EXCELLENCIES, MEMBERS OF THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS,THE HONORABLE MAYOR OF WASHINGTON D.C., MURIEL BOWSER, OFFICIALS OF THE UNITED STATES STATE DEPARTMENT,FELLOW SIERRA LEONEANS, FRIENDS OF SIERRA LEONE, AND DISTINGUISHED GUESTS
It is a profound honor and privilege to welcome you to this special celebration of the 60th anniversary of our beloved country of Sierra Leone, a landmark event in our history. Sixty years ago, in 1961, Sierra Leoneans with fervent desire for self-determination demanded independence, and successfully defeated British Colonial Masters in the United Kingdom who had dominated our political history from the year 1898. On this very day, the 27th of April, sixty years ago, due to the efforts and commitment of courageous Sierra Leoneons, sovereignty was transferred to the People of Sierra Leone, giving us freedom to determine our destiny. Since that day in 1961, to today, 60 years later in 2021, our country, now the Republic of Sierra Leone, has indeed come a very long way.
In this address, I want to extend hearty and sincere congratulations to all of you, as we celebrate this 60th Independence Anniversary of the land we love, our Republic of Sierra Leone. And I also want to tell you about the success we have achieved as a nation.
EXCELLENCIES, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, DEAR FRIENDS
Our Sierra Leone is a unique country with a very rich culture, and a people who have demonstrated their resilience in the journey to gain independence. Together, we have overcome slavery, colonization, the tragic 11-year-long civil war during which 50, 000 people lost their lives; the flooding and 2017 mudslide that claimed thousands of lives and caused millions of dollars of destruction; and the scourge of Ebola. Now, we are also overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenging chapters in our history have brought adversity and hardship, yet, we remain a resilient and united people.
EXCELLENCIES, DINSTINGUISHED GUESTS, DEAR FRIENDS,
Democracy thrives in our nation, notably since the declaration in 2002 ending our 11-year-long civil war. Today, we embrace democracy, with freedom of speech, and a government of periodic elections, separation of powers, checks and balances and transparency. Notably, we are also an African nation with a vibrant civil society, made up of many community-based organizations, nongovernmental organizations, nationally-oriented faith-based organizations, and professional coalitions, whose voices are all respected, and who contribute valuably to the breadth and scope of our dynamic society.
We can be proud of this respect for the voice of the people, and our current democracy, evident in several successful multiparty elections since 1996. In that regard, allow me to now say, in my role as a representative of your government, how our country has advanced these principles, over years, and now, under our current administration of His Excellent President Julius Maada Bio. In proof of commitment to peace, our current President, retired Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio, and former Head of State under the National Provisional Ruling Council Military regime, returned our country to multiparty civilian governance by retiring his military uniform to become a public servant when elected President of our Republic of Sierra Leone in April, 2018.
Permit me to outline some of the significant advances our government has achieved for our country’s development. To sustain our country’s socio-economic growth, President Bio has introduced the “New Direction Agenda”, the campaign that is guaranteeing political, social, economic, and cultural rights and access of all Sierra Leoneans to basic necessities of life. This Agenda is successfully promoting good health, quality education, gender equality, and development in agriculture and other sectors for our people.
Education of our people is key to our development and lifting our people out of poverty. President Bio’s “Free Quality Education” program has seen success. Over two million of our youth have been enrolled in school. Free food to pupils is keeping them in school. Free textbooks are also provided. The salary of teachers has been increased by 30 percent, and teachers’ allowance increased by 10 percent. More school buildings are under construction. To ensure success, 21 percent of the national budget has been allocated to this Free Quality Education project. At the tertiary level, scholarships have been increased, especially for those pursuing sciences. We now have six universities, importantly serving the provinces.
You, the Diaspora community, have generously supported the President’s Education campaign. When I introduced the Diaspora Free Quality Education Basket Fund in June 2019, you, the Diaspora community, put your resources together to help realize our aim to construct an Academy of Excellence School in Sierra Leone. While we continue to secure adequate financial support for this Academy of Excellence School, we greatly appreciate your contribution to this project for our children.
Much progress is also being made in the health field. More healthcare facilities are under construction, to make services accessible and affordable in our country, so Sierra Leoneans do not have to seek treatment in foreign countries, at huge financial cost. Our embassy is collaborating with the United African Congress and other partners in a major project called “Africa Rise: Healthier and Stronger” to strengthen the infrastructure essential to healthcare access.
In the health sector, let me acknowledge our First Lady, Her Excellency Madam Fatima Maada Bio, for her tireless efforts championing the health and well-being of our people. Her fearless advocacy on behalf of gender equality and the protection and empowerment of women and girls is evident in her internationally acclaimed project, called “Hands Off Our Girls,” against rape, child marriage, and domestic violence. We can be proud of her national and global leadership in this crucial endeavor.
Our administration is also undertaking unprecedented development in the Energy sector, where district headquarters which had never experienced electricity are now benefitting from energy opportunities. Impressive advances are also being made in other sectors, such as tourism, infrastructure, and food production self-sufficiency. Youth skills-development for employment opportunities are in development, and key policy measures being instituted to transform the regulatory environment for doing business.
Looking ahead to when the pandemic subsides, the Embassy intends to hold a trade fair, planned last year, for Sierra Leone Tourism and Trade Ministers to offer U.S. and other country investors to visit our country and partner with our local businesses.
EXCELLENCIES, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, FRIENDS,
The fight against corruption by President Bio’s government has yielded unprecedented results over the past three years of his administration. The rating from Transparency International has placed Sierra Leone in the echelon of countries producing positive results in tackling corruption. As a result, in December 2020, the Millennium Challenge Corporation Board of Directors selected Sierra Leone for one of its coveted 5-year grants for poverty eradication and economic growth, awarding us $400 million US dollars. Further, as clear demonstration of commitment to freedom of expression, President Julius Maada Bio signed a new law on October 28, 2020, which repealed the 1965 Public Order Act, which had criminalized libel and sedition. With all these efforts for freedom and rights for our people, our President, and all of us working together, promise hope for a bright future for our country.
EXCELLENCIES, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, FRIENDS,
Let me now address the strong and mutually beneficial relations between our Republic of Sierra Leone and the United States of America, also a cause for celebration today.
Support of the United States dates back to the era of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, being among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with us at the time of our Independence, and scaling-up our status from Consulate to Embassy representation in 1961. So, today, I am happy to commemorate 60 years of positive relations between Sierra Leone and the United States. The United States has offered us continued support and assistance in the consolidation of peace, democracy, and human rights, as well as in health and education. Through its Global Health Strategy Agenda, the U.S. has significantly contributed to strengthening Sierra Leone’s ability to monitor zoonotic diseases and manage infection prevention and control, including being instrumental in our fight to end the Ebola outbreak, and now, against the COVID-19 pandemic. In September 2020, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered Sierra Leone a Five Million US dollar Grant to improve the capacity of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to prevent avoidable epidemics, including naturally-occurring outbreaks, and intentional or accidental releases of dangerous pathogens.
Most recently, after learning news of the renewed Ebola outbreak in Guinea, the U.S. National Security Adviser to President Joseph Biden, Honorable Jeff Sullivan, contacted me to offer assistance to Sierra Leone to prevent the Ebola epidemic from spreading to Sierra Leone. He pledged support in three ways: (1) to provide equipment, (2) to provide vaccinations, and (3) to help build our healthcare infrastructure. We welcome these generous offers, and look forward to their assistance and our partnership.
As a country situated on the West Coast of Africa, Sierra Leone is prone to climate disasters. Therefore, we are working closely with the United States and other partners to mitigate the threats of climate change. Of great significance, the Embassy of Sierra Leone to the United States, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and the Immigration and National Civil Registration Agency worked with officials of the U.S Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to lift the onerous expanded visa ban placed on our country on September 11, 2020. Special thanks goes to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Honorable Michael C. Gonzalez, in these cooperative efforts, which we anticipate will result in the permanent lifting of the 2017 visa sanctions.
In an important milestone and good will gesture on our part towards the United States, the Embassy of Sierra Leone hosted a dinner in honor of the Chairman of the powerful U.S. House Committee for Foreign Affairs, Honorable Gregory Meeks. Nine African Ambassadors who were present discussed a range of pertinent topics on US-Africa relations, making front-page news in newspapers in Sierra Leone and the United States. On the international stage, there is much to be recognized on this day, our 60th anniversary. As members of the United Nations, the Republic of Sierra Leone shares common aspirations for all governments of the world to promote the three main pillars of the United Nations on which the UN was founded: peace and security, human rights, and development. Other areas of shared priorities include the fight against Transnational Organized Crimes such as Trafficking in Persons and the illegal drug trade. Our Embassy, working with the Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, has supported major agreements of world governments, and co-sponsored many important events addressing the international agenda.
EXCELLENCIES, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, FRIENDS,
Today, we also acknowledge the Diaspora community for their ardent support of our country. When President Bio recently appealed for support when the COVID-19 pandemic struck our nation, it was you, the Sierra Leone Diaspora and friends of Sierra Leone, who mobilized financial and material support valued in excess of $7.5 Million dollars in 3 months, with a 40-foot container of medicine and equipment sent to Sierra Leone. Thankfully, with safety protocols and measures of our government under President Bio’s leadership, our country has done exceptionally well in the face of the dire COVID-19 pandemic.
EXCELLENCIES, GUESTS, FRIENDS,
On behalf of our government and our people of Sierra Leone, I want to say thank you to all of you, our nationals from every political party and region, the Diaspora, and friends, who support us in all the efforts I have outlined, including this celebration today. Let me close by acknowledging the superb efforts of all the organizers who joined the Embassy of Sierra Leone in the United States to create this event, including representatives of our political parties, religious groups, community-based organizations, Sierra Leone Diaspora and many friends. My deepest appreciation to organizations and individuals who sponsored this event, and humble regards to our Consul-General and Honorary Consuls. You all have also willingly paid the entire cost of producing this 60th Independence Day celebration, showing once again, your love and caring for our beloved country.
Much gratitude, as well, to my collegial Ambassadors, and members of the diplomatic corps, present here this evening to join our celebration. Your presence is an honor to our country and a demonstration of commitment to a united, strong, and vibrant Africa. And finally, to our Washington D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser, host to Ambassadors in the United States, thank you profoundly for your generosity and welcome to this incredible place we call “home away from home”. God bless you, and God bless all of you,
Happy 60th Independence Anniversary colleagues and friends, for your devotion and sharing today, and in the years ahead, for the bright future for our country and people.
LONG LIVE THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE,
LONG LIVE THE FRIENDSHIP AND COOPERATION BETWEEN SIERRA LEONE AND THE UNITED STATES.