A Diamond Jubilee for Sierra Leone

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(left to right): H.E. Dawda Docka Fadera, Ambassador of Gambia to the U.S.; H.E. Madjid Bouguerra, Ambassador of Algeria to the U.S.; H.E. Mahamadou Nimaga, Ambassador of Mali to the U.S.; Pastor Abdul K. Sesay; H.E. Seydou Kaboré, Ambassador of Burkina Faso to the U.S.; H.E. Sidique Wai, Ambassador of Sierra Leone to the U.S.; H.E. Frédéric Hegbe, Ambassador of Togo to the U.S.; Professor Dr. Judy Kuriansky, NGO representative to the United Nations (this reporter)

WASHINGTON D.C. – Sixty years have passed since the country of Sierra Leone claimed its independence, on April 27, 1961, from the British who had dominated the country since 1898. On the very day, the 27th of April in 2021, a Diamond Jubilee was held for the 6Oth Independence Anniversary of Mama Salone, hosted by the Embassy of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United States and its Chief of Mission H.E. Ambassador Sidique Abou-Bakarr Wai.

The country has survived slavery, colonization, an 11-year-long civil war; the ravage of Ebola in 2014-2015; a tragic 2017 mudslide; and is now staving off the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite such hardships, the people demonstrate impressive resilience and unity.

Members of the diplomatic corps, officials of the United States State Department, V.I.P. guests, Sierra Leoneans, and members of the Diaspora, gathered at the “Swahili Village: A True Taste of Kenya” restaurant in downtown D.C., for the gala.

Women dazzled in traditionally blue-and-green colored sequined gowns and men donned traditional African dashikis or tailored suits.

While many could have been invited, attendance was restricted to comply with mandates to control the spread of the Novel Coronavirus.

Nevertheless, spirits were high, as the event was kicked off by Pastor David Vandy, the popular radio broadcaster of “African Beat” on Voice of America, who emceed the event with his characteristic high-energy and enthusiasm.

In common tradition, prayers were offered. Referring to the country’s history overcoming treacherous civil war, Pastor Abdul K. Sesay hoped for bringing “an end to every civil war” and presaged the future of the country to “soar like an eagle.” Quoting from the first verse of the Qur’an, the Muslim Imam Sheikh Cole offered, “Peace be upon you,” adding, “We are here to pray for the success of Sierra Leone.”

The anthems of the United States and of Sierra Leone played.

As Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United States, H.E. Ambassador Wai presided over the event. With his lovely wife, Millicent sitting proudly by his side at a head table in the middle of the VIP section, H.E. Wai listened with his usual grace and humility to the proceedings and all the accolades to his country and himself.

Colleagues and friends offered glowing and inspiring messages for the bright future of their beloved country and for Ambassador Wai, acknowledging his wisdom and kindness in guiding the Embassy through major accomplishments in his nearly three-year posting, mobilizing both the communities of the Diaspora as well as the of Washington-based Ambassadors heading Embassies of his fellow African nations.

The comments, from this event, and in interviews with this reporter afterward, proved H.E. Wai’s well-earned reputation as the “People’s Ambassador” and the “Unifying Ambassador,” having held many Town Hall Meetings to inform and connect the Diaspora with issues for the home country, and being elected by his peers to the honored leadership position as Secretary-General of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) the political and economic union of fifteen countries located in West Africa created to promote economic integration and peace across the region. He was also chosen to be Co-chair of Diaspora Engagement and Public Affairs of the African Group of Ambassadors accredited to the United States.

“You are our 911,” said H.E. Ambassador Mahamadou Nimaga of the Republic of Mali to the United States, referring to H.E. Wai’s leadership in their ECOWAS brotherhood. “You are our leader, and also our very good friend.”

“We are brothers,” said the Ambassador of Guinea to the United States, H.E. Dr. Kerfalla Yansané, explaining that his village being at the border of Sierra Leone and recalling being in Sierra Leone in 2001 when rebel war broke out. Praising H.E. Wai’s leadership earning the confidence of his colleagues and admiration of others, he said, “Since he has been Secretary-General of ECOWAS, everything has changed.”

“Sierra Leone is now safe for business and open for business,” he said, adding a personal note, “You have my prayers for good health.”

In his native French language, the Ambassador of the Embassy of the Republic of Togo to the United States, H.E. Frédéric Edem Hegbe, lauded his colleague for “la fraternité et l’amitié pour le développement et le bien-être de tous” (brotherhood and friendship for the development and well-being of all).

The Ambassador to the United States of Gambia, H.E. Dawda Docka Fadera, who certainly understands about civil service, is impressed with his colleague’s skills.

Other brothers of ECOWAS offering congratulations were the Ambassador to the United States of Algeria, H.E. Madjid Bouguerra; and the Ambassador of Burkina Faso, H.E. Seydou Kaboré, who is the ECOWAS Dean.

Expressing positive relations between West and East Africa was Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Kenya to the United States, Ambassador David K. Gacheru.

While Sierra Leone has long experienced internal strife among political parties, recent times have been peaceful, which speakers attributed to the inclusive leadership of H.E. retired Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, and H.E. Sidique Wai.

In recalling the fight for independence of the founding fathers in 1951, Desmond Pessima, head of the Sierra Leone’s People’s Party (SLPP), said, “We thank President Bio for giving us Ambassador Wai to represent us…and giving us peace and security.”

“We are the only country with the motto, ‘One Country, One People’,” Pessima added.

H.E. Wai’s background and character were lauded as presaging success in his current Ambassadorial role, as “a world-class community organizer” and “a man of humility” showing the “best of humanity” in his selfless pursuit of causes for others.

Diaspora leaders were equally appreciative and laudatory.

Psychologist Bernadette Sankoh-Kuyateh, aptly praised Ambassador Wai’s dedication to people and “emotional intelligence” in leadership, with skills calling on people to participate in important projects to benefit them and their country, proving that “together we are strong and we can do anything.”

In his typically eloquent style, Ambassador Wai delivered inspirational and eloquent remarks, printed in entirety in the Appendix below.

He lauded the resilience of the Sierra Leoneans through civil war, natural disasters, and political disputes, to become a democratic country with a transparent government, and a vibrant, dynamic, multi-dimensional society of communities, faiths and professionals where all are respected.

Progress over the 60 years reflects the seal with the words “unity” “freedom” and “justice” printed under three lions.

Ambassador Wai acknowledged President Bio for the peaceful multiparty governance and success of the “New Direction Agenda” campaign guaranteeing political, social, economic, and cultural rights; successfully promoting health; expanding youth employment opportunities; developing agriculture and other sectors; and progressing the “Free Quality Education” program.

Ambassador Wai also acknowledged the efforts of First Lady Madam Fatima Maada Bio in protecting and empowering women and girls through her internationally acclaimed project called “Hands Off Our Girls” against rape, child marriage, and domestic violence.

In health, the Embassy is collaborating with the United African Congress and other partners in a major project called “Africa Rise: Healthier and Stronger” to strengthen essential healthcare infrastructure.

In recognition of President Bio’s administration’s impressive accomplishments, Sierra Leone was awarded a coveted 5-year USD$400 million grant by the Millennium Challenge Corporation Board of Directors for poverty eradication and economic growth, and a USD$5million grant by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve the capacity of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to prevent avoidable epidemics.

Positive relations between the Embassy and the U.S. is evident in the offer by National Security Adviser to President Joe Biden, Jake Sullivan, of assistance to help prevent the spread to Sierra Leone of the recent Ebola outbreak in Guinea, and also in productive discussions with the Chairman of the U.S. House Committee for Foreign Affairs, Congressman Gregory W. Meeks, which made front-page news in Sierra Leone and the U.S.

Ambassador Wai so effortlessly makes ties in the U.S. Congress, Sierra Leone Presidential Trade Envoy Mohamed Serry told me. “With all his skills and years of experience, he is expert in political and community affairs who can be trusted.”

On the trade front, plans for a fair are underway, to increase foreign investment, including a loop through the Caribbean islands, given their historic connections to Sierra Leone.

On the international stage, the Embassy of Sierra Leone to the United States has collaborated with the Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations in international government and civil society events promoting peace and security, human rights, health, and development.

With his signature appreciation, Ambassador Wai thanked the Diaspora community for their partnership during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, mobilizing financial and material support valued in excess of USD$7.5 Million in a short three-months. Thankfully, progress is being made in curbing the spread.

In fitting conclusion to the finale of the formal ceremony, and true to his outstanding skill acknowledging others, Ambassador Wai recognized the efforts of all the staff, including his driver, surprising them with plaques for their “dedicated service” to the Embassy.

“You have all selflessly given of your time and talents to make this event possible,” Ambassador Wai commented, announcing that every expense was borne by contributions, requiring no financial cost from the Embassy. This included not only the venue, but all Sierra Leone-themed swag in translucent aqua-colored gift bags with the Sierra Leone flag, emblemed T-shirt, cap, and protective face mask.

Returning the honor, Bernadette Sankoh-Kuyateh surprised Ambassador Wai with a plaque, “in special recognition and appreciation for outstanding performance and unwavering dedication to your country and people.”

“I have never seen anyone reward their staff like my dear brother Ambassador Wai does,” said H.E. Dr. Baffour Adjei-Bawuah, Ghana’s Ambassador to the United States. “He is an example to all of us in this, and so many ways.”

More appreciation was expressed by Mohamed Kosia, an advisor to Ambassador Wai, recognizing the diplomatic core, guests, friends of Sierra Leone, and his fellow Sierra Leoneans. "We might have our political and other differences,” he said, “but we always come together when necessary to support and be counted for the land that we all truly love, Sierra Leone."

Appropriately, Kosia added well-deserved accolades to the Swahili Village venue staff and management, guided by Dr. Kyle Dele, for their exceptional service and fine dining. The restaurant had courageously opened in the heart of D.C. in February 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

A devoted friend of Sierra Leone in attendance was Gary Schulze, a close friend and advisor of Ambassador Wai for years, now promoting the affairs of Sierra Leone in the United States. Schulze, who had served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone in 1962, is now a fully naturalized citizen of Sierra Leone and an Honorary Paramount Chief of the Kagboro Chiefdom, Shenge, Moyamba District. Schultz had just sponsored an exhibit in the capital town of Freetown in honor of Sierra Leone historical figures, four of which are mounted around the historic Cotton Tree and others are on the exterior wall of the Big Market. One is of the Father of Sierra Leone Independence, Sir Milton Augustus Strieby Margai (1894-1964).

While the gala evening ended, the 60th Independence Anniversary celebration continued to further support the Diaspora, as the Sierra Leone Embassy offered events for free COVID-19 vaccination. The event held in Maryland on May 16th in partnership with the City of Light Church was accompanied by cultural food distribution and free groceries. Another opportunity, on May 25th, offered transportation assistance to get to the campus of Howard University in Washington DC, for the “Embassy of Sierra Leone Vaccine Day” in partnership with the African Women's Cancer Awareness Association and the Howard University College of Medicine.

As Ambassador Wai reiterated from his closing comments at the ceremony, a bright future lies ahead for Mama Leone, in good health, friendship, unity, and prosperity.

On a personal note, this reporter was honored to be invited to this gala Diamond Jubilee as a guest of Ambassador Wai, a dear friend whom I admire so much, and call not only the “People’s Ambassador” but the “Visionary Ambassador,” as a shining example of a brilliant diplomat and a generous and loving human being. For me, it was deeply moving to be part of the celebration of his leadership and of the country I love -- having been there to offer psychosocial support years ago during the HIV/AIDS crisis, then during and after the Ebola crisis, as well as co-producing many events at the United Nations with the Sierra Leone Mission including featuring the First Lady and her #HonorOurGirls initiative, and co-producing webinars with the United African Congress featuring Ambassador Wai speaking on behalf of the country, and recently participating in the Sierra Leone COVID-19 Health Taskforce USA. The Sierra Leone flag from the jubilee now sits on my desk, next to my flags of the United Nations and of my country, the United States, as a constant reminder of this spectacular event and of the nation of Sierra Leone that is flourishing as a country and taking a leadership position on the international stage. It is all epitomized in the song my music partner Russell Daisey and I wrote for Sierra Leone, “Hope is Alive.”

APPENDIX: full text of address of the AMBASSADOR OF THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ON THE OCCASION OF THE 6Oth INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY OF THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE
ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY SIDIQUE ABOU-BAKARR WAI
April 27, 2021

EXCELLENCIES,
MEMBERS OF THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS,
THE HONORABLE MAYOR OF WASHINGTON D.C., MURIEL BOWSER,
OFFICIALS OF THE UNITED STATES STATE DEPARTMENT,
FELLOW SIERRA LEONEANS,
FRIENDS OF SIERRA LEONE, AND
DISTINGUISHED GUESTS,

It is a profound honor and privilege to welcome you to this special celebration of the 6Oth anniversary of our beloved country of Sierra Leone, a landmark event in our history. Sixty years ago, in 1961, Sierra Leoneans with fervent desire for self-determination demanded independence, and successfully defeated British Colonial Masters in the United Kingdom who had dominated our political history from the year 1898. On this very day, the 27th of April, sixty years ago, due to the efforts and commitment of courageous Sierra Leoneans, sovereignty was transferred to the People of Sierra Leone, giving us freedom to determine our destiny.

Since that day in 1961, to today, 60 years later in 2021, our country, now the Republic of Sierra Leone, has indeed come a very long way.
In this address, I want to extend hearty and sincere congratulations to all of you, as we celebrate this 60th Independence Anniversary of the land we love, our Republic of Sierra Leone. And I also want to tell you about the success we have achieved as a nation.

EXCELLENCIES, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, DEAR FRIENDS,

Our Sierra Leone is a unique country with a very rich culture, and a people who have demonstrated their resilience in the journey to gain independence. Together, we have overcome slavery, colonization, the tragic 11-year-long civil war during which 50, 000 people lost their lives; the flooding and 2017 mudslide that claimed thousands of lives and caused millions of dollars of destruction; and the scourge of Ebola. Now, we are also overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenging chapters in our history have brought adversity and hardship, yet, we remain a resilient and united people.

EXCELLENCIES, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, DEAR FRIENDS,

Democracy thrives in our nation, notably since the declaration in 2002 ending our 11-year-long civil war. Today, we embrace democracy, with freedom of speech, and a government of periodic elections, separation of powers, checks and balances and transparency. Notably, we are also an African nation with a vibrant civil society, made up of many community-based organizations, nongovernmental organizations, nationally-oriented faith-based organizations, and professional coalitions, whose voices are all respected, and who contribute valuably to the breadth and scope of our dynamic society.

We can be proud of this respect for the voice of the people, and our current democracy, evident in several successful multiparty elections since 1996. In that regard, allow me to now say, in my role as a representative of your government, how our country has advanced these principles, over years, and now, under our current administration of His Excellent President Julius Maada Bio.

In proof of commitment to peace, our current President, retired Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio, and former Head of State under the National Provisional Ruling Council Military regime, returned our country to multiparty civilian governance by retiring his military uniform to become a public servant when elected President of our Republic of Sierra Leone in April, 2018.

Permit me to outline some of the significant advances our government has achieved for our country’s development.
To sustain our country’s socio-economic growth, President Bio has introduced the “New Direction Agenda”, the campaign that is guaranteeing political, social, economic, and cultural rights and access of all Sierra Leoneans to basic necessities of life. This Agenda is successfully promoting good health, quality education, gender equality, and development in agriculture and other sectors for our people.

Education of our people is key to our development and lifting our people out of poverty. President Bio’s “Free Quality Education” program has seen success. Over two million of our youth have been enrolled in school. Free food to pupils is keeping them in school. Free textbooks are also provided. The salary of teachers has been increased by 30 percent, and teachers’ allowance increased by 10 percent. More school buildings are under construction. To ensure success, 21 percent of the national budget has been allocated to this Free Quality Education project.

At the tertiary level, scholarships have been increased, especially for those pursuing sciences. We now have six universities, importantly serving the provinces.

You, the Diaspora community, have generously supported the President’s Education campaign. When I introduced the Diaspora Free Quality Education Basket Fund in June 2019, you, the Diaspora community, put your resources together to help realize our aim to construct an Academy of Excellence School in Sierra Leone. While we continue to secure adequate financial support for this Academy of Excellence School, we greatly appreciate your contribution to this project for our children.

Much progress is also being made in the health field. More healthcare facilities are under construction, to make services accessible and affordable in our country, so Sierra Leoneans do not have to seek treatment in foreign countries, at huge financial cost.
Our embassy is collaborating with the United African Congress and other partners in a major project called “Africa Rise: Healthier and Stronger” to strengthen the infrastructure essential to healthcare access.

In the health sector, let me acknowledge our First Lady, Her Excellency Madam Fatima Maada Bio, for her tireless efforts championing the health and well-being of our people. Her fearless advocacy on behalf of gender equality and the protection and empowerment of women and girls is evident in her internationally acclaimed project, called “Hands Off Our Girls,” against rape, child marriage, and domestic violence. We can be proud of her national and global leadership in this crucial endeavor.

Our administration is also undertaking unprecedented development in the Energy sector, where district headquarters that had never experienced electricity are now benefitting from energy opportunities.

Impressive advances are also being made in other sectors, such as tourism, infrastructure, and food production self-sufficiency. Youth skills-development for employment opportunities are in development, and key policy measures being instituted to transform the regulatory environment for doing business.

Looking ahead to when the pandemic subsides, the Embassy intends to hold a trade fair, planned last year, for Sierra Leone Tourism and Trade Ministers to offer U.S. and other country investors to visit our country and partner with our local businesses.

EXCELLENCIES, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, DEAR FRIENDS,

The fight against corruption by President Bio’s government has yielded unprecedented results over the past three years of his administration. The rating from Transparency International has placed Sierra Leone in the echelon of countries producing positive results in tackling corruption. As a result, in December 2020, the Millennium Challenge Corporation Board of Directors selected Sierra Leone for one of its coveted 5-year grants for poverty eradication and economic growth, awarding us $400 million US dollars.

Further, as a clear demonstration of commitment to freedom of expression, President Julius Maada Bio signed a new law on October 28, 2020, which repealed the 1965 Public Order Act, which had criminalized libel and sedition.

With all these efforts for freedom and rights for our people, our President, and all of us working together, promise hope for a bright future for our country.

EXCELLENCIES, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, DEAR FRIENDS,

Let me now address the strong and mutually beneficial relations between our Republic of Sierra Leone and the United States of America, also a cause for celebration today.

Support of the United States dates back to the era of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, being among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with us at the time of our Independence, and scaling-up our status from Consulate to Embassy representation in 1961. So, today, I am happy to commemorate 60 years of positive relations between Sierra Leone and the United States.

The United States has offered us continued support and assistance in the consolidation of peace, democracy, and human rights, as well as in health and education. Through its Global Health Strategy Agenda, the U.S. has significantly contributed to strengthening Sierra Leone’s ability to monitor zoonotic diseases and manage infection prevention and control, including being instrumental in our fight to end the Ebola outbreak, and now, against the COVID-19 pandemic. In September 2020, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered Sierra Leone a Five Million US dollar Grant to improve the capacity of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to prevent avoidable epidemics, including naturally-occurring outbreaks, and intentional or accidental releases of dangerous pathogens.

Most recently, after learning news of the renewed Ebola outbreak in Guinea, the U.S. National Security Adviser to President Joseph Biden, Honorable Jake Sullivan, contacted me to offer assistance to Sierra Leone to prevent the Ebola epidemic from spreading to Sierra Leone. He pledged support in three ways: (1) to provide equipment, (2) to provide vaccinations, and (3) to help build our healthcare infrastructure. We welcome these generous offers, and look forward to their assistance and our partnership.

As a country situated on the West Coast of Africa, Sierra Leone is prone to climate disasters. Therefore, we are working closely with the United States and other partners to mitigate the threats of climate change.

Of great significance, the Embassy of Sierra Leone to the United States, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and the Immigration and National Civil Registration Agency worked with officials of the U.S Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to lift the onerous expanded visa ban placed on our country on September 11, 2020. Special thanks goes to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Honorable Michael C. Gonzalez, in these cooperative efforts, which we anticipate will result in the permanent lifting of the 2017 visa sanctions.

In an important milestone and goodwill gesture on our part towards the United States, the Embassy of Sierra Leone hosted a dinner in honor of the Chairman of the powerful U.S. House Committee for Foreign Affairs, Honorable Gregory Meeks. Nine African Ambassadors who were present discussed a range of pertinent topics on US-Africa relations, making front-page news in newspapers in Sierra Leone and the United States.

On the international stage, there is much to be recognized on this day, our 60th anniversary. As members of the United Nations, the Republic of Sierra Leone shares common aspirations for all governments of the world to promote the three main pillars of the United Nations on which the UN was founded: peace and security, human rights, and development. Other areas of shared priorities include the fight against Transnational Organized Crimes such as Trafficking in Persons and the illegal drug trade. Our Embassy, working with the Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, has supported major agreements of world governments, and co-sponsored many important events addressing the international agenda.

EXCELLENCIES, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, DEAR FRIENDS,

Today, we also acknowledge the Diaspora community for their ardent support of our country. When President Bio recently appealed for support when the COVID-19 pandemic struck our nation, it was you, the Sierra Leone Diaspora and friends of Sierra Leone, who mobilized financial and material support valued in excess of $7.5 Million dollars in 3 months, with a 40-foot container of medicine and equipment sent to Sierra Leone. Thankfully, with safety protocols and measures of our government under President Bio’s leadership, our country has done exceptionally well in the face of the dire COVID-19 pandemic.

EXCELLENCIES, GUESTS, FRIENDS,

On behalf of our government and our people of Sierra Leone, I want to say thank you to all of you, our nationals from every political party and region, the Diaspora, and friends, who support us in all the efforts I have outlined, including this celebration today.

Let me close by acknowledging the superb efforts of all the organizers who joined the Embassy of Sierra Leone in the United States to create this event, including representatives of our political parties, religious groups, community-based organizations, Sierra Leone Diaspora and many friends. My deepest appreciation to organizations and individuals who sponsored this event, and humble regards to our Consul-Generals and Honorary Consuls. You all have also willingly paid the entire cost of producing this 60th Independence Day celebration, showing once again, your love and caring for our beloved country.

Much gratitude, as well, to my collegial Ambassadors, and members of the diplomatic corps, present here this evening to join our celebration. Your presence is an honor to our country and a demonstration of commitment to a united, strong, and vibrant Africa.

And finally, to our Washington D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser, host to Ambassadors in the United States, thank you profoundly for your generosity and welcome to this incredible place we call “home away from home”.

God bless you,
and God bless all of you,

Happy 60th Independence Anniversary colleagues and friends, for your devotion and sharing today, and in the years ahead, for the bright future for our country and people.

LONG LIVE THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE,
LONG LIVE THE FRIENDSHIP AND COOPERATION BETWEEN SIERRA LEONE AND THE UNITED STATES.

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