Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 June 2018:
So much has happened in the political landscape over the last week, with political party apparatchiks trading accusations, that one ought to take a cooler and accentuate the positive.
The idea for this piece came to me after I preached a sermon last Sunday on “Situation Excellent”, which was a kind of inspirational sermon exhorting the congregation that, despite the upheavals of life, God is still our refuge and our strength and we should be positive in our outlook to life.
Why situation excellent?
At the first battle of the Marne during World War 1, French lieutenant general Ferdinand Foch sent out this communique: “My center is giving way, my right is retreating. Situation excellent. I am attacking”. His willingness to see hope in a tough situation eventually led to victory for his troops.
Sometimes in life’s battle we can feel as if we are losing on every front. Family discord, business setbacks, financial woes, or a decline in health can put a pessimistic spin on the way we look at life. But an optimist can always find a way to conclude: Situation excellent.”
What if I pondered on the good things that have been happening to us in Sierra Leone without wearing a political lens? I thought to myself. Well a lot of good things have happened in this country. (Photo: Andrew Keili).
A country once devastated by a ten-year civil war is now amongst one of the most peaceful in the world. Situation excellent!
In the immediate post-independence era, one could easily count the number of women in frontline politics-Ella Koblo Gulama, Constance Cummings John, Nancy Steel etc. There were few women in top government jobs.
Nowadays despite the protestations of women’s groups, the glass ceiling has been broken in many areas. We have had a woman Chief Justice, countless female cabinet ministers, parliamentarians etc. Situation Excellent!
Perhaps one of the biggest areas in which we have seen marked improvement is in the area of technology. Those who are old enough would remember when they would line up at SLET to make or receive phone calls. Everyone in the line would know your uncle had sent you twenty pounds as you had to shout at the top of your voice-no secrets for puzzled onlookers.
You would also remember the infamous land phones with rotary dials which mummy and daddy would lock.
Young folks now with android phones incessantly surfing the net would wonder whether we lived in the stone age. They are overloaded with information. Situation excellent!
Those of us who went to UK to study via plane could not understand how the previous generation could take up to two weeks to travel with Elder Dempster ships to the UK.
We now have a choice of planes to go to Europe or America as long as we can afford it. Situation excellent!
And you think the water crisis started today? I recall the water crisis in Bo which forced us to keep water in the bathtub. We had a visiting catechist, Mosheshe from Nigeria who, on taking so long in the bathroom where he was provided with hot water in a bucket was heard whistling after a whole hour.
My curious brother decided to take a peak, and lo and behold, Mosheshe was swimming in the bathtub engulfed in our one week’s supply of water fetched by bucket from “kindo wata”.
I know educational standards have plummeted, but spare a thought for the number of people now having access to education. Fourah Bay College of old did not have more than a few hundred students.
Few could access colleges like the Bunumbu Teachers College. Imagine the number of universities and training colleges nowadays. Courses in the past were very limited.
Colleges and other institutions now offer a wide array of courses to cater for the job market. Situation excellent!
You younger folks don’t even know what your parents called “ten toe” or about “jiga”. Most would have parents whose history included walking long distances to school with no shoes on-only ten toes! This of course encouraged “jiga” which was painful to extricate. Do you even know what “jiga” is?
As for those of you who now drink tablets that are deliberately coated to taste nice, spare a though for your poor parents. Ask them about drinking Atwood bitters of castor oil or about having their stomachs occasionally “purged”.
In days of old, District Commissioners, Paramount Chiefs and important people were conveyed by hammock along bad roads or bush paths. Imagine I could now drive from Freetown to my village in Kailahun on a tarred road. Situation excellent!
Even people living in slums now have access to TV and video. In my younger days TV was a luxury. For entertainment we had to go to Rex Cinema or Odeon cinema in Bo. We must have given old Pa Taylor the gateman at Odeon a hard time as we tried to slide under his arms to watch memorable Indian films.
Nowadays you can even watch your favourite film on your phone. Nowadays, you could watch the World cup as most of you are doing now from the luxury of your homes.
Spare a thought for your parents who could only listen to match commentaries by people like Edward Akar over the radio- “He takes a long one down the Saint Josephs end of the field”. Situation excellent!
I know there was a time when we used to feed ourselves- but this was mainly with rice. Some older folks cannot fathom how they could eat sausages and other delicacies. These can now be bought from street hawkers. Situation excellent!
One area where Sierra Leone has consistently scored high is in the area of religious tolerance. The formation of the interreligious council, the ease with which members of one religion can assimilate themselves into religious occasions for other faiths is already well known.
The Ajesefi-Mufti Menk issue last year indicates how both Christians and Muslims are bent on discouraging bigotry.
Even within the same religion there were subtle schisms in the past. Catholic and Protestant priests now officiate at weddings in each other’s churches and also undertake preaching assignments there. Religion itself has got much more accessible. For Christians, one can attest to this, with the number of churches nowadays.
In the days when some of us were growing up Church pews used to be reserved for particular families-woe betide you if you had the gall to sit where you were not supposed to sit! Imagine trying that now-your Church will get empty. Situation excellent!
The matter of discipline is one that has changed considerably. The discipline of old was in many ways a stark abuse of the children’s rights. An older boy would normally “back you”. Sometimes you would get away with the child standing on one leg for a prolonged period.
Kids nowadays don’t realise how easy things have got. They can even venture to talk about violating their human rights or going against the Child Rights Act. We did not even know what they called an Act and there were lots of people aiding and abetting the beating process-neighbours, uncles etc.
The maxim in days of old must have been “spare the child and spoil the rod”-they used to think the rod should not be kept idle. Parents looked for any excuse to cane you often leaving telling marks on your back.
My Uncle Bobor Kormi was so eager for me to get beat that he used to tell my dad in Mende “Pastor mu bla pei mu ya hu” – meaning “lets beat him before we catch him”. That was how confused he could get.
Even my choirmaster in Church got into the beating act. Instead of wearing his tie on his neck, he decided it might be best to use it as his trousers belt and use his leather belt to give us a good hiding.
I will never forget his spanking of me in front of the congregation when I forgot my lines in a solo. He used to tell me I was a good treble but trouble! Situation excellent!
And who says politics is dirty nowadays? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Yes, you have the odd ballot stuffing here and there but consider what used to happen.
An uncle of mine who was an ardent SLPP stalwart went alone into the voting room, elated that he could finally vote for his “torkpoi” when he heard a voice from the ceiling (not a voice from heaven) –“nor put am day, put am na d APC box” from a gun totting ISU (as they used to call SSDs).
In a village in Kailahun where APC had only one vote, the hapless town chief called a meeting to try to identify the culprit who “disgraced” their village by voting for APC. The only Fullah trader in town got out of town overnight-permanently. The meeting was cancelled.
Anyway I hope that despite the vicissitudes of present day life I have given you younger guys especially a reason to be grateful and to thank God for small mercies.
You will realise of course this is a feel good article-so wallow in your joy, albeit temporarily. Just for once think about the good things. Think about having good health, food on the table, good friends, “chilling”. Forget about any “paopa” or “tolongbo” talk.
Yes indeed “tiday bete pass yesterday”. So feel good today and go back to your political infighting later. Next week I will ponder what I see. Ponder my thoughts.
Mr. Keili: Can you define “paopa”. I’m not sure I fully grasp the meaning of the term.
Man this is really good, especially coming from someone as dignified as you. So much has improved no matter how far behind we are in the global space.
I remember growing up; the house next to me was the only one with a TV set in the whole neighborhood. We used to hide behind the front door so we could peep through a small hole to watch TV. But now so many people have TVs at home, on mobile devices etc. Life has been good. Situation Excellent. Thanks again Ngor Andrew
One may question Andrew Keili’s premise sometimes, but his objectivity is beyond reproach. More succinctly,he does not allow emotions to get the better of him when dealing with issues pertaining to Sierra Leone. We all know that emotions deny anyone the ability and capacity to deploy brain power in a positive way.
The Sierra Leone that we currently have is full of toadies whose background can be precisely traced to the Siaka Stevens/Joseph Momoh era. It was in this period that the nation lost its footing, which it is still struggling to regain decades later.
In this entire period objective political analyses were unheard of lest they may lead to fabricated treason charges and certain execution. Sierra Leone and the world have changed since then, causing the world to become much smaller because of technological advancement – pointed out by the article.
Andrew Keili and a handful of others have risen behind modern technology to educate us on the past while juxtaposing it with the present, to let us know that the present may be awful in certain respects but the past was worse; depending of course on individual assessment.
This is the provocative part of the article in that it summons all Sierra Leoneans to engage in some personal research to enable them to draw their own conclusions to determine whether or not they agree or disagree with the author.
Personally I believe the current government led by J.M.Bio should use the article as a partial bridgehead from which to effect its New Direction slogan. They must remember that rhetoric has no place in the minds of the people anymore.
Very interesting retrospective.
Thanks a lot Andrew keili. Sir, if all Sierra Leoneans think the same way as this situation excellence, I think this lovely nation would be prosperous for the better of our democracy. Sierra Leone is a country of peace. Situation excellence takes me back to when I was a student. Our fathers were arrested and locked up during the state of emergency in Kono district. You know why? Because they are fullah traders and foreigners (they called them KOTTOR).
So let’s stop this tribalism and give others a chance to express their opinion. Sierra Leone is not only for the northerners and southerners. East, West, North, South, we are all equal despite the history of Sierra Leone and its diverse population.