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A.T. Kabbah: Building Peace in Sierra Leone

Keynote address at the Opening Ceremony of UPF's Leadership Conference
"Towards a New Paradigm of Leadership and Good Governance"

Freetown, Sierra Leone, May 10, 2008

Published in Dialogue & Alliance, Spring/Summer 2010 issue

We are gathered here at a critical time in human history. The world is in need of a new paradigm of leadership and good governance. As such, we have important and urgent work to do. Universal Peace Federation is an embodiment or model of this ideal, rooted in the principle of living for the sake of others and the principle of reconciliation.

The conference theme of "Peace, Leadership and Good Governance in the 21st Century" is relevant to my previous status as Head of State of a nation that had been engulfed in a terrible internal armed conflict for more than a decade, a nation still in the process of peacebuilding.

Nothing constrains leadership more than a prolonged war and the craving of the people for peace. Since I inherited the rebel war, my leadership was tested right from the beginning. Bringing peace to our war-torn developing country posed the greatest challenge of my presidency. I took the test with determination. It was not easy. Within months I signed a peace agreement with the rebels, but a military junta seized power and then invited the same rebels to consolidate their rule by force. The war continued, and my leadership and faith were again tested. Peace seemed elusive. In 1999, I signed another peace agreement with the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh. However, it took another year for the rebel leaders to demonstrate that they were serious about implementing the peace agreement, and another year before I announced the end of the war.

One lesson that emerged is that we must pursue peace steadfastly, not for its own sake but because people have a right to live in peace in their neighborhood, their community, their country, and the world.

The instruments of war are getting more lethal and being built with greater capacity for inflicting massive destruction; the accumulation and proliferation of such weapons pose a serious threat to us all. For this reason, there is an urgent, urgent need for peace leadership. Today, in our interdependent world, a threat to peace anywhere is a threat to us all. Thus, achieving universal peace involves people of all faiths, all cultures, and all components of society.

A new platform of partnership is bringing together representatives of religious, governmental, and other institutions who cherish peace and are working for peace. At a seminar on good governance and leadership for members of our Parliament, some participants mentioned the idea of creating a Parliamentarians for Peace Committee. Others suggested organizing a similar seminar for the Cabinet. This underscores the important role that leaders in various institutions can play in promoting and consolidating peace, especially after a prolonged and bitter armed conflict.

By the grace of Allah, and with the help of my compatriots and other partners, I have had the privilege of planting some seeds of peace in Sierra Leone. They include:

  • a national social security and insurance scheme
  • a mechanism for establishing food security goals
  • an institution devoted to the study of peace and conflict prevention
  • a mechanism for the advancement of education of the girl child
  • a set of core values to guide our people in the development of a peaceful and prosperous nation

The search for peace—in whatever form—is a process. This conference has given me further inspiration to continue to meet the challenges of building and sustaining peace at home and abroad.

A moral and spiritual awakening is needed on a global level. This is an age in which a new "nation" is to be established that has no national, racial, religious, or cultural boundaries. It is the age of one universal human family dwelling together in harmony and cooperation, interdependence and mutual benefit. Ambassadors for Peace are rallying around the world to this call.

To establish a new paradigm of leadership and good governance, each of us must play a part. As parliamentarians and government ministers, you must concentrate on how best you can serve our country and not how much wealth you can accumulate in the process. I consider what I do for my country to be an obligation that I owe to my people, and therefore I have to give my best. The compensation will be determined by God. Thus, we must each become a person who lives for the sake of others. Each day we must work not only to try to change others. We must begin by changing ourselves.

Let two principles guide us: First, live unselfishly. Second, in all situations, seek reconciliation, harmony, and cooperation.

When do we begin? The time is now. Remember the sleepless nights during the war. In some instances, strange men walked into our homes. They destroyed our homes, they destroyed our limited infrastructure essential for the development of our country. The destruction of hospitals, schools, and even places of worship was common. We must pray and work hard that we do not go through that experience again.

Peace does not come by mere proclamations. We must become living examples of peace. It is up to us. I accepted the commission of Ambassador for Peace not because of the title but because I believe that by working for peace and development I will be contributing to mankind. We must embody these ideals. Therefore, let us begin to build a new world of lasting peace. Let us build One Family Under God.