Sierra Leone’s international image on the upsurge

6 July 2009 at 05:15 | 988 views

Dateline New York : The Diary of a Sierra Leonean diplomat

By Wilfred Leeroy Kabs-Kanu

There is no emotion as enthralling and uplifting as the realization that one’s country is impressively riding the crest of a much-improved international image, despite all the negative banter from sections of the local press.

After working for just two months in New York as one of Sierra Leone’s diplomats assigned to the United Nations , I can say with conviction that our country is making glorious strides to extricate herself from the shadows of her gloomy and dishonourable past . For all the negativists care to know, Sierra Leone has an impressive image within the corridors=2 0of the UN. It is not only because the country has fared beyond expectation in her peace-building and national reconstruction efforts. Sierra Leone is also playing key and very influential roles in bilateral, multilateral, development and multistakeholder diplomacy and is a member of many committees in the global organization.

Our nation is doing an astounding job in the hallowed task to reform the UN Security Council, with her commanding role as the Chair of the African Union Committee of 10 , a distinguished group that has been given the lofty role to work with other nations, including African states, to negotiate for more seats for Africa, especially in the permanent category , and for veto rights . She is also an outstanding figure in other committees . Sierra Leone is one of the lead players in the UN in the drive towards decolonization, and the promotion of human rights and gender equality in the world .In all these committees, Sierra Leone’s strident, compelling, authoritative and diplomatic voice is highly respected and her perspectives are helping immensely to promote the goals of the UN. It is astonishing that such a small country, adjudged the poorest in the world, is still able to lift her head so high among the comity of nations and be such=2 0an asset to international diplomacy. But should this really be surprising ?

Sierra Leone, we must never forget , was once the Athens of West Africa and the Beacon of Light of Africa .She gained this much-vaunted image because during the 19th century, Freetown was not only the most cosmoplitan city in Africa south of the Sahara but an enclave for the transfer of Western civilization, intellectualism, professionalism, art and culture to the continent . From 1860 to the 1900s, Sierra Leone was the major educational and commercial centre and the flashpoint of the budding professionalism in West Africa. Adell Patton, in PHYSICIANS ,COLONIAL RACISM AND DIASPORA IN WEST AFRICA, writes : "Freetown, Sierra Leone, was formerly described as the Athens of West Africa. The city was the most significant frontier medical community to develop in the region, and in time physicians there spread western medicine beyond Sierra Leone to other British colonies in West Africa ".

We are not an inferior nation and this fact needs to be drummed home to some sections of the misguided Sierra Leone press , who tend to make their unfortunate readers b elieve otherwise . We might be a poor nation today, but our international performance and influence amplify what is often foretold of us that all things being equal, Sierra Leone is a potential global leader. Despite all our dysfunctionalities and problems, our diplomats , intellectuals and citizens continue to play amazing roles in the world and we are among the nations ruling the waves in the world. .

Sierra Leone , of course, lost her much-honored status after Independence in 1961 through a plethora of problems ranging from bad and inept governance, to corruption, tribalism, selfishness and unpatriotism , not to mention also the abject neglect of the country by the world powers ,especially after the end of the Cold War when the whole world sat on its hunches and watched Sierra Leone destroy herself in one of the bloodiest internecine conflicts ever , without intervening, until it was almost late. And this Civil war that spilled over from neighbouring Liberia in 1991 , put paid finally to the country’s glories as it brought not only massive deaths, untold suffering and total destruction of the country’s infrastructure and social institutions but an enduring and dishonorable image as a bloody, unsafe, dangerous and lawless country where the limbs of babies and innocent civilians were amputated and pregnant wom en were disembowelled for sport by rampaging rebels.

However, since the war officially ended in 2001, Sierra Leone has made dramatic strides to recover and chart a new course, which attests to the remarkable resilience and industry of the people . Democracy has long been restored and in 2007, Sierra Leone staged one of the best Presidential and Legislative elections in the world, polls that were even more credible than the George Bush 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections in the great United States of America. Gradually, the national socio-political and economic life has been restored .Deep problems of unemployment and other socio-economic problems still exist but despite the inordinate manner these problems have been used by some of the country’s own journalists and politicians to foster a perpetual stigma on the nation, Sierra Leone’s leaders, especially President Ernest Koroma and his government , have succeeded in proving to their international partners , stakeholders and the international community that they are imbued with the commitment and political will to return the nation to her best, if given the required support by the international community .

Though the detractors of the government tried desperately no t only to present the whole exercise in negative light and to even wreck it through an unnecessary demonstration, the Sierra Leone Government and stakeholders held a very successful High Level Peace Building Special Session at the United Nations last month , during which nation after nation got up to laud the brilliant moves the country has made in consolidating peace and setting in motion the machinery for good governance and the promotion of human rights and the rule of law. The outcome of the summit paved the way for the successful implementation of the UN Joint Vision for Sierra Leone and for also launching the UN Multi-Donor Trust Fund. In essence, we fulfilled the benchmarks set for reaping rich dividends from the UN Peacebuilding fund.

President Ernest Koroma’s AGENDA FOR CHANGE —an ambitious Poverty Reduction Strategy build around the priority areas of Agriculture and Food Security, Infrastructure & Transportation; and Energy & Water Resources. highly impressed our partners-in-progress , stake holders and the international community.

While the nation was still toasting the successful peacebuilding summit and the sumptuous enhancement of her international respect and acceptability, another victory came knocking at the door last week when aggregated information from scores of organizations , including Freedom House and the Economist Intelligence Unit , ranked Sierra Leone second only to Serbia as the nations that have made the most improvements in accountability in the past decade. The ECONOMIST magazine explains further : "In judging accountability the bank uses measures of civil rights (including freedom of speech, assembly and religion), freedom of participation in elections and press freedom, in 209 countries." If this distinction does not lift the hearts of Sierra Leoneans, I wonder what will. This is yet another victory by Sierra Leone that should make her errant and vicious propaganda-prone press and online commentators rethink their opinions about where the country stands internationally. At times, the ignorance displayed by our journalists and forumites online while discussing the country’s international image is astounding and unbelievable. These journalists should come to the UN to see things first hand.

AN impeccable international image is definitely one of the barometers for sustai nable national reconstruction for a post-war country because it is capable of bringing more aid into the country .It is an achievement that every thoroughbred and patriotic Sierra Leonean should relish . Donor countries , stakeholders and develpoment partners are fascinated by Sierra Leone’s postwar progress and President Ernest Koroma’s brilliant leadership. The first two paragraphs of this CONCORD TIMES news story say it all : "The United Nations Under Secretary General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, has assured President Koroma that the UN would not only continue to support Sierra Leone but would align its priorities in accordance with the government’s ’agenda for change’ . Speaking during a brief visit at the President’s Hill Station Lodge on Friday 12th June, Mr. Pascoe said the whole UN body was impressed with President Koroma’s performance and presentation during the video link on the UN conference on Sierra Leone in New York, which he described as a "resounding success".

President Koroma has started the rebranding of Sierra Leone in earnest with his inspiring leadership and novelle programs like the AGENDA FOR CHANGE,which holds much hope for Sierra Leone and is spoken about highly within the walls of the UN.

Those Sierra Leoneans who love their country genui nely should take advantage of these reports to throw their weight behind the President and his government and help them carve out a new Sierra Leone that will once more bring pride and succor to us all.

Some other Sierra Leoneans not involved in government are also contributing splendidly to keep the Sierra Leone flag flying majestically in the international world. Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, a worthy son of the land, continues to blaze new trails at UNIDO .The spokesman for UNIDO, Dr George b. Assaf SENT OUT THE FOLLOWING REPORT:

VIENNA, 2 July 2009 – UNIDO Director-General, Kandeh K. Yumkella, received today a Russian Foreign Ministry decoration “For [his] Contribution to International Cooperation”, as well as congratulations on his re-election for a second term in office from Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“Serving all these years at this high and responsible post you have proven yourself to be a person completely devoted to the aims of improving and building up the efficiency of the Organization’s assistance,” wrote Minister Lavrov in a letter to the Director-General.

“I am pleased to note that even at the time of a global financial and economic crisis UNIDO under your guidance is not only keeping its stability and abilities, but is even building up organizational, operative and expert potential thus gaining a higher proven authority among UN-family organizations.”

"Director-General Yumkella was recommended for a second term in office during the thirty-sixth session of UNIDO’s Industrial Development Board on 23 June. He will be nominated for confirmation by the Organization’s General Conference at its thirteenth session scheduled to take place in Vienna in December. The Board comprises 53 countries out of the 173 UNIDO Member States."


We have every right to be proud as Sierra Leoneans . Such reports do not only elevate our national pride and consciousness but serve as a reminder to every one of us that we have a lot at stake and it is the duty of every Sierra Leone to discover a place where they too can contribute their quotas to make Sierra Leone the truly great nation she deserves to be.

Leeroy Wilfred Kabs-Kanu

Minister Extraordinary a nd Plenipotentiary /Coordinator of C-10
Sierra Leone’s Mission to the UN,
New York, USA