Presidential and general elections will be fought and won on the ground in Sierra Leone

Abdul R Thomas

23 June 2012

A few weeks ago, some pretty pictures were posted on Sierra Leone’s most popular internet discussion forum – Bintumani, showcasing real and encouraging infrastructural developments in Nigeria.

These developments have no doubt made most Nigerians – if not all, proud to be Nigerians.

But, there is little doubt; this is what you get in a country that is enjoying 40 years of relative political stability, along with the patriotism of a few hard working entrepreneurial citizens.

Since the passing of a Law in Nigeria raising the capital investment threshold for foreigners in the country, Nigerians have had the mental space to think for themselves as to how to meet their own needs through innovation and entrepreneurship, rather than relying on the Indians and Lebanese.

As Sierra Leoneans we do have a lot to learn, though in fairness we have been there ourselves.

Many will remember Bata Shoes outlet, Clarks, PZ, Cold Storage and many more – all well built to modern standards – fully air-conditioned and well stocked.

They may not have been owned by Sierra Leone entrepreneurs, but the very high standards they represented, the jobs they created – along with the workforce development, was good for our psyche as to what was possible to achieve as a nation.

What about that beautiful tall building that once housed the chic fashion retail outlet – ‘Eleganza’ at the top end of Westmoreland Street? That tall impressive building even had a VW car sitting proudly, right on top of its roof – wow!

Back then few Sierra Leoneans go to bed hungry. Few Sierra Leoneans die in hospital wards for lack of electricity and clean running tap water, or for lack of medicines. Back then, Two Leones will fetch you One British Pound Sterling. 

As a young man back then – I was very proud to be a Sierra Leonean.

Just think, at that time the Nigerians we admire today, were very busy killing each other in a civil war – and seeking refuge in Salone. How times have changed!

As Sierra Leoneans, our reliance on foreigners in the last forty years to do everything for us, and the short sightedness of successive governments – incapable of encouraging the growth and survival of indigenous enterprises, say a lot about our station in the world today.

We were once a people with big hearts and great pride. Sadly I am not sure I can say that of today.

Ok – so the rebel war has not helped either. But we cannot keep blaming everything on the war.

If those of our brothers and sisters that have stolen so much from the country in the last forty years, could simply have invested that money in establishing and growing thriving private enterprises in Sierra Leone, perhaps we too may have been ‘cutting bongo’ with our own shopping malls – just like the Nigerians.

We too, could also have been proudly showing off our ‘made in Sierra Leone’ brands of manufactured goods, exported all over the world.

But the decisions of some of our contemporary leaders in Sierra Leone really want to make you bow your head in shame.

What happened to the USA style mall that president Koroma promised four years ago to build at Victoria Park in Freetown?

What happened to the millions of dollars borrowed for the construction of that mall?

Lord, have mercy upon us. What I saw a couple of years ago in Freetown, says a lot about our shoddy way of thinking, which has to change.

The structure being built at Victoria Park looks more like village makeshift retail huts.

This Ikeja City Mall in Lagos, took two years to build and has been completed.

The mall is said to have received strong interest from local and international retailers seeking to occupy space.

‘The project has received support from the local government, who appreciate the potential contribution of the mall – direct job creation during and post construction, formalisation of employment, which will boost the taxable base, the increased availability of products to local consumers, a ripple effect through the local supplier network, and the provision of a safe environment for consumers to enjoy shopping and entertainment options.’

“The recent lifting of the textile importation ban in Nigeria, has sharply expanded the scope of international retailers that are able to trade in Nigeria, thereby improving leasing efforts for the Ikeja City Mall. The era of 40,000-plus m2 shopping malls has dawned upon Nigeria” says Michael Chu’di Ejekam, Director of Actis West Africa’s real estate division, responsible for the project.

“We are excited about the demographics. The Johannesburg area with a population of about 4 million people has 69 shopping malls, whereas the entire city of Lagos with about 17 million people has one international grade shopping mall – Ikeja City Mall will be the second. Within an eight kilometre radius of the Ikeja City Mall there are an estimated 3.9 million people with monthly household incomes of US$1,500 per month or $18,000 per annum – certainly material spending power.”

In Sierra Leone, We have a serious national problem that needs fixing fast – and it is to do with our national psyche, lack of self belief and very little national pride.

The bogus and pretentious call by those in power for attitudinal change rings hollow, when those in authority are slothful, corrupt and self-serving. 

We really have to raise our standards in Sierra Leone, and no one is going to do that for us.

Walking around with a swagger pretending to be a businessman is not enough

The Indians and Lebanese are just too happy to see us walking around in monkey suits and briefcases to hand, playing commercial middlemen and brokers, while they cream off the economy.

We cannot blame them for our lazy brain and lackadaisical governments that are satisfied with mediocrity and shoddiness.

We must get our skates and hard hats on and knuckle down, if we are to emulate that which we admire so much in others; and even better – if we are to find our rightful place among prospering nations in the world today.

And with general and presidential elections round the corner, poorly educated journalists, so called political commentators and self-serving opinion formers – seeking brown envelopes, are pontificating about the outcomes of those elections.

Cyberspace is replete with electoral debates, second guessing the winners and losers of November 2012, which if believed, is sure to make the electorate in Sierra Leone stay at home and not bother to go out to vote.

A Chilling reminder for those of us in Cyberdom, especially those fanning the flames of tribal hatred and political intolerance, is that, the real people that matters in November are the registered voters in Sierra Leone, most of whom cannot read or write, and are struggling to make ends meet.

They do not come to Cyberdom, nor do they understand the language of adversarial politics played out on the internet – even if it is put on their plate of ‘cole foofoo’.

What matters to them is the belief that another five years of APC will either be good for them, or that the last five years have brought nothing to them and their families – other than misery and hardship.

Many will be swayed by tribal affiliation, cash handouts and promise of better days to come if voted to power.

But the reality is that the majority will use their God given survival instincts and vote in November with their heads.

I am talking about:

Pa Lamina – the jelly coconut seller

Pa Elkanah Cole – the shoe maker

Mammy Yabome – the akara seller

Borbor Pain – the street hustler

Pa Santiki – the wood seller

John Bull – the school teacher

Marie Kamara – the hospital nurse

and, Ahmed Jalloh – the tailor.

With rising poverty, rising joblessness – 70% youth unemployment, no water, no electricity, unfinished road construction projects, increasingly high adult mortality, generally poor health care, low standards of education, the electorate are sure to use their heads in November.

Talk of human rights abuses, which allegedly took place in 1992 will not cut it with the electorate, nor will cyber ‘labo labo’ about presidential baggage, feature in the minds of the electorate in November.

Curiously, there are some words that are yet to feature in the lexicon of ordinary daily parlance in Sierra Leone, contrary to what some propagandists, so called political commentators and opinion formers would like us to believe.

Words like ‘political baggage’, ‘extra-judicial killing’ and ‘human rights abuser’ are still not making it into the daily vocabulary of most Sierra Leoneans – 70% of whom are illiterate and struggling to put food on the table.

Economic hardship and the prospect of not being able to feed one’s family, thus robbing that family of their basic human dignity, is as close as you will get right now, in getting the poor to understand human rights abuse in Sierra Leone today.

November’s election will definitely be fought and won on the ground in Sierra Leone. And the key issue for voters will be:

The hard grind of daily economic hardship and social deprivation the poor people have endured in the last five years – nothing less and nothing more.



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