British Prime Minister Tony Blair has apologized to the people of Freetown for not visiting the city even though he has visited the country twice in six years.
Mr Blair made this public apology over UN radio after he said he had been listening to callers to the radio station while driving to the 15th Battalion Barracks and the callers had been asking the question why he had not visited Freetown.
Showing deep sensitivity for the local people the British PM immediately after delivering his speech to the Military and Police who had organised a fantastic display of their new found capabilities for his benefit, called on the local reporter for UN radio and asked to use his medium to apologise to Freetownians.
He promised that when he comes back he will definitely visit Freetown and gave the excuse that this time around time did not permit him.
Earlier at the joint Press Conference with President Kabbah and Liberia’s President Johnson Sirleaf the British Prime Minister said he would be the first person “to accept and admit there a still big challenges in Sierra Leone, … challenges to carry on with the fight against corruption, challenges in relation to the economy, challenges in relation to the poverty in society”
He admitted that “as a result of what happened five years ago there has been not just a doubling of the number of children gaining primary education a very very significant rise in the age … the average age at which people die here is still far too low of course, there has not merely been substantial economic growth although a long long way to go but also there have been adults who have gone back into the schooling to take on the schooling they have missed out on before and as a result of the political stability that there has been here we are able at least to contemplate the elections that are coming up later this year and so whatever challenges still remain the fact is there has been enormous beneficial change here in this country and we are proud as a country to have played a part in that.”
Crediting President Johnson Sirleaf with the explanation Blair said “The countries in this area are intimately linked together, if we end up with instability in Sierra Leone – if the RUF had succeeded in taking over Sierra Leone I think it is true to say that Liberia would never had got on its feet, it is true also to say that the trouble may have spread into Guinea, it is true also to say that Cote D’Ivoire is intimately connected with what happens in Sierra Leone and Liberia, so we could have had a situation in which the whole of these countries of this part of Africa were run by gangster regimes, plundering the countries, and killing the people – I think in Liberia alone there were thousands, tens of thousands of people who died – the mass rape of women a situation of tragedy almost impossible to imagine.”
He went on “I think it is right to say that had we not intervened here then we would have been unable to set back the beneficial path going. So he said “for all the challenges lets just be assured of one thing if we had not decided to make that intervention, not just this country, but countries of this area would have been adversely affected in a way we can barely even contemplate.”
He noted further that “it’s important that we recognize however tough and difficult it is, however ferocious the challenges are in this part of Africa or anywhere in Africa it is better to intervene and make a difference and try to make a difference than stay out and then cope with the consequences at a later time.”
On the issue of “peace keeping and conflict resolution,” the British PM stated “Yes it is Africa’s responsibility to do it, but we in the West and in the wealthier countries have a responsibility to fund it to help train the forces to help equip them to help make sure the logistics and the capability is there to make peace keeping and conflict resolution work and if we do not do that, the impact is felt in countries like this for the people who live here but also in the wider world.”
Questioned on what essentially would change by his visit Tony Blair answered “5 years ago this country was about to be taken over by a gang of gangsters who were killing innocent people, raping women despoiling the country and today we have a situation where in a few months time there would be an election where you’ve got double of the children in primary education, where you’ve got economic growth and where you’ve got stability and a democracy in Liberia next door and I don’t say that is perfection but I say it’s a down size better than what was here before.”
He replied “the cynics back home or anyone else who wants to be cynical” saying “if we care it does make a difference, and making a difference is what politics should be about, and I believe that we should be proud of what we contributed, more in this country and across Africa in the last few years, but more than that we should understand it does really make a difference to peoples lives, and if politics is to mean anything at all, it is coming and looking at the poverty and the conflict in areas like this and doing something about it.
The British Prime Minister was later crowned honorary Paramount Chief Bai Shebora Mathofl which according to Local Government Minister Sidiki Brima means Chief of Peace.
His wife who came with him but went on a separate tour was crowned in absentia with the name Gbomposseh.
Minister Brima stated in his citation that the role of Blair in resolving the war fitted in with the old age tradition of claiming Chieftaincy.
Mr Blair again apologized to the British press for not wearing the gown nor putting on the chieftaincy hat – an act which the Mahera elders were not happy with and quietly condemned as an insult.