SPEECH DELIVERED BY ANDREW K. KEILI AT THE DINNER AND DANCE ORGANISED IN HIS HONOUR AT FOREST HILL IN LONDON ON 18th APRIL 2015
It is indeed a cherished privilege accorded me tonight to deliver a speech at this occasion. Such an event gives me the opportunity to talk to a disparate group of Sierra Leoneans on issues affecting our country.
I was initially tempted to talk about Ebola, but discounted this, because, being in London where I am not subject to our national emergency regulations, I am not compelled to speak about Ebola to justify speaking to a large audience without incurring the wrath of the Inspector General of police.
I realize that in such a setting I cannot afford to be too partisan or overly logical for fear of putting off my guests who are after all here to wine and dine after being pried out of a not insignificant number of pounds by the organizers. Talking about logic and dinner, it is said that the Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans. On the other hand, the French eat a lot of fat and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans. Conclusion: Eat what you like. It's speaking English that's killing you!
I have been inspired by the words of our national anthem. Uplifting words which could spur us to have confidence in our country. My speech is titled”High we still exalt thee” and is based on the first verse of our national anthem. I will reflect my own life experiences in this land that we love.
The euphoria of independence in 1961 has been progressively laced with some doses of reality through a tumultuous period that has seen several changes in governments of various types of tenor. Our educational system was still one of the best in Africa. I recall being taught by Irish priests and teachers from as far afield as India and Sri Lanka at CKC. Some of my Sierra Leonean teachers could afford cars and they were certainly respected in the community. School infrastructure was good and not bursting at the seams. I was in class with no more than 30 students at CKC. The health system was good.
Working for the National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC) in Yengema, I thought I had realised a lifelong dream. I left for Sierra Rutile in 1980 from the Tongo operation as I thought I could get greater professional fulfilment at Rutile. After fifteen years at Rutile which was accompanied by marriage, a family and considerable professional experience, I was forced to leave everything behind and run for dear life into the bush as RUF rebels took over the mine. We arrived in Freetown with no belongings, no job and a young family to look after. Starting up an engineering company with some colleagues and assisting my wife to open a private primary school were done with the realisation that life had to follow a different path.
An intense interest in business, governance and politics had to await a three-year sojourn out of the country, still torn asunder by war. My one-year stint in the US working for an Engineering company and two years representing that company in the Ukraine was an eye opener. I became a diasporan Sierra Leonean like many of you. Throughout all this time there was a longing for home just like you have.
My return home was accompanied by considerable involvement in various spheres of life. My involvement as a member of a management team that managed the National Power Authority (NPA) and my stint as Chairman of the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) made me intensely aware of the problems of state parastatals and governance institutions. Being on the Council of the Chamber of Commerce and becoming the first Chairman of the Trans African Bank, Ecobank in Sierra Leone gave me a bird’s eye view of the private sector. My interest wandered into helping to sort out the problems of the country through boards and professional institutions-the Science and Technology council, Institution of Engineers, Environmental Board etc. which all gave me an insight into policy issues in many areas. I also had the opportunity of being on the National Policy Advisory Committee to President Kabbah proffering policy advice and reviewing cabinet papers for three years.
I would like to limit this discourse to what is happening in Sierra Leone at the moment. In the last UNDP Human Development Index ranking, out of 187 countries analysed, Sierra Leone ranked 183. With a life expectancy at birth of 48 years, 70 percent of youths underemployed or unemployed, 60 percent of Sierra Leoneans living below the poverty line and a 41 percent literacy rate our country is severely underdeveloped. More recently, we have been bedeviled by a global health crisis caused by Ebola and we are now in the midst of a constitutional crisis which is still unfolding. Hundreds of thousands of young people basically have nothing to do.
Altogether, a bleak picture it may portend, but we have to be positive.
On a positive note let me give you a peak into what an Andrew Keili Presidency would look like. A common thread that runs through the actions I will take is the theme “Let us take economic power back to the people”. The people should see themselves as beneficiaries rather than the victims of a highly centralised system, remote from them. The poor Kailahun resident would not need to travel to Freetown for days just to get secure a passport. We will not see young men leaving their villages for lack of opportunities in droves to sleep on the streets of Freetown, just to survive. We will not continue to see symbols of economic retrogression like the J.Mattar mineral bottling factory in Bo which after being shut down during my school days still lies moribund. My clarion call is: “Let us take economic power back to the people”
Let me state from the outset however that I am more than convinced that our problem is not with our policies but in their implementation. We need to have the political will to implement them. I will however dilate on some policy issues.
I am convinced that there is little economic empowerment if power is kept at the centre. I will push for fiscal decentralization to accompany the political and administrative decentralization that we have at the moment. Unless Local Councils become almost financially independent, they will be at the beck and call of Central Government.
Twice in the space of less than 25 years we have been taught an object lesson that human security trumps all threats to our nation’s survival. First, it was a devastating civil war and then came an epidemic that has made us measure national progress or lack thereof in terms of infection rates and deaths. Amongst other things the importance of education and health have been brought to the fore.
I will ensure that the one fifth of our national budget used on education is spent prudently. More funds will be expended on vocational education and courses will be matched to the job market and be in line with our national development aspirations. School infrastructure will be improved and expanded and the shift system abolished. Teachers will be better trained and remunerated and schools of excellence established. Encouraging children to stay longer in the educational process to enhance their skills base will be at the corner stone of the educational policy which will also encourage the girl child. I will ensure we have a reversal of the situation in which only 10 percent of adult women and 20 percent of men have reached a secondary or higher level of education.
On the health front I will ensure we have adequate and well equipped health infrastructure nationwide (hospitals, laboratories, diagnostic centres, stores and pharmacies). I will also address the problem of shortage of skilled manpower; weak recruitment and retention strategies, poor conditions of service, inadequate training and weak coordination and governance. How long can we continue living in a country where for every 100,000 live births, 890 women die from pregnancy related causes. All of these will obviously require upping the health expenditure to at least 15 percent of the National budget in line with the Abuja declaration and stamping out corruption in the health sector as well as encouraging real decentralisation of services and hence access to health services for even remote areas.
There is little thought now given to law and order issues. Laws must be enforced in all areas without fear of favour. Lee Kwan Yew educated and exhorted his people. After he had persuaded and won over a majority, he legislated to punish the willful minority. It has made Singapore a more pleasant place to live in. We should take a leaf out of his book. In Sierra Leone we have to move from education on law and order and legislate and enforce to punish the wilful lawbreakers.
It is a sad fact that we are still living in a country that has entrenched attitudes that do not favour women. Despite the spate of laws passed and initiatives undertaken to give women a leg up, their situation still remains desperate. Laws are not implemented effectively and women are still grossly underrepresented in governance. I will push for having a designated number of seats in Parliament for women and increase the proportion of women in positions requiring government appointees. I am a firm believer in the fact that given the right opportunities many women can outperform their male counterparts. By the way, do you know what would have happened if it had been three wise women instead of three wise men? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleansed the stable, cooked a meal, brought practical gifts and there would be peace on earth.
I will push for the proper implementation of the Local Content Policy. A buoyant private sector is required to address the unemployment situation. The policy gives measures to promote the use of locally sourced goods and services and encourage employment and training of Sierra Leoneans at various managerial levels.
Sierra Leoneans abroad contribute immensely to the economy. The skills and economic input of diasporan Sierra Leoneans are badly needed for the country’s development. I am incessantly buoyed when I see young Sierra Leoneans return home to open up businesses or help bridge the capacity deficits we have in many areas. I see in this hall men and women of stature in various professions that have functioned effectively in a first world setting whose immense skills will be useful back home and should certainly be harnessed. I see Sierra Leoneans who are longing to contribute to the country in one way or another but feel frustrated that there is no attempt to utilise their vast potential. Diasporan Sierra Leoneans should have the right to vote and the right to have a say in many things happening back home. I will institute a formidable Diasporan Affairs Ministry or Agency so that the skills and financial resources of Sierra Leoneans abroad will be efficiently brought into partnership with the government.
There are many pressing issues which no government has had the courage to address because they have been bent on maintaining the status quo for the sake of staying in power. I will however make bold to say that I am willing to make those decisions. I will dilate on a few of these.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, our country is split right down the middle and there is an obvious need for national cohesion. We cannot develop as a nation if we do not have national cohesion. I will ensure that the nation is truly integrated by having a significant numerical representation of each component group in the institutions of the nation and that the country enjoys equitable and balanced development. I will set up a presidential task force to pursue this issue.
I eschew the fact that the two types of land tenurial systems in Sierra Leone are fraught with difficulties. A land system which classifies a group of our compatriots as non natives is unfair. A land system so inept and enmeshed in corruption with several people claiming the same piece of land and constantly the subject of legal proceedings is bad for our development. I will pursue a policy that revisits our land tenurial systems and codifies land.
There has often been obfuscation on the issue of citizenship. Citizenship should be based on well reasoned criteria considering the interest of the individual and the country and not on race.
For too long those who play by the rules and keep the faith have gotten the short end of the stick, and those who cheat, cut corners and cut deals have been rewarded. I will push for transparency and meritocracy in Sierra Leone.
The quest to exalt Sierra Leone should not however be left with its leadership alone. We all should play a part.
We must get together and address the things that divide us as Sierra Leoneans. And so it is that: There are gender lines, age lines, religious lines, tribal lines and political lines in our country. It is so hard to let go of our lines. We must tout the virtues of democracy, rule of law, promotion of human rights and justice and we must jealously guard our constitution.
And don’t cultivate the habit of always giving excuses. Talking about excuses, a police officer pulled over a guy who had been weaving in and out of the lanes. He walked up to the guy’s window and said, “Sir, I need you to blow into this breathalyzer tube.”
The man responded, “Sorry officer, I can’t do that. I am an asthmatic. If I do that, I’ll have a really bad asthma attach.”
“Ok. I need you to come down to the station to give a blood sample.”
“I can’t do that, either. I am a hemophiliac. If I do that, I’ll bleed to death.”
“Well, then, we need a urine sample,” insisted the police officer.
“Sorry. I am also a diabetic. If I do that, I’ll get really low blood sugar.”
“All right. Then I need you to come out here and walk this white line,” added the officer.
“I can’t do that, officer.”
“Why not?” asked the exasperated officer.
“Because I’m drunk.”
It is said that a good leader has some four overarching attributes-Vision, courage, passion and integrity. I have a vision that Sierra Leone will be exalted from the current morass and will take its rightful place amongst nations that have strived to achieve their full potential. My passion for this country has always been undiminished, which is why even when I have had the chance to escape from it I have chosen to stay back home and help address our problems. The issues facing our country are indeed grave. Making changes demands courage. Courage to go against long held cultural beliefs, courage to fight the scourge of tribalism and regionalism. Throughout my years of work in the private and public sectors I have prided myself on my integrity.
To get to the helm of governance in Sierra Leone one has to go through a Special Purpose Vehicle called a party. I am a proud member of the Sierra Leone Peoples’ party which though in opposition and facing a considerable number of challenges at the moment is bound to circumvent these problems and govern this land that we love in 2018.
You may want to ask, What does Andrew Keili stand for and what distinguishes him from the others in the field who want to lead this great party?
I believe that with my policy prescriptions, my resolve to muster the political will to transform policies into reality and take economic power back to the people, this land that we love will be truly exalted. I will tout the special qualities that make me the man to be trusted to do this. My policy prescriptions and resolve are not based on theory or scripted in some manual crafted by some international organisation but on a deep understanding of the people and the issues after thirty eight years of stellar and unblemished service in the public and private sectors dealing intimately with these issues. When I speak about education I talk about the experience of helping my wife set up a primary school twenty years ago and a secondary school ten years ago that together have over 1000 pupils and eighty staff. When I talk about infrastructure or employment, I talk from the vantage position of co-founding the largest multidisciplinary engineering company in Sierra Leone some twenty years ago. When I talk about the concerns of the private sector I experience them daily and try to engender solutions as a council member of the chamber of commerce. When I talk about national cohesion, I talk from experience of having a Loko wife, a Limba adopted brother and colleagues from all regions of the country who are co-Directors of my company and friends from all parts of the country. I have walked the walk and been tested by fire.
I can also be trusted to engender peace and unity within the ranks of the SLPP to lead us to electoral victory as I have always eschewed violence, intimidation and narrow parochial tendencies that have lately become the hallmark of our party. Why? Because I have proven over time that I put party and country above self and shown that I can disagree without being disagreeable. My support for the party and the winning candidate remained undiminished even after my loss at the last flagbearer election. Many will knock at the door but trust in them may be flaky because they may not have walked the walk.
A united and strong SLPP has always been relied on by our people to deliver positive milestones for our nation: Independence from the British, establishment of agricultural cooperatives under SLPMB, ending our senseless civil war and building democracy and its attendant institutions after that war. We need to unite SLPP again and build its organizational capacity to protect our nation’s democracy and take economic power to our people. This is the call I am answering to in my aspiration to be the Flag bearer of our great SLPP and with your help to be President of Sierra Leone.
The SLPP and Sierra Leone need a leader who can foster national cohesion and bridge the big divide that currently exists. I am that leader. Having hailed from the east, been brought up in the South, acquired a wife from the North, lived and associated with people and organizations in the west and worked in all regions of this country.
In the end the decision would have to be based on who you can trust from personal experiences of his or her leadership to take this country forward. I am that leader. I have fought a good fight, I have kept the SLPP and national faith. Together with you, let us take economic power back to the people.
Before this speech, I promised myself I will endeavour not to be long winded as I realise that whilst the constitution guarantees free speech, it does not guarantee listeners. I further resolved to be guided by the advice that Public speakers should speak up so they can be heard, stand up so they can be seen, and shut up so they can be enjoyed. I will therefore conclude whilst you are still awake.
In concluding may I take this opportunity to thank all those of you who have stood and continue to stand against the recent unconstitutional acts of government and the continuous etching away of the democratic foundations that were set up after the war. You are indeed true Sierra Leoneans who want our country to be exalted. The UK &I Branch has been at the forefront of this resistance and has lent a hand through its executive and membership to make this occasion a success. I thank Chairman Jimmy Batilo Songa and his team profoundly for this.
I would like to thank you all for gracing this occasion. I particularly thank members of Team Keili in the UK who have worked assiduously to make this event a success. They have spent a long time planning it and I thank them for their commitment to our common cause. I cannot thank my team members who have come from areas far afield like the USA, Canada and Sierra Leone for this occasion enough. My wife could not unfortunately be here tonight as schools have just reopened but she gave me permission to miss our 30th wedding anniversary, which is on April 20. She sends her felicitations.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I pray that God may be able to use all of you to continue to be an instrument of healing and hope for all who find Sierra Leone a hard and difficult place to be. Let us take economic power back to the people. High we still exalt thee, Sierra Leone, realm of the free.
Thank you and God Bless Sierra Leone.