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HE Bockarie Stevens speaks out at the flag-raising ceremony in Newark

HE Bockarie Stevens speaks out at the flag-raising ceremony in Newark

“We have every reason to celebrate 50 years of Sierra Leone’s existence as a sovereign state.” That in a nutshell was the message delivered by His Excellency Bockarie K. Stevens, Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the United States of America, to Sierra Leoneans and friends of Sierra Leone who gathered at the City Hall Rotunda, 920 Broad Street, Newark, on Friday, April 15, for the flag-raising ceremony in recognition of Sierra Leone’s 50th Independence Anniversary.

His Excellency Bockarie Stevens expressed profound thanks and appreciation to the City of Newark on behalf of the government and people of Sierra Leone for the honor and recognition accorded to him and  Sierra Leoneans domiciled in New Jersey. Ambassador Stevens also lauded the effort of the African Commission in Newark for putting together the program for the flag-raising ceremony, and he thanked the people of Newark for their warm hospitality to Sierra Leoneans.

“Sierra Leone may not be where we expect it to be, but we should be proud of where we are today considering the turmoil that our country went through for almost ten years,” the ambassador stated. He said as Sierra Leoneans we should be proud of the outstanding contribution made by Sierra Leoneans in the spread of western education.  Among other things the ambassador said that Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, was the first institution of higher learning in Africa south of the Sahara. “Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone thus became known as the Athens of Africa – an educational lighthouse,  a  center of learning just as Athens was to Europe. “

Many Africans from different countries came to Freetown to study at Fourah Bay College as administrators and as educators, according to His Excellency Bockaries Stevens.   “Many returned to their countries to take the lead in the fight against colonial rule,” Ambassador Stevens – fondly known as the People’s Ambassador, pointed out.

“When we take into consideration the contribution made by outstanding Sierra Leoneans like Davidson Nicol in science and education, the contribution Fourah Bay College has made to the rest of Africa, the contributions of countless Sierra Leoneans all over the world in different disciplines, and the fact that we now have a president that is doing all his best to make Sierra Leoneans happy and proud of their country once more, then we have every reason to celebrate our country’s 50thanniversary,” Ambassador Stevens asserted, amid a long and sustained round of applause.

Prior to the address by His Excellency Bockarie Stevens, Mr. Sekou Dauda Bangura, speaking on behalf of Sierra Leoneans in New Jersey, gave a synopsis of Sierra Leone from the founding of Freetown as a home for freed slaves in 1787 to present day. He highlighted the major constitutional changes that culminated in Sierra Leone’s Independence on April 27 1961 – the 1924 Slater constitution, the 1951 Stevenson Constitution and the 1958 constitution that put Sierra Leone on the threshold of Independence.  “Sir Milton Margai, who became the country’s first prime minister was able to convince leaders of other political parties to join him in forming the United Front which went to Lancaster house in London to discuss Sierra Leone’s Independence.“ Mr. Bangura, among other things, pointed out to his listeners that while Sir Milton became the first prime minister, the queen of England was still head of state.

“It must be noted that Sierra Leone was only partially independent in1961. It was only in 1971 when the Republican constitution was promulgated that Sierra Leone had full political independence,“ he elaborated to a very rapt audience that included Council President Donald Payne Jr., Dr. Akli Kalfani, director, African Institute, Essex County College, Freeholder Mohamed Jalloh, Minister Plenipotentiary to the UN Rev. Kabbs–Kanu, Don Viapre, Media Relations Executive, a long time supporter of Sierra Leone and African and Caribbean issues, representatives of the business community in Newark, and Sierra Leoneans.

Continuing his narrative on the constitutional and political development of Sierra Leone, Mr. Bangura said: “The present constitution of Sierra Leones – the 1991 constitution- is modeled after that of the United State of America. We have real separation of powers like the American system. Government is divided into three watertight compartments (executive, legislature, and the judiciary). There is much emphasis today on the Rule of Law and fundamental human rights.” And to Americans who may be interested in doing business in Sierra Leone, he had this to say: “Sierra Leone is more than ready to do business with Americans. Our government is democratically elected, and it has created the enabling environment for foreign investors. All the elements of a free market economy are now in place: economic liberalization, privatization, transparency and a lot more.”

Dousso Kassimoh, an Ivorian who serves as project manager, City of Newark, and who is currently a doctoral candidate at Seton Hall University, and President of the African Commission – a non-profit, non-political initiative, City of Newark – was master of ceremonies during the flag-raising ceremony on April 15, 2011. Mr. Mercy Phillips, vice president of the African Commission, received and welcomed Ambassador Bockarie Stevens to the city of Newark. Among the Sierra Leoneans present at the flag-raising ceremony were Fatima Mcmahon, a long time resident of Newark, who is also a college professor at Newark Essex County College; Mr. Abdulai Ben Jalloh, Mr. Foday Mansaray, who was given special recognition by the City of Newark for his effective participation in the Affairs of the African Commission, Alhaji Alie Badara Kamara, Sheik Aziz Mohamed Nabe, Saidu-Bai Taylor Kamara and Alhaji A.S.G. Kamara, who offered both the opening and closing Muslim prayers during the flag-raising ceremony. Rev. Kabbs Kanu, president and CEO of Cocorioko, and Minister Plenipotentiary, Sierra Leone’s Mission to the United Nations, offered the Christian prayers. 

Written by Sekou D Bangura, Sierra Leone Herald Tribune
Photo Credit: Hamjat Jallomy Bah

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