The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 February 2013
That was president Koroma speaking to the thousands of supporters who turned out at the country’s sports stadium in Freetown last Friday, 22 February, 2013.
They celebrated the president’s second term inauguration, after winning the general elections held last November.
Present at the ceremony were several international leaders, including African heads of state, diplomats and other foreign representatives.
But the event was slightly marred by a political boycott, staged by the country’s main opposition SLPP party.
SLPP party spokesman – Tamba Sam had called upon the party’s elected members of parliament and rank and file, to stay away from the celebrations in protest.
They declared Friday – ‘black Friday’ – a day of national mourning, following accusations of massive electoral fraud committed by the ruling party last November, which gave victory to president Koroma.
Several opposition party members of parliament have criticised the government for its lavish spending on the celebrations, which they say the country can ill afford.
Over Le2 billion (two billion Leones) is said to have been spent by the government in organising the event, including the cost of fuel to provide electricity in the capital, in order to avoid the embarrassment of foreign dignitaries.
But for the thousands of loyal supporters and well wishers that turned up at the Brookfields Stadium, to greet and hear president Koroma speak, it was a day to savour. And the president did not disappoint them.
President Koroma started his speech by reminding the people of Sierra Leone of the country’s past glory, which has been systematically destroyed by poor governance and corruption.
He said; “This country that gave West Africa its first modern University, first radio station, and first female mayor is rising again to meet its destiny of greatness. Out of the depredations of war, the rigours of rehabilitation and reconstruction, and the great anxiety of peace building, we have come a long way, and today we celebrate democracy.”
“Confident in hope, and fully cognizant of the magnitude and complexity of the work at hand, we face the future with optimism and zest for taking this country to another level.”
But the president does not believe that government alone can lift the people from poverty and under-development. The central theme of his speech was the call for everyone “to put our shoulders to the wheel and work diligently to achieve our national objectives”.
“I call on all of us to use our sense of religious tolerance as a guide to overcoming narrow political bigotry. I ask that our ties of kinship and friendship spur us to greater engagements of the constituent elements of this country. I request that our history of freedom inspire us to assert the imperatives of justice
“We are on the threshold of a new era. We all can, individually and collectively ensure that whatever corners of endeavours we find ourselves, we shine forth with the glory of our dedication, discipline and resilience. We must march forward with tenacity of purpose and strength of character until we reach the desired destination of prosperity.”
Since his first inauguration in 2007, president Koroma has been haunted and taunted by critics and opposition alike, for what is described as his ‘destructive policy of tribalism and cronyism’.
They say that in the two consecutive terms in office, the president has discriminated in favour of people from his northern region, in appointing cabinet ministers and senior public officials.
But during his inauguration address last Friday, the president, in words – if not in action, showed his commitment to equality and the importance of inclusiveness.
He said: “This is a nation of varied traditions, dress and cuisines; but we have showed cultural unity and cohesion that are not in existence in many parts of the continent.
“From our common respect of the solemnity of Ramadan and the joyfulness of the Christmas Season of Goodwill, we have always demonstrated the possibilities of greater cohesion and cooperation.
“We are a nation of diverse ethnic groups and faiths, but we are also a nation of distinctive and unique individuals who led people on missions of rebirth; from Thomas Peters whose love for Freedom led to the founding of Freetown, to Manga Sewa, Bai Bureh, Alimamy Suluku, Gumbu Smart, Isaac Wallace-Johnson and Madam Yoko, our ancestors blazed the trail to bequeath to us a legacy of service to community and nation.”
Turning to his performance in office and the reason he is the president of Sierra Leone, Koroma reminded the people of the challenges he inherited when he first took office. He said:
“In my first term, we restored our people’s faith in the ability of government to build roads, attract hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, provide free healthcare for children, pregnant women and mothers, and increase employment opportunities.
“The appetite of the people has been whetted for more development, more roads, more healthcare, more employment, and transparency. I will work harder to meet these expectations for more; this is my solemn pledge.”
Returning to his now all too familiar theme of ‘all shoulders to the wheel’, president Koroma said that while he is determined to do his best, he cannot develop the country on his own. He needs help.
“Let it be known that for development to happen, it requires the collective effort of the government and the people; all of us must therefore do more. The farmers must do more, the doctors and nurses must do more, the youths must do more, the teachers must do more, the traders must do more, and everybody must do more.”
With over two million people out of work in the country and economic growth driven largely by one single sector of the economy – mining, estimated at 11%, which is far less than the fifty-percent, wrongly predicted by the government a year ago, the president’s message will not find too many converts.
So he turned to his ubiquitous ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ that promises all things to all men and women.
“We must do more in increasing our productivity, we must do more to help our communities and grow the economy. This is what the Agenda for Prosperity is all about; all of us doing more to bring home the fruits of the achievements made during the Agenda for Change
“Now is the time to do more; now is the time to move on to the Agenda for Prosperity.
But how is this Agenda for Prosperity going to be achieved?
Again, the president returned to his call for ‘all shoulders to the wheel’ to make it happen. He said:
“My government will do more for education. We are building and equipping vocational and technical centres; we are paying for almost all public examinations in the country; and we have increased subventions to universities more than ever before.
“The government needs to do more, and I dedicate my second term to doing more. But the schools, the vocational centres, universities, teachers, lecturers and students need to do more.
“All need to make their corners of the country niches of excellence, dedication and discipline; only then can all of us seize the destiny of prosperity that beckons in the land.
“We are a country with great natural resources, but transforming these resources into wealth for our people requires more than just announcing it. We need to acquire the skills and habits of a productive workforce.
“We need to become engineers, geologists, mines specialists, and get other expertise germane to creating wealth for our country and communities.
“Crane operators, miners and drivers must improve on their work ethic and dedication to duty; lecturers must be more innovative in their teaching methods, our institutions of learning must form alliances with the private sector to improve upon the relevance of their curriculum for the emerging opportunities in the land.”
President Koroma believes that he has fulfilled his side of the social contact with the people. Now is the turn of the people to fulfil their responsibility.
He said that: “Government has through its policies attracted hundreds of millions of dollars of investments; we will do more, but citizens need to do more to get the skills and habits to seize the opportunities made available by these investments.
“The old habits of lobbying for jobs without the appropriate productive skills must end, the time for gaining and maintaining employment through your skills, your work ethic and productivity is here.
“That is the way to go now, and that is the way it should be if we are to bring home the fruits of prosperity.”
With rising youth unemployment, and cognisant of the ever present danger of idle minds becoming the devil’s playground, the president had something to say about that:
“Our country is a youthful nation. Our youths are the mainstay of our hopes and the pillars of the present. That is why I have dedicated my second term to the youths of the nation.
“With the youths I will do more; with the youths, we will all do more; with the youths, we will set forth on a worthy journey of renewal, productivity, creativity and success. But this success requires discipline.
“I call on the youths to continue to dedicate themselves to the sustenance of our democracy and the betterment of the land. We have a mission to accomplish, a country to rebuild and a future to secure.
“We can only do this through a disciplined approach, through respect for the laws and fidelity to our heritage of learning and freedom. We have to turn the ores and gold into wealth for us all. And this can only be done when Sierra Leoneans move on to acquire the skills and expertise necessary for the transformation.
“My government is dedicated to the provision of the facilities and the enabling environment for this transformation. This is the time for positive engagements for action, for law and order, for productivity, and the advancement of this land that we love.
Addressing the country’s public officials whom he describes as his frontline staff, in his fight against lawlessness and improved productivity, he said:
“I call on all frontline workers of the state, the police, teachers, nurses and traditional chiefs to rededicate themselves to the sacred ethics of service. You are the faces of the state; you provide the first contacts between citizens and the state. We must make these contacts civil, ethical and reflective of the founding motto of our nation: Unity, Freedom and Justice.”
Reminiscent of his fallen hero – former president Siaka Stevens, president Koroma admonished ‘His People’:
“My dear people, my message to you today is to exhort you to be passionately patriotic, put country before self, work hard and honestly, and be boldly persistent in pushing forward our democratic and developmental aspirations.
“Let us strive to live in harmony, always seeking to resolve our differences by peaceful means. Let us endeavour to be more robust in articulating the good things about our country and building on our national heritage.
“It behoves us all to build partnerships for the effective implementation of programmes that would benefit the people.
But returning to his message of lawlessness and corruption, president Koroma appears to be wielding his big stick at those in society, who are destroying the country.
“Fellow citizens, for too long, we have allowed indiscipline and lawlessness to gain ascendancy in all facets of our society. It is imperative for us to restore the ideals that made this nation a centre of excellence from whence our ancestors spread knowledge, propriety and hope to other parts of the world.
“We must therefore not allow the corrupt and the unjust to hold the nation to ransom. Let truth and honesty inform the choices we make so that our actions will promote traditional standards of decency and uprightness that can only spread positive ripples throughout society.
Finally, the president could not conclude his speech without returning to his ‘all shoulders to the wheel’ theme. He ended by rallying the nation towards a sense of collective responsibility. He said:
“For too long, some of us have been insensitive to the issues affecting our country, laying them squarely at the doorstep of government. But what affects Sierra Leone should be of concern to all of us.
“For a better tomorrow, we must be united; we must display a spirit of enterprise; and we must work together in a concerted manner to satisfy our just expectations.”
The president would like to believe, that was the key message those attending the inauguration celebrations would have taken away.
But cynics would no doubt argue that the president’s speech is nothing new. Those promises were made in 2007. Six years on, president Koroma is yet to deliver on jobs, health, education, economic growth and prosperity.
All eyes are now on the president’s final term in office.
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