Bad manners maketh monsters – how president Bio disgraced his school

Magnus Cole: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 April 2024:

In early April, social media in Sierra Leone went agog over the surprising appearance of President Julius Maada Bio in a Maybach Mercedes car. Bio was at this year’s annual alumni celebration of the foundation Day of the Bo Government Secondary School in the southern city of Bo.

The uproar over the vehicle was instigated by its estimated cost of around 250 to 300 United States dollars. Many juxtaposed that amount against the very punishing economic hardship in the country.

Three hundred thousand united states dollars may sound petty cash in some better governed nations, but in Sierra Leone, it could pay a month salary of probably more than half of all the teachers in the country; or cover the cost of fuel to power the generators at main referal children’s hospital in Freetown to prevent loss of life of babies owing to the lack of electricity.

Considering that at the time of this event most public servants had not received their salary for the previous month, one would better appreciate the reason for the angst against the president. That is not all.

According to the World Bank Macroeconomic Outlook for Sierra Leone 2023, ‘the economy continues to face significant challenges as policy missteps have aggravated the impact of external shocks, resulting in high and stubborn inflation, pressures on the currency, high risk of debt distress and inadequate growth to support poverty reduction.’

Those ‘policy slippages’ the Bank says, relate to macroeconomic mismanagement which, ‘in addition to low growth, caused debt levels to rise markedly, ranking among the highest in the region, and headline inflation to increase to a two- decade high in 2023.’ Unfortunately, there has been no let-up of his grim reality. As reported by Statistics Sierra Leone, Annual National Consumer Price Inflation (year-on-year) for February 2024 stood at 42.59 percent.

Even more damning in the World Bank report is that the dire economic situation is associated with what the Bank calls ‘structural factors such as low private sector participation and investments, inadequate human capital, poor infrastructure, and weak institutions,’ all of which are the exact same variables the Bio-led Government has been touting as its key priorities.

For instance, the administration’s handlers’ main refrain to the criticism for the endless unproductive presidential travels has been that the ‘president travels to bring investment into the country; to support its human capital flagship and infrastructure development agenda.’

The brunt of such economic mismanagement and its attendant soaring prices of consumer goods is being felt by the ordinary people. Reliable sources in the ministry of finance say that the government could not even raise enough revenue to service its wage bill, talk less about its contractors.

On April 20, the pro-government newspaper – Global Times – reported that ‘At least, two government contractors have complained bitterly that, payment order issued to them by the Ministry of Finance, through the Accountant General’s Department, have been declined by the Bank of Sierra Leone.’

Among those owed is the Turkish Karpowership which, according to the information on its website, supplies 65 Megawatts of electricity to Sierra Leone’s capital. But Freetown is currently in pitch darkness because, as BBC puts it, ‘the lights have been switched off over an unpaid $48m (£38m) bill.’

The President’s apparent ostentatious lifestyle is therefore viewed as insensitive and deviant by the suffering populace. The irony is that he was in Bo to mark the foundation day of his school whose motto is: ‘Manners Maketh Man.’ This should infer that a pupil who went through that school should benefit from proper socialisation in the manners expected of a good citizen.

A bravado social media post by a Bio-enthusiast gave such impression as they report the visit of the president and his wife to his former principal, Mr. Festus Michael Seiwoh. Though looking frail, impoverished and claded in obviously poor man’s clothing, the writer states about him: ‘In a poignant moment, Mr. Seiwoh expressed his joy at witnessing his once-disciplined student ascend to the highest office in the nation. For him, President Bio’s achievement is profoundly fulfilling—a testament to the transformative power of education.’

But it would appear that that ‘transformative power of education’ only benefitted the president and his immediate cronies, while the rest of society moan under the excruciating pain of his maladministration. Structural functionalists like Parsons, Durkheim and social Darwinist Herbert Spencer, hold the view that socialization is essential to society, both because it trains members to operate successfully within it and also because it perpetuates positive culture by transmitting it to new generations.

Generally, socialization seeks to achieve three primary goals: teaching impulse control and developing a conscience, preparing people to perform certain social roles, and cultivating shared sources of meaning and value. That way, socialization produces the economic, social, and political development of any particular country.

And there are key institutions identified for the important function of socializing society’s members. After the family, the school is deemed to be the most important of such institutions. This is for good measure. Most children spend a minimum of seven hours a day, 180 days a year, in school, (U.S. Department of Education 2004).

The critical point is that children are not in school only to study math, reading, science, and other subjects—Schools also serve another function in society by socializing children into behaviors like practicing teamwork, following a schedule, rituals, regularly reinforce what society expects from children. Sociologists describe this aspect of schools as the hidden curriculum, the informal teaching done by schools.

For example, in serious nations, schools have built a sense of competition into the way grades are awarded and the way teachers evaluate students (Bowles and Gintis 1976). When children participate in competition, they learn there are winners and losers in society so that when they grow up, they do not use guns to usurp victory for themselves.

When children are required to work together on a project, they practice teamwork with other people in cooperative situations so that when they later find themselves in national positions of authority, they do not intentionally exclude other members of society. The hidden curriculum prepares children for the adult world.

Most of Talcott Parsons’ writings focused on Structural Functionalism. Parsons identifies values, norms, goals, and institutions as the primary structural elements of a social system. Of note in this context is that the World Bank says Sierra Leone’s institutions are weak, which is fundamental as this fact may not be limited to the Sierra Leone of today.

Herbert Spencer saw similarities between society and the human body. He argued that just as the various organs of the body work together to keep the body functioning, the various parts of society work together to keep society functioning (Spencer 1898). Again, the parts of society that Spencer referred to were the social institutions, or patterns of beliefs and behaviors focused on meeting social needs.

Functionalism in many different fields is a theory that says structure and function are related and help form one another. In architecture, functionalism means that physical structures in buildings should serve a support function. In linguistics, functionalism means that grammar has to function to convey meaning. In sociology, functionalism emphasizes how various social institutions work together to meet the needs of a society.

Émile Durkheim applied Spencer’s theory to explain how societies change and survive over time. He believed that society is a complex system of interrelated and interdependent parts that work together to maintain stability (Durkheim 1893), These include social facts such as the laws, morals, values, religious beliefs, customs, fashions, rituals, and all of the cultural rules that govern social life (Durkheim 1895).

Each of these social facts serves one or more functions within a society. For example, one function of a society’s laws may be to protect society from violence, while another is to punish criminal behavior, yet another is to preserve public safety.

The veins-dominated, pity – evoking figure of the former head of the Bo School stood out as a painful reminder of what happens to a nation when its institutions of socialisation – particularly the school- fail in their core responsibility to mould the child (in the right way).

The sorrowful image of the old man, in handshake with his former pulpil paints a vivid picture of the current predicament of Sierra Leone. Under Bio’s watch, the country has experienced tremendous economic hardship, which is graphically depicted by Mr Seiwoh’s apparent penury.

On the other hand, the former pupil appears to be feeding fat on state resources, at the expense of everyone else including the family of he whose responsibility it was to train him well and impart on him the right manners.

The calamity of the failure of early socialization now threatens the nation itself as through violence, Bio has imposed his incompetent self on the country as its president, in spite of widespread local and international condemnation,

Mr Seiwoh appeared so hunger weakened that he had to utilised his two skinny hands to sustain the handshake with the hefty hand of his pot-belly former pupil – epitomising gluttony and bad manners.

By all accounts, the Bo Government School whose motto is: ‘Manners Maketh Man’, has produced a terrible ill-mannered leader. Had the school lived by its mantra, it would have instilled real discipline in its pupils. If he had been taught the manners of service, of fair competition, and due process; this president would have been a good a leader. He would have learnt that being a glutton while others are starving is bad manners. He would have learnt that its bad manners to accuse others wrongly; that a real man takes his responsibilities seriously, strives to work with others with better experience, instead of making scapegoats out of them.

For President Bio to present himself in a lavished Mayback Mercedes, whose cost is probably enough to pay all the teachers in the country, at a time when his government could not pay salaries of starving public servants for the Easter holiday, speaks volume of the kind of socialization he had as a young man.

1 Comment

  1. Indeed, your article hit the nail on the head. this is one of the best pieces that have described Julius Maada Bio better than ever before. A day will come when Sierra Leoneans wakes up with Maada Bio, the SLPP the APC and all bad politicians no longer exist, and history will place them in their rightful place in its pages of bad memories. I pray that the prayer of Governor Clarkson and that of every Sierra Leone alive and departed will hit Maada Bio.

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