The President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, has been highly commended for empowering women and enhancing their welfare in Sierra Leone. The commendation for President Koroma came from the Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations , Hon. Leeroy Wilfred Kabs-Kanu, who delivered the keynote address at the raising of the Sierra Leone flag at the Newark, New Jersey City Hall on 51st Independence Anniversary Day last Friday.
Minister Plenipotentiary delivers keynote address at flag-raising
The colourful and auspicious ceremony was attended by distinguished Sierra Leoneans in New Jersey and other parts of the United States , municipal officials of Newark as well as representatives of the African Commission who co–hosted the program with the City of Newark.
From right : Foday Mansaray, Marcy Phillips and Kabs-Kanu
Among the array of distinguished attendees were the Ivorian-born Mr. Dosso Kassimou, Chair of the Newark African Commission (NAC), Mrs. Marcy Phillips who is also President of the African and American Alliance; Madam Mariama Sire Dione, Goodwill Ambassador to UNESCO Center for Peace; Mrs. Mariama B. Fofana, Member of the House of Representatives of Liberia; Dr. Abena P.A. Busia, Chair, Department of Garden & Women Studies, Rutgers-Newark, Dr. Akil Kalfani, President of the Africana Institute of the Essex County College, the Chair of the National Organization of Sierra Leoneans in North America, Mr. Melbourne Garber, Rev. Dr. Joseph Massaquoi , an educator in West Orange, NJ , Madam Madina Rahman and Mr. Foday Mansaray of the Sierra Leone Community of New Jersey ( SLCNJ) and other important guests.
The Mayor was represented by Mr. Fateen A Ziyad, Director, Newark Fire Department .The event commenced with Muslim prayers by Mr Alhassan Komeh deputizing for Alhaji AGS kamara and Christian prayers by Mr Albert Lasayo who deputize Rev. Dr Joseph Massaquoi who was running late due to conflict in schedule. The prayers were followed by the singing of the national anthems of Sierra Leone and America. Mr Dosso Kassimouh (Doctoral Candidate) chaired the occasion.
A cross section of Sierra Leone community and City Hall and African Commission members pose on the steps of city Hall after the flag-raising
The Sierra Leone flag was raised by Minister Kabs-Kanu at the steps of City Hall at 920 Broad Street , Newark , a city with the largest concentration of Afican-Americans in New Jersey , and the ceremony was a demonstration of appreciation for the outstanding roles being played by Sierra Leoneans in the social, political, medical , economic, business and other spheres of life in the U.S. The brain behind the flag-raising program is Mr. Foday Mansaray , who is co-chair of the Education Committee of the African Commission , and who during the Jubilee Independence Anniversary ceremony last year , initated this flag-raising segment in Newark that will now be an annual affair.
THE Flag is being raised by Minister Plenipotentiary Kabs-Kanu while Papa O Sierra Leonean born musician and dancer blows a FLUTE singing the Sierra Leone nation anthem while spectators and passer-by watched the green white and blue making his way up the post. Another historic day in the history books of Newark and Sierra Leone
The Sierra Leone flag fluttering in the Newark skyline after being raised
After the flag-raising ceremony , an indoor program was held inside the City Hall under the topic : THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN POST-INDEPENDENT SIERRA LEONE. Speakers included the Chair of the African Commission, Mr. Kassimou, who hailed the Sierra Leonean people for the socio-economic and political achievements they have made since the end of the war; Mrs. Mercy Phillips , the Fire Chief (who said that based on what Rev. Kabs-Kanu said, Sierra Leone did better than the U.S. in the speed with which she granted women their rights and empowerment, considering that she is comparatively still a very young nation at 51 ) , Mrs. Fofana the Liberian Parliamentarian , who spoke about the cultural and family ties binding Liberia and Sierra Leone and the justice brought to the two countries by last Thursday’s guilty Special Court verdict on Charles Taylor ; Mr Nabe Tarawallie (who spoke about youth commitment to the development of Sierra Leoneans across the State of New Jersey and beyond) .King Alhaji Noah Fofana ,( who appealed to guest2 present, especially the youths, to come and join the African Commission) Ms. Madina Rahman , who spoke about the aspirations and achievements of women in Sierra Leone; Mr. Melbourne Garber , who gave a brief history of Sierra Leone and Mr. Foday Mansaray, who gave the vote of thanks and who in the light of the theme of the program , recognized the two most important women in his life, his mother Madam Mballu Mansaray and wife, Mrs. Patricia Mansaray , who were present at the program.
From left : Madina Rahman, the Liberian Member of Parliament , Mariama Fofana and Minister Kabs-Kanu. Madam Fofana was given a certificate of achievement by the African Commission for leaving her restaurant business near the Commission and returning home to Liberia to contest for a seat in Parliament which she won .
Sierra Leone organization with their award
IN DELIVERING THE KEYNOTE ADDRESS , the Minister Plenipotentiary said that Thursday’s war crimes guilty verdict on Charles Taylor was a monumental victory for women as well because they were one of those who bore the brunt of the atrocities committed by the rebels aided and abetted by Taylor during the war. He painted a graphic picture of the sexual ravishments , sexual slavery and hard labour they were subjected to by the Taylor -supported rebels and thanked the Special Court of Sierra Leone for bringing justice to all the victims of the war.
Members of the Commission and City officials being introduced
Mr. Kanu said that since Sierra Leone gained Independence in 1961, women have come a long way in their struggle for women’s rights and empowerment . They were disregarded and marginalized in the past and their place was the kitchen, but today they are at the helm of the country’s socio-economic and political renaissance. He commended the exemplary role played by women in 1995 when they challenged the NPRC military junta , which wanted to hijack democracy in Sierra Leone , and forced the soldiers to abandon their plans and return the country to civilian rule.
Mr. Kassimou and Liberian MP Madam Fofana
Rev. Kabs-Kanu highlighted the various ways women were marginalized in Sierra Leone but said that since the end of the war, they have achieved significant gains as governments in Sierra Leone have come to accept that women are indispensable partners of men in the task of nation-building.
He highly commended the role President Ernest Koroma has played since coming to power in 2007 in providing social, political and economic empowerment for women. He told his audience that as soon as he became Head of State of Sierra Leone, President Koroma vowed that women will be provided the platform to contribute equitably to the governance of Sierra Leone and decision-making process in the various spheres of public life . The Minister said that the result is that today there are more women in leadership positions than ever before in the history of the country . Women, he told his audience, now hold key ministerial and ambassadorial positions in government. Women now also hold top management positions in quasi-government institutions and amidst cheers from the crowd , Mr. Kanu announced that, in the legal field, the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone today is a woman. Mr. Kanu also told them about the Parliamentary Bill that will ensure that women now enjoy 30% quota representation in governance.
From left : Mr. Kassimou, Mrs. Phillips and the Mayor’s representative
The UN Minister said that apart from putting women in top positions, the government has also enhanced the health of women and that last year President Koroma took radical steps to arrest Sierra Leone’s alarmingly high post-natal maternal mortality by introducing free medical care for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under 5. The result is that medical treatment is now available for women and children all over the country and in just one year the maternal mortality rate has gone down significantly in Sierra Leone.
Foday Mansaray on the podium speaking
Rev. Kabs-Kanu also informed the audience that certain rights once denied women have now been granted them. Amidst more cheers, he said that wife-beating is now a criminal offence in Sierra Leone and sexual harassment is forbiddeen as it is in America and Brritain. “If you beat a woman in Sierra Leone now, you will go to jail ” , he emphasized. Women, he went on, can now inherit property and forced marriage is now outlawed. With regards to the much-criticised female genital mutilation , the minister plenipotentiary said that it is now forbidden for girls under 18 to be subjected to the practice , making the forced circumcision of children a thing of the past. FGM is now purely a matter of choice for grown-up girls who have reached the age when they can decide on their own whether to support the practice or not.
The minister assured his audience that, given President Koroma’s plans for women empowerment, Sierra Leone is on the way to scoring another great achievement by being one of the African countries where women compete with men for access to all areas of governance and decision-making.
Madina Rahman speaking
In their statements, City Hall and African Commission members praised Sierra Leone for the progress being achieved in women’s empowerment and they pledged to work with the Sierra Leone community to help it achieve its goals and aspirations .
Cerificates of achievement were awarded to many people including the Sierra Leone organization, Hope for Salone.. A closing prayer was said by Alhaji AGS karama, which was followed by light refreshment and supper , consisting of Sierra Leonean cuisine prepared courtesy of Mr Mike Bangura of ODABRO RESTAURANT, a native and business man from Port Loko. His restaurant which is has been operation by Sierra Leoneon for over 20 years serves a variety of west African cuisine including all of our Sierra Leonean dishes.
Mr. Melbourne Garber narrating Sierra Leone’s history