April 26, 2016
To celebrate the occasion of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday, British High Commissioner Peter West hosted a reception on 21 April at the garden of his official residence for over 300 guests, including ministers, business leaders, and members of the diplomatic corps in Sierra Leone.
The High Commissioner spoke of the enduring relationship between the UK and Sierra Leone over the 90 momentous years since Her Majesty’s birth on 21 April 1926. “When the Queen was born, Sierra Leone was still divided between a Crown Colony and a Protectorate….by the time the Queen came to the throne, in 1953, Sierra Leone was a united country”. He spoke of the UK’s steadfast role as friend and partner since Sierra Leone gained independence, more recently “we played a part in bringing the civil war to an end, and helping build the peace… [and] contributed £427 million to the fight against Ebola, deploying over a thousand military and civilian personnel”.
Beyond Ebola, he said that the UK was working with Sierra Leone on the recovery effort and highlighted his Government’s £240 million pledge over the next two years in support of President Koroma’s recovery priorities – health, education, social protection, energy, water and the private sector. He went on to explain that just as political leadership was crucial to tackling Ebola, so it will be to the recovery. He echoed the president’s words that “this should not be a return to business as usual, but a chance to rebuild Sierra Leone as a better, more resilient and fairer society”. He added that just as important “will be improved governance, which the government [of Sierra Leone] has added as a seventh priority”.
The High Commissioner spoke of the common values and aspirations that the people of the UK and Sierra Leone share, especially “in wanting to see respect for human rights, accountability and transparency”. He noted the progress that Sierra Leone has made in a short space of time, such as completing its Second Universal Periodic Review earlier this year, adding that the UK would “support the commitments Sierra Leone has made to advance the rights of women and girls, to improve access to justice, and to safeguard free speech”.
He recognised that Sierra Leone had an opportunity to entrench democratic stability and constitutional reform, “a robust first national census in over a decade, a successful review of the 1991 Constitution and above all a proper process for Local, Parliamentary and Presidential elections by 2018 would be a powerful testament to the health of this democracy”
On security, he noted that the UK “will continue, through ISAT and the UK military and police, to work with the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra Leone Police to support Sierra Leone’s important contribution to peace and security in Africa, and we are helping Sierra Leone prepare to return to Peace Support Operations soon”. He went on to re-affirm that the UK would continue to support national efforts to improve security sector accountability.
Dr. Mohamed Gibril Sesay, Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in response said the relationship between Sierra Leone and the UK was the warmest of friendships. He congratulated the Queen on her 90th birthday, adding that many Sierra Leoneans had fond memories of when she visited the country in 1961. He thanked the UK for its unwavering support during Ebola and welcomed the UK’s commitment to support President Koroma’s post-Ebola recovery priorities.