Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a Press Briefing in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Freetown, Sierra Leone
January 24, 2024

AS DELIVERED

Good afternoon. I can’t tell you, Ambassador, how thrilled I am to be here in Freetown. I actually first visited Sierra Leone in 1978, but I didn’t come to Freetown. So, notice I did say Sierra Leone. I was doing research across the border in Liberia, and I would take weekly trips to the town of Koindu, which was known for its artists and tradecrafts from across Africa. And I still have indigo cloth and a camel throw that I bought many, many years ago. I was at the market this morning and some guy was trying to sell me an indigo cloth and I told him I had one that I bought in 1978 and he said, “Oh that’s an old one.” [Laughter]. You know, 1978 doesn’t seem that long ago to me but I guess it is an old one.

My travels in West Africa inspired in me a love of diplomacy, but particularly a love of Africa. It has taken me around the world, and eventually, to the United Nations, where I now serve as the U.S. Ambassador, and where I have the opportunity to work with Sierra Leone a newly elected member of the Security Council.

Most people think that this job is about high-level meetings and high-stakes negotiations. And it actually is. But my favorite part of this job is meeting with people like the merchants I met today in Big Market or talking to young press people like yourselves, who are doing the job of making sure that the world and that ordinary people are kept informed.

These merchants at Big Market are people who want the same things that all of us do. They want to make a good living and put food on the table for their families, they want to keep their kids healthy, and they want quality schools. And to have a voice in their government, because democracy – democracy is not just a lofty ideal. It is the cornerstone of a free, fair, and prosperous society.

The United States appreciates that the Government of Sierra Leone and opposition leaders have worked together to safeguard and to expand democracy, including through the historic Agreement for National Unity, which provides a pathway towards electoral reform and inter-party dialogue. But more progress is necessary. Much, much more is needed.

The 2023 election made clear real electoral and constitutional reforms are needed for this country to continue on a positive democratic trajectory, so that the voices of all Sierra Leoneans are heard.

So, just as the United States was eager to support the signing of the ANU, we are eager to support its implementation.

So, today, I’m proud to announce that the United States government, through the United States Agency for International Development, plans to invest $1.5 million to support the work of the Electoral Reform Committee.

Namely, this funding will support three key priorities.

The first is technical assistance to the Electoral Reform Process. Because that’s how we ensure progress is sustainable, laying a foundation for elections to come.

The second is funding for international and Sierra Leonean legal analysts. Because they have the expertise needed to support Parliament and political parties in implementing reform.

And the third – the third is helping engage the citizens of Sierra Leone through civil society. Because that’s how we create a process that isn’t just top-down, but truly by the people and for the people. This is their democracy, so they must be aware of and brought into electoral reforms that safeguard it.

Our hope is that technical, legal, and civil society assistance will help Sierra Leone model democracy in a moment that so desperately calls for it. Across West Africa, a number of countries have chosen autocracy over democracy, violence over the rule of law, the interests of the few, over the interests of the many – and often to disastrous effects.

I just visited the Sierra Leone Peace Museum where I saw a placard that was called ‘Causes of War.’ And it was so moving and it was so timely. Upholding free and fair elections, and representative governments, is a matter of utmost urgency.

So, once again, thank you for welcoming me to Sierra Leone today. Thank you for welcoming me to Sierra Leone all those years ago.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you so much. We now have time for some questions. If I can ask our two ambassadors to join us at the podium. If you have a question, (inaudible) call on you. Yes.

QUESTION: Mohamed Jaward Nyallay, Epic Radio. So quickly, isn’t there the risk that we could be reinventing the wheel when we are talking about judicial reforms or legal reforms, because months before the election, the Public Elections Act, for example, was reviewed because you also did some legal reviews, all of which both political parties participated in thoroughly? So how much experience will you be drawing from those particular legal reviews already that we have?

And secondly, will these efforts of funding, some of it go to the review of the 1991 constitution, because at some point some of those reviews or legal things we are trying to do regarding reforms around elections might need the backing of the constitution?

AMBASSADOR BRYAN DAVID HUNT, U.S. Embassy Sierra Leone: Of course. So, Madam Ambassador, I would say two things. First, the mandate of the electoral review committee was established by the government and by the APC with support from the international community. They have determined that there is need for continued review of the electoral processes, including the legal framework under which they are undertaken. So we are supporting what Sierra Leoneans themselves have determined needs to be done.

I’m sure the work that was done of the review committees that you cited earlier was very thorough, but clearly, following the 2023 elections, both government and opposition felt that more work was required. So we are going to support that work to make sure that Sierra Leone’s democracy continues to move forward. And the reality is laws continuously need to be reviewed and evolve over time.

As far as our funding and constitutional reform goes, our funding is for the work of the electoral review committee. So to the extent that the electoral review committee is considering issues that it might ultimately recommend to the president and the parliament as requiring constitutional reform, we will be open to working with them on preparing those recommendations and any other documentation that the committee chooses to send forward to his excellency, the parliament, or other bodies to take forward.

MODERATOR: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Ganwana Bai (ph); I work for AYV. I have a couple of questions. I want to ask Dr. Marah, he talked about progress on review. I want to ask if one of the most contentious issue was the release of data, the elections data results. I want to ask if that part of it, if that was agreed as part of the progress you mentioned.

And Ambassador, you met with the president this morning. What is his commitment to this process? And you repeated here today what you said, what you tweeted on X from Liberia about “democracy is more than just a lofty idea. Democracy delivers.” What is the U.S. assessment of democratic values in Sierra Leone? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR HUNT: So Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and I agreed to take questions. I don’t want to put Dr. Gaima or Dr. Marah on the spot. So I don’t know, Dr. Marah, if you wish to take the question or not.

DR. MARAH: Yeah, I’ll answer the question.

AMBASSADOR HUNT: Okay. You’re sure?

DR. MARAH: Thank you so much, Mr. Bai. Yes, the reason why we are having this review centers around the 2023 elections, and so the position taken by the APC was let’s open up, provide us with the results so we can examine them and then make recommendations. But that is not just limited to 2023 because the mandate of the committee is to review 2023 elections and previous ones. So what the committee decided as a compromise is to look backwards and see how those results were. But yes, the 2023 elections result is contained in the TOR and we do hope as a committee that we’ll have the opportunity to examine it. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And your question to me was how committed do I believe Sierra Leone is – the president is? Look, your president has said he’s committed. He has supported this process, and I think all of us are excited to see it move forward. Democracy is not a simple process. It’s a process of self-correcting all the time.

We’re doing that in the United States right now. We see that happening in other countries around the world. I was just in Liberia, where they had a smooth transition from one party to another, their third in the – since they ended the civil war. But again, it’s a process of constantly recalibrating, constantly self-correcting, to try to get to perfection, which none of us have ever achieved.

But I think your president has stressed that he’s committed to this process. He has expressed his support for the commission, so we have to take him for his word.

MODERATOR: If I can ask that questions be directed primarily to the ambassadors, and questions for the Government of Sierra Leone and opposition parties be directed to their press agents, that would be wonderful. Thank you.

QUESTION: No questions for them?

MODERATOR: We hadn’t agreed to them taking questions, so perhaps maybe offline. But we only have Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield on the ground for a short while, so –

QUESTION: Okay. Moussa Kamara (ph) is my name. I work with Democracy Review 98.1 FM. Ambassador Greenfield, you made an announcement of $1.5 million support. When is this funding coming in and do you have any time frame for the implementation of your involvement over – in the peace process?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I announced it, but the ambassador can answer that question.

AMBASSADOR HUNT: So the answer to your question is the funding is available now. We only announce funding that is available, so the funding is available. The time frame for implementation will be the time frame of the work of the electoral review committee, which is set at, as I counted, another five months, gentlemen?

DR. GAIMA: Five months.

AMBASSADOR HUNT: They’re both nodding, so we’ll say five months. And of course, we may extend that over time, if there is still work that needs to be done to help the review committee beyond that five-month mandate. But for now, let’s say five months.

QUESTION: Okay. Saleh Fujera Nakamura (ph) is my name, and my question is directly to Ambassador Greenfield. Because your meeting with the president is something that a lot of people, especially the media, was anticipating to know exactly what you discuss about, but the fact that mainstream media was not invited for your meeting, so people will like to know, like, what are some of the specific areas of national interest that you discussed about with the president? Because you’ve worked in Africa for so long, and owing to what is happening now in Sierra Leone, what are those specifics?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, you know that, as I mentioned, Sierra Leone just became a member of the Security Council. And I’m a permanent member, the U.S. is a permanent member of the Security Council. So my primary purpose for this trip was to discuss Security Council work, to hear from the president what Sierra Leone’s priorities are on the Security Council, share with him our priorities, and see how we might work together on our various priorities in the Council.

And in terms of those issues, and particularly as it relates to Africa, as Sierra Leone is a member of the A3, the three African members, three elected African members of the Security Council, we talked about some of the issues where Africa would be taking leadership on, whether its discussions about the situation in Niger, where Sierra Leone has been actively engaged, or a discussion about the situation currently taking place in Sudan. We talked also about the situation in other places, such as what is happening in Gaza and what is happening in Ukraine.

It is a huge, huge responsibility to serve on the Security Council. Members of the Security Council deal with issues of peace and security that take place around the world. So whether we’re talking about what is happening in Venezuela or what is happening in Colombia, where the Security Council will be taking a trip in February, Sierra Leone will be engaged on all of those issues.

We did discuss domestic issues. We talked about this commission and the president’s support for that. But my primary purpose was to engage him on the work of the Security Council.

QUESTION: One more question?

MODERATOR: Yeah. Well, let’s make sure that someone who hasn’t – is there anyone who hasn’t asked?

QUESTION: My name is Hande Sisi (ph). I work for the The Watch newspaper. Madam Ambassador, I just want to know if you have engaged the opposition. If yes, what was your message for the opposition?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I have not. My role is not the bilateral ambassador. Your bilateral ambassador is here to do that. But I did want to engage the commission, which includes government and members of the opposition, as well as other donor groups. I have traveling with me the deputy assistant secretary for West Africa over in the back of the room who covers the bilateral relationship with the government.

QUESTION: One final question, if I may. Ambassador, I want to ask the question of Sierra Leone is leading C-10, which is pushing for some reforms within the Security Council. Is the U.S. Government supporting that? And finally, I want to Ambassador Hunt about the concerns raised by Dr. Marah about implementation. One contentious issue was the payments of backlog for members of parliament who returned later. So are you concerned about that as well?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for reminding me. I did talk with the president about the C-10. We are committed, the United States – President Biden expressed that commitment two years ago at the General Assembly. We’re committed to Security Council reform, and included in that commitment is a commitment to Africa having a permanent seat on the Security Council. And over the course of the past year and half, I have actively engaged with members, including the C-10, on several occasions about how we might move forward the agenda on Security Council reform.

I understand that Sierra Leone during their presidency will have Security Council reform as one of their signature event discussions during the Security Council, and I look forward to that discussion.

AMBASSADOR HUNT: As I’ve said many times, the United States firmly supports the Agreement for National Unity that was signed by government and opposition, and that is the entirety of the agreement. As we’ve said many times, we hope to see the full and rapid implementation of the agreement, and that’s the entirety of the agreement.

So we are concerned, certainly, with the work of the electoral review committee, which is what we’re here to discuss tonight, but that does not mean that we are not concerned with ensuring that other parts of the agreement move forward. And I very much hope that our friends in government and opposition will continue the dialogue to make sure that we’re implementing all parts of the Agreement for National Unity.

MODERATOR: Thank you, so much. That was all the time we have for questions. If there are any additional questions, you can direct them to your friendly public affairs team, and we will try to answer them and be in coordination (inaudible). So thank you guys so much for coming, and have a good evening.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you very much.

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