Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 April 2012
Last Friday, 27 April 2012, the president of Sierra Leone – Ernest Bai Koroma , possibly delivered his last independence anniversary broadcast to the people, after five years in power. Yet, he sounded more like a general preparing for battle at the polls in November, than a triumphal president celebrating success.
There was a marked absence of celebratory tone in his speech, and who would blame him, with an economy in turmoil, as a dark cloud of gloom sweeps across the nation – despite lofty talks about infrastructural development.
Many believe that the president should have taken the opportunity to apologise unreservedly to the people of Sierra Leone, for the economic hardship and social discord, caused by his government’s poor fiscal management and inability to prioritise public spending programmes.
The sad reality also, is that, just as the president was delivering his independence day address, most parts of the country were without electricity, water and fuel.
Commercial Banks are still unable to honour the cash withdrawal requests of their customers, due to liquidity difficulties faced by the banks.
An unreserved apology from the president could have in some ways, show that he does take responsibility for his actions and omissions, as head of state.
This is what he told the people of Sierra Leone:
Today we are celebrating the 51st anniversary of our independence. This is also the very first year of our journey into a future in which we have collectively vowed to become an advanced economy and a donor nation.
This is the major aspiration for the coming decades that the people of this country have affirmed during the Sierra Leone Conference on Development and Transformation earlier this year.
God has blessed us with the resources to achieve this aspiration; from Lunsar in the North to Tongo in the East; from the rutile mines in the South to the great beaches in the West, this country can create the wealth to achieve this goal.
Nothing is beyond the reach of a resolute nation. And people of this beautiful country have on many occasions shown great resolve to change the course of their history. We resolved to establish a democratic system in 1996, and against great odds, we did it.
We have resolved to become a prosperous nation, and together we will implement this Agenda for Prosperity.
This is an aspiration that is within our collective capability to achieve; we are the sons and daughters of achievers; we are the inheritors of a land dedicated to freedom and enterprise; and I strongly believe that we will reclaim our greatness and leading position as makers of history in the West Coast of Africa.
We are laying the foundations; and together we will continue along this chosen path of transformation.
The signs and achievements of this transformation are visible everywhere. From Wilkinson Road in Freetown to Tinkonko Road in Bo, from Kombema Road in Kenema to Tekoh Road in Makeni, we are moving forward with constructing first class roads.
We are constructing streets in Kailahun, Moyamba, Port Loko, Magburaka, Koidu and Freetown; we have built highways in every region, and we are building more everywhere.
We have finally secured funding for the construction of the Kono-Matotoka Highway and we are speeding up modalities to ensure that work commences.
Everywhere you go, you will witness the construction of offices and workplaces for the men and women transforming this country; from the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building and the Audit Service at Tower Hill to the Business Plazas of Bo, Kenema and Makeni, this country is transforming its infrastructure.
District and City Councils everywhere, from Bo to Bonthe, Kono to Kambia, and Pujehun to Tonkolili, regardless of which party controls them, are receiving billions of Leones to spend on priority programmes in their localities.
This is what we stand for: inclusive development, visible development, and development that can be felt and utilized by the common man and woman.
Our nation still faces enormous challenges. But from mining to agriculture, more jobs are being created than at anytime in the country’s history; many more women are going to school than at anytime before in our country’s history; in the army, judiciary, and other critical areas of administration, many more women are holding leadership positions; and many more children, pregnant women and suckling mothers have access to health facilities than at any time in the country’s history.
We have put more resources into education; we have significantly increased the salaries of lecturers and teachers; we are paying for thousands more to take public examinations. We salute the many teachers and lecturers who are still standing up for the cherished ideals of their profession.
We salute the many doctors, nurses and other health professionals who are true to their oaths to save lives. We applaud their patriotism, their hard work and their dedication to service. The progress of this nation also depends on your patriotism.
This is the collective warrant from the people to all frontline workers of the state; from the police to the teacher to the health worker and traditional authorities; our democracy warrants that you treat the common man and woman with respect and dignity.
The era of arrogance is over. The patriotic transformations demand respect for every citizen.
The youths still face challenges, but the National Youth Commission is starting to implement programmes to give work and training to thousands of youths; the mining, agricultural and road construction companies are providing employment opportunities for thousands of young people.
We also salute the large number of youths who are contributing to the development of this country as traders, mobile phone operatives, and bike riders.
We salute the imams and the pastors ministering salvation to the people of this country; we applaud the untiring efforts of the market women, the fitters, the construction workers, the tailors, engineers, doctors, drivers, the farmers, stone-breakers and the sand-miners. Sierra Leone belongs to all of us, and together we must march with patriotic zeal.
Later this year, we will hold national elections. We call on every Sierra Leonean to stay law abiding, tolerant, and peaceful. That is the only way we will stay the course of democracy, development and transformation.
The patriotic transformation demands that we repudiate the men of violence amongst us; that men and women of good will in every party and region stand up against the extremists and the arrogant amongst us. This nation is on the move, and we must not be distracted.
Everywhere in the world, our country is being praised for its human rights record. Since 2007, this country has not carried out any capital punishment, and the life sentences of those on death row have been commuted.
This country has since 2007 not jailed any journalists; this country has protected free expression on its radio stations, television stations and newspapers; this country’s Human Rights Commission has been given an A status by the United Nations; this country’s security forces have been praised for their professionalism on peace-keeping missions; this country has one of the lowest crime rates amongst countries that have gone through war.
This country has shown that with a dedicated leadership and committed people, so much can be done within a very short time. We must not allow these gains to be threatened and reversed by the few extremists and men of violence in the country.
This country is God’s gift to the most tolerant people in the world; this country is the inheritance of a freedom – loving people; and by God’s grace, this country is reclaiming its blessings, and we shall fear no evil.
My Fellow Sierra Leoneans, everywhere in the world our country is being lauded for its developmental strides.
Our economy is set to grow by over 35% this year, about the fastest in the world; our country has been named as amongst the best ten reformers in the world.
We are attracting quality investors from all over the world; we have created Agricultural Business Centres everywhere in the country; world class plantations are being established in Kailahun, Pujehun, Port Loko and Bombali; we have just re-opened the Marampa Iron Ore Mines that had been closed for thirty years; the re-established railway line is now transporting iron ore to the re-activated ports at Port Loko; Sierra Rutile is increasing its exports; every day new jobs are advertised in our newspapers; and the prospects for this country becoming an oil producing nation are very great.
The world we live in is becoming more challenging than ever before. Since 2007 the price per metric ton of rice and per barrel of oil in the world has risen astronomically. Presently, international crisis in the Sudans, the gulf and North Africa are further shooting up the prices.
Shipping costs to transport these commodities to our sub-region have also increased remarkably. These international increases are not of our making. But we have as a nation moved to ensure the prices do not rise as fast as they are doing in the world markets.
And we are doing far more than countries in similar situations in the region. Prices of rice and petrol are lower here than in many neighboring countries; and we are continuing to reduce the impact of rising costs on our people by creating thousands of jobs, providing free health care, buying more buses, providing electricity, and paying examination fees for our students.
My Fellow Sierra Leoneans, we acknowledge that development always comes with its challenges.
But we as a people must not allow these challenges to serve as excuses to engage in violence and other unpatriotic actions. We must act against those who are intent on derailing the developmental strides of this nation.
This country must never again be put to shame by the actions of the violent. We, as a nation are determined to assert our collective aspirations for security, development and democracy, and nothing will ever distract us from these patriotic goals.
We, as a people are becoming more determined to live up to the promise of the historic achievements of our forbearers; we are now more resolute to bring forth the wealth embedded in our land; we are more resolved to assert our freedom, our unity and our sense of justice. We have chosen to make this land better.
We have chosen action over theory, commitment over intention, and progress and development over stagnation. With a zeal that never tires, we will stay united, we will stay free, and we will be justified by our faith in the greatness of this beautiful country.