Sierra Leone’s Foreign Minister, Zainab Bangura, told VOA the decision by the U.N. Security Council Wednesday to lift sanctions against Sierra Leone is an indication that her country is now ready to focus on national development.
The 15-member body voted unanimously to remove the sanctions, including an arms embargo, imposed during the country’s 11-year civil war.
Bangura said the government of President Ernest Bai Koromah initiated the process to lift the sanctions in collaboration with the British government.
“We are, of course, excited, but this was an initiative taken by the Sierra Leone government under the instruction of President Koromah. He had instructed the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and we then further instructed our mission and we worked through the British member of the Security Council because we realized that it is important for us to now move to a more development-oriented agenda taking into consideration the president’s agenda for change,” she said.
More than 50,000 people were killed and many others mutilated during Sierra Leone's civil war from 1991 to 2002.
Bangura said the lifting of the sanctions means Sierra Leone has moved one step away from the legacy of its bloody past.
“I think we are all proud today as a country that, finally, it has been recognized internationally within the United Nations that Sierra Leone is now ready to take the major step of development,” Bangura said.
The Security Council resolution called for more action on the part of the Koromah government to deal with corruption and ensure free and fair elections in 2012.
Bangura said her government has taken major steps to fight corruption.
“We have one of the most robust anti-corruption legislation which took into consideration the African Union convention against corruption, as well as the United Nations convention against corruption. And, we have just appointed a new commissioner who, we believe, will follow up the vision of President Koromah to make sure that the fight against corruption is actually taken to the last step,” Bangura said.
The U.N. resolution also called on the Koromah government to do everything possible to make sure that general elections scheduled for 2012 are free and fair.
Bangura said the government is working closely with the electoral commission to ensure free and fair elections in 2011.
“With regards to elections, we are going to have four elections in Sierra Leone next year – presidential, parliamentary, local government, as well as mayoral election. And, it is the first time in the history of the country that we are going to have those elections. So, obviously, we all realize that it’s going to be a big challenge for us, but we are ready with some modalities (ideas) in place, and a lot of effort is being made with the Ministry of Finance is working very closely with the electoral commission to mobilize the resources to make sure that the election is free and fair,” Bangura said.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Wednesday, while Sierra Leone has made tremendous progress, challenges such as political intolerance, youth unemployment and drug trafficking remain.
Bangura said Sierra Leone under President Koromah enjoys political tolerance.
“When I addressed the Security Council, I did mention that President Koromah insisted that he is a president for the whole of Sierra Leone, and I think anybody with different political view has a right to say what they want to say and the right to exercise their right. So, with regards to political tolerance, I think you will hardly find a country that experiences more political tolerance than Sierra Leone,” Bangura said.
Access to diamonds was said to have been one of the causes of Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war.
Bangura said Sierra Leone has no problem with diamonds today.
“As you know, we are part of the Kimberley Process. So, as far as Sierra Leone is concerned, we do not have a problem. The mining and exploration of diamonds is taking place under supervision and within the framework of the Kimberley Process,” she said.