Fellow citizens, today, once again, we celebrate the great event marking the decision of those before us to take charge of our destiny; to make our own laws, formulate our own policies and to implement our own programmes. Today, we celebrate fifty six years of the freedom to manage our own affairs. It was a great decision and as a nation, we started well on the path of greatness. Then, we stumbled along the way, and the enthusiasm and joy of freedom and independence, shrunk. But collectively, we have reclaimed the vision that inspired our independence.
Since 1996, when we decided that enough was enough, that we must restore democracy and go back to the serious business of building our nation, we have never looked back. And in 2007, you gave me the honour to lead in this forward march to build the new Sierra Leone. It was a mandate to build more schools, establish new universities, build more roads, more hospitals, and to generate more electricity. It was a mandate to improve access to pipe borne water, to improve access to justice and to help the less privileged amongst us to get out of poverty. It was a mandate to consolidate the peace, to strengthen our democracy and to work together in building of a better Sierra Leone.
Fellow citizens, this is my tenth and final independence address as President of this great nation. In my almost 10 years of service as your Head of State, I am proud of what we have achieved together. We have experienced a decade of uninterrupted stability in governance. Rated the most peaceful country in West Africa and the sixth most peaceful in Africa, we have demonstrated to the world that we are a peaceful and stable nation, and a nation that is ready to move towards prosperity.
We have experienced difficult times; yet we have demonstrated resilience that is unrivalled and courage that is unsurpassed. Our policies have attracted an unmatched record of foreign direct investments into our country, resulting in the employment of many of our young people particularly in the extractive sector. And owing to those actions, we have witnessed a corresponding double digit economic growth.
We have established three universities in just nine years and this year, we will establish two more universities including one in the Eastern region. We have further taken affirmative action to provide free university education for persons with disabilities and for female students studying in the sciences in our universities. We have achieved gender parity in primary schools, considerably increased enrolment in junior and senior secondary schools, reintroduced the National School Feeding Programme and government is on track in providing subsidies and subventions for schools and colleges.
We proudly recount the establishment of a national free health care programme for pregnant women, lactating mothers, children under five years, the delivery of cash transfers to vulnerable households, the provision of seeds and other inputs to our farmers, the establishment of the Legal Aid Board and we are on course to establishing a free national ambulance service. With all of these achievements, our social protection is gathering pace and we are ensuring that the quality of life of our people is on the rebound. Even when we were compelled to retrace our steps, we readily put together and implemented a recovery programme that is becoming a blueprint for other countries.
And our health sector is picking up again: more hospitals and community health centres are emerging in urban areas and in remote communities, and we are training and bringing in more specialists and equipment to better serve our people.
Through our road infrastructure transformation programme, we are connecting our farmers to markets, our towns to our cities and our country to neighbouring states.
With the construction of mini hydro dams and the installation of thermal plants and solar technology; many more people are accessing electricity in Freetown, in several major towns and in rural communities where there had been no electricity for over three decades.
For the first time in more than three decades, we are restoring pipe borne water to many parts of the country through the reconstruction of water works stations in all district headquarter towns, and in several other major towns including Bo, Kenema and Makeni.
We also recount our deliberate efforts towards gender and youth empowerment. With the gender – sensitive legislations we have enacted, the youth – focused institutions we have established and the unprecedented high level of participation of women and young people in governance; we have set our society on the path of a more inclusive, fairer and brighter future.
Fellow citizens, our experiences have taught us the need to get tracking systems in all growth sectors; to get accurate data and to record our progress. We have therefore conducted a national census and we are implementing a national registration process to guide our development programmes.
The records show that our democratic credentials remain ever more commendable. We are reviewing our constitution, strengthened our transparency and accountability mechanisms, opened up the media space and the voices of civil society actors are becoming louder. Every now and again, majority of Sierra Leoneans conduct their affairs in keeping with the tenets of democracy and good governance. We vote in a peaceful manner, practice our religions with tolerance and allow each other’s political space. That is who we are – a peace-loving nation.
Next year, on March 7, that peaceful disposition will be put to the test once again. We will vote for our next set of leaders to carry on with this renewal. In doing so, we will have to protect the asset of stability which we have collectively developed. We must continue to allow the rule of law to prevail, adhere to the regulations of our political parties and respect the right of others to participate in the electoral process.
Fellow citizens, in just a little over a year, my tenure will come to an end and I will graciously hand over power to my successor in a democratic transition. Yes, I will be leaving office, but also a legacy of transformation and of peace and of unity which we must all be committed to protect and build upon. We do not have another Sierra Leone and ours is a small country because we are a family of damiahs, ‘berankehs’, ‘komenehs’, of ‘Ngohs’, kothors and of ‘hemohs’. The actions of a compatriot in Koinadugu or in Kambia may have consequences for others in Bonthe, Kailahun and in other parts of the country. We must therefore thread carefully and treat one another with civility, restraint and compassion.
We are a
proud and resilient people and over the years, I have observed how
Sierra Leoneans have learnt to overcome challenges – of war, of disease, and of division. This is why, on this parting Independence Day, I am confident that our future is bright. As a nation, we will stride into a
brighter tomorrow and burnish our credentials as a symbol of
resilience, an example of perseverance and a beacon of hope.
Yes, Sierra Leone is rising again but to sustain this renewal, we must work even harder and more collectively to consolidate the peace, foster national cohesion and to generate more of our own revenue. This is everyone’s responsibility – it does not matter what political party you belong to, or what region you are coming from, or which language you speak – whether you are at the Ports, or at the customs, a coast guard or at the immigration office, or a mines officer or an officer of the law, a vote controller, a Member of Parliament, or a member of the public – the building of the new Sierra Leone requires our collective determination.
On this fifty sixth independence anniversary, I therefore entreat everyone to pay heed to the thoughtful words of our national anthem and our creed of Unity, Freedom and Justice.
I wish you all a memorable Independence Day celebration.
God Bless you and may God bless the Republic of Sierra Leone.