Fifty years ago, on the 27th of April 1961, Sierra Leone became an  independent nation, thus severing off over two hundred years of rule by Britain. As the instruments of independence were handed over in the new Parliament on Tower Hill,  to the first Prime Minister Sir Milton Margai by the Duke of Kent,  who represented the Queen,  Sir Milton said “I am proud to be Prime Minister of the newly independent Sierra Leone. My ministers and I are fully aware of the difficulties and pitfalls which confront us and which will continue to confront the Independent Government of Sierra Leone. I say  we shall surmount them, for that is our determination.  I would like the world to know that we have approached this goal of independence in complete harmony and partnership with Her Majesty’s Government in Britain and with the men who have served Britain and Sierra Leone over the past decades.”

The then British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, in his message also mentioned the relationship between Britain and Sierra Leone.  “He said Our two countries have had a long and close relationship,  and  now that Sierra Leone steps on to the world stage, we in Britain have every confidence that she will play her part worthily in the councils of nations.”

 Sierrra Leoneans,  both at home and in the diaspora, rejoiced that unlike some other African countries, independence was achieved through constitutional reforms and diplomacy, rather than bloodshed. And Sierra Leone was able to take its place in the world stage and in the international community, become a member of the Commonwealth and  the one hundredth member of the United Nations Organisation. 

1961 was also a landmark year for Sierra Leone.  For in November that year,  the country played host to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11,  and the Duke of Edinburgh , who not only visited Freetown but also Bo, where they were entertained to a Durbar of Chiefs. This year was also significant for me.  I was a schoolboy, and I was one of the schoolboys who sang and clapped for the couple – God Save the Queen – God Save the Queen.

 During the past fifty years,  Sierra Leone has gone through some rough times…political upheavals,  tribal infractions and one of  the most brutal rebel wars in African history.  But thanks to Britain,  which has remained a steadfast and loyal friend to Sierra Leone during these fifty years, I thank also the Governments of our brother states of ECOWAS the United Nations, The European Union, The African Union and the United States, the rebels were crushed and since then the country has returned to the peaceful country it is today.

The path of our nation, since that time has included significant gains, but also damaging reversals that occurred in the infancy of a nationhood.  Thus, we have throughout the last fifty years been engaged in the herculean task of building a nation out of the ruins of political volatility and concomitant underdevelopment.

However we are extremely proud that despite the significant challenges and difficulties we have encountered in our economic and political life of our nation, the Sierra Leonean identity and national ethos remained vibrant throughout this entire period.

We have demonstrated an uncanny resilience in the face of national disaster and upheavals throughout the past fifty year period indicating the potential to meet any challenge to our nationhood.  It is this sense that allowed us to create a united front out of an ethnocentric tribalistic society to gain independence from Britain in 1961 and to unite again for the purpose of restoring peace to our country when its very existence became threatened by insurgents waging a senseless war.

  People often asked me about what is there to celebrate.  Of course, there is something to celebrate about – During the course of the 50 year period – we indeed endured internal strife, corruption, injustice and poor governance at various stages.  But we have also garnered  global accolades for achieving and sustaining peace and  reconciliation.  The Government under the leadership of His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, has undertaken steps to address these and other initiatives as reflected in what we refer to as our Agenda for Change.  The Agenda for Change is a policy framework articulated by the Government which aims to put our country solidly on a path from aid dependency to a dynamic, self sustaining economy essentially coming full circle to where we were fifty years ago at the dawn of our independence.  However, this is not only about celebrating, it is also about mobilizing our resources for the difficult tasks ahead as we contemplate the next fifty years of our nationhood.  It is also about unleashing the energies and talents of our people, and rededicating ourselves to rebuilding the country itself and consequently its image and standing within the International Community.

Additionally, as a lifelong public servant, I am compelled to avail myself of this singular opportunity  to reflect on the trajectory of our nation since Independence – the triumphs, shortfalls and challenges, and perhaps most importantly, to consider and determine where we must work even harder to build on our successes as we look ahead to the next fifty years of nationhood.

I thank you all for listening and May God Bless Sierra Leone.

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