"Today we are a peaceful nation,” said President Ernest Bai Koroma. “We're a nation that has agreed on electing our leaders through the democratic process.”
The west African country is still trying to recover from its 11-year civil war in which some 50,000 people were killed and many more maimed and raped. Thousands of children were also forced to serve as soldiers in the fighting, which ended in 2002 and centred on a regional power struggle.
"Sierra Leone has emerged from the war as a democratically stable country in the sub-region,” said information minister, Alhaji Ben Kargbo despite what he called ‘hurdles’ in its recovery efforts.
Since the end of the civil war, Sierra Leone has built a strong foundation of good governance, Kargbo said. “Sierra Leone galvanized itself to put in place infrastructure for an acceptable democratic culture. Today, we Sierra Leoneans are proud of our democracy, we are very proud about the tolerance; both political tolerance and religious tolerance,” he said.
He said President Koroma has set up structures that promote peace and help prevent future conflicts. “The institutions of state have been developed. A judiciary that is worth talking about, parliament that all of us are proud of and we are also talking about a police force which has been restructured,” Kargbo added.
But poverty, corruption and joblessness are still big challenges. The country is rich in diamonds and iron ore but its people see very little benefit from their natural resources. Just four in 10 people can read and write and the average person dies before their 50th birthday. Women make up about 52 per cent of the population.
Kargbo said the Koroma government recognises the huge contributions women make in keeping the peace as well as promoting economic growth. “The president announced that women in this country will be given 30 per cent of places in all spheres of life; in parliament, in cabinet… and the president also believes that they must be part and parcel of the governance of the state,” Kargbo said.
African heads of state and government have arrived in the capital, Freetown to join in the celebrations as golden jubilee festivities take place all around the country – to the tune of Mama Salone, a song urging people to come out and celebrate, written specially for the event by local rapper Innocent.