Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
23 July 2012
Recently there was fury in some quarters, when rumours quoted a serving minister as saying that chicken was more expensive than a woman in Sierra Leone. But what struck me the most from the resultant rage, was the political ignorance of such a development.
While the statement epitomises the impotence of our economy in the last few years, it also shows the rot in our society and dramatises the subsequent guffawing into which, our subconscious fear of change and analysis of events has developed.
As I tried to explain, such incidents throw a light on why enduring tribalism and party allegiance, should no longer be the defining factors of our democracy, when choosing our leaders and assessing our progress.
Aside voting, which seems to be the alpha and omega of our own democratic ideals, in a civilised society, the run up to elections is a time for sober reflection and careful thoughts to the direction in which the government and country is heading.
Such a statement, would therefore have elicited the kind of debate that will put the state of our economy, society, politics and government under the microscope to determine if they are fit for purpose.
If the assertion was made by the minister with all the sincerity of drawing attention to the level of rot in our society, I doff my heart to him and wish others will be bold enough to express such a truth. If not, that’s a clear message about the type of leaders we have.
Nevertheless, such issues demonstrate why democracy is not just a way of voting, but a way of thinking, which includes not just exercising civic duties, but also being part of the vital seismic leverage needed for transformation.
Oh! How I wish our politicians and the high-priests of ideological mediocrity and moral bankruptcy that litter the socio-political landscape, will therefore allow the 2012 polls to be the first to be fought purely on policies and not personalities; on prospects and not propaganda; on the future and not the past; on ability and not probability; on realities rather than sound bites; on national baubles rather than the glitter of bucks.
Already, when the issue of governance and politics in Sierra Leone is being discussed, what you discover is that politicians and some of their cliques act like this is no longer our country, and we should have no say in how we are ruled, how our governors behave and what we as a nation, collectively want.
It is why our politicians feel compelled to roll out jargons and lines of attack, when they do not actually have clear policies and strategies to deal with the many challenges facing the nation.
Advocates churn out the theory, that because ‘roads’ are being seemingly carved out everywhere and the sound of diggers are roaring on our mine fields; that since several of our young men and women are flogging recharge cards and parading the streets selling junks; and more ‘cowboys’ are further leading our leaders into temptation, then the socio-economic problems of the nation are well under control.
But this dangerous line of thought is foolhardy, presumptuous and is the perfect, tortuous, winding road-block to the very progressive pathway of the future.
For one, there is nothing being done now that never existed in Sierra Leone before; or which is not the fundamental essence of governance.
We had quality roads that lasted years; electricity that never blinked; taps that flowed freely not only in the house but also on the streets. And not to forget schools and colleges that churned out brilliant students in an environment that was conducive to learning; as well as hospitals that saved lives – not take them.
So the truth right now is that, we are still in a mess and finding the path to our dreams very difficult to navigate, simply because the structure of our socio-political system is faulty; even though the historical dimension to this is fascinating.
And if we want to be truthful to ourselves, you do not transform a nation that’s literarily turned medieval into a progressive country, just by building a few pieces of modern infrastructure.
Similarly, you cannot build something new, out of old, worn-out materials; nor fight the battle of several decades with the luxury of hindsight.
So, where do we find the purgative that will cleanse our headless-chicken political character?
Since it is obvious that we can’t trust our politicians to tell the truth, fulfil the promises that win our votes or to act responsibly, we need to change the psychology, mentality and focus of the population and by extension create a new breed of leaders.
It is no easy task and requires hard headed collective determination as well as years of intense, deliberate and strategic national planning. The result, however, is without a shred of doubt.
So, as the fog of propaganda descends on the pathways to November, God knows that there are plenty of issues that scream out for serious discussions; especially because for so long, our existence has been sustained by propaganda and emotion rather than reason.
The people of our dearly beloved country have also lived on the edge of hope and expectations for too long, and are always cranking up the delusion-machine every time election comes.
So, this time around, the question is: Can a quick slick of lipstick make Sierra Leone boom politically and economically?
With both key players in the November polls making promises of a panacea for the ills that are still in the background, and giving us snippets from briefcases allegedly bulging with ideas, plans and fully worked-out policies, values and visions; what do they really think, believe and say, when they are not minding their P’s and Q’s?
Are their proposed political theories, alleged coherent and unequivocal party programmes to tackle unemployment, create economic opportunities, and reduce inequalities, anything other than a steady stream of synchronised pratfalls and coloured negativity?
Are their policy submissions mere grandstanding or well-thought out principles that will ensure that the people as one nation, rejoice and benefit together?
Dispassionate assessment indicates that in terms of the content of the articulated policies and in the confused projection of their agenda, they are both struggling to stay afloat, because clarification always follow the policy trail, not the public disposition of the policy-makers.
But this is what a critical scrutiny of both the ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ or the lurch towards ‘A New Direction’ ought to reveal to us and which, should be the focus of the analysis of a sane society in the run-up to its election; since the gap between promise, which is politics and performance – which is government, is often demonstrated by the failure of our politicians to make any binding undertakings.
So, let us have a real debate. Let us talk, as thinking human beings, about what our nation wants.
Let us decide who we want to rule us, and there is no sense in deriding anyone who has something to offer, simply because a handful of neurotics are stuck in the past or believe that their way is the only way.
Let us work out how we are going to raise internally generated revenue from our abundant resources, to stop our dependence on handouts. Let us discuss the impact of ‘hawks’ descending on our mining fields and oil blocks.
Let us put our thinking caps on to see how those with sticky hands will have their fingers burnt openly, when they dip into what is supposed to be the national food plate.
How about our schools, roads, hospitals, environment, markets, rural areas; our civil service, our banking sector; our non-existent real sector, middle class and even the clueless and mute legislature and the corrupt judiciary?
Not forgetting tribalism, religious intolerance, growing insecurity, brain drain, dwindling manpower and modern slavery to which we have been mortgaged. Or the need to make a bonfire of the potent vanities of the ever-deluded masters of the political universe.
The list is endless, but sensitivity, intelligence, honesty and foresight, hinged on true patriotism and free-choice, are what are needed in addition to the emergence of a leader who is prepared to drain the socio-political swamp.
A decade down the road, would we look back and see bad management of the economy, failure to reform our education sector, pitiful inability to cope with growing insecurity, cave-ins to foreign interests and total tinkering with the social fabric, for what they are – failure to foresee the damage of continued dependence on sentimental voting.
Given the fruitlessness of our five decades of development, in the midst of plenty, spin rather than substance has continued to rob us of the opportunity to critically examine where we have or had gone wrong, in a bid to check the deadly combination of lack of direction, gross incompetence and maladministration, which have been the bane of our society and governance.
Rhetoric, massaged statistics, personal agenda, global kudos, have also made anyone risk becoming a pariah, if an attempt is made to question the myths that are often woven around our ‘meteoric’ rise from the pork-barrel phenomenon, designed to bring lustre and kudos and which obscure our more fascinating and tragic reality; such as witnessed in the past two decades.
Not to be forgotten as well, are the extra dimensions being constantly woven around our own brand of democracy, and the megalomaniac tendencies that seem to grip so many politicians and journalists, especially when elections loom; and which continue to rob us of opportunities to make informed decisions in the choice of leaders to lay a strong foundation for our future.
Would we look back in regret and shame at the lost opportunity to put our past behind, reform our democracy and seize the initiative from defenders of moral degradation and political paranoia?
Some of us have refused to hurtle down the tunnel of hype, towards the inevitable pain of disappointment, as our political masters and their cheer-leaders thunder away and voice the right platitudes.
I believe it is time for us to look beyond the pretensions on offer and strip down the coming elections to its basics.
And the reason is simply because, beyond spinning positives out of negatives and making the sort of noises that can start an earthquake or set off a volcano, I continue to see no ideological passion burning in most of those who are leading us; nor in those that have led or aspire to pilot the affairs of this nation, beyond the palpable drive to be in and around power and protect their sphere of influence.
(To be continued)