Julius Maada Bio (Former Head of State – Sierra Leone)
Last year – the news from home was bleak and it broke my heart daily. I doubt there is a person in this room who has not been touched by the tragedy of the Ebola virus.
For all the victims of Ebola, and all those who never got a chance to fulfill their potential in our beloved Sierra Leone, may you rest in Eternal Peace!
And now, whilst we are not entirely out of the woods, victory over this monstrous virus is nearly at hand. As the battle against the virus is being won, we must redirect our collective energy to the task of rebuilding and unifying the nation.
We all carry with us a history, but today I speak not as a retired Brigadier – not as the flag bearer of my party at the last election – and not as a former head of state. But simply as one of you – a member of the diaspora dreaming of home and planning for a better future for the land that we love. A homeland that should be a better place, than it is today.
I believe every single person is extraordinary, and I believe that it is possible to unleash the potential locked in each and every individual, no matter who they are.
I am not here to make promises, nor do I want to give the impression that I have a monopoly on the ideas that will give Sierra Leone forward momentum in the march towards development.
In fact, there are no silver bullets or magic wands for our national problems. No Messiah is coming to save us.
But there are some universal truths in this world which we must learn to uphold dearly. Not least of which is:
“I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper”. And you, my brothers and sisters, keep me. There is a common humanity which binds us all together.
The patriotic spirit that binds each and every person in this room and fills our hearts with a deep love of our lush green homeland, is the thing that will make our home better tomorrow, than it is today.
Oneness, faith and service to each other and to our country. That is my mission, and I would like to share it with you all.
The diaspora here in the UK, in America and across the world has so much to give in this mission. Those of us, living in the diaspora, sent back home a whopping 100 million pounds in remittances. An incredible sum of money by any stretch of imagination.
On behalf of everyone back home, let me thank you all from the bottom of my heart. So, I know there is a love of family and nation in this room and across the diaspora, and I can feel it.
This week, I had an opportunity to speak to a young countrywoman of ours that I met at the library, she’s training to be a doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology, right here in London. I wish her well and Godspeed in her studies.
But, my greatest wish for her – after she completes her studies – is to return home, because our needs are so great that, every able-bodied man and woman with a love of country in their heart needs to be with us in this fight.
The countdown to zero case of Ebola is close, very close and the hard work of rebuilding our deeply scarred society will begin in earnest. The scourge of Ebola has seriously tarnished our image as a nation, and we need to clean it and make it shine again.
We all have individual dreams, hopes and aspirations, but now, it’s time to come together and work together, as one people, one nation.
There is no Red North or Green South in this herculean task of rebuilding our beautiful homeland, there is just one Sierra Leonean family, one nation.
That is why I’m so delighted to see many Muslim brothers and sisters during this holy month of Ramadan, because we are not a country divided between Christians and Muslims, we are just one Sierra Leonean family, we are one nation. So we should not allow politics and politicians to divide us.
But I want us to start working together today, to make a plan for the nation’s future, a plan for a compassionate Sierra Leone that cares not only for the haves but also for the have nots – those at very bottom of society. A plan that is firmly anchored on national cohesion and societal harmony. A plan to hardwire fairness into the fabric or our society.
As a nation, we should learn and unify from our shared past experiences if we are to make progress. Non-the less, we should always look to the future with a view to improving it.
When we marry our hopes and dreams with hard work, and give optimism a touch of reality, it is possible to tailor and target our interventions, so as to deal with the specific needs of diverse sections of our society, thereby averting the likes of the Ebola epidemic from ever happening again.
We can start by recognising a simple truth: Government (big or small) is not the answer to all our problems!
All citizens must take on more responsibility for their own families and communities. We must empower ourselves to take the initiative at the grassroots level and seek solutions for the common challenges we face in our respective communities, towns and villages.
At the national level, we must have a plan that changes the very philosophy of our national educational system. From one that churns out graduates with degrees that are not directly relevant to development in the 21st century, to one that adequately equips the next generation of Sierra Leoneans with knowledge and skills that are fit for purpose in a globalized world.
A plan with a major investment component for developing our human capital. This means investing in quality education for all; because education is good not only for personal development, but also national development. We all know the adage that “learning is better than silver and gold”.
As a community with shared values, challenges and opportunities, we must endeavour to work together to discourage all forms of discrimination, curb hate, and foster tolerance and understanding, and simple respect for one another.
There will always be fault lines and schisms in any society, which if not properly-addressed, will constitute the root cause of the next conflict.
To prevent these dangers, we must work together with a shared vision to build a sense of national identity and pride, which we seem to have lost.
To achieve this golden aim, I want the diaspora to take the lead in promoting the process of national and inter- communal dialogue, in order to ensure sustainable and just peace in Sierra Leone.
Misunderstandings and fear grow in the absence of dialogue and engagement.
Facilitating peaceful co-existence among the diverse sections of our society is a process we can no longer postpone.
The fact that it provides a stable and predictable political, social and economic environment for ordinary Sierra Leoneans to pursue their life-long aspirations and dreams, is a good enough reason. But aside from that, it has a direct impact on economic growth by encouraging the flow of foreign direct investment.
For your information, capital or (FDI) is a coward per excellence, it stays clear of any country where there is no stability. But we need a large amount of capital and need it now. So it is incumbent upon us to create those conditions that will make Sierra Leone the favourite destination for FDI.
Our dreams of a peaceful, and prosperous Sierra Leone will not come to reality, until and unless we join together, reconcile our differences and competing interests and demands.
I accept that there are people who would not like me, people who do not believe that I am best placed to lead our nation. That’s ok by me!
Freedom of speech and the right to hold an opinion are sacred tenements of our fragile democracy. We must all swallow hard, and learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.
You can take everything away from me, but you cannot question my patriotism, nor take away that fact that I have served my country at great personal risk and contributed to the restoration of peace and democracy to that land that we all love.
I love my country, and I am ready to work with any and all who are prepared to put our country’s needs above petty rivalry, animosity, grievances and unresolved misunderstandings.
Let me end with a quote from the Quakers: “Every step to diminish fear is a step towards peace’’.
It is my ardent hope that true peace and love will reign once more in Sierra Leone and give birth to a renewed sense of optimism for a brighter future for all our children.