President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, President of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone--The Millennium Development Goals

September 19, 2005 11:00 AM

Q & A

by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah

April Tubbs: My name is April Tubbs, I'm with the CEPA program here at Columbia and I'm a first year student. Thank you very much for coming, your Excellency. My question is in regard to the withdrawal of *Unamsil. What preparation has Sierra Leone made for the withdrawal?

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: I thank you. As I said in my address, we were very busy making sure that we restructured our security forces as well as the military and police and this was done with the help with an international monitoring and advisory mission headed by the British and during that time, we have put in place, a very strong team of military people and very well trained police officers that have already assumed their constitutional responsibilities, so we feel very safe, thank you.

Jane Shore: Good morning, Mr. President, thank you so much for your talk. I'm
Jane Shore from Search for Common Ground, that you would know as Talking
Drum Studio in Syria and I'm bringing a troop of investors to Sierra Leone next
month. I wanted to ask you about the RUF and whether there are still people who
support them and what the situation is. Have they completely disappeared and
who are they now?

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: Thank you. Well, yes, they're human beings and most of
them were really conscripted. They were forced against their wish to participate
in the rebel activities. And those that are there, we, through the disarmament and
demobilization process, we tried to really educate them a little bit as to the
responsibilities of citizens, what you're expected to do and I think, and also we
appealed to the victims to forgive them and this also was done. So, as a result,
the bulk of them are in Sierra Leone. Some of them, you would be surprised,
have even joined my own party and they want to be part of us. And this is the
type of thing. I think one area that we have really been successful in really getting
things moving in Sierra Leone is that we, earlier on in our term of office, we
embraced the policy of national cohesion and the whole question of forgiving
people who admit that they've made mistakes and are prepared to work for the
common good of the country. So come to Sierra Leone, you will be very safe. I
myself, very often, I travel by road. Very little security and I'm still safe and

Jane Shore: Thank you, I look forward to it.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: Thank you.

Student: Thank you, Mr. President. I'm (inaudible). I have to thank you for your
effort in bringing peace in Sierra Leone. As a (inaudible), I appreciate it. I have
another question that is related to the role that Sierra Leone should play in West
Africa. I am from *Moritanya and I am fighting against racism and slavery in
Moritanya and I think I would like to know the position of your government
relating to the racist and slavery in both Sudan and Moritanya, thank you, Mr.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: Thank you very much. Well, in the first place, I'm against
any form of slavery and any form of abuse of somebody's human rights. Partly
because I suppose I'm a lawyer and my legal training will not endorse that type of
thing. Now, in regard to your country, Moritanya was part of the economy
community of West African states. We handled matters to do with peacemaking
and movement of people within the 15 member states, but unfortunately,
Moritanya decided without any reasoning to withdrawal from that group. So I
therefore have not had much contacts with Mauritanians. They do not have a
diplomatic representation in Sierra Leone, nor have we in Moritanya, so we have
some problems there. But from what I've been hearing, I know that the African
Union attempted to address the problems connected with the recent *Coup de Ta
in Moritanya, and I know that from our head of state is now in Qatar and has
been given asylum there and I hope that like us, your people will be able to
resolve your problems in a peaceful manner. Thank you.

Student: Thank you, Mr. President.

Dr. Judy Korianski: Thank you, Mr. President, for that brilliantly articulated very
clear and very heartfelt talk about your country and your struggles. I'm Doctor
Judy Korianski; I'm a faculty at Teacher's College here at Columbia in clinical
psychology. And going with search for common ground to your country next
month. I'm also a representative with the U.N. with two NGOs and hosted a
major seminar and workshop about media and the MDG's at the U.N. just
recently. And *Sashi Zoror, who you know, undersecretary general at the U.N.,
said the eight and a half millennium development goal at the U.N. is media. And
being at the U.N., I know that Sierra Leone is not in a sense on the big radar
screen for concern about the African countries, which I obviously care about
because I'm going there for you. So how can your government make many
people in the world and here in our country and at the U.N. aware of the
importance of Sierra Leone to be on that radar screen of the African countries?

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: I thank you. Well, I think that's really, our own media
should be, the people who should take this first step in this particular area. And
with regard to my own position about the media in my country, I have on
numerous occasions come out with very public statements, very strong ones,
that you cannot develop democracy without a strong media and unfortunately,
because of these type of things that I inherited right across the board in Sierra
Leone, bad governance and all that, the media tends to believe that checkbook
journalism is the only thing that pays. But we're engaged with them in trying to
encourage them and the current American ambassador in Sierra Leone is also
helping us in that direction. So we want to be able to really, we've been tackling
this as a first step. And I'm sure after that, we will move into what you are talking

Dr. Judy Korianski: I'm glad to hear that, because I am a reporter and I'm going
there so I can help you.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: That's really nice. Thank you.

Adjah Bay: Your Excellency, thank you. It's really an honor to hear you talk
about the progress of your nation. My name's Adiah Bay and I'm an
undergraduate student in the college and my question is about environmental
conservation. I was wondering do you view environmental conservation as a key
component to economic development, agricultural development, and food

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: Yes, these are two matters that I'm very much
preoccupied with. The first one, your second question I'll take first. Food security.
I was re-elected for the second term in 2002 and soon after I took my oath of
office, I made a public declaration that before my term comes to an end in 2007;
no Sierra Leone must go to bed hungry. And within a week after that, I went to
Rome because they were having a huge international meeting on food security
there and I made our position very clear. Now I want to say that our people
initially, you know in any political situation, you'll have certain detractors who will
divert people from the real thing itself.

Initially, when I made that pronouncement, some people said, some politicians
said that President has promised to give all of you free food. And as a result, it
sort of staggered off before it got off the ground. But I want to say that we are in
the position where I'm very, very happy that we will achieve our objective. Not
only of being food self-sufficient, but as I said in my main address, we shall even
have surplus that we can sell to our neighboring countries. Now, and also,
another aspect of it is that the PRSP, Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, which
we have prepared, a very important component of the particular document is a
question of food security. So we are very busy working on that. Now this first
question, the first issue was?

Adjah Bay: Environmental contribution.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: Yes, yes, yes, that's another one. We had a situation
until recently where we have a forest moving all the way through Ghana, through
Ivory Coast to Liberia and onto Sierra Leone. We call it the Gula Forest. And
people used to just chop off the food, the wood, the trees, to make, export board
and other things to people and sells and also they were destroying a very, very
rare animals that we had indoors, including birds as well. And about six months
ago, I took a decision that I was not even going to make it as a ministry, but we
wanted to have it as a commission, so that because a ministry, people start
bureaucracy and all this type of thing.

So we wanted to be really an action oriented organization, a commission who put
the people together. Fortunately, the U.S. government is in the process of
helping us in that area and just about three days ago, the director in the world
bank that's responsible for West Africa, visited me and we discussed it, and he
told me that in response to my call for my assistance that they would be sending
people to go to Sierra Leone in the next, I think, three months. No, no, sorry, two
or three days next week. And so we are moving very, very fast on that. And we
are very much concerned about it. We know the negative impact it will have on
your country and we want to avoid those.

Adjah Bay: Thank you.

Swaki Savi: Swaki Savi from (inaudible). Your Excellency, thank you for sharing
your journey for us. I have two questions for you. You share with us that you
have 21 years of experience in international community in UNDB.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: Twenty two

Swaki Savi: Twenty two. So should we say that Sierra Leone would be achieving
the millennium development goals by 2015? And if not, what are the
impediments that Sierra Leone is facing in order to achieve those goals?

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: Well, maybe, maybe there was something wrong with
the microphone, but certainly, I mentioned in my speech that we are very hopeful
to be able to achieve it.

Swaki Savi: And so you think you will be able to be taking lead in Africa to
achieve these goals? What do you think Africa needs to have in order to achieve
those goals?

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: I cannot speak on behalf on the rest of Africa. I can only
speak on behalf of Sierra Leone.

Swaki Savi: And the second question was you also raised about anti-corruption.
So do you think that is a factor that's an impediment around the goals?

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: This is a worldwide phenomenon. I think I was watching
the TV this morning, channel 2; some people were campaigning for election in
New Jersey. The local government was saying that there's too much corruption
and all that. So it's a worldwide phenomenon. Now, but we, we have regarded,
we have really characterized this as a very, very high priority. I went to our
parliament to address (inaudible). I have a mandatory address to make to the
Parliament and I characterized corruption as a national security risk. This shows
you the extent to which we are very much concerned about it.

Female: This is going to be the last question.

Megan Gallagher: Thank you very much for being here today. I really
appreciate. My name is Megan Gallagher; I'm a first-year student in the School of
Public Health. And I recently visited Sierra Leone while working in Guinea and
noticed a significant difference in the corruption between Guinea and that of
Sierra Leone. You've made a lot of progress compared to the countries that
border you. On the note of corruption. How has the general population, as well as
the government officials, reacted to corruption? And how has that culture change

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: Well, we've had our (inaudible) problems. The very first
people that, we asked for example, the British to come and help us in setting this
up. And they were able to get somebody who had successfully set up a similar
institution in Hong Kong many years ago. And this man also was used to set up a
similar institution in Botswana, Southern Africa. And the gentleman was with us
for some time and he gave us some very good benchmarks and clues, which we
find extremely useful and I would say that we, say for example, a judge of the
court of appeal has been convicted. I think two or three ministers have been
convicted, and many, many more in that area.

Now the public, of course, they are very much concerned about it. Because the
main components of our anti-corruption commission strategy is not only to arrest
people and lock them up and so on, but to educate people about the dangers of
corruption and they go to schools, schoolchildren, and tell them about the
dangers of corruption. Talk to them and so on, and they also go to the local
authorities. Before we decided to set up our local government institutions, they
had been in operation for about 32 years. And people were used to doing
unacceptable things, so we decided to have this type of thing on so as to get
things moving.

Megan Gallagher: Thank you.

Female: Thank you very much Mr. President.

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