Political leaders from across Africa have praised late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s legacy of peace and democracy.
Several leaders participated in talks and gave speeches all highlighting the achievements of the former President during the launch of a foundation in his memory.
The Ahmad Tejan Kabbah Foundation for Peace and Democracy was launched over the weekend in the presence of hundreds of guests at the Bintumani conference center in Freetown.
President Julius Maada Bio, who officially launched the foundation, spoke about President Kabbah’s legacy in finding a lasting peace for the war-torn country and setting up institutions to sustain this peace.
Bio, as a military leader and President Kabbah collaborated to start the country’s democratic history.
In 1996, Bio, then the military head of state, handed over the seat of government to a democratically elected President Kabbah. That handing over set the tone for today’s democracy, peace and stability in the country.
“In addition to appealing to our sense of unconditional patriotism, President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was clear on the importance of building strong institutions as the key balusters of democracy and national cohesion,” President Bio said as part of his keynote speech.
Former President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, spoke about President Kabbah’s resilience in pursuing peace.
Sirleaf worked with the late president first at the United Nations before they both became presidents of their respective countries. Both leaders engaged extensively in efforts to end the civil war in their countries and build democratic institutions.
“In those days, we had to cross a river on a canoe. We were able to cross a river to get the idea of peace into the minds of all those who led the uprisings,” she recalled in a speech.
“As the Ahmad Tejan Kabbah Foundation for Peace and Democracy is launched today, we commend its vision to champion a holistic approach to peace, democracy and justice,” she added.
Madam Sirleaf was among high profile guests from governments and the UN system invited to the event. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who worked closely with Kabbah, described the late man as “human and humane” in nature.
Mr. Obasanjo couldn’t make it to Freetown but he addressed the audience via a pre-recorded video message, in which he appealed to Sierra Leoneans to emulate Kabbah’s attribute to maintaining the country’s hard earned peace.
Sunday’s launch also provided an opportunity for people from across the different political divides, who crossed paths with the former President, to interact. Speakers gave testimonies on how much the late President contributed to modern day Sierra Leone.
Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, the leader of the opposition National Grand Coalition in Parliament, remembers Kabbah for his courage. “He had to go out of his way indeed to be inclusive. He also went out of his way to please the opposition,” he said.
Sidi Mohamed Tunis, the leader of Sierra Leone Peoples Party in Parliament, has been in the House since 2002. As part of his experience, he recalled how much tolerance they had to show to members of the Revolutionary United Front, who were widely seen as architects of the brutal civil war in the country.
“I served in Parliament with people like Johnny Paul Koroma and others. We had to go out of our way to tolerate MPs from RUFP, even to our own discomfort sometimes,” Tunis said.
Some other speakers delved on how the country can continue President Kabbah’s legacy and build on it in the coming years.
Mayor of Freetown, Yvone Aki-Sawyer, said “We are very conscious that if you don’t have women in power then you have created the equal space. At the Freetown City Council, under the transform Freetown, we are ensuring we do all we can to help women empowerment.”
The late President made some remarkable contributions to bringing women in governance. Former Ambassador to Iran in the Kabbah administration, Haja Alari Cole, said he was the first president to form a gender ministry which is now called the Ministry of Social Welfare.
“He instituted the Ministry of Gender and he started the Micro-Finance for women. The way he epitomized women and the way he thought about getting women in position of authority shows he knew the importance of women in development,” she said.
Widow of the late President and the Chief Executive of the Ahmad Tejan Kabbah Foundation, Isata Jabie-Kabbah, said the foundation will seek to contribute to all the things President Kabbah stood for.
“This foundation is broad based. Firstly, we will uphold the former President’s legacy of peace, democracy, tolerance and national cohesion. These are what he was known for. So, this is going to be part of the work we will be doing. We will also engage in other programs like agriculture, empowerment of women, girl child education,” Madam Kabbah said.