Former UN ambassador tells Rotarians about brokering peace in Sierra Leone

Former United Nation Ambassador Francis Okelo described his work brokering a peace in war-torn Sierra Leone during Wednesday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of the Pelhams. 

Okelo has been a New Rochelle resident since coming to the U.S. During that time, he joined the New Rochelle Rotary Club and continues to serve as a board member. Okelo is originally from Uganda and served in the Uganda Diplomatic Service in New York for the first part of his career. He worked in many countries throughout his career as a Ugandan and UN diplomat before retiring in 2006.

“Of all the things I have done with my life, I don’t think anything has given me as much satisfaction as what we were able to accomplish with Sierra Leone,” said Okelo. 

Sierra Leone was involved in a civil war for more than nine years. It devastated the country. The international community got involved to try to resolve the conflicts, said Okelo. 

Okelo described both the historical background of Sierra Leone and how he served there. 

When he stepped into the role of UN special envoy to Sierra Leone, he used his connections to travel to countries in the surrounding region to work with their heads of states to create an approach to settle the dispute in Sierra Leone. He worked closely with the U.S. ambassador on this project, and Okelo commented on their continued relationship. 

When resolutions to the conflicts were negotiated, there was an immediate ceasefire. The rebels were given a blanket amnesty by the government.

Okelo ended his talk with an uplifting moment of this experience. “On the first day of the negotiations, one of my staff said very brilliantly that after the opening prayers, we should ask them to sing the national anthem. I said it was a great idea, and suggested it to the leaders of the rebels and the government. They agreed and all started singing… There was not a dry eye in the hall.” 

“Peace is possible if you put your heart into it,” he said.