I feel very honoured to formally close the National Conference on the establishment of the proposed Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion. On 10th May, 2018, at the State Opening of Parliament His Excellency the President clearly laid out the need and purpose for this commission in the following fine words: “In the last ten years, the building blocks of national cohesion and the feeling of belonging of all citizens have gravelly crumbled” and “there is a need to promote Unity and National Cohesion”. Following that, His Excellency the President announced the launch of a Presidential Initiative that culminated in this National Conference geared essentially to solicit the views and inputs of Sierra Leoneans to enable us establish a solid infrastructure for Peace and National Cohesion in this country.
As indicated since the start of this Conference, there is a consensus that Bintumani I and Il is about laying the building blocks for a stable democratic politics and Bintumani Ill is no doubt about consolidating and solidifying those building blocks. Therefore, it is with humility that I receive the final communiqué containing the key high lights of the deliberations over the last three days including today. Judging from the contents as well as the context, it is evident that the
Conference has to a large extent responded to the need to stimulate consultations among broader range of actors from across the length and breadth of our beloved country.
Watching and following the deliberations; you will notice that the quality of the discussions, the range of participant’s points to the inclusive nature of the conference. I see Paramount Chiefs, Community Based Organisations, well established CSOs, Human Rights campaigners, young boys and girls, media practitioners and local councillors. I see revered political dinosaurs, the likes of the Solomon Berewas, Victor Foh, Dr. Joe Demby, the maestro, Dr. Alpha Khan, Kandeh Yumkella, Dr. Denis Bright, Hon. Tamba Lamina, and many more vibrant social actors. I see Intellectuals, Religious leaders, opinion leaders, ordinary Sierra Leoneans, I can discern varying facets of the conference, I see an intellectual face, I see a civic face, I see a political face but above all I see a grassroots face. From all assessments and indications, I will say with certainty that Bintumani Ill has unquestionably achieved its intended purpose. The purpose as His Excellency rightly puts it, “is to capture the voices of Sierra Leoneans”.
The people have spoken, often times with passion. But be rest assured that you have been heard loud and clear. Most of you have expressed the desire to see a commission that is representative and inclusive; a Commission that will enjoy enormous support from government to enable it carry out its mandate; a Commission that is independent with the requisite capacity to respond to the multifaceted challenges of peace building in this country; a Commission with solid institutional outlet at various levels including at chiefdom, district and national levels; a commission with a gendered and youthful face. More importantly, you want to see a commission that can adequately capture the sentiments, desires and continued quest of a people that believe in the vital importance of peace and national cohesion.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguish Ladies and Gentlemen, let me say here with all modesty that the outcome of your deliberations in all its forms will constitute the basis that will shape the contours of the white paper from which the commission will stem.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, drawing from my experience working over the years for the United Nations in Europe, West Africa and the Sahel and engaging with the dynamics of building sustainable peace. I have come to realize that viable state society relation is vital to National Cohesion. State society relations is not solely driven by political considerations but by broader dynamics that hinges first on state capacity.
Therefore, dwindling state capacity over the years coupled with deep — seated disfunctionality of the state have resulted in the progressive disengagement of society from the state. Such disengagements are usually characterized by wide spread frustrations, shocks and even confrontations. A State that cannot guaranty essential services such as the rule of law, effective policing and basic services cannot strengthen its hold over society. Society needs to feel catered for. It is normal for society to have expectations of the state and the state to acquire capacity to meet those expectations.
As a government, we are working hard to redress several years of statelessness, because an effective and capable state stands a greater chance to maintain social peace and stability.
Another critical challenge is the youth question. State capacity to provide concrete answers to the deep-seated problems of youth unemployment in government is critical. Often times, youths are the vectors of discontent. We are happy that some of these critical questions were raised during your deliberations. We are cognizant of the broader expectation that we sensed throughout the deliberations.
As I have indicated, it is normal to have expectations — but we should work together to channel those expectations within a realistic context. One that will enable us to establish and operationalize a commission that will respond as His Excellency said “to the exigencies of our time”. Let us be guided by this realism.
I want to conclude by re-echoing the words of His Excellency, in the launch of this conference. He said this conference is about the people of Sierra Leone and the proposed commission is no doubt the people’s commission. This is going to be a people centered commission. While the government will continue to facilitate its establishment, support its operations, it will only make a meaningful impact, if it is owned by the people. Like the free quality education, His Excellency is once again on a history making track to give the people a commission that will add value in our continued quest for stability and development in Sierra Leone,
On this promising note, let me thank the Chairman and Co-Chairman including those who worked tirelessly to drive this conference.
Let me also thank the numerous participants from civil society activists to politicians, including local leaders, youths, children and women’s groups from across the country who gave this conference an inclusive tone and coloration. You captured the moments; it has been a fulfilling National Conference which this country will remember for a very long time. The communiqué will be presented to His Excellency and let me assure you that we are in the right direction which is the new direction.