As I get older I find my mind dwelling more and more on the past. Inevitably my thoughts wander back to the time when Sierra Leone became a Republic. At 1.13 p.m. on April 19th, 1971, I declared the State a Republic after a Republican Constitution had been approved by Parliament and passed into law with a majority of53 in favour and 10 against I can remember that as I spoke those fateful, all-important words there were tears in my eyes, for in my own lifetime I had seen my country come such a long way. I was proud to be associated with the struggle that had led to this moment, and that pride was swelled as I listened to the shouts and applause that followed my declaration that April day.
There was a long standing ovation but I was so oblivious to the passage of time that I cannot tell you whether it lasted for just seconds or minutes. I can remember looking up at those who piled into the public gallery and being overwhelmed at the thought that these were my people, that the struggle had been for them.
Later that day the British flag was lowered from State House and replaced by the flag of Sierra Leone. Once again there was a tremendous response from the crowds. They shouted ‘Happy New Year’ and cheered. And like all New Years we were starting off with a clean slate, all of us full of resolutions. The only difference between this and other New Years was that those resolutions were going to be remembered and maintained, and not dropped at the end of the month like a child resolving to give up candy.
That night no one got very much sleep, least of all me. Crowds gathered in the streets and impromptu parties and celebrations went on into the small hours of the morning. In fact, I remember that there was little opportunity to sleep for the whole of that week! Two days later I became the first Executive President of Sierra Leone at a ceremony in Parliament Building. Again I was called on to make a speech. I prayed to God that I would prove myself worthy of the confidence put in me by my people — and that prayer has been with me ever since. I told Parliament that only by keeping in touch with the people at all times could I be sure of following the right path.
I also promised to deal firmly with trouble makers — my experience as a policeman had taught me the importance of that — and I realised that if Sierra Leoneans were to have confidence to pursue the building up of their country, they deserved to be able to carry on their lives in peace and quiet, free of trouble and disturbance. When I was a policeman I remember well the pain and unhappiness that just one law breaker could bring to a whole community — and I was not having any of that!
A few days after Sierra Leone became a Republic I had the honour of swearing in the first Vice President and the Prime Minister. After the ceremony Mr. S. I. Koroma and I drove through the streets of Freetown. The pavements were lined with people, and I think that the Vice President was as touched as I was at the crowds’ enthusiastic reception. S.I. — as he has affectionately come to be known — is, like myself, a province-born man and has had a long career in politics. Perhaps one of his most striking qualities is his holiness — he is a very devout Muslim — and it is easy to detect the importance of his religion in his everyday life and work.
One of the most worrying moments for me and my country was when we heard of his terrible car crash, and the dreadful injuries he sustained. And yet with quiet determination he got better and quickly returned to serving his people, almost as if nothing had happened.
A little more than a week after we became a republic there was yet another celebration. Our tenth anniversary of Independence was marked by public holidays and nationwide festivities. At Brookfields Stadium, which has been the centre of so many important events in the life of independent Sierra Leone, Members of Parliament, members of the diplomatic corps, visiting dignitaries from all corners of the globe, and myself, gathered to watch a march past and parade by the armed forces. I was impressed by the high level of organisation that had gone into the creation of such a special ceremony, and my heart was warmed by the fact that our overseas visitors could see just what Sierra Leone could achieve. Later that evening I gave a grand banquet and ball at State House.
I remember it as being a very glittering occasion, with all those present dressed in their best clothes. It was a wonderful climax to what had been a marvellous day, and indeed a momentous couple of weeks. When I finally got to bed that night I could hardly sleep as my head was so full of what had been happening. I felt particularly happybecause this was an occasion that could only be remembered with pleasure by me and my people.
I recall my own childhood with such vividness that I am always conscious that the things we do now are providing memories for our children. Without doubt children always remember events of page antry and display, and I like to think that in years to come mothers and fathers will tell their own children about their recollections of the Tenth Anniversary of Independence. I have always had a strong sense of history, and as an African I have always been aware of the oral tradition of history in our continent. Stories told around the camp fire many years ago are still recounted with the same sense of pleasure in our homes today.
In this age of communication by satellite, and even the storing of information in computers it seems essential to me that families still retain their tradition of story-telling and childhood tales. I am glad that Sierra Leonean children were provided with such a dazzling day of events to tuck away in their memories!
Thinking back to that year it is natural that events are dominated in my mind by the achievement of republican status. And yet for some reason one visit that I made stands out. Recently I was flicking through my old engagement diaries, and I realised that this particular visit was the very first one that I made outside Freetown after Sierra Leone became a Republic, and I suppose that this is why the opening of Bo Teacher Training College is so fresh in my memory. When I reached Towama I was amazed at the welcome I got. I know that many people imagine that politicians and other well-known people become a little blazé even jaded, with the ever-cheering crowds. But from the very bottom of my heart I know that there is nothing that thrills me more than the affection and warmth of my people.
Whenever I hear a gathering of people cheering it can be guaranteed to send a shiver down my spine!
That was how I felt when I arrived at the Teacher Training College of the United Christian Council. The opening of this college was especially dear to me as I have always been very conscious of the value of a good education. My own experiences have shown me the importance of good teaching. I owe everything to the sacrifices that my father made for me in order to send me to school. But more than that, I owe a great deal to the fact that at those schools I received sympathetic and sometimes inspired instruction. It is only through the establishment of training colleges, such as the one at Bo, that our children will truly receive the benefits of education. Having been brought up in the province myself I know how badly distributed centres of education were.
The only way I could have a proper and advanced schooling was to leave my family for Freetown. It pleases me considerably that children in the province can now receive just as good an education as those in what used to be known as the Protectorate, and I think that Bo College, which after all has been running for some ten years now, has had quite a hand in this achievement.
Another event which stands out in my mind in the early days of our Republic was when I was awarded the Daily Mail’s ‘Man of the Decade’ honour.
The newspaper ran a poll for its readers in order to try and discover who people in the street thought fitted the description of “Man of the Decade”, and apparently the response was overwhelmingly in favour of me! I remember saying at the time of the presentation that it would be a very long time before I would forget this gesture, and certainly I still recall the day Mr. Sam Metzger, Chairman of the Daily Mail, presented me with the award as if it was only yesterday.Mr. Metzger suggested that I might even become “Man of the Century”, and although I was touched with his tribute, I cannot help hoping that with nearly twenty more years of the twentieth century to go there might be other contenders for the title.
A time of great change such as I went through during the establishment of a Republic is always a time for stocktaking, for sorting out one’s own ideas and values. For many years all my thoughts were with — and within — my country. There was so much going on in Sierra Leone that! had little opportunity to consider her relationship with the rest of the world. Indeed, I had little time to think about what! shall term the ‘theory’ of government. For too long the business of the everyday life of my country had taken up each minute of my day.
With the advent of a Republic! felt rather like a man who had just climbed to the top of a hill and taken a few moments to look at the steep incline he has just struggled up, and also turns an eye to the view that lies ahead of him. The view ahead of me was inevitably rather misty, for only a fool will claim he knows the future; nevertheless I could make out the dim outlines of what lay in front of me. I knew that sticking to one particular ideology was not for me, or Sierra Leone.
It is all very well for people in the West to say “I’m a Communist” or “I’m a Liberal”, but in the Third World we cannot afford that sort of luxury. We cannot sit in book-lined rooms and discuss with our friends whether Marx was right or wrong, or whether Keynes’ theories were of any practical use. We must roll up our sleeves and get down to the matter of raising living standards in Sierra Leone. There are still people in my country who will never be able to read this book simply because ass we have not yet the resources to educate everyone. There are babies oft who will never grow into adults because in many parts of the country the coi drinking water is contaminated, simply because we have not got the an money to put these things right Sometimes it makes me weep with rage ani to think of what will happen to some of my fellow countrymen merely Inc because of lack of funds.
I am a practical man, and I have always ha’ realised that the first thing to do in my country is to ensure that our SW children are educated, well clothed and fed, and that our families have ho] pleasant homes to live in. It is the quality of everyday life that matters to ret me, not the political beliefs that a man holds.
For this reason Sierra Leone pursues a policy of non-alignment. liv This sets us free from being a pawn of one of the super-powers and 1o allows us to voice our own individual opinion on world events. I like to think that our policy of speaking out and of expressing what we consider of to be the right opinion, rather than an opinion that we have been told to m express, has put us on the global map. Sierra Leone has earned a ye reputation for generating mature and sensible viewpoints, and the voice fo of my country is a respected one in world affairs. It has always been a 1 matter of great pride to me that my Government was the first to a recognise and establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.
The Minister of External Affairs at that time, Mr. Solomon n A. J. Pratt, went to Peking, and on July 29th, 1971, a communique was y signed, affirming that the Chinese Government and people supported e the Government and people of the Republic of Sierra Leone in their struggle against imperialism and colonialism and in their efforts to f safeguard national independence and state sovereignty. In turn, my Government affirmed its recognition of the Government of the People’s ( Republic of China as the sole legal Government representing the entire Chinese people. It is difficult to realise now the courage that this decision demanded. The person who makes the first move, particularly when all those around him are against it, must be brave. But my Government and I thought that this was the right decision; we took it, and we turned out to be right. Of course, none of this would have been possible if we had not been firmly non-aligned!
When I have a spare moment and I am able to sit alone with my thoughts — a rare occasion in the life of a president — my mind often goes over the changes that have occurred in Sierra Leone during the last ten years. Living standards have definitely been raised, and I think my countrymen show a confidence and assurance that I did not detect in them before. Today my people are often their own masters, some running their own businesses and many contributing to industry as a whole in Sierra Leone. They mix freely and easily with visiting white tourists and holiday makers; the old antagonisms of the past, if not forgotten, are at least well hidden. Indeed, the coming of the tourist industry is one of the changes that have overtaken Freetown life during the last decade. It never surprises me that Sierra Leone should attract some people for a holiday. I have travelled abroad to many countries, yet when I return to my own country I cannot help thinking that it is the best! The coastal scenery still strikes me, after over seventy years of living here, as spectacular, and with the mountains in the distance it looks truly beautiful.
Whenever I go into one of our hotels and compare them with the ones I have to stay in when I am abroad, I am afraid the patriot in me always awards good marks to our hotels. Some people are very critical of tourism in general. Critics say that the visitors come for a week or two, they stay in their luxury hotels in Aberdeen and probably only see Freetown from a car window, and then they leave as quickly as they come, taking with them a false and distorted view of this little bit of Africa. I admit that it saddens me that many do not take the trouble to find out what Sierra Leone is really like, and yet one must be practical.
Those Aberdeen hotels are providing employment for a good number of my people; often the tourists are wealthy and spend their money freely; and fringe services all benefit from our yearly crop of visitors. So, I say to those critics, every penny of foreign currency brought by the tourists can do some good for our people. I have learnt in life that you must always take the rough with the smooth — anything good always has something attached to it which is not so beneficial, and tourism is a case in point.
Our diamond industry, too, has sometimes been the object of criticism. It is a sad fact of life that wherever vast amounts of money are concerned, corruption will always raise its ugly head. Our diamond industry has not been free from such problems, and it has also suffered from undue external influence. But even taking these difficulties into account, it cannot be said that our mineral resources are anything other than an asset. Almost a year after the creation of our Republic, the third largest gem in the world was discovered.
I can remember being shown the diamond, which was 969.9 carats, and being completely dazzled by it. I named it the ‘Star of Sierra Leone’, which seemed to be a most apt title. As The Times of London said, it was a “…useful windfall for a country struggling to develop its economy”. It saddens me in many ways to think that we had to lose that precious stone to another richer and more prosperous country. But I can take comfort in the fact that I know the proceeds of the sale contributed to a little bit more happiness in the lives of many.
People have asked me about the decision to turn Sierra Leone into a one-party state — a decision which was not taken lightly. After all, the one-party state idea was floated by the S.L.P.P., and was met by almost universal opposition. So why, then, did my government take these steps? I have always said that the A. P.C. is an evolutionary party; as Sierra Leone has blossomed and matured in its new found independence, so the A.P.C. has complemented this growth. It was a decision that came at the right time in the history of my party and the history of my people.
Perhaps it is difficult for the outside observer to realise that the one party system for us does not result in rigidity and oppression, but rather allows us all to work together in the best interests of our developing nation. As I have stressed before, my party does not owe anything to any particular ideology — it is a party of practical aims. Our one party system does not mean that we all have to subscribe to the view of any one political theorist. Within the A.P.C. there are many men and women of all sorts of differing political complexions, and I think it says something of the nature of the A.P.C. that we can embrace them all. The A.P.C. does not stand for communism or conservatism, it stands for Sierra Leone and her people. Anyone who professes to be against the A.P.C. is really saying that he opposes the broad objectives of our Party, i.e. development and the consolidation of our independence, rather than its strategy and tactics which are subject to constant reconsideration at the party level.
Since the establishment of the one party state I have the feeling that there is a more cohesive spirit amongst those who strive to build up our nation — and this can only be for the good. I know that it is often thought that opposition is an admirable way of keeping a ruling party on its toes, and while I think this may be the case in Western democracies, I also think that the recent history of Sierra Leone puts us in a different position.
I have spoken before of the luxury of political debate, and I think this must apply to small dissenting parties in African countries such as my own. We have not time to hang around talking — there is too much work to be done. Yes, an opposition party can be a useful means of checking the party in power — the experience of all our people who remember the near-tyranny of the S.L.P.P. shows us that. But it can also be a destructive and useless force for a party committed to the good of the country— and the interests of my people must always come first with me.
My counry has been racked for too long by divisiveness, both tribal and religious, and as I look down my list of ministers I like to see the varied mixture of people that we have. Coming from such a mixed background myself I cannot help but think that this variety somehow captures the spirit of the new Sierra Leone, and unity within my country has always been one of my own main aims, and also that of the A.P.C. My work makes it necessary for me to spend most of my time in Freetown, and although I love our capital, I am always pleased to visit the provinces, and sometimes even go back to the places of my youth.
The eve of my 68th birthday found me travelling to Moyamba for a four day visit, and although I have never shirked from work during my lifetime, it is always pleasant to combine business with pleasure! Visiting old childhood haunts can often be a disturbing surprise: sometimes places one knew and loved as a child are changed beyond recognition. But I am always delighted to return to Moyamba. and to see the improvements that have taken place in agriculture since I was a boy. On this particular visit I was able to talk seriously about the problem of rural migration. This is a problem that every country has to contend with, and we are no exception.
The trouble is that folk in the country always assume that the towns hold the key to prosperity and happiness. Of course, this is not the case, and many country people have found that there are no jobs for them in the city, it is more difficult to make friends, and they do not have the support of their families. As often as not these people end up in trouble, and in the end an urban life proves to be an empty temptation.
As it was my birthday the people of Moyamba made a particular effort with their entertainments for me. I was feted with songs and music by the police band, and I received many presents, including an antique church bell, silver coins that were used in Sierra Leone between 1871 and 1910, and a live cow. I was given more birthday cakes than I could possibly have eaten, but was glad to be able to share my anniversary with so many other people.
I have stressed that one of the most striking features of the A.P. C., and indeed of my own philosophy, is the recognition of the need for practicality: it is the only way that a small third world country can survive.
And so it has always been my intention to foster strong and healthy friendships with other West African states. After achieving political independence for Sierra Leone it soon became obvious that if this was to mean anything it would have to be accompanied by the ability to be economically independent For this reason we have played a leading role in ECOWAS and have forged firm links with our neighbours.
Perhaps the firmest link of all has been made with Liberia, our immediate neighbour to the west, in the shape of the Mano River Union. This river forms a boundary between the two nations and has become a symbol to all Sierra Leoneans of co-operation between Liberia and ourselves. I remember well the signing of the treaty establishing the Union. It took place in Malema, Soro Gbema Chiefdom, Pujehun District, and the signatories were myself and the late Dr. William Tolbert, the then President of Liberia. It seems to me that although international bodies such as the U.N. perform very valuable functions, it is important to mend our own fences at home before we can play in any world union.
The principal objectives of the Union have been to expand trade between the two countries by the elimination of existing trade barriers. It also seeks to secure a fair distribution of the benefits of economic co-operation. It was established in two main phases, the first of which includes the liberalisation of mutual trade in goods of local origin; the harmonisation of rates of import duties and other financial incentives applicable to goods of local origin, and supporting measures for developing co-operation in the production of agricultural and manufactured products of local origin. Since the establishment of the Union we have seen many co-operative ventures and even the setting up of scholarships for students. Perhaps most importantly of all, we have seen the Union expand so that it now includes Guinea.