Let me first of all extend best wishes to all of you, my compatriots who are celebrating your birthday on 27 April, the forty-fifth anniversary of the independence of our beloved country.
I should also like us to remember and pay tribute to those who laboured and even sacrificed their lives in the struggle for freedom and independence everywhere in the world. We are all beneficiaries of their vision, their courage and steadfastness to ensure the full realization of the inalienable right of our people to self-determination. This is also an opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women who stood firm and defended our right to live. We remember with gratitude those who resisted, in many cases at the expense of their lives or limbs, the determination of a misguided minority to destroy this nation and its people.
Sisters and Brothers, this independence anniversary almost coincides with the fourth anniversary of the formal end of the rebel war. So, let us be thankful and celebrate not only forty-five years of self-determination but also four glorious years of uninterrupted peace and political stability. Let us celebrate our freedom from armed conflict. Let us celebrate our renewed dedication to democratic governance, in particular the conviction that governments should be changed by ballots, not bullets.
In law and fact Sierra Leone is an independent sovereign Republic situated within defined geographical boundaries. Its symbols of nationhood include a public seal or coat of arms, a flag, a motto and a national anthem. However, and more importantly, the principal characteristic of Sierra Leone is its people – all of us. Yes, all of us, irrespective of the region of our birth or our mother tongue, and irrespective of our religious affiliation or social status we are all Sierra Leoneans. Sierra Leone belongs to us all.
And this brings me, sisters and brothers, to the principal theme of this independence anniversary message, namely, Sierra Leoneans and the image of Sierra Leone.
No institution, no State, no organization, private or public – its deficiencies and shortcomings notwithstanding – would like to see its reputation and public image tarnished. Many spend millions of dollars in promoting and portraying a positive image of themselves.
One of the richest resources we have at our disposal for portraying a positive image of Sierra Leone is the people of Sierra Leone – we ourselves. It is one of the responsibilities of being a Sierra Leonean. In this regard, I should add that the responsibility to protect the public image and integrity of Sierra Leone is even more obligatory when Sierra Leoneans are abroad.
Those who travel abroad with a Sierra Leonean passport, whether as Government officials, business people, tourists, sportsmen and women or visitors, are all goodwill ambassadors of your country. A Sierra Leone passport is not just a document to facilitate travel. It represents a solemn pledge that by his or her actions and comportment the holder of the passport would at all times uphold the values of the nation.
Today, on this our national day I call on all Sierra Leoneans, including those who travel abroad to be aware of their responsibility, indeed their obligation to refrain from any act or activities that will tarnish the image of the people of Sierra Leone. Promoting a positive image of your country is not merely a demonstration of patriotism. It is a duty and a service, a national service.
While public acknowledgement of certain shortcoming has its place, especially those that themselves tend to tarnish the image of the country, such as misappropriation and squandering of public funds it is also the duty of every citizen under the supreme law of the nation, namely the Constitution, “to enhance the power, prestige and good name of the State and to render national service as may be required…” Paraphrasing the late John F. Kennedy, I should like to emphasize that while any Sierra Leonean is entitled to ask others, including those holding public offices, what they are doing to solve this or that problem, it is equally necessary for each one of us to ask ourselves the question: “What else can I do to make Sierra Leone a better Place”? Let us not emulate those who prefer to trade on the alleged bad name of Sierra Leone.
Throughout my term of office I have reaffirmed my commitment to the freedom of the Press. My Government, despite provocation has allowed the Press a free hand to publish with a sense of responsibility. But we all must understand that unwarranted negative stories of our country that are reproduced in the internet do great harm to the image of our country.
This question has a special significance at a time of unprecedented levels of indiscipline in our society and growing politicisation of almost every aspect of our nation’s life. Each of these developments is causing serious harm to our nation. The responsibility for correcting these ills rests with all of us – government, the opposition, civil society and the media in particular. Let me assure you that government is fully committed to playing its part. We are heartened that some members of the public are making a meaningful contribution in this effort through their cooperation with the police in their community-policing scheme.
Fellow citizens, here is our challenge. The prosperity of our country is in our hands. We have the capacity to turn things around. Let us accept the challenge and continue to uphold our national values – resourcefulness, excellence, tolerance, good neighbourliness, generosity, honesty and self-esteem.
I wish you all a pleasant Independence anniversary celebration.