Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 July 2013
Eating the future in the present and promoting money-guzzling projects that do not add value to the lives of the people, appears a paramount area of folly to me.
Anyway, while the proponents of this over-ambitious propaganda pop the champagne corks and the rest of the nation suffer the hangover of their delusion, there’s a compelling argument for pruning the grander branches of government’s spin, which has led to a bloated relationship with grandeur, especially the elusive one.
True – there are slivers of hope for Sierra Leone’s future, and there is absolutely no doubt about this. Also, we are making progress – no matter how haphazard. But right now, as we hide the true socio-economic state of the country under false pretences, I guess that they are all that is currently on offer.
So, as I lolled slack-jawed, reading the President’s speech to launch the agenda, I could not help but grimace at the apparent willful blindness to specific timelines and pathways to reduce poverty, illiteracy and acute unemployment, which are the bread and butter issues crying out for urgent attention and which are paramount to any attempt at clambering on the high horse of the envisaged prosperity.
The first thing that struck me was that the great wave of drivel is like a government fatwa, on the impoverished.
It smacked of going through the motion, flagging up empty victories and hiding substantial neurosis that the government has absolutely no relationship with, as it pulls up the drawbridge away from the very people it purposes to serve.
Normally we would have a vibrant opposition that will point out the idiocies in our policies and governance while asking the kind of questions to which answers must be given, if the public is to have a true appreciation of a national aspiration and key into it.
Unfortunately in the absence of such a setting, the sheer unfairness of the agenda to the poor masses of our nation exposes the ludicrous nature of our antiquated system of playing politics.
Anyway, the challenges facing the nation dictate unequivocally, that governance should be taken more seriously and handled more competently. It requires definitive formulation, articulation and execution of policies rather than an aspiration in governance.
I mean at a time when some civil servants have not received their meagre salaries for two months, they are being reminded about the dollar signs of symbols to be built to the glory of money and the pockets of those in the corridors of power as well as their foreign overseers.
At a time when our school children and their impoverished parents are being forced to cough up for an extra year that will make absolutely no difference to the pathetic state of our educational system, isn’t it wonderful news to those affected, that a new airport is in the offing.
Government has been ostrich-like, regarding the plight of the youths, and from all indications, the tragedy is that it will probably just get worse.
But, what better assurance for a bright future for those helpless lot than the fact that: “We are the best nation in religious tolerance, and the friendliness of our people to strangers is second to none in the world”.
While our low waged economy continues to make a mockery of honest workers, what better news to cheer them up than the fact that: “this new imperative calls for smart work, resilience, and discipline”. Isn’t that rich, coming from an administration in which the actions, utterances and disposition of some of its main personnel are as jarring as it is baffling.
For heaven’s sake, let’s be sincere to ourselves and our future.
The actual challenge to the government is how to transform the poor quality of life of the teeming masses. But it appears the team is currently clueless and this is why there are no specifics in the agenda to remove the bleakness of the present realities of the hopelessly oppressed masses.
There’s a very obvious- and none too desirable knock-on effect of poverty in a dysfunctional governance and society. So in the agenda for prosperity, the government has promised “to do more to complete residual projects in the Agenda for Change and to address recurring and emerging challenges as well as address unemployment, particularly among the youth”. Humm.
But, listen to this: “We all need to do more to better manage our natural resources for the good of all Sierra Leoneans” Which natural resources? The ones that the same people who are the rightful owners have absolutely no say in how it is dished out to grinning foreigners – many of whom do not know our names – nor know that the crimson colour they see is from our bleeding hearts?
You may be fulfilled, but if you want to be very sad, go to anywhere you’ve worked before or to the school you went and see if you will not be as excited as a eunuch in a lap-dancing bar.
Anyway, while President Koroma was careful to rise visibly above the temptations of political advantage and this time, displayed a more measured demeanour in his tone, it is clear that what is on offer for the ordinary man on the street, is the political equivalent of watching the paint dry.
Similarly, while he appeared to have learnt from the last experience when he boasted that he would turn Sierra Leone into an El Dorado within three years; and on this occasion refrained from prostrating too long on the alter of spin, the pimple of growth in the economy appears to have been dressed up as a giant step on the road to salvation.
With poverty showing no inclination to get its coat on; and leave our shores, and our economy, a long way from the spritely one that can deliver prosperity in the short and medium term, the agenda is looking every inch less like acumen and more like goading.
It appears to be hype for the gullible and the spin is nothing but deceitful nonsense.
Let’s be frank, when the innocence in which this political blindfold-policy has been shrouded, gives way to the harsher realities of our socio-political and economic realities, then the protective walls of the slogan will more closely resemble the walls of a gallows for the majority and a waterbed for the few.
One of the reasons the previous so-called agenda failed – dismally, contrary to what is being touted, is that it could have been far better suited to its ultimate purpose – had reality been granted the tiniest look-in when the policy was being implemented.
Had the limitations of government and a determination to utilise national resources in a self-help process of recovery been openly acknowledged from the inception of the administration, with all its planning based on that, then we would have been spared all the cant and hypocrisy spouted by just about everyone involved with the policy.
Now, before those who normally growl for their supper – because the cheque is fat enough – howl like hyenas on ecstasy tablets, it is instructive to point out that the fictional rosy economy that exists in the imaginations of our leaders and the daily grind that is the reality of life for majority of our fellow citizens,
Declining living standards, high unemployment, rising prices, empty pockets and stomachs, as well as a high percentage of illiteracy, which are the pain and reality of our streets, are not the bedrock on which the foundation for prosperity can be laid.
The anaemic figures being churned out and bandied about as the first indices on the road to a new life of affluence for all, are of dubious parentage.
Obviously, in the current realities of our nation, whose true economic outlook is more in a depressive loop, even the slightest signs of life will definitely display a tiny ‘dead-cat’ bounce, especially with all the resources being spirited out under the guise of increased mining activities.
Therefore, the splenetic outbursts of ‘Handel’s prosperity hosanna’, in an economy that is still struggling for life, is like giving aspirin as the only palliative for an acute case of diarrhea.
Somewhere between the deranged yelps that the agenda for prosperity will herald and the current destruction of all that is still good and pure in our society, is of course, the shadowy figures of graft and maladministration.
In spite of the volume of funds that has flowed into our national kitty in the last six years (acknowledged in the speech itself), I doubt if Sierra Leoneans have ever been this poor in their history; especially given what is being exhibited across board as the dividends of this period of ‘growth’.
If nothing else, one reason why the agenda for prosperity is completely barking, is that some of those meant to be at the vanguard of its implementation are too busy trembling before the altar of money to give a hoot about the struggle for history in the lives of the people.
If the president says that the agenda is his dream, I am in no position to doubt. But experience teaches that one of our biggest problems is that our leaders often celebrate ideas and pronouncements before they are achieved. The outcome of which, at great cost all round, mostly to our image and the integrity of those in power, is surprise, surprise – a massive failure.
The renown of our political class – as the harbinger of the greatest political deceit has long been undoubted. But it is an equal truism that what accompanied this honour is the abiding ability of the gift for hearing and seeing things in the figures that are not real.
To me, this must be our past and not our future.
As the struggle for history is played out on the streets of our nation, the army of occupation that is the present political class needs to appreciate that it is only when living standards start to rise and when inflation can take a bow and give room for small and medium scale enterprises to have access to the much needed fund, that will stimulate real economic growth, that we can find ways onto lighter terrain that leads to prosperity.
They need to realise that rather than chalk up fancy slogans, we would all like to know the answers to how they will tackle unemployment and other economic realities, instead of condemning the people to tokenism and darker blind alleys from where they expect them to wriggle towards some light, without agile leadership.
So maybe instead of the current marginally disoriented infrastructural development that is indicative of our flawed initiatives, what we really need is investment in “shovel-ready” projects that can make a difference to growth in the short term.
Many of these projects have the ability to provide much-needed employment and jobs now (as long as we don’t continue to concede to the importation of half-baked foreign labour force).
No matter the slogan government couches its intentions, if we continue the way we are, we will keep on getting what we are getting; and if individual interests’ continue to overtake the collective good of the generality of the citizens, our desire for the virtuous circle of prosperity will remain a mirage.
Whose prosperity are we then talking about? Which side of the pot is the water of a better life for all escaping from?
If the new initiative is not the dynamic, aggressive and penetrating development that takes into account, our diversity, aspirations and collective will, how does it serve its purpose without sacrificing our sovereignty?
Oh! By the way – bingo. At least in the middle of the mumbo jumbo, the government acknowledges one key thing that I have continued to advocate as the basis for any meaningful step to a glorious future and this is that: “success primarily depends on what we as a people do for ourselves and not on what others do for us”.
Donor and external interferences are recipes for weak leadership. This invariably leads to corruption and continued reliance on external assistance that in turn, leads to increased poverty and the neglect of key local critical reforms that are the essentials for real growth and sustainable development.
Yes we can have prosperity, but I ask once more: whose prosperity are we talking about? Is it joy and happiness to the few and burden to the many?
Even if the agenda lyrics were vague, the challenge is clearing away the cynicism, greed, deceit and arrogance that have come to define the approach of our leaders to socio-political and economic issues and display the credentials that show that they really know what the people desire.
Right now, I am afraid that this is not the case.
Sierra Leoneans have roamed the wilderness of hope for so long, that they are becoming depressed, which is the fastest way to cut them off from the same sweet and hope-inspiring future of prosperity.
The bee in my bonnet is that this promised spring seems to be turning dark, even before its arrival. And as we survey poor, shattered Sierra Leone, I am fearful that we are losing sight of the ideals and the acute diagnosis of our true health.