Is president Koroma serious about tackling poverty?

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 May 2013

fishing in sierra leone2The depth of Sierra Leone’s economic growth and development right now, are not signs of a country and an economy destined to duel at the very sharp end of true prosperity in the immediate future – oil or no oil.

Therefore, the assertion that we are on the way to a better life for all, and the hogwash that our economy grew faster than some of the developed world’s, remains an unfathomable self-delusion, if the management of current resources is even an indication to go by.

Without really appreciating the import of its slogan, the government has unwittingly decided to carry a burden of unrealistic expectations, even though some of its actions in the first term indicate that poverty has been reduced to nothing but a postage stamp among its priorities.

The uncomfortable demeanour of the government, indicate clearly that there are some important pragmatic reasons why the speeches ploughing the same acres of this envisaged glorious future, need to be put aside, until the rhetorical soil of prosperity acquire the texture of reality.

carter centerBecause, there is a need, when looking at the issue of where we are, especially against the trumpeted no-nonsense campaign and rhetoric of Agenda for Change, to truthfully conclude that though that particular policy had plenty of bark, there was little bite when it came to its strategic implementation.

It is for the same reason fear arises, that the prosperity slogan does not end up being a resemblance of the quiet efficiency of a hen party, getting out of a limousine.

Given the propensity of the deep-seated instinct in us and the dysfunctional politics of our leaders to ride out storms; make a few minor adjustments and carry on as before – the question is, will President Koroma, truly stand at the cusp of one of the greatest transformation required in our history?

Will he pave the way for the tar of prosperity to be properly laid, down the streets of the current socio-economic and political cul-de-sac?

AWARDS ALPHA KANU-600-x-447On the other hand, did Alpha Kanu unwittingly unveil the truth behind the sculpture, by his and inescapably, the government’s reaction to the gauntlet of social issues thrown early this year by a Freetown-based lawyer?

Judging by that official reaction, it appears that there is a tawdry veil over a system, which at its heart is run by a crew that sees popular perceptions as a challenge on its power.

My take on it is that the government sees itself as neither accountable nor responsive

Similarly, with the fraternal psychodrama in the SLPP and the nests of vipers known as other opposition parties in dark clouds, the only ray of societal sunshine appears to be those patriots who are able to say “if I perish, I perish” – in the face of everyone bowing to the gods of Baal.

Our fixation on immediate short-term measures and political expediencies is not only like a dead-cat bounce, but it is also like a treacherous love embrace.

Please let us put the harps back in the closet and look for our social conscience, as we continue desperately to seek a piece of driftwood from the wreckage of our ruinous past.

It is very clear that the disinfectant of scrutiny by those intent on ensuring a fairer society, is the most potent antidote to the ignorance that has turned the people into muted slaves.

Fact is, a man who does not know where the rain began to beat him, cannot know where he dried his body.

No matter how much we pedantically tinker around the subjects of the level of poverty and the great divide between the rich and the poor, which are still scandalous, the truth stares us all in the face.

Employing the disguised caution of a circus lion-tamer to the economic deprivation of majority of the people, is a climate that feeds extreme views.

museveni3It indicates that the political class in power has turned itself into the great cotton tree in the rainforest of our society, and in the shade of which, the smaller trees of the struggling masses must either perish or struggle to find their own place in the sun.

While internationally acclaimed figures suggest otherwise, the underlying local economic picture of our dear nation is that of an economy, bumping along the bottom and with serious challenges to bolster its recovery.

It gives succour to those local entrepreneurs who under prevailing circumstances exhibit a special sort of genius in the art of survival.

While the secret fraternity with tentacles in the highest echelons of power, might want us to believe otherwise, there have been very few new dawns for the majority of the people of Sierra Leone.

Despite being regaled with tales of everything about everything, except ruthless economic policies designed to clear the decks and to lay the foundation of a truly great tomorrow, the truth is, given all that has poured into the country, we should have been sprinting ahead by now.

Yes, we might appear to be going in the right direction and there may be a ray of light from the distance. But that clear sky is not emerging for the people fast enough, as they struggle in a depressed economy where there is not only poverty, but non renaissance of ideas at the very heart of government.

And even though there is better scope for an upside of success and wealth creation – if only a tiny bit of attention is given to the fundamentals of expending energy on urgent social issues, the non rejection of the cozy certainties purportedly on offer from unscrupulous investors, has made it a wee bit difficult for the government to focus on the true transformation of the lives of ordinary Sierra Leoneans.

Granted that the acute poverty and widespread unemployment now on display are not the kind of problems that could be solved with the wave of a magic wand, it is expedient though, for serious measures that could make a difference to be aggressively pursued.

For one, there is the need for a dynamic and liberal financial policy that would give access to funds at a cheaper rate to small and medium scale industries.

Discussions with many jobless young men and women often end up with the same refrain of lack of capital and the stifling interest rates.

AWARDS MUNU2-600-x-447Similarly, there is also a need for concerted efforts to reduce the growing crime rate.

The increasing cases of bag snatching, burglaries and attacks, especially within Freetown metropolis, might seem laughable now, but may haunt the nation as it often develops into more sinister crimes – with rising levels of desperation.

Deny it all, if you want. Blame the opposition and fifth columnists for all you like. Point the finger at critics for not understanding; or for trying to fan the flames of disaffection, if you have to.

But, won’t it be better just to admit that actually, our leaders have not met the aspirations of majority of the people, nor have they fulfilled the essentials of their promises?

This, coupled with the travesty of public values and trust, has ensured nothing but disguised incompetence, national ignorance and undiscovered sleaze as well as a return to the unlamented past, where hiddenness was a way of life.

While I agree that if you give a stammerer enough time, he will pronounce his Father’s name, listening to the continued trumpeting of the prosperity slogan, there are dangers in becoming too proficient in the excuse and interim carnival that gives the impression that the boom amounts to signs of life in the basement for the emaciated masses of Sierra Leone.

Such beliefs offer a pretext for postponing the more fundamental, substantial and doubtlessly, more inherent surgery that is required for the nation’s socio-economic and political survival and future.

It is why somehow, a number of Sierra Leoneans are beginning to believe that just because of the insistence of idealists; the six o’clock faces that move around our towns, cities and villages are halfway out of the door of poverty – that the prosperity slogan is enough to fill the bellies of the have-nots.

But let us ask ourselves the searching question: are such deceptions the stuff of socio-political entertainment or evidence of the moral decline of the nation?

President Koroma inauguration 2013Really, leaders should not be lofty guides who look down on their fellow citizens. Neither should the national future become a trivial throwback to the resurrection of nostalgic interests, whose reality from all indications will be as rare as a hen’s teeth.

This is why we need to be wary of the malaise of plucking policies out of the hat, which have as much chance of success as a snowflake in hell.

Indeed, we need to make a bonfire of the political vanities that have been the hallmark of our governance, and which have helped stunt our growth.

Yes, there are signs that a nucleus of exceptional development exists. But the mediocrity that surrounds a coherent vision, direction and principles that we all can key into, confirms the fear there is nothing in the horizon to indicate that the boat of prosperity is close to our harbours.

Almost six years since the advent of the Koroma administration, the sheer volume of work crying out for urgent attention reveal in glorious technicolour, a leadership struggling with imaginative initiatives, while giving every appearance of dynamism.

To be fair, the task was massive; but I believe that he knew what was awaiting him and the impatience that it would stir up.

Let us not be hoodwinked by laboured developments, financed by the jingles from other nations as well as individual investor’s pockets, which are nothing but a yoke for the future.

Let us not be distracted by the sound and fury of orchestrated noise that is as palatable to the ears as a mosquito’s welcome song.

police violence in sierra leoneThe young men and women loitering around our towns and cities are the true scars on our prosperity dream.

The epileptic lights, dry taps, empty pockets, glorified clinics called hospitals and other missing social amenities and indices of development, which give no shelter from the storm of poverty in our lives, are the rungs of our prosperity.

Believe me, it was depressing in the run up to the last election, reading the tsunami of ill-informed venom that trailed the call for a true assessment of the path we, as a nation, would like to really tread.

It was quite obvious that opponents of such calls failed to realise that the hum of indifference is in fact increasing amongst the people; even during President Koroma’s emphatic attempt at pulling the nation out of the wood, as a result of the disconnect between the governed and those who lead them.

If proof was ever needed as to what a strange quagmire of contradiction the government itself is, then look no further than the whole electoral drama and the gritty determination to rubbish anyone who was not carrying a drum, or dancing to the beat of the national soap opera.

Yes, our society might have the appearance of a thriving democracy steeped in good governance, economic ‘buoyancy’ and piloted by ‘patriots’ with the Salone fire burning in their very soul.

The truth as seen from the way of life and style of some of the members of the last and even the present cabinet is that, service no longer pounds in the chest of most of those in the forefront of our society. It simply ticks, simpering beneath their designer Africanas and Armani suits.

However, as some of us keep pointing out, politicians and leaders come and go with a dizzying regularity and with the moral certainty of Old Testament prophets. But their thrusting gait – like that of a boxer headed to the ring centre, means we need rational reflection to avoid a slow motion crash again.

How will the administration hit the very early stages of that turning point, where the narrative of a country begins to change from deeper and deeper gloom, to the very first hint of something better?

Surely, not by slapping down anyone who dares to wave a different flag to the buntings flying above the neon lights of politics.

president koroma end of the road - 220513The President has proved to an extent to be an inspirational, decent and clever man. However, can he grasp the nettle and become a great president?

In the last cabinet, there were several occasions when he needed to throw the kitchen sink at some of his lieutenants, but instead, he barely made it to the kitchen, bursting out in hot breaths.

He was at times made to look a spineless, hesitant leader in some national incidents that required strong-minded leadership, during his first term. Will he emerge from those murky months as a confident and decisive political leader, this time around?

sam sumanaThe short-term, corruption-driven governance and political culture, deeply embedded in the national psyche is not only proving very difficult to change, it is spreading like a malignant tumour. (Photo: Vice president Sam Sumana).

If we sincerely want our nation to progress, then that effect has to be reversed, with dramatic, positive and visible consequences.

Is the president (and his team) truly prepared to honestly do this? But then, it might still be early days yet.

When faced with barefaced mendacity or forced to choose between his kith and kin and the nation, will the president prefer to be a brave chief executive, or will he let our problem list rise, unwittingly?

An African proverb says that when spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.

No doubt, Sierra Leone’s future will still be grim in parts, as we aim for the stars. But as our spring prepares to arrive, will the president be sincerely ready to put politics and ethnicity aside and seek the unity of the nation first?

As the financial screw tightens in the interim, is the government prepared to assess critically, the perverse consequences of the compassionate hand-over of our heritage to anyone with a loose change to spare?

The details about and actions of some of these wonder merchants, are as palatable as a germ-infested toilet.

Definitely, we cannot continue with this humiliation of having to extend our hands for help all the time. However far we might want to look away from the truth, the fact is that foreign dominance of our key economic structure right now is part of our problem.

It is simply postponing the day when Sierra Leone takes charge of its future on its own terms. Let us end foreign raids on our assets and legacy.

Some of these things may be hard truths to swallow for the President and those who see any attempt to raise contrary views or fears, as ranting from the opposition camp.

Diversity of opinions should be seen as strength that the government can utilise, rather than a threat to its power base.

By taking bold action now and leaving room for contrary views, will give the indication that the government has finally regained its appetite for the kind of leadership that thinks of the nation and the majority – and not a selected few.

After all that they have been through, the citizens of Sierra Leone certainly deserve to feel a little more warmth in their quality of life.

Hope springs eternal. However, pain and no gain unite people. Knowledge is like a baobab tree – no one person can embrace it.

 

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