Welcome Address In Honour Of H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma President, Republic Of Sierra Leone, West Africa
Saturday September 25th 2010
His Excellency President Ernest Bai-Koroma; Honourable Ministers of the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone; Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Board of Directors and Trustees of the United African Congress, Government Officials of the City of New York; Leaders of the African Diaspora in New York; Members of the North American Branches of the All People’s Congress; the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, and the People’s Movement for Democratic Change; Non-Governmental Organizations; My Fellow Countrymen and Women; All protocols observed:
As I was preparing my speech for this event, a friend, an old friend that I have known since I came to these United States many eons ago, asked me where I was going to deliver the speech. When I told him the occasion, he asked perhaps bewildered, but why, aren’t you an American after all these years? My response was, yes, but you see, some of us may have left Sierra Leone, but Sierra Leone never really left us. You see Mr President, I am one of many of your compatriots who have, in spite the fact that we have been very privileged and lucky to find success in these United States, still see ourselves as Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora, and thus remain mindful of our responsibilities and obligations to that country which never left our spirits, minds and souls. Indeed consistently, I (we) hear the roar of the Lion Mountains, the call of the Bintumani mountains and the green vegetations; we picture the sandy white beaches, and hear the flow of the Kolenten, the Rokel, the Sewa, the Wanjei and most of all, the voices of the beautiful and resilient people of that beautiful country, who despite the adversities, the trials, and the vicissitudes of life, never give up, never lose their courage or will to breathe, to survive and like a tree, find a way to reach the sun.
It is precisely because of this call to duty, this constant nostalgic and burning desire to honour the summons of the motherland, Mr. President, that I accepted, with a great sense of pride, the honour and privilege you have accorded me and my family in your personal invitation for me to make these welcoming remarks. Needless to say, sir, that I am humbled and thankful for such an historic opportunity, especially given that I am a non-member of any political party in Sierra Leone (though I must recognize the fact that both my paternal and maternal parents are registered bona fide members of both the APC and SLPP parties). Indeed your invitation signals your willingness to recognise the role that every Sierra Leonean can play in the affairs of that state, irrespective of party affiliation, ethnic and regional origins, gender or whether they were living in Sierra Leone or not.
Before going any further, may I invite all here present to rise and help me in formally welcoming, to a thunderous applause, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Ernest Bai-Koroma and his delegation to New York City, the greatest and safest city in the United States.
[Can we also observe a moment of silence for all our compatriots who lost their lives during the country’s civil war and also those who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York?
May their souls and the souls of all departed rest in eternal peace]
Mr President, I think it was the German novelist and poet, Johann Von Goethe who once remarked “Treat a person as he/she appears to be, and you make him/her worse, but treat them as if he were what they potentially could be, you make them what they should be.” The same applies to any society, community or country. For many of us diasporic Sierra Leoneans, despite the many tribulations, the difficulties, and problems that have characterised the post-independence experience of that country, the potential of what Sierra Leone could be is very strong and shines through whatever problems it is faced with, and that is what we see, when we think of the “land that we love, our Sierra Leone.” You only have to look at the many success stories that many of us could proudly tell you of feats we have accomplished outside of Sierra Leone: a good number of us have achieved great things and successfully hold prominent positions in Academia, Law, Business, medicine and Health services, Religion, Science and Technology, Non-Profit and yes, in government and Law Enforcement in not only these United States, but anywhere Sierra Leone diasporic Sierra Leoneans can be found.
In my own personal situation for example your excellency, I have been blessed to humbly serve as the President and National Spokesperson of the United African Congress, the Pan- African Umbrella organization serving the interests of 3.5 million continental Africans residing throughout the United States, with chapters in 5 states and one in the Kingdom of Morocco, where I was recently invited to deliver three major policy speeches on Public Safety at the Mohammed Hassan II Graduate School of Law and Economic and Social Sciences in North Africa. The United African Congress has partnered with the Give Them A Hand Foundation and Earth Rights Institute to create the first Eco-Village project in Haiti, following the recent Earthquake in the nation and is also currently working with government and private sector leaders in producing the first and most historic African Diaspora Arts, Culture and Trade Fair that will help market and promote the African diaspora business and cultural interests in these United States in 2011. Additionally, I presently serve as the Administrative Community Relations Specialist to the Police Commissioner of the City of New York, the Hon. Raymond Kelly. In that role, I serve as the principal police/community relations policy adviser covering 76 police precincts, 9 public service areas in the five boroughs in New York City with a combined population of 9.3 million people. I should add that I am the first and only tenure of that position in the New York City Police Department, a credit that could be rightfully be attributed to the Hon. Raymond Kelly, Police Commissioner of the City of New York and New York City Mayor Hon. Michael Bloomberg. These two leaders have provided me with the unique and unprecedented opportunity to serve the people of the City of New York. In a recent Town Hall meeting with the Police Commissioner in the Bronx, the Commissioner stated that “Sidique is an asset to the NYPD”.
I consider such a tribute coming from the Police Commissioner of the City of New York as an honour to not only my personal self, but more importantly to my country of birth, the Republic of Sierra Leone of which you now have the honour to serve as President and democratically elected leader. I am sure there are many Sierra Leoneans inside and outside this meeting tonight that are making extraordinary contributions to the growth and development of not only the United States of America but anywhere they find themselves. That our country has a great potential to be what it should be, that is, become a great, prosperous and peaceful democracy, taking care of the needs of its citizens and its rightful place in the world, is not beyond Sierra Leone, especially given the achievement of its citizenry all over the world.
Despite all of this potential, and the progress we have made over the past years, you will agree with me that the country is still faced with many difficult challenges. Many of our compatriots still struggle with the very basic necessities of life. Poverty, disease, hunger and starvation are still an everyday reality for many of our compatriots. As such, the test of our progress, as US president Franklin D. Roosevelt once said in relation to these United States, should not “be whether we add more to the abundance of those who already have much; but whether we can provide enough for those who have too little” or nothing at all. Our challenge as Sierra Leoneans both home and abroad is to partner with you Mr President, and members across the political divide to lift our people out of poverty and create to a land of prosperity, where everyone regardless of ethnicity, gender and regional orientation is provided an equal opportunity to excel and contribute to our beloved country Sierra Leone. In this regard we may take examples from my grandparents, namely late Paramount Chief Maada Jabaty Wai of Korigboma, Barrie Chiefdom in the Pujehun District reigned from 1860-1870 and my late great grandfather PC Alimamy Bangura Bangura 1st, and now succeeded by my grandfather PC Alimamy Bangura 2nd of the Kafe-Simiria Chiefdom in the Tonkolili district, with perhaps the largest Gold deposit in Sierra Leone still serve as Paramount Chief in the region. These leaders among many others Mr President, helped to lay the foundation for our nation, which you have rightfully inherited as the nation’s chief executive and commander-in-chief.
Mr President, since your election as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, our country has experienced some encouraging signs of developments for the better. Under your capable and determined leadership, you have;
1. Insisted, like the government before you, that the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, continue its prosecution of Mr Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, to the fullest extent of the law, for war crimes that he helped to perpetrate against vulnerable populations in our country.
2. You have completed the rehabilitation of the Bo-Freetown highway that has now cut travel time between the two cities to only two hours, instead of the all-day travel that people had to suffer in yester years. In addition to this, and the other on-going road projects in the country, we hope that the Freetown Peninsula expressway would be completed soon, to free up traffic in and out of the capital.
3. Transparency, Accountability and prosecutions of corruption in government is at an all-time high. You are the first President to openly require “Performance Measurement, Accountability, and Appraisal” of senior officials, as well publically declare your assets.
4. You have kept a performance Report Card on government ministers that are reviewed every 3 months, on the basis on which you have not only evaluated the performance of your ministers, but also decided whether to remain their services in their respective ministries.
5. You have made significant improvement in providing electricity in the capital, while vowing to make electricity available in every region of the country by fast pacing the completion of the Bunbuna hydro-electric project, which past governments were unable to complete.
6. You have embarked on political pluralism by establishing the office of Government Initiatives to solicit ideas and proposals from Sierra Leoneans across the political divide.
7. You have invited me this afternoon, a non-party affiliated Sierra Leonean from the diaspora to make this welcome remark, which by the way my family and I take full responsibility in composing.
8. You have encouraged press freedom, while insisting on responsible reporting that appeals to the high standards of journalistic excellence in our country.
9. This afternoon, you have invited Sierra Leoneans to an open public dialogue with you in the presence of the world community.
10. You have insisted on creating a business friendly environment in Sierra Leone, with the ultimate objective of creating gainful employment and opportunities for Sierra Leoneans under the rule of law. To that end, you have invited experts to locate our enormous and untapped mineral reserves that could help the local communities around the country.
11. You have opened an office for the Diaspora in order to harness the potentials, talents, experience, expertise and resources of the Sierra Leone diaspora for purposes of national development.
Mr President and friends, haven’t we come a long way? It was only a decade ago that a most debilitating and brutal civil war raged in our country. No one would disagree that that was the darkest moment in our country’s history, as the war needlessly killed and maimed tens of thousands of our compatriots, badly brutalised and traumatised the entire nation, devastated our economy, destroyed its infrastructure and wiped out most of the gains we had made as a people and country, including those of our forefathers.
Though the war fractured our nation, tried our spirits and tore communities apart, we have managed to still arise from the ashes of that tragedy like the phoenix, and putting our lives and country together. We have successfully conducted two post conflict elections (the second of which you and your party won in 2007) which have been internationally acclaimed to the envy of the entire African continent. To move so quickly to put that dark moment behind us, Mr President, is a testament to the resilience, the courage and the determination of the people of Sierra Leone, who have always remained steadfast and gracious even in the most difficult and trying of circumstances.
Freedom and peace are reigning in Sierra Leone Mr President, but we have to keep it that way. We have to be uncompromising in our demand for civility in our political dialogue, and among our nation’s leaders inside and outside government. We have to be accountable to our people and transparent in our actions. We have to genuinely strive to unite our country and listen to one another, (not talk past each other). Even when we disagree on policy and issues, as US President Barack Obama is fond of saying, “we can disagree without being disagreeable.” While we commend and thank you and your government, as well as your predecessors, for your tireless efforts in ensuring that justice is done against Charles Taylor, a move that also equally sends a powerful message to any copy cats that such behaviour has no place in our country, we still have to heal the nation, provide jobs for the jobless, feed the poor, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked and cure the sick.
But to meet these challenges we have to be united, we have to pool our collective energies together, irrespective of ethnic, gender, political party, regional or class status. Only through such a means would we be able to rebuild a country that is fair, and just and prosperous; one that will listen to the collective aspirations of all its people. Moreover it is only through such a practice that the sons and daughters of Sierra Leone, either home or abroad will be inspired to answer the call of the motherland and contribute to national service, which I believe you will be challenging each of us this afternoon to assist you in addressing. Some of these problems include:
1. improving our crumbling and aging infrastructure;
2. improving women’s health and reducing infant mortality in the country;
3. improving our education system, which was once the envy of the continent;
4. strengthening and preserving the role of our paramount chiefs, including faith-based institutions in our nation;
5. leveraging our natural resource in the international market to benefit all Sierra Leoneans, as a God giving right to all its citizens;
6. effectively tapping into the incredible reservoir of human capital that exists inside and outside Sierra Leone;
7. creating an effective training and jobs program for our unemployed youths through private sector investments into Agriculture, arts and culture etc;
8. increasing the role and appointment of women in cabinet and department level positions in your government;
9. encouraging and promoting a free and responsible press; and
10. supporting our diplomatic corps serving in foreign countries, while insisting that they serve their nation’s interest in their countries of residence, while carrying out their diplomatic duties in those respective countries
You could also consider empowering the Office of Government initiatives to conduct an independent national satisfaction survey of nationals in those countries, regarding the effectiveness of those diplomats residing in those countries where we have embassies. I volunteer my assistance in working with OGI in improving diaspora engagement with our beloved country, Sierra Leone
Mr. President, permit me to conclude my welcome remarks by throwing a principled and open challenge to my countrymen and women by asking the following questions;
*** Brothers and sisters, are you going to join the President and help in the fight against poverty in the Republic of Sierra Leone?
Audience response----- Yes or No.
If they say no, which I doubt------- Send me!!
*** Brothers and sisters, are you going to join the President in attracting credible and responsible business partners/investors to create opportunities and gainful employment for Sierra Leoneans?
Audience response--------- Yes or No
If they say no, which I doubt------ Send me !!
*** Brother and sisters, are you going to accept the President’s invitation for each of us to become partners and soldiers of good governance practices in our country, where we could also hold him, the President, his government, and every political leader (ruling or opposition) accountable and responsible for things going wrong in our country?
Audience response----------Yes or No
If they say no, which I doubt------ Send me!!!
Mr. President, Send us. Mr. President, Send us when you are able and ready. We have been ready all along. The ball is in your court.
Let me conclude with powerful voice of reason of our people. Our people say: “a society grows great when people plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” May we be that society!
God Bless you and Long live the peoples and the Republic of Sierra Leone.
By: Sidique Abou- Bakarr Wai
President and National Spokesperson
United African Congress and
Administrative Community Relations
Specialist to the Hon. Raymond Kelly,
Commissioner, New York City Police
Department, City of New York.
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.