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PRESIDENT AHMAD TEJAN KABBAH
INAUGURAL SPEECH

Freetown - 29 March 1996

  

My Lord the Acting Chief Justice, Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps and International Organizations, Members of the Consular Corps, Chairman, Committee of Management, Freetown City Council, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I should like, at the outset, to welcome in particular the Head of State of Liberia, His Excellency, Professor Wilton Sankawolo, and the Deputy Chairman of the Armed Forces Ruling Council of the Republic of The Gambia, His Excellency, Captain Edward Singhateh, and to thank all of our foreign guests and other dignitaries for gracing this historic occasion. You have done us honor by coming here. We regard this as a true demonstration of the fraternal relationship that exists between your great countries and ours. We pray that this bond of friendship will further flourish and be sustained.

I should like to express our grateful thanks for the financial, diplomatic, and moral support that we received from the donor countries and organizations. In this connection, I should like to specifically mention the efforts and contributions made by the United Nations both in the democratization process and in the ongoing discussions between Government and the RUF.

My sincere thanks also go to Dr. James Jonah and his colleagues as well as the international observers, for the pivotal role they played in the Presidential and Parliamentary elections. I am also profoundly aware of the debt of gratitude that the people of Sierra Leone owe to the officers and men of the Nigerian, Guinean, and Ghanaian armed forces, for their inestimable contribution in the efforts to provide security to our country. In a special way, I must commend the role of our armed forces and in particular, the Chairman and members of the NPRC, and the hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans from all walks of life, who, in the face of daunting odds, came out to vote decisively in the elections, thereby affirming their belief in our country, its future, and democracy.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, with all humility, I accept the position of President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. My election to this sacred position is all the more reassuring in that it was brought about by hundreds of thousands of devoted, dedicated, tireless, and motivated Sierra Leoneans, young and old, both at home and abroad. This is indeed an inauguration of all Sierra Leoneans.

The tasks ahead are monumental. You are aware that our country stands virtually in ruins, with thousands slaughtered, soldiers and civilians alike, tens of thousands maimed and mutilated, and hundreds of thousands displaced, traumatized, living in poverty, diminished in spirit and body, and the country's moral, physical, and social infrastructure destroyed.

My fellow citizens, during the last civilian administration the gates of indifference, insensitivity, inefficiency, and callousness were opened and those traits resulted in the untold tragedies of a senseless war.

Our agriculture, which has traditionally provided economic sustenance for most of our population, has been brought to a standstill over the past five years, through the indiscriminate violence of lawless people.

Commercial activities have likewise been adversely affected. Our industries, mining in particular, have not escaped the wrath of the unrelenting war. This war, with all its horrors, has for the past five years been levied on the people of Sierra Leone in the name of principles and causes which I, like you, cannot even begin to comprehend. These are but a very few of the tasks to which initially, I, with your help and encouragement, must devote my energy. It is for this reason that I express the fervent hope that the conduct of public affairs from this day onwards and the standards that I shall use as my guide will be emulated by all those whom I shall ask to assist me to serve this nation. It is my hope that our joint efforts and actions will be framed solely in the best interests of the people of Sierra Leone. I trust that my duties of governing, you and I may count not only on the cooperation of elected members of all parties in our new parliament, but our press, professional bodies, and other national institutions. I shall expect and welcome informed, persistent, and constructive criticisms as well as advice and encouragement from all such institutions.

The outlines of my government's policy in the coming years have been set out in my Party's manifesto. The practical details will be spelt out to you when I publish my government's legislative programs, hopefully in my maiden speech to Parliament. Please permit me, however, in advance of that speech, to say that the restoration of the dignity and worth of every Sierra Leonean will be the guiding principal of my presidency. Both of these have been assailed in many ways over the last two and a half decades of our history, whether by senseless violence, or personal greed and corruption of officials of the state. We have witnessed an epoch of indifference to the legitimate concerns of citizens before the seat of justice by those who are paid to administer her. We have seen dishonesty in the state-owned organization and not least apathy on the part of functionaries high and low, to the social distress and deprivation, educational insufficiency and low job opportunities for far too many of you, my fellow citizens.

It is my desire that today should mark the end of that epoch and the start of a new era. What I demand of myself in your service is no less than what I shall expect from all those who will serve you in the various arms of the government. However, what you are entitled to expect of me and every servant of the State, your country too requires of you, namely, integrity, dedication, hard work, and personal decency.

My task will be to create for you all the conditions in which individual and national growth and prosperity will be fostered and encouraged. I dare to hope that your support for me, as a result of which you elected me as your president, will not end with these elections, but will continue throughout my present term of office.

I do realize that your support can only be maintained for any length of time by the honesty and assiduity with which ministers, public servants, and I discharge our duties to the state and each of you, during my tenure of office. However, the future and development of ourselves and country lie essentially in our own hands.

While we can count on the continued help and support of our many friends from outside, no people, no country, can develop themselves solely from without. We should therefore give thanks to Almighty God that He has endowed our country with the human and natural resources to reorder and rebuild our war-ravaged economy, our sunken spirits, and our nation.

To that end, I exhort you all to draw on our own resources of resilience, good naturedness, and courage which characterize us as a people and seek to develop our God given talents and abilities to the fullest of their measures.

There is a widespread perception which I also share, that amongst the causes of the present discontent and disunity is the unfair and unjudicial manner in which strongly felt grievances about people's rights and even reputations have been violated.

I acknowledge the NPRC government's efforts ro remedy some of these violations by the setting up of a Commission of Reconciliation and Unity.

I propose to enhance this organ and further this process of reconciliation and unity as a matter of urgency.

To attain the peace and reconciliation in Sierra Leone that we desire, justice must not only be done but must be seen by all to be done.

I am extremely encouraged by the outcome of the meeting just concluded in Yamossoukro, Cote d'Ivore, between the outgoing head of state, Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio and the leader of the RUF, Cpl. Foday Sankoh. I am particularly delighted by the desire expressed at that meeting by all the parties to achieve lasting peace, stability, and socio-economic progress in our country.

I have stated elsewhere on several occasions that the pursuit of lasting peace is my priority. And in this regard I emphasize here that with that determination I am ready to meet the leader of the RUF, Cpl. Foday Sankoh, at the earliest opportunity.

I wish at this point to express my personal thanks and gratitude to His Excellency, Henri Konan Bedie, President of La Cote d'Ivorie, the United Nations, ICRC, and other international organizations for facilitating that meeting. It is also my fervent wish that a meeting between Cpl. Foday Sankoh and myself will be arranged as soon as possible.

To the women of Sierra Leone, old and young alike, may I pass on the special message, that perhaps more than your husbands, sons, and nephews your efforts have made today a reality. Your support of Dr. James Jonah is a matter of record, as evidenced by your unwavering stance at Bintumani 1 and 2 in favor of elections, democratic civilian government, and freedom: freedom to elect the leader of your choice. We applaud your courage and I here publicly acknowledge it.

Again, more that we the men, you have borne the brunt of the war when you were killed, made captive, forced to walk for miles and your persons and dignity assaulted and violated by men of violence. Away from the warfront you have been marginalized for too long. For these reasons the structure of government will specifically create and institution to enable you to redress these unacceptable indignities and facilitate your planning and preparation of programs directed to enhance your public life and the removal of obstacles in the utilization of the considerable talent that is to be found in more than 50% of the population of Sierra Leone.

I want to assure you that my wife and I commit ourselves to the achievement of these goals and invite you to join us.

After today's jubilation, I call on everyone to start working immediately to make Sierra Leone what I am sure God intended her to be: serene, secure, and prosperous. Fellow Sierra Leoneans, I invite you all to join me in our quest to eradicate forever from our society the tyranny of ignorance, superstition, disease, violence, and poverty.

Often in the past, you have been asked by your leaders to sacrifice the present in order to gain the promised land of plenty in the future. While that land is yet to come, while it will take many months and perhaps years to get there, let us for the present put our hands to the plow and we shall, with God's help, attain that promised land. Let us all today resolve to sue our essential humaneness and solicitude for others which are so much a part of our culture to build a new Sierra Leone, similar in spirit to the Sierra Leone of old, but physically more modern.

My concluding words to you are for all of us to show tolerance for the views of others, magnanimity to our transgressors for their many grievous wrongs to use of the past, and turn a new page for the future and for the good of Sierra Leone.

I vow to serve you as your president to the best of my ability and strength, God being my helper.