Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 April 2016
President Koroma of Sierra Leone and his senior ministers are not in a happy place today, as the government has been forced by lack of cash, to cancel all official celebrations of the country’s independence.
The annual State House beer, champagne, wine and feast party is off the agenda.
The annual awarding of superfluous titles and medals by the president to friends, family, political allies and cronies, is also off the menu for today.
Poverty is hurting far too many people in Sierra Leone, and there seems to be no end in sight of this relentless suffering, caused by human folly, greed, lack of compassion and ineptitude.
Pictures of girls as young as 11 years old, some pregnant – forced into prostitution in order to pay their school fees; as well as pictures and the awful story of young, former child soldiers being sold to private companies to go and fight in Iraq – with the approval of the Koroma government, make for unpleasant reading.
The persistent and crippling water crisis in the capital Freetown, and the appalling state of the country’s electricity supply, cannot be good for the president’s morale, nor that of his senior ministers.
But it seems the government is helpless, clueless and lacking a sense of clear direction and leadership, needed to tackle these perennial problems that are causing immense suffering across the country.
It is therefore not surprising that the president has today cancelled all official and state sponsored celebrations, marking the country’s 55th independence anniversary. The government of Sierra Leone is struggling to meet its financial and budgetary obligations, especially to creditors and public sector workers.
But president Koroma is quite bullish and confident about the future – a future which, he no longer has much time left to direct as president.
This is what he told the people of Sierra Leone today in his state broadcast:
Today is our fifty-fifth anniversary as an independent nation, and I congratulate all Sierra Leoneans, within the country, and in our Diaspora on this great day.
Our country has been tested severally in the course of our history as an independent state. We have been tested by undemocratic forces, tested by war, and in the last two years we have been tested by a very evil disease.
We prevailed in all these instances; we prevailed against anti-democratic forces in 1996 and implemented the provisions of the multi-party constitution of 1991 in order to restore democracy. We prevailed against the masters of war, and we have prevailed against the deadly Ebola virus.
All these battles left their scars, but we also came out of them with new resolutions that are now part of our national character.
We are not a perfect country, but we have had the longest spell of democracy since we pushed out anti-democratic forces in 1996, and it is now part of our national expectations to hold regular multi-party elections, to have our laws passed by parliament, and our cases, however contentious, to be determined by the courts.
We are not a perfect country, but we are giving priority to our programmes of social protection for the vulnerable – from war wounded to Ebola survivors, to pregnant women, suckling mothers and children.
We may be less than perfect in implementing some of our programmes, as there are some officials who divert resources meant for our schools, and hospitals and other government programmes. But we have ensured that these are no longer swept under the carpet.
We have empowered the Audit Service to call them out; we have empowered the Anti-Corruption Commission to prosecute the accused; we have empowered Parliament to hold public hearings all over the country.
The results might not be as perfect as many want them to be, but what we have done is a far cry from what used to happen, when Audit reports were not seen by the public, when there were hardly any prosecutions of the corrupt.
We are not a perfect country, but we have moved the farthest into rebuilding the infrastructure of this land – from roads to waterworks, and health centres and changing for the better the cities and townships of Bo, Makeni, Magburaka, Moyamba, Koidu, Lunsar Kailahun, Pujehun, Bonthe, Port Loko, Kabala and Kenema.
Of course, what we have done is still not enough. There is still a lot to do. But we have as Sierra Leoneans, been lauded for how far we have come to sustain our democracy, rebuild our infrastructure, maintain peace, and contribute to world stability by sending peace keepers to other lands.
There are some among us who tend to only point out what we have not done, or what we should have done better.
There are those among us who are so engrossed with what is not perfect about us that they fail to acknowledge the many actions we have taken together to move this nation forward.
That is the nature of democracy, people have the right to see or not to see achievements, people have the right to be blind to successes, people have the right to talk as if nothing good has been done, people have the right to oppose, opposition is an entrenched right in a democracy.
But let us be reminded that we are being lauded nationally and internationally for our resilience in rebounding from war and military rule, for conducting credible elections and censuses, for moving to rebuild our country, for being among the safest countries in the world, for being among the most religiously tolerant, for being among the most hospitable of people.
These are no mean achievements in a world where bigotry is on the rise, where there is war and destruction in many lands, where insecurity rocks even advanced nations, where xenophobia and abuse of human rights are on the increase in many regions of the world.
But we should not pat ourselves on the back and become complacent. We must continue to move forward.
This is a youthful country of Seven Million people, full of energy; that is why I have appointed so many youths to very responsible positions. This is a country that would move faster forward when we get more women into leadership positions; that is why we have placed more women in leadership positions than at any time in our country’s history.
Our determination to move this country forward is still very strong, and we will not be distracted.
We should not be distracted from rolling out our Post Ebola Recovery Programme. We have just completed the roll out of the first phase and already, there are signs that we are getting back on track.
We have put our farmers back on the fields, the nets of our fishermen are back in the sea, our children are back in school, business activities are regaining momentum, and the sick are regaining confidence in our health system and are going back to the health facilities.
Many more of our compatriots are benefiting from our social safety programmes, many more survivors, widows and orphans are being targeted for support to help them rebuild their lives.
The challenges are many but we have held on and our economy is slowly recovering with a projection of 4.3 percent growth this year. Together, we are retracing our giant strides towards prosperity.
As we soldier on, we must take ownership of our 10-24 month recovery programme with the same zeal and enthusiasm that we demonstrated in the fight against Ebola.
The lessons we have learnt from our success in that fight are evident – when we come together as a united country with a common purpose, there is no problem we cannot overcome. We must remain focused, stay together and work together to be able to achieve the new targets we have set ourselves.
Our priorities include Education, Health, Social Protection, and Private Sector; and now we have added Energy, Water and Governance. These would be the foundation upon which we would build a more robust nation.
I salute the 35,000 Sierra Leonean Ebola Response Workers and thousands of international personnel who were engaged in the fight against Ebola. Their courage, bravery and dedication were beyond compare and their tireless efforts helped us immensely to prevail over the evil virus.
I also commend the international community, whose acts of solidarity, generosity and thoughtfulness inspired us to sustain the fight until the end of the outbreak.
We remember with sadness those who lost their lives through contact with the virus; in particular the Doctors, Nurses and Health Workers who made the supreme sacrifice.
I salute the resilience of our people. We still have a lot to do, but we shall not waver in our commitment to doing more. And together, we shall achieve the goals of our aspirations.
I wish you all a happy independence anniversary and may God bless the Republic of Sierra Leone.
President Ernest Bai Koroma – President of Sierra Leone