BY REV. G. KARGBO
For three days, May 23 – 25, 2019, Sierra Leoneans converged at the Bintumani International Conference Center at Aberdeen in Freetown for a National Dialogue Forum on Democratic Consolidation for Peace and National Cohesion in Sierra Leone also known as Bintumani 3. For those three remarkable days, Sierra Leoneans representing different shades of opinion gathered under the auspices of the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) to chart the course for a new Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion with the primary aim of strengthening the peace infrastructure in the Country on the backdrop of palpable political tension between the SLPP and APC, the governing party and major opposition party in the Country, respectively.
Apart from the opening ceremony that was characterized by different position statements and the keynote address by His Excellency, President Julius Maada W. Bio, the rest of those three days saw presentations from six discussion panels on varying topics with moderators and panelists followed by open dialogue sessions from among the audience that came from all walks of life and across the length and breadth of the Country. At this juncture, however, it becomes noteworthy to reflect on the last panel that could best be described as unique for several reasons especially as it relates to the choice of topic, the composition of the panel, the choice of moderator and a noteworthy incident that should warrant the attention of every Sierra Leonean regardless of differences in shades of opinion or divergent views on happenings in Sierra Leone.
It should be noted for the attention of all that among the six sessions, this was the only topic that was stated in Krio titled: “Wetin Wi Want Fo Salone”, a topic suggesting the very essence of the National Dialogue Forum with room for frank discussion as the views of the people were solicited about the dire needs of the nation at this material point in time. Considering the full potential and implications of the topic, the organizers brought together for the panel, a representative from the Tricycle Riders Association (“Keke” Riders), a representative from the Ghetto Youths, a representative from the Market Women Association and a representative from the Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues in addition to a representative from the Rokel Commercial Bank. Apart from the representative from the Rokel Commercial Bank, all the other panelists for the last session could be described as representing the common man or the ordinary people, thus making their contributions vital to the overall outcome of the conference and the setting up of a permanent peace infrastructure for Sierra Leone. They did not mince their words in expressing their grievances about the law in respect of the Courts and the Sierra Leone Police, raising concerns about how they are treated in their various vocations and interactions with the different publics, the seeming lack of equal opportunities for the abled and the disabled and related issues. It was mostly a clear picture of marginalization with the need for serious attention to be paid to their concerns by state machineries especially with the pending Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion.
It should be stated emphatically that this was the only panel that was moderated by a woman, the Chairperson of the Unity Party, Madam Femi Claudius-Cole, and as a mother, she did her best to manage the discussion, but matters came to a head when in the estimation of some members of the audience regarding the fact that the representative from the Ghetto Youths was not robust enough to articulate the views of the Young people of the Country as the representative described himself as a “feminist” and was thus throwing his weight behind the women to head the new commission. With this situation, the Conference center became very rowdy with the several calls for quiet not heeded by the audience. Amidst such deafening noise, the National Anthem was played with everybody in the Conference center standing at attention and thus ignoring the existing tension. After such a profitable use of the National Anthem, the deliberations of the conference or the National Dialogue Forum continued as if nothing had happened.
Noting the importance of the Conference as a means of fostering national unity and cohesion through the establishment of the new Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion, that incident of using the National Anthem to end an escalating tension should teach us as a nation a very sobering lesson that we should be ready to invest in our national symbols as they provide a ready atmosphere for national unity and cohesion with a huge potential to keep us united and peaceful. It should be emphasized that over time and as a nation, we have neglected the popularization of these national symbols, both statutory and non-statutory, but Bintumani 3 among other things should leave a lasting impression on our minds that with these national symbols – the National Anthem, the National Flag, the Public Seal or Coat-of-Arms, the National Pledge and others – Sierra Leone and her people can work towards a united and cohesive nation, thus ignoring those things and issues that keep us apart or separated.
At this critical juncture in the history of Sierra Leone, the national significance of the incident at the Bintumani 3 conference regarding the positive use of the National Anthem cannot be overemphasized as it lends credence to some of the activities of a leading governance institution in the Country, the National Commission for Democracy (NCD), which among other things was established to popularize these national symbols in order to instill a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism in our daily pursuit of a national identity that has eluded us, thus becoming an enigma as we disintegrate into the quagmire of petty bickering with the huge potential of undermining not just peaceful co-existence, but also meaningful national development. As a nation, even as we pursue those “big things”, we can’t afford to ignore, but rather should invest in those “small things” with the huge potential of changing the narrative for the Land that we love, our Sierra Leone. Our peace, unity and cohesion are usually hidden in the small things that we often ignore or dismiss without thinking twice and we can’t afford to do the same for these national symbols if we are to keep Sierra Leone peaceful, united and cohesive.