Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
25 March 2012
An old African saying states that; ‘when a child trips, he looks ahead of him to see who is watching; but when an elder falls, he looks behind to see what caused his downfall.’
What has crystalised in recent months in Sierra Leone is the nervousness, wide-ranging concerns and anxiety about the general direction of a society that is coming undone because of our thinly-veiled collective insincerity.
As a nation, we are fond of using ethno-political and religious sentiments as a ‘fig leaf’ for the very flaws that have kept us perpetually at the bus stop of backwardness. In the closets of our rooms we grumble and complain; we talk of the failures of our leaders; we express synthetic outrage – even when it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
We long for, and desire the good things of life, but fail to protest, when we are ‘locked’ in the Egyptian vineyard to slave away for left-overs.
When logic leads to interesting conundrums and it is even hard not to see a cynical political motive behind rhetoric about transformation, from the sales pitch of advocates of the awesome, we see it just as a failure of presentation rather than of policy; instead of exactly what it is: a gratuitous poke in the eye.
Politicians trot out puzzling policies and old clichés to bamboozle us, yet only their kith and kin grow fat – while the poor people used as the ladder to get to the top will go back to the same crappy lifestyle they had before, and keep hoping that those in authority and with influence over authority might stop lying to them.
But because they are from our part of the country or belong to the same party as us; or go to the same mosque or church, we swallow their political dicta.
We need to realise that everytime the trumpets and drums depart, the country is still left with the grim facts of our corrupt and dysfunctional politics and society.
This is why even though we are all in the gutter; some of us are looking and reaching out to the stars where the real Rubicon lies.
Any time I am trapped in conversation about our beloved country, one thing that sticks out is that, we are very anxious to reform almost everything but ourselves and the way we react to the overall desired goal.
Apparently, this appears to be the main reason why some compatriots just do not have the courage to say things, for fear of being labelled or seen as either unpatriotic or as being anti-government; while another group does not want to jeopardise its tap of benevolence.
But if the socio-economic and political reforms needed to drag Sierra Leone out of the woods are unfortunately locked in the shed – where the hatches have been battened, then we should all sit down and continue to analyse the glaring contradictions at the heart of this ideology of hypocrisy that is our favourite pastime.
The call for a revolution of the national thought and psyche is not necessarily about regime change, but about appreciating the national aspirations and realising that for crucial progress to be achieved, it is the will of the people that should be oiling the wheel of governance, and not the glory of individual politicians or the thunderous claps of foreign hawks – whose underlying aim is far from our realities.
Truth is – ordinary democracy alone does not necessarily result in good governance.
For example, I am aware that the government does deserve some compassion over its efforts so far to drag the country out of the woods. But should that sympathy obstruct a reasonable examination of relevant national, personal and official behaviours and policy issues?
The habit of denial that has characterised our malfunctioning national life for so long is a key component, of the crumbling social contract of the political Ponzi scheme that we have been operating for several years.
But having been thrown under the bus by the antics of our leaders – past and present, we cannot continue to be hoping to do today – what we should have done yesterday; even when tomorrow is literarily upon us.
And unless we all have some skin in the game, we will continue to tread the path of backwardness, camouflaged by tokenisms – designed as progress.
Solving Sierra Leone’s problem is easy were it not for entrenched interests, including politicians and their cohorts, embedded monopolies by foreign interests; and a public sector whose very soul has been ripped out by ethno-political cannibals and which as a result, can no longer respond decisively to helping the government tackle the challenging socio-economic issues. This it used to do: from the colonial days to the last leg of Siaka Stevens’ reign.
Even as most Sierra Leoneans clutch to their one-way ticket to a life of poverty, illiteracy and powerlessness, ideological disagreements – often slide into moral blame, dangerous, disturbing and instinctive intolerance.
Politics-of-disgust, instead of the unification of ideas that will effect changes that strike at the very heart of a malfunctioning society, has become the norm.
Take for example, government’s smooth love affair with the super-suckers pretending to be saviours; which effectively put the country up for sale to the highest bidder (see extracts of culled article below).
I may be wrong, but I cannot recollect hearing the high decibel of the numerous Non-governmental organisations that sprung up, when money was awash like confetti from foreign bodies.
There is no whisper of support from these NGO’s for the urgency of revitalising the civil society; neither are they making any meaningful analysis and sensitising the people on the implications of some of the unbelievable policies, that will see generations unborn saddled with a contract that ties their hands and deprives them of their own resources for decades to come.
Even though the issue carries extra poignancy, but because most of these NGO’s are now grasping at the crumbs falling from the government’s table, national concerns that were abominable a few years ago, now lack compelling vision to their operators – e.g. Health Minister – Zainab Bangura’s human rights organisation.
Even as corruption and political rascality squeezes the life out of our society, and we find ourselves subjugated to phony oratory and the dictates of a coalition cabal in and out of the corridors of power, NGO’s and so-called political and social activists in Sierra Leone are now like Christmas decorations- – their balls are there only for decoration.
The base level of great saviourdom from self-aggrandising and patronising noise-makers, which was extremely high in the days of yore, is practically non-existent; even at a time when complicated political and economic issues are overwhelming the half-informed populace.
Instead, it is the pedantic, rather than clued-up tone of some commentators that are ruling the waves, as they fling in our faces – their blinkered narrow-mindedness and institutionalised cronyism, designed to score cheap political points and open the doors of power to them.
Irrational advocates of rudeness, who deride every argument and efforts to change the course of our current malaise, have continued to launch all-out assault on real and imaginary opponents with their weapons of abuse, vilification and moral blackmail. They had better enjoy the gravy train as it is definitely bound to reach the terminus one day.
If it looks like a goat and bleats like a goat, it is a goat. Politicians have a trust deficit.
So it is imperative that those whose main goal is an overhaul of our society, stop feeling guilty about being seen as rabble rousers and brave the immoral ethno-political and social sentiments being whipped up, anytime criticisms and attempts at cleaning up our national life comes to the fore.
The vested interests of our political class over the years, have always shaped our thoughts and focus towards their own collective loathing for anyone who threatens their gravy train, ideals and way of life.
But we need to let them realise that the time for holding their breath until they get their way is over. The restaurants are full.
We should be asking our politicians – why they hate us so much, that we are often sidelined; and what is the reason for their contemptuous disdain for truth, which is meant to set us free?
We should be breaking free from social and political straitjackets, perceptions and attitudes that have been spiced with ethnic and political undertones.
As they use their powerful symbolism of a conjuror’s bag, it is necessary for us to point out to them that it contains no new tricks. That the usual art of weaving a compelling narrative around a range of unavoidably lopsided policies, to cast a spell that gives the impression of mesmerising mastery and coherence, no longer has the same allure in the face of hunger, poverty and backwardness.
Red in tooth and claw from corrupt practices, most of our politicians – whether in or out of power, should be made to appreciate that, they can no longer assume a monopoly on personal morality, nor use propaganda to highlight statistics or issues that inflame anger rather than unite us – or that paints every contrary view as opposition to what is effectively their own, rather than national grand design.
Treating their occupation as a tool in an outrageous personal and ethnic or religious vendetta – and a vehicle for greed, instead of as an honour, is also nothing but befitting of an opera where so often the main characters don’t make it to the end.
Obviously in the desire to reform our democracy, politicians who are very much aware that money and power are some of the most effective ways of keeping raw humanity at bay, will continue to strenuously embark on a carefully controlled and cleaned-up version of their avowed commitment.
And those who try to expose this cesspool are gleefully taunted as being politically contaminated, instead of being seen exactly as it is – a group with social consciousness, trying to organise offensive things into acceptable social spaces.
For those who have tried to tarnish efforts to expose the truth about our acclaimed economic and development ‘miracles’, here is an independent report on land grabbing and our so-called economic development by Lulu Wright, as carried in a national newspaper recently.
The piece left me sitting quietly, examining my hands and wondering what vile still permeates our society, despite five years of Agenda for Change. Among the pertinent points in the said article are:
• Astounding revelations of facts unknown to Sierra Leoneans, and the general consensus that people are unhappy about the way they have been kept in the dark about the deals, and how they are handled.
1. The people are not involved in negotiations.
2. The communities have not benefited so far from these deals.
3. The only beneficiaries are the Government, chiefs and local councillors.
4. Landowners coerced behind closed doors to sign documents they hardly understand and their consent is not always sought.
5. Companies are taking everything away and one has destroyed traditional water sources – thus creating problems for the community.
6. Laws in place are not always conducive to fair deals.
7. The whole system is flawed.
The answers and explanations given by the Deputy Minister and other government supporters, revealed the weakness of the government’s position and the lack of transparency in the handling of the deals.
The Deputy Minister’s reply: “Walk into my office and you will get the information”, was a most irresponsible answer, and really exposed him to ridicule when he admitted that he did not have any figures to show accrued benefits to the nation and how the money had been spent.
• The so-called economic development myth was also exploded.
• A moratorium on further foreign investment to foster economic growth for the country and not for the benefit of a few selfish individuals.
• The shady deals must stop. We know, now that the cat is out of the bag”.
From this independent report, if Sierra Leone is to move forward, we need to do away with our senseless sentimental attachments and have the future in mind. Pointing out such bewilderness is shedding the toga of hypocrisy. We all need to start doing same.
We need to dig past surface appearances down into the guts; past the blend of myth and reality that permeates all levels of our society, in our attempt to lay the crucial building blocks necessary for a new future – devoid of the failings of our current existence.
The truth remains that in a desperate bid to fulfil its electoral promises and ensure the retention of power, the current administration has been less than scrupulous. Political objective is easy to set – but difficult to achieve, and being in power contains occupational hazards.
Analysing our life should not continue to follow the same excruciating pattern of our past; neither does it mean hatred for any particular set of people in power.
Random Musing is taking a short break in honour of my late brother, Richard William Oluwaseyi Awoonor-Gordon a.k.a ‘Olu Ritchie Gordon of PEEP Newspaper’, who passed away a year ago last April.
May his spirit continue to live in those who strive for a better society.
First I will to to thank you for that wonderful article. At least, we still have what I called “unpolitical patriotic citizens ” .
As a future political aspirant in Sierra Leone, I will like to suggest to the current government to take care of the most pressing issues that led us to war; namely – academic and social inequality. By God’s grace in the coming years , we the youths will rise up against these old fools that have no fellings for the common man.