His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio has told the Bintumani III conference, which opened on Wednesday that Sierra Leoneans have proven they are capable to get together and talk to one another about their future.
“This 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. The eventual establishment of that Commission will be a huge step in efforts to further consolidate and strengthen our democracy,” he said.
President Bio also told the well-attended conference on democratic consolidation for peace and national cohesion, holding between 23 – 25 May 2019, that the country and its people had made huge gains with a stable democracy, a free press and where civil society organisations operate and speak up freely. He added that communities had integrated at all levels and that the nation was at peace.
“We need to consolidate and institutionalise those gains. We, therefore, need a viable infrastructure to help us build on past efforts. 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, through 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,” he said.
He recalled that both Bintumani Conference I in August 1995 and Bintumani Conference II in February 1996 were consultative conferences, adding that a broad range of stakeholders convened at the time to present their views and expectations and to make informed decisions about the shared direction and destiny of our nation.
“I believed then and I still believe now that providing a space for discussions enables government to hear out the various voices and sentiments of ordinary citizens across the nation… So my government is eager for the final communique from this event and we will expedite its consideration by cabinet and then the Sierra Leone parliament,” he said.
In his welcome address, Chief Minister Professor David John Francis, who co-chaired the event, said Sierra Leone was at a crossroad because for eighteen years after the civil war the country had not established a strong and long term foundation for lasting peace and non-violence transformation of conflict, adding that the country had not invested and planned for the prevention of violent conflicts.
He said the Bintumani III dialogue forum was an initiative of President Bio, whose Government had done extensive engagements across the country to ensure that the programme was inclusive. He noted that the conference was not about the Commissions of Inquiry, which had been legislated by Parliament and the pending court cases against opposition Members of Parliament, but was about democratic consolidation in the country.
Secretary-General of the Inter-Religious Council in Sierra Leone, Rev. Dr. Usman Jesse Fornah, said the Council was pleased to be part of the conference that was geared towards healing the wounds of divide and hate in the country after a deeply divided election. He encouraged political leaders to put the interest of the nation above all others.
President of the Children’s Forum Network, Mariam Samai, said the Peace and Dialogue Conference was a welcomed move in the eyes of children because they could be the biggest beneficiaries of any peaceful society. She commended President Bio for the Free Quality Education, the universal access for pre-primary, primary and secondary education, and the expansion of the Free Health Care. She said the proposed Peace Commission should be child-friendly and one that would protect the rights of children.
United Nations Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel and Head of UNOWAS, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, commended President Bio and his administration for the continuous commitment to promoting peace and national cohesion and for trying to reduce the political tension in the country.
He said the dialogue conference would create an opportunity for national cohesion and democratic consolidation and therefore urged the various participants to use the three-day engagements to bring out solutions through sustained dialogue, seeking a peaceful and cohesive nation. He added that the UN has always encouraged inclusion, respect for the rule of law and continued dialogue.