Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 2 August 2013
I am aware that avid readers of my musings would often wonder why I am always lamenting the sorry state of affairs in Sierra Leone and its governance.
Some would argue and correctly too, that there are several positive developments which justify the intergalactic-sized ego of the government, that rightly, should be massaged.
True. But while I agree without a shadow of doubt, that hope for a better Sierra Leone is not yet totally lost, the evils of official corruption, greed and insensitivity to the plight of the masses, as well as the slaughter of the first born by those who reign over us, (because they do not serve) are so life-threatening, that sometimes I feel as if my head would blow up while merely thinking about it.
Let’s get something clear. Even if we have all the money in the world, as well as all the expertise of the best brains, without the capacity and ability to harness and properly organise the human and financial resources in response to the needs of the citizenry – in a functional and productive way – our drive towards prosperity will simply continue to result in a ghetto scenario.
If we cannot restore more vigour to a socio-political and economic system that is failing to equip our vast human resource; if we continue to make policies that look good in the short run, but are counter productive in the long run – because they set the nation back by many years, then we will discover that more journeymen blood-suckers are likely to suck our emaciated society dry.
It’s all well to talk of billions in investment, and the government might erroneously believe that it has put down markers and roots in its six years of existence; but these indicators are the roots of a geranium and not that of a cotton tree.
Behind the frenzy of infrastructural development, which of course is physical, I am not hearing talks of the government scrapping the barnacles off the hull of poverty, so as to prepare the people’s ship for the coming voyage to prosperity.
As far as I am concerned, and I am sorry that I make no apologies for this; our airy-fairy politicians are really not plugging into the concerns of the plebs of this society. They are behaving more like lap dancers dressed to make a good impression in court.
They appear to have an endless appetite for creating misery. With a bastion of rugged determination and without resisting the urge to blow the brains out, those in authority appear to be more interested in the politics of the nursery
With their craving of a little political capital, they appear more comfortable with the myth of their advertised post-Kabbah revolution, which of course comes with a gagging order on those of us that are challenging and making any attempt at checkmating the fairy tales of these pantheons.
Just because the government has created an out-of-control media circus that is robbing us of what rightly would have been a key era in our changing society; and just because our leaders are exerting a hypnotic hold over a relatively large chunk of the populace, does not mean we have to hang out the buntings alone and forget the politically pretty toxic realities of struggling economic growth.
To discerning and non-political minds, this is due to high unemployment, a pathetic educational sector, a still worrying health service and an antiquated public sector – not to talk of the exorbitantly high cost of living.
Does it reek of hypocrisy?
Of course it does. And if we don’t come together, have the conversation, draw a line in the sand on how indeed we ought to move on from our straw-man priorities, we shall realise too late that the tree that cannot shed its leaves in the dry season, cannot survive a period of drought.
The government can continue to winkle out the kind of sound bite that feels like an exclusive report on the BBC World service news and blow a dog’s whistle on prosperity. But right now, the people need words and actions in this amoral era that have never been more relevant to their plight.
Instead of flamboyant wit to charm their way, people want conviction politics, a tempering of the steel and a bastion of rugged determination that will put them at the very heart of what a caring government should be doing.
Rather than placatory sound bites, the people want to hear their fury and pain being felt towards the rich and powerful in the corridors of power, who strut around as if there is no problem and busy doing the masses a big favour.
Truth is, because of the quality of their lives, which is steeped in chronic poverty, majority of the people who believe in deeds and not words, feel screwed into the ground, dehumanised and traumatised by those at the top.
Abject poverty, an army of unemployed youths roaming the land, insecurity of lives and property, high costs of living and indeed general malaise, are the bread and butter in the conundrum of hell that is the lives of the people.
Yet, what you see is the despicable, reckless, insensitive and vulgar disposition of some privileged politicians, who while enjoying the charms and perks of office and the overpowering love of fame, sees the problem of the masses as being in the head rather than on it.
Like the result of hiring a hyena to protect your goats, the high turnover of extremely rich individuals among political office holders, has turned governance into an utterly dysfunctional money-making apparatus, without the capacity to appreciate the correlation between human capital and societal development.
By the way, those in the corridors of power behave like poverty-stricken hungry children at a birthday party; greedily and shamelessly grabbing everything in sight. The incapacitating social and economic environment prevalent at the moment is as hot as a wasabi – a Japanese spicy root.
We all know that political careerists have duped the public for far too long and have forgotten the need to serve those they are meant to represent.
The voters have had the wool pulled over their eyes by token dividends of their ‘democracy’. It is obvious that they will soon wake up and find other ways to break the cycle of sleaze and deceit, which has left them bearing the brunt of poor governance.
If this is the way to prosperity, what do we mean by poverty then?
The high level of poverty and penury in the country is unacceptable. Unemployment and inflation rates have also hit the roof and yet, constitutional reform which, though necessary, has now taken priority.
For national progress, which is more essential of the lot? Better still, which will come last in the hierarchy needs of the people: improved health care, better education, an overhauled civil service provision and a new constitution? (More about this later).
My belief is that the investment in developing human capacity is a more valuable component of our development than anything else.
What does it profit a nation if it has the best constitution and yet its entire people are dying of hunger, disease and poverty?
Little wonder then that the people tend to view government with deep mistrust. While they are desperate for succour, the government does not seem to understand. Instead, they seem hell-bent on creating the mentality that there is no alternative to being defined by foreign governments and institutions.
I leave you with the words of Mo Ibrahim, a man whose passion is an inspiration to my thinking:
“I think the blame should rest squarely on the way we have governed ourselves. Not any amount of aid is going to move Africa (Sierra Leone) forward. The only way for us to move forward is to ensure good governance – the way we manage our economy, our social life, our legal structures and institutions – that is the basis for development. We cannot rely on people to come and feed our poor or treat our sick. This is the responsibility of our governments.
“Governance is not just about corruption or transparency or human rights or democracy or roads etc., it is about all of this. There is no compromise. All this is a basket of deliverables which governments must deliver to their citizens. If it is about deliverables then it is measurable. What we need to do is look at numbers and not wonderful leaders’ speeches. I want to know what leaders did in the last 12 months.
“Leadership is also important. It became obvious to us that we need leaders that understand that they are running their country for the benefit of every single individual. Every child in the country is his responsibility; we need people who really believe in that, who cannot go to sleep because some people cannot eat or cannot find medicine. This is the kind of leadership that we need in Africa – (Sierra Leone)
“Right now, the most important challenge, in my view, in Africa (Sierra Leone) is youth. We have a huge bulge of youngsters coming forward, but where do the jobs come from, and what will happen to those people?
“One major problem we have is the education system which, unfortunately, is not doing very well. If you are African, the more educated you are, the less chances you have of getting a job. This says something – education is too serious to be left to the few bureaucrats in ministries of education who have no connection to the real world. This is an area where you really need a national debate between business people, education specialists, and young people to know exactly what kind of work force we need to build in Africa.
“China is already running out of labour, moving production houses out of China. Who is going to be the next factory of the world, is it going to be Africa? If we don’t have the economies of scale, we are unable to force the trade required; we are unable to get a good deal for our manufacturers. Can Siemens sell a single mobile phone in China without building a factory there or transferring know-how? No way.
“Good governance in the public sector is a prerequisite for development, but it is not enough. We cannot have it without also having good governance in the private sector; people need to understand that. If we have a go at corruption, we really need to deal with it in the private sector, there is no question about that. Political leaders don’t corrupt themselves – they have partners in the private sector.
“The illicit transfer of funds is another important issue. The illicit transfer of funds out of Africa (Sierra Leone) is at least double the amount of aid that (Sierra Leone) Africa receives every year. This speaks for itself. We need multinational companies to pay their taxes. Small African countries have very weak tax collection systems. We don’t have fantastic lawyers and forensic accountants who can really challenge these companies.”
Now, to the government of Sierra Leone, I direct this question: How much taxes and royalties have African Minerals or London Mining, or whatever the conduits that siphon our resources away in the name of investment, paid into the government’s coffers in the last five years?
We need to wake up and reorder our priorities.
This stands as a warning of wider significance. I hope our leaders are listening.