By Wilfred Leeroy Kabs-Kanu
The United Nations Sierra Leone Club, in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the UN, on Monday launched “Sierra Leone Week ” at the UN in honour of Sierra Leone’s golden jubilee anniversary celebrations. The occasion introduced a flurry of week-long events heralding the 50th Independence Anniversary. In a very impressive ceremony, the launching program was followed by the opening of a photo exhibition depicting Sierra Leone’s past and present since she attained nationhood on April 27, 1961.
The two events were attended by an appreciable crowd which included the Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the UN, H.E. Ambassador Shekou Touray, other ambassadors and diplomats assigned to the Mission, former ambassadors , members of the UN Sierra Leone Club , representatives of Sierra Leone organizations in New York and New Jersey and many Sierra Leonean activists.
It was another landmark occasion that placed the nation at the focus of international attention , especially given the fact that it was held in the headquarters of the World organization responsible for promoting international governance, peace and security —on the third floor the UN Secretariat building .
Statements were delivered by H.E. Shekou Touray , the Sierra Leonean-born Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Dr. Kandeh Yumkella (Who was not present but an attempt was made to provide his statement by audio , though technical problems affected the move ), the Chairman of the International Civil Service Commission, Mr. Kingston Rhodes, former Deputy Permanent Representative for Political Affairs, Dr. Sylvester Rowe, the former Permanent Representative, Dr. James Jonah, the President of the Sierra Leone Nurses Association of New York, Ms. Zainab Sesay-Harrel, the President of the Union of Sierra Leone Organization, Mr. Ahmed Kargbo and the Chair of the National Organization of Sierra Leoneans in North America ( NOSLINA ), Mr. Melbourne Garber.
In his statement, Ambassador Touray said that the decision to launch the Sierra Leone Week was a worthwhile and noble undertaking because we are celebrating 50 years of nationhood. Independence , he said, was very important to Sierra Leoneans, because it carried the hopes and aspirations of their nation after centuries of suffering from the the Atlantic Slave Trade and then undergoing colonial rule for over a hundred years . He noted that the launching of Sierra Leone Week at the UN was a special honor for the government and people of Sierra Leone and on behalf of the government, he expressed his appreciation to the organizers of the program. According to the Permanent Representative : “Independence meant everything to us as it did to other countries because even while we were under colonial rule, we showed tremendous leadership potentials and demonstrated that we have the ability for self-governance. During Colonial Rule, Sierra Leone at various stages of her development, was the hub of governance and the transmission of Western learning and civilization in West Africa. ”
AMBASSADOR TOURAY DELIVERING HIS STATEMENT
Ambassador Touray went on to say that Sierra Leone has every reason to celebrate 50 years of self-governance because the country has many achievements to showcase, despite the traumatic periods of war , bad governance and mismanagement she went through. He spoke about the negative image hangover being suffered by Sierra Leone , but he hoped that through this 50th Anniversary, one of whose goals is to rebrand Sierra Leone , some of the negative perceptions held about the country will be dispelled.
PHOTO OF THE ATTENDEES AND ORGANIZERS
Former Ambassador James Jonah , for his part, discredited the widely held view that the Sierra Leone war was caused by corruption and misgovernance. Though he admitted that these factors may have contributed, he theorized that the main cause of the war was greed for the country’s minerals. He also hinted that the Momoh Government was lackadaisical with the war because before the rebels invaded the country he asked the then President whether he had any situation report of events on the ground , the late General Joseph Momoh replied that he had none. He said that the army was kept weak deliberately , which gave the rebel army the advantage. The former Permanent Representative also regretted that when the war started the perception was that it was being fought in the provinces, notwithstanding the fact that most of the country’s wealth was in the South/East.
ISHMAEL TAYLOR -KAMARA POSES WITH FEMALE ATTENDEES
Ambassador Jonah stated that the 1992 military coup was a very popular putsch but he described the NPRC as idealistic young soldiers who were later corrupted by politicians. He then described the 1997 coup that briefly toppled the Tejan Kabbah government as an unpopular one and he recalled that it was the first time that a whole nation refused to go to work for a year in protest against the coup until the AFRC junta was removed. He narrated the events leading to the staging of the first post-war democratic elections in 1996 .The nation, he recalled, went through a bitter struggle to have democracy . He also recalled how the SLPP Government first wanted to disband the army after it was reinstalled but were legally advised that it was not possible because the constitution mandated the existence of an army . He said the government thus decided to engage in Security Sector Reform –To reform the army, police and the rule of law –which he said brought immense benefits.
Ambassador Jonah said that Sierra Leoneans cannot escape the fact that we lost a whole decade but he expressed gratitude that Sierra Leone has been able to come out of it and as a nation was now forging ahead. He expressed optimism in the country’s next 50 years.
DR.ROWE (FIRST FROM LEFT ) CHAIRMAN RHODES (THIRD FROM LEFT) AND AMBASSADOR TOURAY (FIRST FROM RIGHT ) AT THE PHOTO EXHIBITION
Chairman Kingston Rhodes recalled that he was an accountant in the Civil Service when Sierra Leone gained Independence and he described the pride of seeing the green-white-and -blue national flag of Sierra Leone being hoisted in 1961. He advised that the nation invest in education and the training of the youth, especially in this age of Globalization. He theorized that to develop, Sierra Leone does not only need to harness her natural resources but even her human resources as well.
AHMED KABBA FROM LONDON POSES WITH THE LADIES
Dr. Sylvester Rowe recalled that at Independence he was a media man working for the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS ) and he disclosed , amidst cheers, that he was the broadcaster who announced to the world that Sierra Leone had attained Independence. He stated that on Sunday, he played the tape of the 1962 opening of Parliament and listened to speeches by Sir Milton Margai , Pa. Siaka Stevens and Mr. Banja Tejan-Sie, whom he described as a very eloquent speaker. He also expressed optimism in the future of the nation.
Zainab Sesay-Harrel said that though she was born of an African-American father and a Sierra Leonean mother, she was brought up to embrace the culture of Sierra Leone and most of her school reports were about Sierra Leone which her teachers appreciated .She urged Sierra Leoneans that as they celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Independence they must remember to embrace their culture . She also called on Sierra Leoneans to give something back to society.
Ahmed Kargbo philosophied that Sierra Leone is like a vehicle. It cannot move except the people move it. It needs a driver and somebody to constantly refuel it. He noted that one thing that held Sierra Leoneans together was tolerance. He praised the religious tolerance in Sierra Leone where muslims and christians worship alongside each other peacefully. He said that nothing mattered more than the national interest and reminded the attendees that without the people, there would be no Sierra Leone.
Mr. Melbourne Garber, in his very brief statement, said that it was a happy time for Sierra Leone to celebrate 50 years of nationhood. He pointed out to the crowd that how Sierra Leone went forward will determine how they succeed as a nation.
The vote of thanks was given by Mrs. Muriette Lawrence-Hume who thanked everybody for coming to help make the occasion a success.
MR. SIDNEY LAWRENCE AT THE PROGRAM
The opening of the photo exhibition by H.E. Ambassador Touray then followed . Guests and organizers then spent quality time savouring the valuable photos which spanned the entire period of the country’s history since Independence.
NEW JERSEY was represented by members of the state’s 50th Anniversary Planning Committee, Messrs Mohamed Aziz Nabe, Foday Mansaray and Dauda Bangura while New York was represented by Ahmed Kargbo, Zainab Sesay-Harrel and Ishmael Taylor-Kamara.