Karamoh Kabba speaks on democracy

19 September 2008 at 22:02 | 839 views

Keynote Speech by Karamoh Kabba on International Day of Democracy

September 15 2008

Mr. Chairman,

(Former)President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah,

Hon. Ministers and Parliamentarians,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All Protocols observed

Today, I am addressing this august assembly on behalf of His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, in honour of democracy. He cannot be here today because of equally serious commitments to government business.

He has asked that I express his deepest regret and apology to you. He also wants me to tell you that September 15th is a great day for all humanity and he, as President and father of the nation, shares that great regard for democracy with all humanity the world over. That is why he has sent me to express his respect and his unwavering commitment to democracy and all its tenets and principles on this day, September 15th, which in November 2007, was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly Resolution “support by the United Nations system of effort of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies” as the International Democracy Day.

Mr. Chairman, it is no news to all of us gathered here in honour of September 15th that ours in Sierra Leone is both new and restored democracy. Democracies in the Sub-region are new and the prevalence of restored ones often after civil wars is not a unique situation to Sierra Leone - ours is no different from many African countries - a phenomenon that has rendered a serious challenge to democracy and good governance in the region.

Many of us will agree that the dynamic nature of democracy, when compounded by armed civil conflicts is a flame to which fuel is being added.

Mr. Chairman,
This position is based upon the fact that leadership struggles in Africa and enforcement of democracy in the region, especially in new democracies, is often met by resistance from obdurate members of the society or members who often simply refuse to abandon their old ways due to many reasons ranging from tradition, culture etc. In such a volatile situation that is already a recipe for conflict, it is apparent then that political tolerance must prevail over all else in a given society. Strong advocacy for democracy, all out sensitisation campaign for tolerance and an unshakable commitment to non-violence by the leadership and the people must not only be in place but must precede electioneering itself for a society to have a better start and a good chance of upholding all the tenets and principles of democracy.

Mr. Chairman,
At this juncture, please permit me to say few words on behalf of the civil society organisation that has made it possible for us to gather here today. I must first confess that you are true champions of democracy. Your effort in sensitising the public on tolerance and the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates you conducted in 2007 were very instrumental to the peaceful outcome of the elections that have become the measure of a good electioneering process in Africa.

I must also seize the moment to thank all our bi-lateral and multi-lateral development partners, NGOs and all other civil society groups for standing side-by-side with us through the most tempting times when it was so tense that it was possible for us to easily degenerate into conflict in 2007. Even though there were times that you actually had to stand between us to keep us apart, we the people of Sierra Leone were equally determined to respect such interventions that kept us from further conflict. Simply, we are committed to shake off and shed off our war past.

Mr. Chairman,
With that being said, let me delve slightly into the history of the changing democracy in the world, and in how it relates to us in Sierra Leone:

Before any system of governance in the past, humanity lived in a natural world like any lower animal. It was a world of survival of the fittest in which only the strongest survived. It was a world of warriors and conquerors. It was a world in which ancient tribes roamed the world, foraging and cannibalising for the most part anything in their path, including each other. The order of the day was survival of the fittest in which only the strongest and the lucky survived.

Mr. Chairman,
Today we live in the world of law and order. This is because of thousands of years of changes in democracy, democratic process, and democratic systems and in the way that we view our world unlike the lower animal.

One of all times original political thinkers, Plato’s Symposium is one of the greatest conversation on love in our world of literature that had the very first chance at changing our view of the world and ourselves that is different from the old ways. From such early innovative thinking emerged Greek rationalism, Jewish monotheism and Christian love. These three concepts are so encompassing that though not the absolute bases for the changing democracies are the guide for major aspects of democratic systems - tolerance, love and law and order. It is even better now in our own part of the world because of the guidance we also get from the compassionate teachings of Prophet Mohamed (Peace and Blessing be upon Him).

We also know that democracy did not start suddenly with representative and inclusive democracy. Apparently, it started with monarchy because of the sense of the strongman rule that prevailed in the natural world. From that point onward, humanity took a step further - aristocracy - government by selected few. With time, the people saw it fit to participate in government unlike the usual way of leaving governance in the hands and whims of the strongman and the selected few. From this determination for the people to be masters of their own fate, they agitated for government of the people, for the people and by the people - And therein, the people, in all glorious effort combined kingship, aristocracy and the public to form a more representative and near to a perfect system, we now practice in Sierra Leone - the Presidential system of government.

One needs no degree in political science to see the President as the king of the past, to see his cabinet as the selected few of the past and to see the parliament as representative of the people. The only difference now is that no one entity has absolute powers in governing the state. There has been harmony between kingship, aristocracy and the people. Simply kingship is dictatorial, aristocracy is autocratic and government by the people alone is anarchical. These major systems of government have provided humanity the best ideal through thousands of years of reviews by great political thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, Cicero, St. Augustine, Machiavelli, Thomas Hobes, John Locke, Montesquieu, etc. Here in Sierra Leone by Bai Bureh, Madam Yoko, Kai Londo of Luawa, Sahr Samuel Lewis, Sir Milton Margai, Dr. Siaka Probyn Stevens etc.

Mr. Chairman,
We just have to reflect back on our short political history to agree that despite the 11-year civil war hitch in our democracy, we are democracy-loving people.

Unlike many other nations in Africa, we negotiated our Independence peacefully in 1961. We offered probably the first example in Africa in which a government was unseated through elections process in 1967. We have conducted several elections and conducted major referendum and constitutional review processes before the civil war that broke out in 1991.

Mr. Chairman,
We have established sufficiently in the discussion that democracy needs to be changing for the better. Therefore, we will have no reason to disagree that the military coup in 1991 that overthrew a legitimate government was a major glitch to our changing democracy. For better reason, it has been proven repeatedly that the worst civilian government is better than the best military regime. Simply, a civilian government can be changed through elections unlike a military regime that can be changed often only after bloodletting exercise. In Sierra Leone, we have changed a civilian government two times through election processes.

Mr. Chairman,
This nation has suffered serious assaults from gun-totting and machete wielding fighters in our recent past history. For this reason, His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma has great respect for the civil society, the fourth estate, and all the tenets and principles of democracy that we depend on to change our own world.

Under his leadership as president in less than eleven months in power, we have seen great many changes in this country including many changes in the lives of everyday people. Under his leadership, we can now boast of considerable amount of electricity supply. Under his leadership, we now have the Attitudinal & Behavioural Change as an institution with a full-time working secretariat to address, sensitize and reorient the mindset of our people and our lethargy to work and to everything that we need to do for the overall socio-economic development of our country.

Under his leadership, we also have the Open Government Initiative that is mandated to bring Government to the people and the people to Government to foster public accountability and transparency in governance. Two months ago, his Excellency launched the HRMO (Human Resource Management Office) to monitor, track and improve our workforce and increase the capacity of our workforce especially in the area of skill labour.

Therefore it did not come to me as a surprise when I red that Sierra Leone is number one in West Africa for the ease of doing business and that we are now 156 on the UN-Human Development Index. These are the benefits of democracy and good governance.

The president has demonstrated tremendous change in attitude in leading by example. Mr. Chairman, all of these changes combined will strengthen our democracy - it will help us to uphold all the tenets and principles of democracy. This administration has demonstrated immense determination to uphold the peace, to respect freedom of expression, to uphold the principles of the Fundamental Human Rights, to ensure the citizens right to know - the freedom of access to information according to ARTICLE 19.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
His Excellency want me to tell you in all unwavering terms and categorically that his leadership is committed to ensure that democracy flourish in Sierra Leone. He wants the public to know that there will be no tolerance for violence or threat of violence because violence or threat of violence is abhorrence to democracy and good governance. Therefore, to ensure we have democracy, we must first maintain the peace. If I must add to his Excellency’s message, I want to inform the public that it is a crime to shout fire in a packed theatre.

I thank you all for honouring this great day of September 15, the international day of democracy.