Sierra Leone‘s remarkable progress in building a peaceful society where multi-party democracy, political tolerance and a transparent government now prevail was celebrated all last week at the United Nations where the Peacebuilding Sierra Leone Country Specific Configuration review meetings were held. With Foreign Minister, Hon. J.B. Dauda and representatives of civil society travelling from Freetown to take part in the week-long program at the UN, Sierra Leone was once again celebrated as the UN success story in post-conflict peacebuilding. (Photo: Foreign Minister J.B. Dauda enjoying a joke with a stakeholder)
On Thursday March 24, Foreign Minister Dauda, civil society representatives and senior staff of the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the UN were treated to a buffet lunch by the Permanent Mission of Canada at their Mission House at 885 Second Avenue in New York, ahead of the big event – Friday’s meeting at the UN where a statement on behalf of President Ernest Bai Koroma was read by Minister Dauda, stakeholders in the Sierra Leone Peacebuilding Configuration and the Sierra Leone Civil Society representatives also made statements .
The feature of Thursday’s Buffet Lunch was the solid and magnificent presentation made by the civil society representatives, who impressed the large number of guests and demonstrated how much voice Sierra Leone has given to civil society.
Before the civil society presentation, the Chair of the Sierra Leone Configuration, Canadian Permanent Representative, H. E. John McNee and the Executive Representative of the UN Secretary General in Sierra Leone, Dr. Michael Von Der Shulenburg made remarks during which they highly praised the progress being made in Sierra Leone since the end of the war.
Ambassador McNee praised the Agenda For Change and political tolerance in Sierra Leone. He told the gathering that Sierra Leone has created a climate of peace which is impressive and the international community has played a great part in achieving this goal. He indicated that donors working with the UN – The World Bank and the IMF principally- have also helped to bring about the present impressive outcome. He however warned that the Presidential and Legislative Elections next year will be an important step and that Sierra Leone needs a lot of financial and logistical support. The Peacebuilding Commission , he went on, could help in garnering this support for Sierra Leone.
In his remarks, Mr. Shulenburg emphasized the important role civil society groups were playing in Sierra Leone‘s progress towards a democratic and transparent society and this, he said, was manifested by the presence of representatives of civil society. According to him, while other countries were having problems with democratic governance, Sierra Leone is a vibrant society where political parties, civil society and gender representatives were thriving. He disclosed that all these groups were working together very well and he also noted the participation of women which he said also was good. He noted that “the last frontier we have to win is women’s participation” and Sierra Leone has made progress also in this aspect.
Then came the participation of the civil society group from Sierra Leone. Composed mainly of women, key among them the Women’s Leader of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), former First Lady Mrs. Isatu Jabbie-Kabbah (commonly known as I.J) ,who represented the All Political Parties Women’s Organization , the civil society stole the show with their strong and articulate statements which manifested the strong voice they enjoyed in Sierra Leone. Speaking extemporaneously, without prepared statements, each and every one of them was eloquent and impressed listeners with their classic analyses of the issues.
Mrs. Kabbah lauded the progress being made in Sierra Leone in bringing women together, especially with the formation of the All Political Parties Women’s Organization She said that with women constituting 51% of the total population of Sierra Leone, “women want to advocate for our people and now we have the opportunity and we thank the UN and the government for it “. But she stated that much still needs to be done and emphasized that no government can succeed in Sierra Leone without the empowerment and increased participation of women. She lauded the present peace in Sierra Leone without which there will be no progress, but she said that women were advocating for 30% quota in parliament and government following the 2012 elections.
The Hon. Marie Marilyn Jalloh, All People’s Congress (APC) Parliamentary Representative for Constituency 35 , Bombali, who came to New York to represent the Women’s Congress as National Secretary General, said that women had set the pace in Sierra Leone. “We fought for peace and democracy in Sierra Leone. We have a lot to do and the international community is helping a lot.” Lauding the APPWO, she noted that there were still a lot of issues to be confronted, “but we are doing our best through gender and civil society participation. ”
Mrs Iyesha Josiah Kamara, representing the 50-50 Organization, said that women are advocating for the 30% quota participation because they constitute most of the population and they do not want the country to fail. She stated that it was during the war that women’s potential for leadership came out. She said that both during Bintumani 1 and 11, women played a leading role in the negotiations and they even confronted the rebels, pushing forward for democracy. “We want to go forward. The war has taught us that there are roles that women can play. We want support for gender equality dialogue forums. We have been in the background too long and we want the men to listen to us this time .We want the men’s minds to be re-orientated so they can think like us”. The hall cheered. She also called for capital development so that women could make their own progress economically .
Mrs .Victoria Fatima Davies, representing the Destiny Women’s Empowerment Organization, said that for too long women were not empowered and were victims of gender-based violence , but things have changed, thanks to the international community. She outlined the benefits that a nation enjoys when women are empowered : The home does not suffer and the nation grows and develops .She said that teenage pregnancy and early marriage in Sierra Leone cause women not to be empowered .She called on the international community to provide support and encouragement towards the development of civil society. Expressing appreciation for gender mainstreaming, she emphasized that “What men can do, women can do, and even better.”
Mr. Moses Ndomahina, representing Transparency Organization, joked that he was the only man among the women but quickly added that this was a demonstration of the government’s commitment to the empowerment of women. He also called for more support to empower women in Sierra Leone and said his organization was committed to support of the 30% quota in participation being demanded by women.
The statements touched the stakeholders so deeply that in his closing remarks, Ambassador McNee said: “We listen to speeches whole day at the UN, but rarely do we hear such articulate and heartfelt statements”. He thanked the civil society for its powerful statements and assured them of the support of the PBC.
Leeroy Wilfred Kabs-Kanu, Minister Plenipotentiary, Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the UN, New York, USA