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Keynote Address on the 51st Anniversary of Sierra Leone’s Independence

By Sylvanus Otterbein      

The Honourable Minister of Immigration and Multi-Cultural Affairs  Representing the NDP, Manitoba; Representatives of all other political parties; Representative of the Mayor of Winnipeg; Heads  and representatives of African communities and  other organizations; distinguished guests; Ladies and gentlemen- good evening.

It’s a great pleasure and honour to have you all here this evening to join the Sierra Leone community in Winnipeg celebrates Sierra Leone’s 51st Anniversary of independence.

Tonight, I am limited by the organizers (SALNAM) to focus on the current political and economic situation in Sierra Leone after 51 years of Independence and will do just that. However, in introducing, please permit me to shed brief light on the political affairs of Sierra Leone since Independence.

By 1896 the whole of Sierra Leone (Interior and Fr

Keynote Speaker Mr. Sylvanus Otterbein

Keynote Speaker Mr. Sylvanus Otterbein

eetown) became a British Colony and British rule lasted until April 27, 1961 when Sierra Leone gained Independence.

Military coups, greed and corruption, poverty,  voting tribal and on regional sentiments and nepotism to name but a few,  permeate the politics of post-independence Sierra Leone and together continue to loosen the bonds of a people characterised on the attainment of independence as one country one people.

Apart from the brief period after Independence, the political landscape of Post-Independence Sierra Leone has been marred by Military coups and instability. This is not saying Sierra Leone has not had her moments. Indeed, Sierra Leone has seen several democratic elections and governments in the past and could have done better in governance but for military coups.

Military coups are affronts to our democracy and in a big way contributed in stifling the growth of the democratic seed sown by our visionary leaders of Independence. The bitterness against perpetrators of arbitrary execution of alleged coup plotters runs deep across generations.  Recent demands for justice by children and relatives of brutally murdered alleged coup plotters in 1992 during the NPRC military Junta of Valentine Strasser and Maada Bio; the latter being the current leader of the main  opposition is a case in point. This is not good for Sierra Leone. It is past time to learn from our mistakes. If Sierra Leone should thrive as a nation that respects human rights and dignity,  military juntas and the blatant human rights violation that come with such regimes should never be a  choice.

With general elections salted for November this year the current political situation in Sierra Leone I will best describe as exhilarating; though the potential for violence, as always, cannot be ruled out. Notwithstanding, Sierra Leone has continued to enjoy peace and stability since 2002. The November 2012 election is particularly crucial for Sierra Leone as it will attest the true nature of our democracy and stability as a state, ten years after the end of the civil war.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is in this vein that the current Ernest Koroma led government in Sierra Leone initiated the agenda for change as its political theme with the Attitudinal and Behavioural Change secretariat as vehicle to foster change in all segments of our society. The ABC compliments government efforts aimed at bringing awareness to Sierra Leoneans to focus on attitudes that bring meaningful change and development. Attitudes like “we fohr du” must be challenged as you as an individual can do something to bring change. Attitude and behaviour change is not only for Sierra Leoneans living in Sierra Leone, but also applies to all Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora including Sierra Leoneans in Winnipeg. Let us think hard about this – What can you do to effect meaningful change in Sierra Leone and in our community here in Winnipeg?  We can start by examining these three attitudes:

  1. Honouring  time and schedules and assignments
  2. Exercising patience and giving undivided attention to speakers at events like this. It is part of why you attend in the first place and
  3. Waiting our turn

 

The formation of the Anti-Corruption Commission with the intent to stamp out corruption is a step in the right direction although more is to be desired. Stamping out corruption will not be easy but doing nothing will cost more. Corruption is endemic , contagious and so entrenched in Sierra Leone  that it is unfortunately an accepted way of life– hence slogans like “ usai dehn tai kow na de ifohr it”- meaning, it is no crime to mismanage and squander public money in your place of work.  Under the current government, several government Ministers and public civil servants have been prosecuted and lost their jobs for alleged corruption charges. Currently, the Mayor of Freetown is in court facing corruption charges.  Refunding monies alone is not good enough, jail terms should be imposed. In fact, how would the ordinary Sierra Leonean know if money stolen was actually paid back to public fund? In other words, the system needs to be more transparent.  Sierra Leoneans should continue to impress on the government to not relent in bringing culprits to book.

The just completed voter registration using the Biometric system, the first ever in Sierra Leone, will help minimize voter fraud and prevent incidence of over voting as happened in the 2007 elections at the notorious kailahun court Barry.

The best could be done but true democracy can hardly flourish in a country as ours where voter decision is largely driven by greed, poverty, tribal and, or, regional sentiments and allegiance and not merely by policy or national character.

I travelled to Sierra Leone in 2010 and happy to report that women are taking active part in politics with women groups like the Fifty- Fifty group pushing for equal opportunities in governance and may be close to achieving the 30% quota. Hopes are rife to achieve this quota in the next government.

Sierra Leone is undergoing massive economic transformation. The 2011 UNHDI report puts Sierra at 180/187.  Sierra Leone is no longer the bottom dweller she used to be; but there is still much room for improvement.  The Global Peace Index (GPI) puts Sierra Leone sitting at 61/153 and compare to Iceland in 1st place, Canada at 8th and the USA at 82nd.

I read an article very recently in the Christian Science Monitor titled Africa Rising; Sub Sahara Africa set for 2012 Boom. The article said this about Sierra Leone-“Leading the pack is Sierra Leone, a South Carolina- sized West Africa nation with a population of six million. The countries GDP is set to swell by a mammoth 51.4% in 2012, according to the IMF”

The rapid economic growth and development has been brought about by the implementation of good fiscal policies by the current administration in Sierra Leone. There is a healthy business climate in Sierra Leone and business is booming. Bottle necks for business registration are a thing of the past. You can register your business in few weeks, a far cry from what it used to be. The Sierra Leone Export and Import Promotion Agency (SLEIPA), is the government’s official agency to assist and inform investors and exporters on business investment in Sierra Leone.  Other agencies like the office of the diaspora and its associate agency the Direct Expatriate Nationals Investment (DENI) assist professional Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora who wish to go back home and help develop the country. DENI encourages Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora to invest in shares in various parastatals in the country.

Infrastructural development too many to catalogue here, has seen great improvement and catches the eye of every visitor to Sierra Leone. A more than fifty year dream came to reality in 2007 with the completion of the first phase of the Bumbana Hydro dam. Freetown is no longer the darkest city in the world.

Addax Bio-energy, a Swiss based company signed in 2011 a loan agreement estimated at $366 million for an ethanol refinery and a biomass fuelled power plant in Northern Sierra Leone, which on completion, will supply approximately20% of Sierra Leone grid. Production will be operational in 2013 and full production by 2014.

Last week, the IMF representative to Sierra Leone, Mrs. Malango Mulango said she is impress with progress in Sierra Leone under the current government’s agenda for change,

Saying and I quote   “I can see the changes for myself even though there are still developmental challenges, yet a lot of progress has been made in terms of development policy”.

The mining industry is looking as the main engine driving growth. Apart from diamond, gold and rutile mines, the re-opening of the Marampa Iron ore mines (holding one of the largest iron ore deposits in the world) and the discovery of oil and gas off the coast of Sierra Leone is taking multi- million dollar investment into the country. Africa Minerals, a London based company is making big waves in Sierra Leone’s mining industry. The first shipment of iron ore totaled 40,000-tonnes left for China in November 2011.  In February 2012, ANADARCO Petroleum, a US oil and gas exploration company also encountered 98 net feet of  oil and gas off the coast of Sierra Leone.

 

These developments should make us all proud about a country just few years ago was dubbed as one of the worst to live in; but make no mistake; Sierra Leone still faces numerous challenges. The economy for now is largely donor driven and requires propping for the time being to prepare it for final take-off.  Sierra Leoneans must continue to work harder to take full control and ease too much dependency on donor countries.

It is a fact and fair to say that such developments in the past have always not benefited the people of Sierra Leone who ironically continue to remain poor in the midst of abundant resources. It impacts communities and the environment in a negative way and this may be no different.  People are moved from their settlement, crop yield is affected, and there is damage to the environment and poor compensation paid to landowners. How about none land owners? Will rights be protected? How will all this benefit the ordinary Sierra Leone and not become a curse as in the case of diamonds? Answers to these questions and concerns is important and I hope the government in Freetown did that part of the  assignment very well; but for now, we can only hope and pray.

As I turn my attention to the home front here in Canada, Winnipeg in particular, my question is- What are we doing to develop our community here in Winnipeg? A good 90 or more percent of us have lived here for more than a decade now.  For us, this is home away from home and most of us are really mere visitors to Sierra Leone these days. Canada is where our children will live and grow and it is our duty as parents and elders alike to instil values in them that will make them better citizens of tomorrow.

Some of you are already taking part in community activities in your various communities and I want to urge you to continue.  For those of us who are still waiting we should do same, the waiting game is long over.

I challenge you tonight to step up and take active role in your community; for Canada is the place where the destiny of our children, grandchildren and parents alike, henceforth, shall be shaped. This is food for thought-Freedom in Canada does not mean to be frivolous.

We should continue to be worthwhile ambassadors of Sierra Leone.  You may think you are alone or function in isolation, but tell you my brothers and sisters, the joy of one Sierra Leonean is joy for our community and by destroying your image you dent the entire community.

Sierra Leoneans are hardworking and resilient, friendly and peace loving people. We must continue to work together and make SALNAM a pride of all in Winnipeg and beyond. We can form and join other organizations but always remember SALNAM is the parent body for all Sierra Leoneans in Manitoba. Let us speak as one voice; and our voice will be heard even louder.

My  special thanks to Canada ( Operation Sculpture) and Britain  for contributing men and logistic  through the International Military Advisory Training Team ( IMATT) , providing advice and re-training to the Sierra Leone Army during those dark days of our history .Your contribution is paying off, as today ,Sierra Leone is taking part in peace keeping in Sudan and very soon in Somalia. Right now, I say to you, your efforts will not go in vain. Sierra Leone will always rise as a true beacon of democracy.

Finally, On behalf of all Sierra Leoneans, I will close by thanking the United Nations and all friendly nations the world over for your continued help to Sierra Leone and for a job well done. Past Thursday, April 26, on the eve of Sierra Leone’s 51st independence Anniversary, the UN court in The Hague, found Charles Taylor guilty of involvement in the Civil war in Sierra Leone. What better gift can we get for an Independence Day celebration? This is another landmark decision, and for the first time in history, a former African Head of State is tried and convicted. It sends a clear message to other heads of state that continue to supress and oppress their people with impunity that those days are over. Sierra Leone is the greatest success story for the UN ever.

I thank you for listening.

April 29, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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