Women of Sierra Leone present a unified position for the National Peace and Social Cohesion Dialogue Conference (BINTUMANI III)

Date: Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Jam-packed Bintumani International Conferec=nce Hall. UNWSL-Photo-Umaru Samai 2
Jam-packed Bintumani International Conferec=nce Hall. UNWSL-Photo-Umaru Samai 2

The national dialogue for the consolidation of democratic governance for Sierra Leone’s peace and national cohesion was held from May 23 to 25 2019 at Bintumani International Conference Center in Freetown. The conference referred to as Bintumani III aimed at uniting the country which has been divided along political and ethnical lines following the general elections which took place in 2018.  

Previously, the country held National Conferences for Peace and Social Cohesion (Bintumani I and Bintumani II) during and after the Sierra Leone civil war. Both Bintumani I and II were high pitched having been demand by the citizens of Sierra Leone for the National Provisionary Ruling Council (NPRC) administration to negotiate peace with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Bintumani II was the product of citizens demands for a multi-party general election in order to restore peace and civilian government instead of an extended military rule.

The national dialogue for peace and national cohesion (Bintumani III) was an election promise by the then presidential candidate Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio in case he won election (as he did now as the President noting):  “In the last ten years, the building blocks of national cohesion and the feeling of belonging of all citizens have gravely crumbled. The recent governance strategy has been characterized by tribalism, divisiveness, exclusion and the weakening and subversion of state governing institutions. There is a need to promote unity and national cohesion.” This statement was the building block for the Bintumani III.

The national Conference for Peace and Social Cohesion was preceded by civil society interest groups/stakeholder consultations (women group, children’s group. Civil society organizations, political party groups). The theme for the National Women’s Conference was “For Democracy, Peace and Development: Women’s FULL Participation is a MUST.

Women of Sierra Leone showing support to the National Conference on peace and social cohesion. UNWSL-Photo-Umaru Samai 1
Women of Sierra Leone showing support to the National Conference on peace and social cohesion. UNWSL-Photo-Umaru Samai 1

The National Conference for Peace and Social Cohesion:

The three-day national event was attended by more than 1000 physically present at the Bintumani International Conference Center-- while the remaining citizens were reached via live radio/television transmission covering all parts of the country to the last mile. The Conference represented all social/geographic/age/gender/ categories of Sierra Leoneans.

The peoples’ focus was how to nurture the coming together of all Sierra Leoneans as a nation in the spirit of national cohesion/unity and peace to share what they saw as issues/challenges to peace and stability/national unity and to contribute towards solutions/strategies to addressing the issues they raised for the achievement of peace and social cohesion in the country.

The Conference was opened by H.E. Rtd Brigadier President Julius Maada Bio and chaired by the Chief Minister, Hon. Prof. David J Francis; co-chaired by the Hon Minister of Political and Public Affairs  Hon. Ambassador Foday Yumkella and the Deputy Minister - Hon Amara Kallon. The Conference opening was also attended by high level participants including the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General –(SRSG) to west Africa and the Sahel and UNOWAS, Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas; United Nations Resident Coordinator, Mr Sunil Saigal; Representative of the Secretary General of ECOWAS; Representatives from Rwanda, Kenya, United Kingdom among others.

President of Children Forum Network-Mariama Samai, CFN members and H.E Bio chatting on way forward for women and girls
President of Children Forum Network-Mariama Samai, CFN members and H.E Bio chatting on way forward for women and girls

Speaker after speaker advanced their commendation for the timeliness of the National Conference; contributed what from their stakeholder perspectives were on the critical issues taking the country to political tensions and to craft recommended course of action for a peaceful and cohesive Sierra Leone. Stakeholders from the Women’s organizations/Children’s Organizations/Civil Society Organizations including representatives of persons with disability and political parties spoke passionately about the need for peace and national unity. A number of specialized Panel discussions were also convened as a means of framing/generating content on selected issues and guiding the discussions.

The Women’s Position Paper for Bintumani III (presented by the President of the Women’s Forum) highlighted the critical role women of Sierra Leone played in negotiating for peace during and after the war that brought democracy back to the country and demanded for the systematic inclusion and space for women’s inclusion and voice in all decision-making processes from now on. Women demanded for the one third minimal representation in all key public decision-making processes. The women endorsed the idea for a Peace and Social Cohesion Commission and demanded 50-50 gender representation in the proposed Commission. The women’s unified position. The representative of the Children’s Forum passionately reminded the adults that they should stop their political differences and the abuse of children calling the adults to order to behave as adults and be good role models to children. The spokesperson of children an adolescent girl appealed to all adult Sierra Leoneans to STOP their politics and think of the welfare of the children whom their “quarreling and politicking” was hurting.  The spokesperson of the children received a standing ovation for her presentation to the Conference.  

The Final communique from Bintumani III recognizes that peace is in the hands of Sierra Leoneans and all stakeholders –women, children, persons with disability, CSOs all said “Never Again” to armed conflict by Sierra Leoneans.