Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 May 2017
It was an uncharacteristically hot afternoon as I boarded the taxi heading for the sleepy remote village of Regent. I wasn’t in too much of a mood to talk after the usual harrowing experience of trying to get the basics done.
Sadly my mood was lost on the driver who saw a strange quiet face as the most appropriate for his expression of what is now the general mood of majority of the average Sierra Leonean. Probably because I had chastised him a bit for his initial attempt to rip me off by inflating the fare, he began to explain that he was not exploiting me – but trying to make ends meet.
According to him, those in power who are busy flaunting their hustlers’ regalia have totally forgotten about them and the hardship they face in the battle for survival. He expressed fears, swore at those in power and vowed never to go out and vote again – even if he was coerced.
By some sheer coincidence, early that morning I had sat watching a repeat of last year’s documentary on Sierra Leone’s independence, when the clip of President Koroma accusing his critics of not talking about his administration’s achievements and focussing mainly on the negatives, came up.
And in yet another dramatic twist of fate, as I sat having a drink, news filtered in about a broad daylight armed robbery attempt at Wellington. Contrary to some impressions, the failure of that devastating but very poignant incident is largely thanks to the resolute defence of their community by the people. But that’s neither here nor there, as it is a subject for another day.
Then it hit me, and I nearly screamed: who says amidst their fears and anxiety, the people aren’t talking about the ‘good’ things that our beloved leaders have provided? Who says that they are not appreciative of the ‘immense development and transformation’ that have taken place?
Oh yes. In the midst of the putrid stench of political impunity, economic paralysis and social dysfunction that is suffocating us, the people are talking. But they are talking a different language to that which our leaders want to hear.
Perhaps that is why there is disconnect. The people are talking, because the reality of their existence is yet to match the rhetoric of those who want to hear just the applause, but are irritated by the slightest of criticisms.
After almost ten years of the current administration, President Koroma’s promised agenda for change and prosperity are still lagging well behind the panoply of issues that have risen, from the relapse to the painful past that left a path of destruction in the lives of the people, like one of those August torrential rains.
As they see the several infrastructural mansions being put up simultaneously or acquired by those at the helm as dividends of their service to the nation – along with their kith and kin and those close to the root of power, the people talk about the lack of provision of the barest stomach infrastructure, as crumbs for the commoner.
Surprisingly, the people have heard about the government’s ‘aggressive’ agricultural programme, and are talking about it. As agrarians, they just wonder about the type of crops planted in the last decade, but which are yet to make the cost of foodstuffs cheaper for them. They talk because they are now hungrier than they have ever been, except during the civil war.
Every time they hear about the government’s impressive projects and bilateral agreements, as well as loans and funding from our benefactors, the people talk very vociferously about it – but wonder who truly benefits most, since it’s certainly not them.
They even talk about the government’s wonderful ease-of-doing-business in Sierra Leone, which wraps the foreigners in velvet gloves, but stifle the indigenes who truly know where the pain is and can see and understand their struggles and strains.
To show you that they talk and are very well grateful, they told me about how the Lebanese have taken up the fibre optic project and laughing all the way to the bank, while making the cheeks of those in power rosier. In fact I was told how our toothless ‘great’ Sierratel was doing a very ‘brilliant’ job as a supposedly regulatory body. Now it has been side-lined. Or else, how was I to know?
At least my taxi driver friend told me about your free healthcare programme and the millions that have been pumped into the much trumpeted healthcare provisions, especially for under 5’s and lactating mothers, etc. But he pointed out that they have to be alive first, before they can even fight the cancer of corruption in the clinics and hospitals where the only currency for any hope of living is either a bribe or raw cash.
Across the different strata, but more on the lower rung of the ladder, the people do talk about how the President has cleared obstacles to ‘growth and development’ – but crashed the hopes and aspirations of the common man.
They talked to me. Oh yes they did. They talked about how they harrowingly watch the blustery and greedy acquisitions, corrupt tendencies and blatant impunity and disregard that bestrides the land. Yes. They talked. They talked about what this is doing to their psyche in this hustlers’ paradise.
After watching part of the convocation of the University of Sierra Leone, people talked. Some of what they spoke about does not edify the nation which was once the Athens of Africa, and which has produced notable globally recognised scholars.
The conspiracy of events also made them to talk about what transpires in the educational sector, as I saw thousands of school kids throng various centres for what used to be known as the common entrance. Their words were all about our fully degraded educational system which limits intellectual curiosity, and the failure of those in power to realise that.
So, I’ll like to tell the President and his lieutenants that the people are talking about his government: About what they are – or not doing. At least they told me that Sierra Leone is wobbling on, in spite – not because of, the government.
They talked about several issues, but were at their scathing best when they spoke about the manipulation and destruction of the basic tenets of democracy. At most gatherings they talk excitedly about the hypocrisy of condemning corruption as we pursue a different reality.
Probably President Koroma is not hearing them talking, because he may not have helped himself in anyway, as he has continued to squander the goodwill he got on a platter of gold, by fomenting unnecessary tensions and creating needless institutional and hegemonic enemies, especially among those whose sincerity of intentions do not align with his political and reputational interests.
Under their frustrating condition, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer; with no hope that things will get better, does the President in all honesty expect us to be talking of patriotism or to become cheer-leaders for people who are busy making good for themselves in whatever form, at any given opportunity, under the guise of sharing the so-called national cake?
Anyway, my taxi driver’s resignation and political apathy became clearer, as people talked about the utter constitutional confusion and political bastardisation that is the current state of affairs towards 2018. Looks like the beginning of the ruling class’ implosion in slow motion.
He was at his element while telling me that the party continues, amidst the cacophony of voices. Is there dissent in Babel, he asked? He could not really say or rather, was not sure. I did not respond.
But he sure told me that the main driver is confused and unsure of how to manipulate the vehicle so as to halt its descent into the indifferent belly of the deep sea; because in his indestructible state, he has forgotten how to apply the brakes on the over-speeding governance vehicle.
What a beautiful lesson I learnt from my driver, who reminded me as a young man himself that our young people have been shut out for far too long, even though they are the future. And yet, they have not witnessed good leadership examples.
He told me about what transpires among several young men and women who hurdle together at street junctions and under trees.
He told me that they have been fed on a diet of excesses, gluttony, avarice and unattainable and stupendous display of wealth. They have been fed a message that the only way you get recognition and a place in society is to lie, cheat and make money by all means necessary. He told me their grouse with the system.
Thanks to him, I was reminded that the climax of every tragedy lies in the deafness of its heroes.
We have been a failing state for far too long; where everything fails to work and chaos reigns. Impunity has been made to thrive without scrutiny.
We have bandits for public office, and pay lip service to them while they rob us dry. We take their brand of Robin Hood as act of selflessness, while they rob the nation and give us crumbs.
He made me look a novice as he pointed me towards a bigger picture from the eyes of those who are truly bearing the brunt of the wonderful benefits of a ‘benevolent government’, that President Koroma wants us to parrot.
Indeed, a process exists to serve the attainment of a goal and you cannot put the process ahead of the goal.
While we are talking about restoring the land of opportunity, some of us – including many of those in power grew up in the tower of Babel that has made our leaders not to hear the ‘applause’ from below the surface level, where many have been condemned. This is because there is a divide made of concrete float.
It is not just the question of the number of kilometres of roads you build that elevates a nation. It is not a matter of the megawatts of power you generate, nor the number of buildings you erect. It is not simply about white-washing hospitals and installing disused machines, nor is it about the several inches of newsprint and billboards announcing these things.
While these are important, those in power should never forget, just as those who are under their oppressive tendencies never forget, that any leader surrounded by brilliant experts, excellent technocrats and loyal advisers, can achieve those basic and essential needs.
It is why the language of the people’s response to the ‘numerous achievements’ that President Koroma wants his government to be commended for, is that leadership calls for much greater attributes than the performance of those feats.
A leader must have a strong, solid, moral and disciplined background, and the inspirational ability to galvanize his people to higher, lofty and common purpose. He must walk the walk and talk the talk. He must show by example that change means ‘true’ change. People must see true selflessness and sacrifice; truth and justice.
Sincerely speaking, for anyone to not accept that even though we started off facing forward, but somehow ended going the wrong way a few years back – because those entrusted with power got drunk on the aroma, beats me.
The nation gets further hyped up when several political and powerful vested interest groups continue to openly declare their servitude to the president for his good work, without him becoming circumspect. What value can that add to the progress and development of our country?
Obviously, Sierra Leonean leaders are jinxed; hence they need urgent deliverance before the roof comes crashing on everybody. This is why the repugnant lot, who failed to see the simmering social and political eruption, have often derided those of us who made it a habit to keep harping on the shortcomings of this locust group in national leadership.
Our problem is ascertaining where and when is the end of this everlasting tunnel. That is what the people are talking about. That is what our leaders are not hearing. That is what annoys the likes of the president.
If the President is unaware, I would like to remind him about what John F. Kennedy said. He stated that: “History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.”
We have a very long way to go. Or maybe we should give and accept that we can never get there. It is beginning to take a lot of energy to resist giving up on this land. And this sinking feeling is spreading fast across the people.
How much more can the people’s road be rougher than what is obtainable today? This is why we need a manual reset.
All I can say to my fellow citizens, is what I once read: that you cannot fight evil by joining it, nor bring light by entering the darkness; and you cannot find joy by partaking in eating the bread of sorrow. You cannot run away in the heat of battle. You must have the courage of your convictions.
Sierra Leoneans, where is your honour? Where is your strength? Where is your dignity? Where is your self-respect? Where is your sense of self-worth?
Don’t continue to flinch before oppression, nor crawl on the floor and be slaves to our fellow men. They may have today, but tomorrow belongs to us whatever the intrigues.
This storyline is a reality for many. Too many are suffering in silence, while too few are wallowing in obscene loot. No human or group of humans can game nature for too long, where the people’s interests do not enjoy any prominence in the whole elitist manipulations.
Yes the people are talking – but those in power are not listening.