Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 January 2014
As I was saying in my response to President Koroma’s puzzle about our national existence and the scars of our society, probably what best sums up our beloved country right now, is what the playwright, Ola Rotimi said in his book ‘The Gods are not to blame’, that: “we left our pots unwatched and now our foods are burnt”.
By some divine coincidence, just as I was about to conclude the piece, and a few days after the President’s food-for-thought, Dr. Kandeh Yukella (Photo) is being touted in several quarters as a potential leader of Sierra Leone.
Kandeh Yumkella threw a different gauntlet to an audience of distinguished guests at a dinner in Freetown in December.
The gist of his own submission was the need for all Sierra Leoneans to sometimes see the glass as half full and not always see it as half empty. But what are we to make of that?
Yumkella noted that despite the stability and progress, Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad, young and old, men and women must share a sense of responsibility for what the nation becomes from now on.
It is an honest clarion call to which I totally agree, and I wish him the best of luck in promoting this silver lining to keep the spirit of Sierra Leoneans alive.
My prayer is that he is well-equipped to convince the disgruntled, disenchanted and disillusioned populace who are tired of the ever-enervating conflict within them, to tease out from its political elite, the leadership values and qualities needed by Sierra Leone.
There is no way we can set out on a journey using someone else’s donkey, without taking into consideration the fact that if we are to leave the derelict bus stop of underdevelopment, we must do away with the present politics of ‘do-not-say-I-told-you’ – childish petulance, which brings crabbiness at any criticism and calls for principles of ideas and service, truth and justice.
Fair enough, we need to say hats off to the past and coats off to the future. But as we transit, mustn’t we look for the broken link and recognise that things are dire now – even if on the upwards?
What do those at the bottom of the rung see? Monuments to failure? Wasted opportunities? Beauty up there and ugliness below?
Are we talking about grandeur around those that serve them and barrenness in their own surroundings? Is it an agenda of razzle-dazzle that has become insubstantial and suspicious? How long do we need the simpering praise for our leaders and the great big lie of our society?
While appreciating the lapses inherent in our society in the struggle to overcome the problems of development, it is the disconcerting reality of their poverty and neglect by this and successive administrations since independence, that explains why millions of Sierra Leoneans are not favourably disposed to the idea of sharing in the fleeting ecstasy and enthusiasm of the thrust of Yumkella’s speech. (Photo: Yumkella and Koroma hanging heads recently. But can the man on the left be trusted, or is he just another wolf in sheep’s clothing?)
Yes they know that there is no easy route out of poverty, but having seen how the country has been dragged through the gutters by its so-called leaders; how it has been taken over the barrel – raped and plundered; taken for a ride and dragged to within a whisker of annihilation, because of selfish tendencies that have also seen the unfortunate national tram driven by lifeless souls, usurpers, sadists, buffoons – the invisibles and wolves in sheep’s clothing, cynicism has taken a deep root in their psyche and who can blame them.
Till this day, the fight to stem the trend has only been cosmetic, especially when, rather than re-engineer our socio-political space, those who have put themselves forward as leaders have simply introduced parameters for robbing the treasury.
They have diverted attention and papered over their inadequacies, while indulging the plebs in false utopian dreams or despotic solutions, and ensuring that the fundamental national question as well as the promotion of national feeling is sidelined in preference to primordial ethnic, political and social sentiments.
Therefore, how can the people who are privy to the massive official graft and corruption, which has now been taken to a higher level and garnished by serial mismanagement of the national resources, join in celebrating this frenzied excitement?
How can they also celebrate the pie-in-the-sky dreams that have been given element of realism by token dividends that have no direct bearing on the very existence of those who are looking for succour?
But Yumkella’s tantalising and great rousing speech could not be faulted for the underlying fact that rather than move on, we are still trawling yesterday’s realm, despite the visions of our founding fathers.
This is because of the insincerity of successive leaders to institutionalise the ideals of democracy as springboard for the reforms needed to guide the nation.
Consequently, these leaders who find it absolutely difficult to yank themselves away from ethnic, religious and political passions are bereft of the abilities to confront the challenges of our development which they often turn into a festival of vanity.
But if Yumkella had to pray, like he did in his lecture, that a number of Sierra Leonean professional role models, who should be relaxing in their velvet chairs in their old age, having given the nation so much, should not leave us yet, then it is obvious that the alternatives in our incapacitating social, political and economic environment right now, scares the hell out of him.
However, how is he going to be a credible crusader if underneath his speech, one could not help but trace the hint of the diplomat-cum-politician in him, since his plea for all of us to contribute to the future, highlights the very areas which others being labelled as scaremongers and anti-government agents, are shouting about from the rooftop?
One of such emerging poser is simply: why is it always the rest of us that are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice with hope on our faces and hunger, poverty, illiteracy and other ills as our life’s possession, and never our rulers who ought to lay the foundation of the structure that we are expected to join in building?
Yumkella’s suggestion that we cannot solve our current problems if we use the same thinking we had when we created them, speaks volume in confirming the current predicament of the people of Sierra Leone.
It confirms that what we need, after all the charade of the past five decades till the present, is a sobering thought which resonates with our dreams, perceptions, realities and potentials, even if he did not bring himself to say it in so many words.
If therefore, the consensus is that our socio-political leaders across board are warped characters, then we must appreciate the fact that they are a product of our spinelessness as a collective entity.
A society cannot produce a leadership that is different from itself. Let’s tell ourselves this truth first, before we can move on.
And although they cannot be absolved from blame as custodians of our affairs, it is our docility, distorted perception and the rottenness of our national fabric that has kept on fertilising the crop of national distress that has us in a firm grip.
It needs to be drummed home, especially with the benefit of hindsight that our nation and leadership, which are as soulless as Big Market on a Sunday morning, are crying out for the necessary courage and insight to oppose the age-old tribalistic, myopic, self-serving politics that leads to all manners of atrocities being committed in the name of governance. (Photo: innocent schoolboy killed weeks ago in Freetown by police shoot to kill policy).
We definitely need to challenge the retrogressive system that makes it possible for the worst politicians of our society to force themselves on us, while decent patriots are scared off. We must continue to question the policy of the political class which continues to de-civilise us.
For those of us and the likes of Yumkella, who cannot join the murky fray, there is a positive and effective role to play through the honest education and mobilisation of the citizenry.
Our political narratives have to change no doubt. But while we have called them to serve, we need to let those at the top realise that it is their duty to resolve the rampant inequality in our society.
If the past is to guide the nation into the industries of the future that Yumkella is advocating, we need leaders with a source of strength and vibrancy, laced with ingenuity and imbued with intrinsic worth. They must have the necessary competences, integrity, sincerity and credibility, as well as the knack to galvanise the people willingly.
A good leader does not need eternity to perform with good results or to establish effective nation-state that helps its citizens to develop – which is when the populace will be able to see the Yumkella’s imaginary glass and the position of its content.
But in our situation and for a damn long time, our leaders have been spoilt rotten. They have been given a bizarre and hugely inflated estimation of their own importance, which is why they expect us to worship them first and be eternally grateful for whatever they allow to trickle down to us.
Whatever reasons that have made him shy away from the undisputed fact that the severity of our problems can without doubt be traced to ineffective, sometimes reckless and definitely inept governance of past years, he should at least be able to reiterate the fact that collectively there is an obvious requirement to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Before trying to change the focus, we need to reflect on what exactly went wrong with a country of around five million people, endowed with abundant resources, failing so woefully and pathetically at nation building, as well as how to shrink the deepening gulf and detachment between the government and the governed.
When aiming for the skies, it makes sense to ensure that you are not doing so with a catapult, because this will amount to self-deception. A government’s main task is the people’s welfare. In fact, it is the mind of the people, as it does the thinking; looks into the future and plans as well as implement policies in their overall interest.
I would therefore implore those who see this write up as impudence and may want to question my credentials to challenge the erudite ‘icon’ and new flavour of the month, to sheathe their swords as this is not an academic exercise.
It is my reaction, belief and realisation that it is time we started telling ourselves the truth at whatever cost.
Already, the perception and belief of the people, which is not helped by the skewed submission that they are hardly making enough sacrifice in nation-building, because of their moan and groans, appears to confirm to them that the DNA of those in ivory towers, often leaves them showing a total disconnect with the wider social, political and economic plight of the teeming masses.
Yumkella’s contention – challenging us in the New Year to strive to fill the rest of the half empty national bottle, through creativity, determination and a sense of responsibility, unfortunately fails to recognise that no matter how much the people want to, the glass or the bottle must first be there and accessible to those willing to contribute.
So while I agree that we have all failed as a people, I am disappointed that he avoided the controversy of emphasising that the lack of dedicated leadership and the deficiency of not having a conductor with passion for this arduous task, is what has left our beloved Sierra Leone, as a big contract – up for grabs; and successive governments, the corrupter and auctioneer of our society. (Photo: Can the man on the left be trusted, or is he just another wolf in sheep’s clothing?).
I can understand if, because of the rumours making the rounds that our two major political parties are courting him as their next flag bearer, he deliberately wanted to avoid any political furore. But his reputation in the eyes of those praying for a Daniel to come to judgement is at stake here.
If when people want heroes like him to be counted, they are found wanting for whatever personal reasons they may have.
We need to remember that one of the explanations of why we ended up with blood and cutlasses on our hands was because when we needed a unity of purpose to confront the demons of pre and post Pa Shaki’s leadership, we skirted round the river of division and deception that had been created right in the middle of our lives. (Photo: Siaka Stevens – the despot and dictator).
At that time, those who should have made the ultimate sacrifices, either by speaking up or coming out openly, wanted the rest of us to feed on the diet of hope, as a panacea for the real imperatives of our social predicament and challenges.
Why skirt around the truth which says that, unless we change the mindset of our leaders, they will continue to frustrate our best intentions by their savvy and often selfish political machinations and then we’ll have no cup to even fill halfway.
Right now we need to look at our problems that have been coming thick and fast like perennial headaches and which have led us to where we are today and glued us to the seat of stagnation.
If we don’t face up to that truth and do something about it, physicians like the ones who listened to Yumkella’s Christmas speech in Freetown, would continue to treat the sick in vain and continue to even fail to see whether there’s water or not in the coloured and dirty, blacked out glass of our nation.
We need to first of all ask ourselves questions about where we got it wrong, or where we did our best and it was not good enough; as well as where we missed the path completely, as individuals and governments – if we want to make our society better and have a marching tune that the people can respond to.
We need to tell ourselves the truth and it is not by our leaders still wearing the age-old garb of self-interest over the cloak of national interest; or the Yumkellas of our society, who are seen as the last bastion of positive role models and the future to be boxing clever, when all we’ll end up with, is a history that will be made in a manner Sierra Leone will not wish to mark again. (Photo: Yumkella and Koroma singing from the same hymn sheet?)
But while it is right in democratic principles, the historical necessity which has seen the lamps of our society going out again and again means we need to know and confront the towering walls of our Jericho.
Some issues are so crucial that until we have resolved them, we cannot move forward, and in another decade, we may be asking the same questions being asked by Dr. Yumkella – about the incoming train.
Such rhetoric of revolutionary thinking, leaves a gap between the zeal for abstract ideals and true compassion for the haunted figures, who have been forced to bear the weight of decades of suffering, and whose disconsolate figures keep asking as they search for succour: WHY US?