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Northernisation – Southernisation

The Sierra Leone Telegraph Editorial Team
10 October 2009

The President’s speech at the state opening of Parliament last Friday, 8 October 2009, must have struck a chord with every Sierra Leonean and potential investor that has good intentions for the country, when the President concluded -  “let me reiterate my pledge: I was elected president of the whole of Sierra Leone; I will serve the whole of Sierra Leone; I will unite this country by fulfilling the promise of the Agenda for Change to the common man and woman, regardless of their sex, ethnic group, region or political party”. But was this just rhetoric or a genuine desire to unite the country and foster change through equality of opportunity irrespective of tribe?


In a country with over one million of its people out of work, the deafening shouts of tribal discrimination and social exclusion, caused by a concerted policy of northernisation under the present Koroma administration, and allegations of southernisation by the previous SLPP government, are symptomatic of a culture of distrust and retribution. This is slowly consuming every ray of hope for the building of a prosperous, stable and vibrant society, based on strong societal values.


A government that espouses and defends its policy of regionalization, which excludes and denies others from equally participating in the creation of wealth and the sharing of that wealth, must itself be guilty of promoting and fomenting animosity and hatred. This could make it difficult to unite the nation, promote economic prosperity and social advancement for all.


Today, we watch as qualified and experienced citizens lose their jobs or denied access to employment opportunities, simply because they are from the wrong region. We see farmers desperate for much needed machinery and rice seeds, denied the opportunity to grow food that will help feed a hungry nation, simply because they are on the other side of the political fence.


And so the cycle of economic marginalisation and social exclusion continues, until another government comes into power - today’s beneficiaries becoming tomorrow’s victims of tribal discrimination and political patronage. What a waste of human resources!


The President in response to the accusation of pursuing a policy of northernisation said – “Mr. Speaker, our vision of national unity is not about giving jobs to a few elites posturing as the only authentic representatives of their towns and villages. Our vision of national unity is rooted in the ideals of service to the common man and woman of every region”.  But transforming this vision into reality is the greatest challenge facing the President, if he is to avoid being tarred with the same brush as his predecessors.  


Sierra Leone is a nation state that is made up of diverse and competing regions and tribes, each fighting hard to secure its own survival. But in that seemingly innocent and selfish drive to look after kith and kin, so much damage is being done to so many lives, and to the entire economic and social fabric of one of the poorest nations in the world.


There are those of course that will no doubt justify this selfishness simply as a fact of life – because they themselves are reaping the benefits. But it does not have to be that way. Western civilisations have built and developed their nation states on very strong economic, political and social structures that cannot be brought down by narrow mindedness based on tribal or sectarian interests. More importantly, those structures are underpinned by strong societal values such as respect for life, equality of opportunity, civil liberty and the guarantee of democratic freedoms.


For Sierra Leone, sadly, after just forty eight years of independence, that process of trying to build and develop sustainable economic, political and social structures has not only been painful, but is now once again threatening to destroy the nation’s very existence. Something is obviously not right with the process. This calls for a very serious rethink as to how the country’s wealth is created and distributed, to ensure that the many and not the few can equally participate and benefit in that process.


The ‘rebellious’ war and the continuing politically motivated tribal undercurrents in the country is causing strong shock waves that could once again sink the ship. These undercurrents and the consequences of the war have exposed the myth that by simply singing the political chorus - 'one people one nation', we can keep the nation state glued together, without working hard to achieve that dream.


"Vote for APC - the party that stands for change - the party that will bring change" - we heard President Ernest Koroma telling the people during his 2007 election campaign. Where is that change?


"Vote for SLPP - the party that stands for one nation one people" - we heard the leaders of SLPP telling the people during that election campaign. But it seems the people voted for change rather than the promise of national cohesion. Are there lessons to be learned from this?


Sierra Leoneans need jobs. They are in desperate need of decent housing. They expect their children to achieve a good standard of education. They need reliable and affordable system of transportation. They are desperately thirsty for clean and safe drinking water. They do not expect their loved ones to die simply because they are taken to hospital for routine surgery or child birth.               


Sierra Leone is fast becoming an adventure playground - a 'jump on jump off' society, with plenty of political carousels ready to take anyone for a ride. And unfortunately, this is how we are perceived by the outside world – a broken society that has lost its values, standards of ethics, and humanity, yet endowed with abundant natural resources.


In a society where one struggles to find something that works – can anyone justify a policy of northernisation or southernisation? This is definitely not sustainable, irrespective of which political party is in power.  


The political class desperately needs to break out of the cycle of winner takes all mentality. A new 'national thought process' is desperately needed, especially from those would-be political aspirants hoping to enter the fray in 2012 and beyond. Politicians cannot afford to continue on the path of ‘business as usual’. Real change is needed.  


The retarded policy of ‘northernisation today - southernisation tomorrow’ - as an unwritten strategy for the redistribution of the nation’s measly national cake, of which 60% is donor driven, is shamefully idiotic and will certainly destroy all efforts at re-building a viable nation state.


Today, we see so many of those who once held power and had amassed great personal wealth through corruption, now bankrupt by the self-serving feudal economic and wealth creating system that they themselves have put in place and perpetuated for so long. This must serve as a lesson to all politicians that tomorrow will surely come, no matter how long it takes. 


This shallow and narrow minded policy of sharing the national cake based on tribal affiliation will continue to dangerously divide Sierra Leone, polarise national thinking and efforts in moving the country from abject poverty to a prosperous 21st century nation state.     


As the global economy comes out of the recession, the wheels of industrialization should start turning once again, but will Sierra Leone be ready to capitalize and benefit from this upturn? Where is the skilled workforce? Will the new industries be there to provide the job opportunities for the unemployed youths that are now turning to crime for survival?


In all seriousness, talks of northernisation, southernisation, tribal discrimination - call it what you will, the effect is still the same – social alienation and mass economic exclusion. This is plain wrong and a senseless waste of human resources that the country can ill afford. Putting square pegs in round holes has become the hall mark of governance in Sierra Leone. How in God’s name do we expect to achieve higher productivity and increased Gross Domestic Product?


Regions that produce the most contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product are regarded as nothing other than ‘work horses’ – ‘cash cows’ that do not need to be cared for. One day soon those cash cows will stop producing cash. What then? 


President Koroma promised to diversify the economy. Where is the plan for diversification?  The President promised to formulate a private sector strategic development plan. Where is that plan?


After two years in power, the government has finally found out the true cost of delivering its ‘Agenda for Change’. The Development Assistance Coordinating Office (DACO) has told MPs that $1.9 Billion is needed to implement the Agenda for Change (Awoko News; 9 October 2009).


Next month – November 2009, the government goes to London to attend a conference sponsored by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to raise donor funds and investment capital that will hopefully stimulate economic growth. Will President Koroma come back home with that much needed $1.9 Billion?      


Government’s continuing policy of centralisation is having a negative impact on the rest of the country. There is a serious need to change the way Sierra Leone is governed. The current system of governance is no longer fit for purpose, nor is it consistent with the need to recognise the inherent strengths of each of the geographical regions. Serious thought needs to be focused on the devolution of power to those regions. 


Devolution has to be the way forward as a sustainable strategy to develop the economy, promote good governance, build mutual respect, curb corruption, insitutionalise accountability and mobilise the energies and potential of every citizen.


The current devolution efforts driven by the Vice President’s office appears insincere, patronising, misguided, lacking in vision, and poorly resourced. Devolution must be driven by a National Development Plan that clearly identifies and defines what is expected of each of the regions - economic development, education, social services, housing, infrastructure and environmental improvements.


The 2004 Local Government Act is a good starting point but not robust enough. There is a need to build on the 2004 Act so as to ensure that the process of devolving power to the regions becomes a national priority.  The current global economic crisis may be used as an excuse for not affording to do everything, but cannot be used as an excuse for doing nothing. Nor should the fact that a narrow majority voted the government into power be used as an excuse for a narrow minded and parochial policy of tribalism, thus putting national cohesion at risk.

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