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Golden Jubilee: A message from Dr. Abdulai Conteh

28 April 2011 at 22:05 | 959 views

An Aria for a Nation and then an Elegy:

A Rededication of our Independence

A message by Abdulai Osman Conteh to mark the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Independence of Sierra Leone – 27th April, 2011.

My fellow compatriots:

Two scores and ten years ago, the Green, White and Blue Flag was unfurled on the stroke of midnight on the 27th April, heralding the birth of our nation, Sierra Leone. This was accompanied by the strains of a new anthem our National Anthem.

Everyone stood to attention as the new anthem was played “High we exalt Thee, Realm of the Free; Great is the love we have for Thee…,” and the new flag unfurled in the wind.

As a new member of the international community, independent Sierra Leone was admitted to membership of the United Nations as the 100th member.
Much has happened since that fateful morning, but it was with unbounded confidence and optimism that we all embraced that day, tempered only by the fears and possibilities that might lay ahead

A time span of fifty years is a milestone in the life of an individual, an institution or a nation.

Today, we commemorate that historic day. In the fifty years that have elapsed since the dawn of that day, much has happened to the new nation and its citizens.

As a fledgling democracy, dancing to a pulsating multiparty political rhythm, in 1967, the first military intervention in governance of the country showed its disturbing and unwholesome face. After a closely contested General Elections, the opposition party wrested victory from the incumbent governing party, for the first time in sub-Saharan Africa, if not the rest of Africa. The military, however, decided through the barrel of the gun, to become the government.

This has left an almost indelible scar on the national psyche which only time will heal but this was to be repeated twice during the last fifty years:, in April, 1992 and May 1997. We can only pray and hope as we celebrate this day that military intervention in the governance of the country is a thing of the past and never to be repeated, again!

In April 1971, just 10 short years after independence, amidst anxiety and some political turbulence, the country was transformed into a Republic, first with a ceremonial president, but in quick order into an Executive presidency with Executive powers.

The passage of time in the span of fifty years, has also witnessed an inexorable decline in the fortunes of the nation. This, despite the abundance of national resources the country has been endowed with.

We also experienced a hiatus in our political development when the country was transformed into a one-party state in 1978. But mercifully and peacefully, we reverted in 1991, to a vibrant multiparty polity with a new National Constitution. Long may multiparty politics flourish in our country. It should empower the people to freely elect their leaders and government and entrench democracy under the rule of law

We also registered negative returns in nearly every developmental field: education, health, employment, the provision of electricity and even in agriculture and food production. All of this was accentuated by decaying infrastructure. Every true Sierra Leonean would hang his head in shame when the country ranked, year in and year out, at the bottom of Human Development Index.

But the greatest tragedy to befall the nation was the senseless, debilitating and destructive war waged, for some twelve years, (1991 to 2002), by some Sierra Leoneans against their fellow citizens. It was a particularly brutal war in which often times, children became the hapless victims and, at times, themselves the befuddled perpetrators of some of the atrocities of the war.

The fact remains however, that the country has survived these past 50 years as a country and, though battered and bruised, yet still standing.

Let us therefore, as we celebrate this day, dedicate ourselves never again, for whatever reason, to take up arms against our fellow Sierra Leoneans.

Let us rededicate ourselves that we shall always honour and cherish Sierra Leone, the land we resoundingly proclaim in our National Anthem to love.

Long, May our country, Sierra Leone, live in peace, be happy and prosperous. May it forever be the Realm of the Free.

It is therefore as a Republic that we should pause and reflectively mark or celebrate its 50th anniversary as an independent country.

Background (From Wikipedia)

Dr Abdulai Osman Conteh (b. August 6, 1945) is a lawyer and politician from Sierra Leone.

Early life and education

Dr. Conteh graduated with LLB (Hons) from King’s College London where he won the Harold Porter Prize for Land Law in 1968, and subsequently continued his education at King’s College, Cambridge. He was a member of Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1970.

Political career in Sierra Leone

Conteh’s public service in Sierra Leone has included holding the offices of Minister of Foreign Affairs (1977–1984); Minister of Finance (1984–1985); Attorney-General and Minister of Justice (1987–1991) and First Vice-President and Minister of Rural Development (1991–1992), as well as standing as an elected Member of Parliament in the Legislature.

In late 2007, Conteh was nominated as a candidate to become Chairperson of the African Union Commission in early 2008, but he was not successful, with Jean Ping of Gabon being elected.

Chief Justice of Belize (2000-2010)

In January 2000, Conteh became the Chief Justice of the Belize Supreme Court.

In 2008 and 2010, Conteh authored two decisions affirming the common law doctrine of aboriginal title and the existence of Maya customary land tenure in the Toledo District of Belize. Only the villages of Conejo and Santa Cruz were parties to the 2008 ruling; however, the 2010 ruling was the result of a representative action on behalf of all the Maya communities. The ruling voided all government leases, concessions, grants, and contracts adverse to the Maya tenure. The "landmark victory" is predicted to have "far-reaching implications" for "logging, mining, and petroleum concessions in what the Maya community claims is over 500,000 acres of ancestral homeland." The government intends to appeal the decision to the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Conteh turned 65 on August 6, 2010, forcing him to retire since his contract was not renewed by Prime Minister Dean Barrow. Barrow’s decision not to offer Conteh a renewal was condemned by the Belize Bar Association in a resolution criticizing the "unseemly manner in which the tenure of the chief justice has been treated by the government of Belize." His retirement became a "national political issue because the Chief Justice is popular with the masses of the Belizean people, and is regarded by many as fair-minded and fearless. Several of his landmark rulings particularly on constitutional issues are considered “anti-government” and “anti-establishment,” and many were made even under the former Musa administration."

Court of Appeal of the Cayman Islands

In December 2008, Dr. Conteh was appointed as a Justice of the Court of Appeal of the Cayman Islands. In 2010, he was appointed to the Court of Appeal of the Bahamas.