The long contentious Bintumani 3 Conference geared towards consolidating national cohesion and enhancing peace commenced on May 23rd 2019. It was well-attended and took place at the Bintumani Conference Centre.
In attendance was His Excellency, President Bio, the Vice President, Dr. Mohammed Juldeh Jalloh, First Lady, Madam Fatima Bio, ministers of government, Members of Parliament, local, traditional and religious leaders, representatives of local councils and municipalities, representatives of political parties, members of the diplomatic and consular corps, development partners, representatives of civil society organisations and members of the Fourth Estate.
During the opening ceremony President Bio stated that Bintumani 3 is a major step in strengthening democracy through consultation which will lead to the establishment of an Independent Peace and National Cohesion Commission.
He noted that between the 15th and 17th of August 1995, the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), supported a national consultative conference of Sierra Leoneans.
“They came from a broad range of backgrounds and interests to discuss the timetable and process leading to the restoration of democratic civilian rule,” President Bio informed his audience.
The President went on to state that on 12th February, 1996 when he was the military Head of State he enjoined Sierra Leoneans to promote peace, development, and stability and that he had asked every Sierra Leonean to be mindful that “we all are our brothers’ keepers with one destiny and a common future.”
He recalled that he had exhorted every Sierra Leonean to work together to “achieve peace and to develop an environment in which democracy could thrive” knowing that “the welfare of our citizens is always the supreme law of the land.”
He reminded his audience that following peace initiatives with the RUF leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, it led to the signing of the Abidjan Peace Accord in 1996.
He further reminded his audience that both Bintumani 1 and Bintumani II conferences were consultative conferences that brought together a broad range of stakeholders to present their views and expectations, and to make informed decisions about the shared direction and destiny of our nation.
He went on to say that he believed then and still believes now that providing a space for discussions enables government to hear out the various voices and sentiments of ordinary citizens across the nation.
Bintumani III conference is about soliciting the views of Sierra Leoneans on the remit, the shape, and the mechanics of the proposed Independent Peace and National Cohesion Commission.
President Bio reminded his audience that Bintumani III comes 28 years after the adoption of our national constitution; 18 years after the end of civil conflict; 15 years after the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, followed by five democratic election cycles and three peaceful transfers of power.
‘I want to encourage all of us to continue our efforts to build solid institutions that will enable us to consolidate democratic practices and enhance national cohesion. We have made huge gains. We are a stable democracy. We have a free press. Civil society organisations operate and speak up freely. Our communities are integrated at all levels. We are a nation at peace. We need to consolidate and institutionalise those gains. We therefore need a viable infrastructure to help us build on past efforts; hence the holding of Bintumani III to be followed by the establishment of the Independent Peace and National Cohesion Commission,’ Presient Bio stated.
He further recalled that being mindful of the lessons contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Report and looking back on our past with total candour, he announced during the State Opening of Parliament in 2018 the launch of a National Consultative Conference with a focus on “peace building, diversity management, and the rebuilding of national cohesion.
He added that his government is eager for the final communique from Bintumani III to expedite its consideration by cabinet and the Sierra Leone Parliament. He added that Bintumani III is about the voices of women, men, the old, the aged pensioners, youth, children, persons living with disabilities, chiefs, community leaders, Imams, Pastors, Journalists, civil society, members of the security forces, nurses, doctors, civil servants, private business men and women, members of the Diaspora, and ordinary citizens.
President Bio added that Sierra Leoneans have proven once that they are capable of getting together and talking to one another about the future of their nation.
He noted that Bintumani III is not about politics or politicians and that Bintumani III is about the people and the future of our democracy and our beloved country.
He used the opportunity to warn those who claim to promote national cohesion and yet refused to participate in such an important gathering to ask themselves “where will your attitude take Sierra Leone”? He added that one cannot refuse to participate in an event that draws its force from all corners of the country and from all walks of life. ‘You cannot claim to love Sierra Leone more when all your actions and statements are contrary to the spirit of promoting diversity in democracy.’ The president said, noting that Bintumani III, is about those real, ordinary Sierra Leonean voices from all four corners of the nation and the Diaspora, thinking, talking about, and planning the direction in which we must take our vibrant democracy.’
He informed his audience further that Sierra Leone is not divided by religion or ethnicity as Sierra Leoneans live together, worship together, celebrate together, watch football games together, use the same markets, and live in the same communities very peacefully.
He warned however that the problem is that bad politicians are at the heart of the acrimony that continues to mar the social peace in this country. He said that they make everything political – the ethnicity of people, the region they come from, what they believe in, what they say, even people’s last names and the colour of clothes people wear.
President Bio maintained that while some of our elections are still characterised by low levels of violence and intimidation, the growing politicisation of ethnicity and ethno-regionalism have become recurrent albeit objectionable patterns of our politics.
He said politicians have tampered with critical national data either for political gerrymandering or to justify the uneven allocation of State resources and that in the recent past, the country witnessed heightened sycophancy.
‘We saw leaders being turned into demagogues. People overlooked rampant corruption because the looters were politically loyal to them. Governance processes have been characterised by discriminatory and divisive practices that have unfairly and unjustly excluded sections of our population. Impunity is rife in our country. “Buff case” and “no case” do not make for justice in our nation. Law enforcement should do its work fairly, without favour, and without fear of recrimination or reproach,’ the president said, adding that the media and civil society must not foster disinformation and hate.
‘Let us hold ourselves accountable as a nation for how we protect and provide access to services for the vulnerable. Let us protect women from sexual violence, gender violence, and gender discriminatory practices and attitudes.
Let us protect persons with disability, children, youth, and the aged and the poor. We must promote opportunity for every Sierra Leonean irrespective of ability, gender, or circumstance.
Let us hold ourselves accountable for moving this country in the right direction, ensuring public confidence in state institutions,’ President Bio admonished his attentive audience.
He used the opportunity to call on Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora to play a role in mobilising expertise, ideas, and investments to Sierra Leone as they too have a stake in the strengthening of our democracy.