Politics of behavioural change – in a season of Christmas festive cheer

Austin Thomas

18 December 2011

In what is perhaps the most socially conscious ethical writing of the New Testament, the Apostle James proclaims that faith without works is dead, that social justice is to be the signpost of our Christianity.

Like the Old Testament book of Amos, James is most concerned with issues of poverty. And within this context, the Apostle takes a surprisingly communal approach, explicitly addressing his message of social justice to both the powerful rich and the vulnerable poor.
Today, the Epistle of James represents an appeal to both the elites of the government, and us – the poor that dwell in the slums. They say a change will do you good. And this ‘change’ drum word was pounded in our ears four years ago.

But even though innovation and vision should have preceded such word, we the poor are still here saying to our government that they have to keep to that ‘promise of change for the better’.

As novelist Ellen Glasgow said: “All change is not growth; as all movement is not forward.” What matters is innovation. And innovation is an entirely different matter. What’s the difference? “Change” is getting on a different horse. “Innovation” is riding a different race.

To be clear, when I refer to innovation I don’t mean support for economic growth through technological progress and entrepreneurship, although that is important as well. I mean innovation in the way our political leaders approach today’s emergencies and tomorrow’s challenges.

When it comes to political issues, I think of change as meaning: we swap back and forth between two established and, at times, extreme positions. Innovation, on the other hand, recognizes that these issues aren’t red vs. green propositions, and that often the solutions can be something entirely different.

According to history, on the 27th of April 1961, the atmosphere in Sierra Leone was one charged with excitement as the people of Sierra Leone were ready to breathe the air of freedom from colonialism.

It was a day that every Sierra Leonean was very proud of as they merry with unparallel joy to see the Union Jack being replaced by the Green, White and Blue, to usher in the independence of Sierra Leone. Fifty years down the road, Sierra Leoneans are weeping and dying in numbers. There is no joy, peace and or happiness.

The pride of place that this our beloved Sierra Leone held in the past, has unfortunately been shrouded by unprecedented corruption, excessive tribalism, a violent eleven year war and inadvertently – poverty for almost the entire citizenry.

Nobody in this country would have thought of the once Athens of West Africa – Fourah Bay College, postponing students’ exams due to lack of writing paper. Neither would we have thought that the preaching of attitudinal and behavioural change would lead to an increase in corruption and a declining economy – coupled with political unrest.

The economic indicators depicting a resource rich country like Sierra Leone as poor; Fourah Bay College that once served as breeding ground in West Africa for various countries; strong cultural values being eroded daily, together with our virile youth. Sierra Leoneans are disheartened about their hopes and dreams – thinking of what the future holds.

This is the wobbly reality of the country, and it is not an encouraging situation because it has tested the resilience of our spirits to the extreme.

Most of the time, the problems we face are self-inflicted and need a solution that we must develop, if we are to achieve the seemingly elusive dream of a better future. The challenges against our collective destiny as one people are too many.

But they are not intractable, as we must come to the realization that a deep burden for the holistic liberation of the country from debt and poverty can be achieved, before we can start the reconstruction of the country with utmost urgency.

There is an old African saying that; no one climbs a tree from the top. This means that it would be acceptable and wise if we retrace our steps to identify the root cause of our predicament, before organizing a workable strategy for national development.

It is no secret that the disunity of individuals is precipitated by mutual distrust, which nurtures conflict. From the early years of independence, through the obnoxious years of military adventure into civil administration, the stench of tribal affiliation that separates numerous tribes has been strong in our national life.

The vice of tribalism is not the preserve of our ethnic constituents, because there exists more lines of delineation within ethnic groupings that births unrest.

Our political system is strongly built on tribalism and regionalism, such that every government that comes to power appoints the wrong people in sensitive jobs, at a huge cost to the country’s development.

For us to come together, it is vital that we come together as one people – united in the spirit of brotherliness and determined to change our common destiny for good.

Each of us have a role to play by compelling ourselves and others to embrace the God given differences of each other, put away any form of ambivalence towards one another, because we are all Sierra Leoneans and embrace each other in love and sincerity.

For a long time, we stayed together as one people, fought the rebel war and came out beaten but not battered. We have suffered and enjoyed together. Inter marriages are taking place, as we celebrate our religious diversity.

We are currently enduring the economic hardship together, and have always accepted our political challenges collectively. If we continue to be united, we will never fall and our future will be much brighter.

In the spirit of unity, we should discover a passion for the resuscitation of our beloved nation, and indeed, the salvation of others. It is this passion and love for our country that demands our change of attitude in every facet.

We must be able to stand up as a united force to tell the politicians the blatant truth – when they are wrong. And if they refuse to accept, we must continue to press on for a change in direction or leadership.

Whatever capacity we are in, let us strive to preserve the sanctity of our nationhood, by restricting ourselves from the madness of corrupt practices, as well as avoiding decisions that would bring the nation into disrepute.

Aftermath of violence in Bo (courtesy of Awoko)

Sierra Leone belongs to us all, and we should exploit our natural resources for our collective good. Corruption, political conflicts must be eradicated in our vocabularies, as we search for peaceful coexistence among the diverse communities, love for one another and hard work for a better Sierra Leone.

If only we can instil honesty as a cultural value to every Sierra Leonean – starting from the young who are the future leaders, then we would be building a new and vibrant country that we can all be proud of.

Favouritism in all stations of life must be discouraged, as it deprives too many of us, of our God given right to the national cake. Rather, equity in the allocation of scarce resources and economic opportunities should be decided based on the honourable pedestal of merit.

This is why the president is wrong to criticize the former government of tribalism, knowing that his government has not done any better. We do hope that he will see reason to rethink his appointment policies for the good of the nation – despite election just less than one year away.

Places do not make people – it is the people that make places. The developed world we are all running to – because of better standard of living, was built by people who believed in their goals and hard work, with the help of good leadership.

But we Sierra Leoneans should believe that if we are determined to build a better Sierra Leone, we will succeed because we have the human resource and the natural resources.

And as we evolve politically, we will definitely get the correct leadership with the conviction and innovative policies that will build a greener Sierra Leone as a better place to live, work and invest.

We can turn Sierra Leone into a paradise, once we are able to take responsibility for our lives and become self-reliant. The current economic policies guarantee the prosperity of producers and the poverty of consumers. This will change if we can develop a culture of manufacturing production and value-adding.

A paradigm shift has to be made by engaging in simple forms of manufacturing production and subsequently migrating to more complex forms of production. This form of economic empowerment can only occur when we relieve ourselves from the inferiority complex that portrays locally produced commodities as low quality. This was the case of China at the beginning; today China is the world’s factory.

The development of our great country would be actualized through great sacrifice. The future of our nation on earth would require our resilience more so than ever before, and demands commitment in all endeavours.

The habit of slothful performance of duties – both in the public and private spheres should be discarded in favour of a disciplined approach to duty. Success is earned and we must justify our right to greatness by individually engaging in productive activity with a sense of responsibility and dedication.

We must extol the principles of respect for elders, preserving the dignity of our womenfolk, taking responsibility for our actions, engaging in communal gatherings to deliberate on issues affecting our communities.

Nurturing the younger generation to understand and appreciate the dictates of family values and hard work, imbibing in all Sierra Leoneans a sense of belonging and mutual respect for each other; and consolidating brotherliness through inter-ethnic interactions, particularly marriage.

The sustenance of these values would keep alive the needed passion for bringing positive change to the country. It would also serve as a genuine base for the grooming of future leaders who would be mindful of how their decisions influence the collective.

Sierra Leoneans are known for their affinity to the divine and their belief in a supernatural God. However, this religious nature has not been converted into moral soundness for many. It is widely expected that a God fearing citizen would be diligent and mindful of their moral obligations in their public stations, managing the resource base of the nation and provide quality leadership.

It is leadership rooted on strong moral virtues that Sierra Leone needs. It is this leadership that we desire and deserve – leadership rooted in reverence for the Almighty, and a strong passion for attending to the needs of the people.

Therefore, individually we must change from complacency towards religious and moral virtues, and engage in sincere communion with our creator to draw strength for the journey towards national development.

As we join hands in unity at this Christmas festive season and look forward to 2012, let us be determined to change our attitudes in the various facets of life we may find ourselves. We shall become one people, one nation, guided by God in a country where peace and justice reigns.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year!

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