our history. Their respective jobs and roles also constitute lessons which we must all learn and use in our future endeavours.

Fellow citizens, I believe that when a new and comprehensive history of this nation is written, the most important chapter will be dedicated to the resilience and courage which the people of Sierra Leone have demonstrated under adversity in the closing decades of the 20th. century. If there is an international award for courage by a nation in distress, I think we stand a good chance of qualifying for it. We should take pride in our fortitude, and our exemplary display of tolerance under difficult and painful circumstances, to ensure the very survival of this nation.

Brothers and sisters, my vision for the new millennium is of a Sierra Leone where everyone will live in personal safety and security, without fear of being victimised by the threat or use of armed force by his or her own compatriots, for whatever reason. We enter the New Year with the assurance that we have taken the first and crucial steps towards achieving that objective, namely, a peace agreement and the ongoing process of disarmament and demobilisation.

My vision for the first decade of the new millennium is also of a nation where every one, whether in the public or private sector, will enjoy a minimum level of social security. Within the first few months of the New Year, we shall introduce the first phase of a national social security system which will go a long way to strengthening existing State and traditional sources of support for our people, especially the elderly and the needy or poor.

All along I have been guided by the principles of inclusion and partnership in all spheres of nationhood. The experiences of the past few years have underscored the continued relevance of these principles for the present and future generations of this country.

May I suggest that if there is one national New Year resolution we have to make for the year 2000 and beyond, it should be our determination to put the principles of inclusion and partnership into practice. This means that we have to make a concerted effort to develop and strengthen business partnership between the private and public sectors; partnership between those sectors and international and foreign development institutions; partnership in political governance in which the archaic belief in "winner takes all" will no longer prevail in the politics of this nation; partnership between Government and civil society; and partnership between and among the various tribes and communities in the country.

We enter the New Year without knowing exactly what lies ahead. Of course we can continue to hope and pray that life would be better for us individually, and collectively. As the saying goes, prayer changes things. However, we have to do more than just pray and hope. I am convinced that each and every one of us is endowed with a talent or the ability to make a difference in the development of this country.

Let us take this opportunity of a New Year, a new decade, and a new Millennium, to put our various talents to constructive use for the benefit of present and future generations of Sierra Leoneans. Above all, let us create a better future for all our children, a future in which, in the words of Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, our children:

"...are loved and cherished; where their health and safety is paramount; where their gender is not a liability; where they can indulge their curiosity and expend their boundless energy in a just and peaceful and sustainable environment, and where they have every opportunity to become caring and responsible citizens."

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, the past is gone and the present is here. The future has already begun. Therefore, let those of us who over the past few years have inflicted pain and suffering on others repent, and those who have suffered forgive the wrongs done to us, so that we can have genuine reconciliation to build a united country. Let us make the transition from 1999 to 2000 with confidence, secure in the knowledge that together we shall lift our nation out of the ashes of war to the pinnacle of real peace and prosperity.

I thank you for your attention and wish you all a peaceful, happy and prosperous New Year.