Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 30 December 2014
It was Chinese philosopher, Confucius who said: “If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will soon find sorrow near at hand.”
As 2015 rolls in, it is obvious that Sierra Leone, whose sky is dark right now, faces one of the most difficult and hardest years in recent times – probably akin to the civil war era- economically, socially and to some extent, politically.
National morale has reached that critical equilibrium of stasis, beyond which no war is possible.
Things are bad, and are even threatening to get out of control. More than any other time in our history, our once-lovely Sierra Leone needs inspiration, hope and a change in consciousness.
We need to find the soul of our nation and give confidence to our people. Without any shadow of doubt, we will overcome our mountains. The cup of affliction will pass over us.
However, you cannot fight a war with an uncertain leadership that is unsure of itself and its responsibilities, and a very sceptical followership.
For example, hear what was written about one of the key players in the recent success of Nigeria in check-mating Ebola. This was not at a photo-shoot, but as an assessment of the role of the individual and other stakeholders when the disaster struck. It is very instructive, in that there are lessons for our leaders:
“The Governor (chief executive) of Lagos State turned a looming disaster into a public health triumph. Breaking off from a trip overseas, he took personal charge of the operation to track down and quarantine nearly 1,000 people feared to have been infected at the onset of the infection. He broke off from a pilgrimage to Mecca and then set up an Ebola Emergency Operations Centre, which spearheaded the mammoth task of monitoring all those potentially infected. A team of 2,000 officials were trained for the task, who ended up knocking on 26,000 doors.
“At one point the governor was being briefed up to ten times a day by disease control experts. He made a point of visiting the country’s Ebola treatment centre regularly as a way of communicating to the Nigerian public that they should not panic needlessly. Command and control is very important in fighting disease outbreaks, and he provided effective leadership. He also said exactly the right things, urging for the need to keep calm.”
Despite the preponderance of a network of logistical problems and a mammoth population, there were no lockdowns and acrimonious exchanges in Nigeria. Enemies put aside their differences and put the nation’s and the people’s health above every other consideration. The government at the centre which is controlled by another party, worked assiduously with opposition state government.
Now, contrast that with our Omni-shambles, in which, apart from the initial lethargy, we see our own commander-in-chief abdicating his throne to a trusted lieutenant (Photo: Palo Conteh – head of Ebola crisis management), and other foreign legions now camped on our backyard.
Yet, we wonder why the rest of the populace appear not to accede to the clarion call of the government?
Personal feuds are still allowed to take precedents while ulterior motives supersede the supreme goal. And yet, we wonder why our nation has taken the crown and continue to struggle badly, despite the avalanche of good Samaritans on our doorstep.
For once, let us forget about the importance of non-compliance by an already traumatised people.
One question is: what measure of trust and respect do we believe that the people have in the new arrow-head of the war, when the general they most trusted, openly delegates his powers to another entity who elicits mixed reactions?
The job of the President is to inspire citizens. By letting others lead his troops, he is sending out a wrong message.
This is not a blame game but a home truth that we need to start telling ourselves, if we aim at building a new nation.
Our political class might not credit the people with any sort of intelligence, but it is a well-known fact that the chopping and changing of the personnel in the top hierarchy of the so-called battle team, showed the cluelessness of our political leadership, and is not one to fill the people with much optimism.
The handling of the Ebola crisis was – simply put, not only amateurish, but also horrendously exposed the nakedness of our government outside its comfort zone of vuvuzela propaganda, despite terrorising us with statistics of its achievement.
The type of leadership we need to successfully fight a war is lacking. The commander-in-chief has responsibility for everything. You can’t continue to blame everyone else without taking responsibility, which is one of the missing links in the current dispensation.
You can’t continue to promote and encourage sycophancy, when the people need assurances. You can’t be threatening social and local leaders, when the right leadership from the top is itself a compendium of disasters.
You can’t elicit loyal followership, when the leader himself is what the late Fela describes as: “follow follow”.
Ebola has allowed much room for critical reflection from our diet of hard knocks, especially as we are still grappling with the multiple challenges of poverty, unemployment, dilapidated infrastructure and public corruption, along with an avatar of political demons, which have continued to haunt the national psyche with messy memories of our past failures.
It is a pity that Sierra Leone’s menu choice has taken the country from a mini paradise of the early 60’s to the late 70’s and through coups, political shenanigans, wanton maladministration by various leaders, civil war, a fluttering rebirth, cholera epidemic and now Ebola.
Which is why, it has become imperative that regardless of political affiliations, religious umbrella and ethnic colouration, we need to begin to speak with one accord on the kind of country that we really want – post- Ebola.
Yes, we all need to join hands to defeat Ebola, but having fed so long on a regime of trauma, under-development, subservience to those we jettisoned years back, social injustice, nepotism, corruption, favouritism and self-deceit, we need to start thinking of a future that guarantees the good life, a meaningful life, a quality life, as seen in other climes that we so admire.
But first, we need to stop dishing out chocolate candies on behalf of our leaders, because a nation in search of progress cannot afford to falter on the altar of meaningless sentiments as we continue to do.
From the look of things, if ever we win the battle with this unrepentant killer called Ebola, indications are that we might likely to continue to falter; or the actual war of survival and building a new nation, devoid of sentiments, might totally elude us.
Already, the nation has become a stinking sepulchre whose innards are strewn before our very eyes; with the silent majority who fell into the embrace of hope about six years ago, now lashing out in the bitterness of despair.
Many are wondering if they will ever wake up from this nightmare.
However, first, It is imperative to ‘Break the Yoke of Oppression’ as in the goal of the LOVE ONE ANOTHER CAMPAIGN, for the country to move forward through accountability, trust, as well as a long-term vision for the future.
What the ordinary citizens understand about dividends of democracy is the provision of basic amenities – roads, water, power supply and healthcare. All of which are conspicuously in short supply in our country, despite years of platitudes.
It is absolutely vital that this change be instituted at the top, whereby our leadership becomes the example that can be emulated.
To do this, we have to ensure that they stop selling us nothing but smoke.
We should no longer be content with being sold shadows instead of substance; sentiments instead of reality, and telling us amidst orchestrated fanfare, what we want to hear, which often amounts to nothing but hot air.
Considering the flurry of activities and the amount of money that has been pumped into this country since the end of the civil war, and the last seven years in particular, genuine evidence of the dividends of democracy and good governance are extremely difficult to find.
And that is the reason why Ebola was able to easily remove the veil of our deceit.
With the passage of time, what can best be described as socio-economic and political gerrymandering, emotional and sentimental flurry of activities – heat without fire, motion without movement and excellencies who haven’t delivered excellent services that the generality of the people can see or feel, have become the a la carte on our table.
Nevertheless, we should not despair, no matter how ominous our national break-dance of twists and turns might seem now. Whatever has a beginning must have an end.
I am quite aware, and I think we should all be, that it is unrealistic to expect our political class to behave in a manner completely different from the dominant moral atmosphere in a society.
This is one fact that we need to come to terms with, if we are to effect the desired change in the collective national psyche, as well as set the tone for a true transformation of our society.
For one, in any social order where the political class is under-performing, as is our case, we need to examine the kind of values widespread in that society, since it is nigh impossible and definitely unrealistic to expect the politicians to set the moral tone for the required paradigm shift.
While there is a consensus of opinion in some quarters that the current ruling class has done nothing but preside over an organized conspiracy to oppress, loot, degrade and ensure a society where even the phantom infrastructure is deficient, where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails and where the more you look the less you see, I would like to submit that ‘yes’ something has been done.
But, there was much more that could have been completed to make the country better – if not for the unbridled decadence and fantasy attached to the transformation agenda.
Before it got fully derailed by fifth columnists, the administration started very well – even if most of its initial actions were products of weird imagination or part of our crazy attitude to always embark on a flight of fantasy, without sparing a thought for the consequences.
There has been a marked absence of sober, frugal and in-depth attention to the genuine plight of the country and its people.
This is why today, Ebola aside, brain drain is a way of life and our youths are being destroyed by joblessness, as they roam the streets or waste away in villages.
The jobless look up to the heavens above or across the seas to countries in the horizon, in the hope that one fine day the merciful MASTER in the heavens, will open the locked doors and turn their hopes into testimonies.
Fair enough, nation building is a work-in-progress and a continuous exercise with no natural end, but given what has been sold as concrete achievements – especially in the last five years, little wonder that there is a disconnect between the submissions being made and what is reflected in the lives of majority of the people.
In spite of our rulers’ claim to having solutions to our self-inflicted problems, why have things refused to work our way?
And why are those who, all their lives, toiled to see the country grow, dying without realizing their dream of a resurgent, politically peaceful and economically prosperous nation?
There are no two ways to it – on the basis of present circumstance and future aspirations, the kind of society we want to build, must now flank out in our various roles as nation-builders and not just the whims of the political class.
2015 is an opportunity to ensure the entrenchment of the heart of democracy, which is found in the plurality of dreams, aspirations, agitations and demands; new visions and great endeavours intended to make our beloved Sierra Leone great, once again; rather than the present narrow interests anchored on individual ambitions, designs, religious and tribal considerations.
One would have thought that the huge resources committed and squandered on frivolous, white elephant and sometimes phantom projects so far, should have fixed most of our terrible problems.
But the reverse has been the case. It is time that good governance replaces politics.
The out-going year is obviously ending on a very traumatic and sour note for Sierra Leone.
But one thing I am sure of, is that 2015 will come with the paramount key to our future success and an opportunity to revisit our ideals, so that we can begin to truly lay the foundation for the kind of Sierra Leone all stake-holders can key into.
Although there is enough reason to be pessimistic about 2015, there is also good reason for hope that, working together and given the right modicum of leadership, we can collectively begin to reverse our self-immolation, and restore the innards of our country back to where it rightly belongs.
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