The Sierra Leone Telegraph
Home Archives Links to Sierra Leone News

President Koroma’s Resolution for 2010:  Tackling the Scourge of Social Discrimination in Sierra Leone

The Sierra Leone Telegraph Editorial Team
21 December 2009

“Well Momoh that concludes the interview for the position of Senior Clerical Officer. If you are successful we will contact you; otherwise you will not hear from us.”  That was the last Momoh heard from the interviewing panel. Momoh waited for over six months, hoping to receive the good news.

But the good news never came. It was a year later, whilst walking aimlessly along Sani Abacha Street that an old friend mentioned to Momoh that the job had been given to the daughter of a senior public official. Momoh is an unemployed college graduate. The appointee had twice failed to achieve her WASCE qualification.        

This example is all too familiar to the vast majority of young people in Sierra Leone, struggling to survive the harsh economic and social disempowerment caused by a deep rooted culture of discrimination.

It is bad enough for a candidate to be told that he or she is not suitable for a job, because there are many others that are better qualified. But to discover that you have been unsuccessful simply because of your tribal origin; religion; social class; lack of political network or patronage, must be devastating to those that are branded as lacking in ‘positive attitude’ in a society where meritocracy is not considered the norm.

A key finding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is that; discrimination, alienation, and disenfranchisement were, and continues to be used by senior management in both the public and private sectors, to determine the allocation of scarce resources; the awarding of contracts; the recruitment and appointment of personnel; and many other decisions that are destroying the lives of individuals, families and communities.

Most of these decisions have life changing consequences, which does affect the psychological, emotional well being and life expectancy of millions of Sierra Leoneans.  And whilst the 1991 Constitution guarantees equality of opportunity regardless of tribe, gender, religion and social class, far too often we see the rights of the weak in society being trampled upon by those rich enough or politically positioned to assert, or purchase their claim to social and economic justice.  

It is ironic to think that the traditional maxim – “money talks” is so deeply embedded into the psyche of the average Sierra Leonean, in a country that is classed amongst the poorest nations in the world. Every decision has a monetary value (a price tag); from the office security guard that determines whether you have an audience with the boss, to the administrator that issues official government documents.

Once employed, almost everyone seems to be forced by a menacing ‘culture of self-preservation’, to regard their job role as a ‘honey pot’, rather than a spoke in the wheel of the national machinery for wealth creation.  

In a country where money buys everything – jobs, votes, contracts, it is important to distinguish between corruption and discrimination, although their consequences and effects are the same. The Anti Corruption Commission (the ACC) is charged with the responsibility of investigating and bringing legal action against those suspected of corrupt behaviour, but it too, is being questioned for the discriminatory manner with which it carries out its work.

Social discrimination is the most virulent disease afflicting Sierra Leone’s economy. It is not implausible to suggest that the loss suffered by the economy as a result of social discrimination, is far greater than that lost through financial corruption.

The argument frequently posited is that social discrimination is complex and inevitable because of poverty in Sierra Leone. This assertion is not only fallacious, but counter intuitive, and has the potential to derail any policy aimed at combating inequality and impunity in society.        

Social discrimination is slowly haemorrhaging the economy to an annual estimate of $200 Million, if not higher, due to the inefficiencies it creates - low productivity; under utilisation of the nation’s human resources; and the waste of public funds on education and training of individuals that are likely to face a lifetime of unemployment and social exclusion.

The psychological effects of discrimination on victims can be debilitating and perilous – loss of self-esteem, enthusiasm, and social skills; as apathy and hopelessness sets in. These emotional problems usually present in the form of poor physical health, with high incidence of strokes and hypertension.

The abuse of illicit drugs and alcohol is the precursor to acute mental health problems, as victims of discrimination looks for escape routes from the harsh reality they face.

Life expectancy in Sierra Leone is estimated at 41 years. One wonders what percentage of this early death is due to the effects of discrimination. And should one assume that there is a cause and effect relationship between discrimination, long-term unemployment, poverty and low life expectancy; then Sierra Leone will continue to remain at the bottom of the Human Development Index.

With every job vacancy that Momoh applies for, comes the notice of rejection and a growing feeling of dejection. The potential of Momoh and millions of citizens will never be realised, as long as the culture of nepotism and discrimination continues to hold them back. It is highly unlikely that Momoh will live to witness his 42nd birthday. He seems destined to languish on the register of the chronically unemployed, the chronically ill and the chronically poor.   

Sceptics of government’s efforts to woo foreign investors are questioning whether foreign investment by itself will create the national economic and social cohesion required to improve economic prosperity, amidst such widespread and blatant social discrimination. They argue that the decision as to who benefits from the new jobs and procurement contracts would continue to be based on tribe, religion, and social class, if a concerted effort is not made to tackle social discrimination.

So why not have an ‘EQUAL OPPORTUNITY or ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMISSION’ that will actively promote equality of opportunity, discourage discrimination?  This could save the country over $200 Million it can ill afford to waste annually.

Sierra Leone is poised to join the civilised and progressive class of nation states, after a brutal war that was caused largely by discrimination, marginalisation, alienation and apathy. But the economic and human costs of discrimination are once again slowly tipping the scales of progress away from national unity and cohesion – the very foundation upon which future economic growth and prosperity depends.

Foreign potential investors are fully aware of the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR), of which equality of opportunity is a key part.  Investors would be guided by their CSR policies in determining the level of risks they are willing to accept in Sierra Leone. Social discrimination must be tackled now. This must be President Koroma’s resolution for 2010.    

Back to main list of articles

Email the Editor
The Sierra Leone Telegraph

©2009 – The Sierra Leone Telegraph – All Rights Reserved.
Editor - Abdul R Thomas