Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 May 2019:
The controversial peace and national cohesion conference – Bintumani Three, staged by president Julius Maada Bio as a precursor to the establishment of a National Peace and Cohesion Commission has ended. Now the hard work begins.
Boycotted by the main opposition All People’s Congress Party (APC), the Coalition for Change (C4C), and the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), there were doubts as to whether the conference could survive, after sceptics both within and outside the ruling SLPP party, questioned the rationale for staging the Bintumani Three conference.
Despite loud calls for its cancellation so that the government can get on with the challenging business of governing the country and address burning economic problems that are causing enormous pain for millions of ordinary Sierra Leoneans – who may say that their peace is not under threat, Bintumani Three has come and gone.
So where does Sierra Leone go from here now?
Speaking at the closing ceremony of the conference, vice president Juldeh Jalloh said he welcomed the communique drawn up by those who took part in the conference deliberations, addressing the need for a National Commission for Peace and Cohesion.
This is what he told delegates at the closing ceremony of Bintumani Three yesterday, Saturday 25th May, 2019:
I feel very honoured to formally close the National Conference on the establishment of the proposed Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion.
On 10 May, 2018, at the State Opening of Parliament His Excellency the President clearly laid out the need and purpose for this commission in the following fine words: “In the last ten years, the building blocks of national cohesion and the feeling of belonging of all citizens have gravelly crumbled” and “there is a need to promote Unity and National Cohesion”.
Following that, His Excellency the President announced the launch of a Presidential Initiative that culminated in this National Conference, geared essentially to solicit the views and inputs of Sierra Leoneans to enable us establish a solid infrastructure for Peace and National Cohesion in this country.
As indicated, since the start of this Conference, there is a consensus that Bintumani I and II is about laying the building blocks for a stable democratic politics and Bintumani III is no doubt about consolidating and solidifying those building blocks.
Therefore, it is with humility that I receive the final communique containing the key highlights of the deliberations over the last three days including today.
Judging from the contents as well as the context, it is evident that the Conference has to a large extent responded to the need to stimulate consultations among broader range of actors from across the length and breadth of our beloved country.
Watching and following the deliberations; you will notice that the quality of the discussions, the range of participant’s points to the inclusive nature of the conference. I see Paramount Chiefs, Community Based Organisations, well established CSOs, Human Rights campaigners, young boys and girls, media practitioners and local councilors.
I see revered political dinosaurs, the likes of the Solomon Berewas, Victor Foh, Dr. Joe Demby, the maestro, Dr. Alpha Khan, Kandeh Yumkella, Dr. Denis Bright, Hon. Tamba Lamina, and many more vibrant social actors.
I see Intellectuals, Religious leaders, opinion leaders, ordinary Sierra Leoneans, I can discern varying facets of the conference, I see an intellectual face, I see a civic face, I see a political face but above all I see a grassroots face.
From all assessments and indications, I will say with certainty that Bintumani III has unquestionably achieved its intended purpose. The purpose as His Excellency rightly puts it, “is to capture the voices of Sierra Leoneans”.
The people have spoken, often times with passion. But be rest assured that you have been heard loud and clear.
Most of you have expressed the desire to see a commission that is representative and inclusive; a Commission that will enjoy enormous support from government to enable it carry out its mandate; a Commission that is independent with the requisite capacity to respond to the multifaceted challenges of peace building in this country; a Commission with solid institutional outlet at various levels including at chiefdom, district and national levels; a commission with a gendered and youthful face.
More importantly, you want to see a commission that can adequately capture the sentiments, desires and continued quest of a people that believe in the vital importance of peace and national cohesion.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguish Ladies and Gentlemen let me say here with all modesty that the outcome of your deliberations in all its forms will constitute the basis that will shape the contours of the white paper from which the commission will stem.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, drawing from my experience working over the years for the United Nations in Europe, West Africa and the Sahel and engaging with the dynamics of building sustainable peace.
I have come to realize that viable state society relation is vital to National Cohesion. State – society relations is not solely driven by political considerations but by broader dynamics that hinges first on state capacity.
Therefore, dwindling state capacity over the years coupled with deep seated dysfunctionality of the state have resulted in the progressive disengagement of society from the state.
Such disengagements are usually characterized by widespread frustrations, shocks and even confrontations.
A State that cannot guaranty essential services such as the rule of law, effective policing and basic services cannot strengthen its hold over society. Society needs to feel catered for.
It is normal for society to have expectations of the state and the state to acquire capacity to meet those expectations. On this promising note, let me thank the Chairman and Co-Chairman including those who worked tirelessly to drive this conference.
Let me also thank the numerous participants from civil society activists to politicians, including local leaders, youths, children and women’s groups from across the country who gave this conference an inclusive tone and coloration.
You captured the moments; it has been a fulfilling National Conference which this country will remember for a very long time. The communique will be presented to His Excellency and let me assure you that we are in the right direction, which is the new direction. (END)