Sierra Leone: A nation at a crossroad

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 June 2013

africa chinaEven though it is more pleasant at this point in time to chew our way gradually to salvation, we seem to be in a hurry to swallow. Unfortunately, we are not even checking the content of our consumption.

To crown it all, suddenly our political leaders are becoming more mysterious than the Almighty. They are like a maths teacher whose sums don’t add up or a musician who is unable to face the music.

It is gradually dawning on discerning minds that the circus came to town, in the life of the nation, at exactly the wrong time in our socio-economic and political evolution.

At this time that leadership, sacrifice and true visionary march which will erase the mistakes of the past are needed and deserves all the seriousness we can muster to bite the silver bullet, we are finding out with a bit of razzle dazzle that we can only continue on our journey of redemption, using someone else’s donkey.

Prosperity? Ah yes – a vision more distant from reality than anything ever possible.

That cringe-worthy slogan and its over-egged pudding, ensures that majority of the population will not only remain ignorant, but will continue to break rocks in a chain-gang, once the day job of our ancestors.

Shaped by political expediency, that policy, along with the deluded claims that our economy is in the super league of world growth, gives a damning insight into the mental attitude and state of mind of those who rule over us and who must have a pathological hatred for truth and the future of a truly liberated nation.

Freetown youthsBecause, apart from this self-delusion, the failure to recognise that there is nothing in the horizon that indicates a change in the immediate future for the teeming young men and women of Sierra Leone, whose tomorrow is all that matters really, will lead to dire consequences as was the case when the problems started rearing their heads – following Siaka Stevens’ recklessness.

Right now, the truth is that the green shoots of prosperity are extremely thin on the ground and I am equally, if not more disturbed, by the disparity between our reality and disseminated reports.

Alpha kanu4Although each day we are regaled with glossy information, showing how well we are doing and the superhuman efforts of our leaders, this selective euphoric-inducing reports are blighting the true pictures of our hopes and aspirations that are being squandered. (Photo – affluent ministers).

Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of and happy to celebrate the recent gains and achievements of the past twelve years since the war ended, and in particular the last six years since President Koroma’s ascendancy.

My problem is that while we should be grateful, as they have been a long time coming, it is too soon to dwell on these gains, turn them into a swansong and go to bed.

There is still so much to do just to get the basics to our fellow citizens. Like someone once said; “forward guidance does not amount to a hill of beans.”

This is why for example; the current rate of unemployment is not only socially dangerous, but a threat to our very national security and future.

Scoff, if you want to. But let me tell you one truth: Poverty and disenfranchisement is sowing the seed of discontentment in our youths. The lack of decent economic opportunities has led to disgruntlement and desperation.

This has in turn led to increasing vices such as drug trafficking, fraudulent practices, prostitution, robbery and other devil’s a la carte, among the nation’s leaders of tomorrow.

All these and more, reflect a fatigue with what the general populace gets from the government.

president koroma - sumana - police chief 2012They are tired of corruption, of nepotism, of scandals and incompetence; of poor or non-existent public services and of squabbles and intrigues in high places.

They have gone deaf to the chants of a better tomorrow, when they are not sure they will see the end of today.

As they lavish in penury, the perceived arrogance and corruption of our political elites in particular and the urban bourgeoisie in general, are not only fanning the flames of displeasure, they are also adding poignancy to the socio-economic problems of the nation.

With their hopes and aspirations squandered, they cast envious glances towards yonder shores and the lure of financial rewards and a truly better life, rather than political ideology or national identity. This changes their vision and sucks all the patriotism out of their sinews.

A generation scarred for life by our senseless civil war, joblessness, social and political recklessness as well as tribalism, religious bigotry and corruption, is seething in suppressed anger, as disgruntled young men and women become radicalised in their thoughts and focus.

As it stands, if urgent measures are not taken to tame this Shrew, the experience of places like Nigeria, Mali, Sudan, Somalia, etc beckons.

We are preparing the grounds for another Foday Sankoh; only this time it will not be on political grounds – but in socio-cultural extremism.

And when this happens, it will not only offer them an ideology, but will be financially more rewarding to the youths than the present life to which they have been condemned.

And please don’t laugh it away. How many of us really ever thought that this lovely country called Sierra Leone, could ever descend to the level of barbarism and viciousness exhibited during the decade long civil war?

In fact, to those old enough, who ever thought that the beauty of West Africa, especially after the freedom marches of the 1960’s, would ever be blighted by wars, acute poverty and economic slavery?

Malian army - BBCOne thing that has been prevalent in African political history is the copy-cat syndrome. At one time, it became fashionable to stage a coup; it was the order of the day. Then it was civil wars and political upheavals.

So don’t wash it away with a dismissive yawn, because it might just come to haunt us, if we are not careful.

Diamond miningAnyway, back to the main issue. As the youths watch the marginalisation of poorer communities and some ethnic groups in silence; as they see their mining resources being given away under the cover of darkness and see foreign faces become Lords of the Manor in what is supposed to be their backyards and their fathers’ lands; oh! as the illegal and immoral financial benefits from deals that are meant for the majority, benefit only a few shifty politicians and their cohorts, while the nation bleeds from the cuts of its deprivation – they are beginning to realise that something is definitely wrong somewhere, further alienating the governed from the governing class.

It is obvious that the ecstasy caused by the initial stream of concerted and well-coordinated reports of feeble economic growth, churned out as footnotes to the notion of a booming Sierra Leone, are crowding out what is still the reality for many, if not most of our compatriots.

salone poverty1Without fear of repetition, while new roads are sprouting up and the sound and boom of machinery are being heard at the precious mines, let us not for one minute take our eyes off the ball itself – the millions of destitute people eking out a living in teeming slums and shanty towns.

This remains the reality, because thoughts about their salvation in truth are as big as a stamp on a forty foot container.

Millions are said to be pumped into agriculture which used to be the mainstay of our economy, yet most of those peasants in the provinces are still using hoes and cutlasses, hence farming yields are far from expectations.

So the cost of foodstuffs keep aiming for the skies, while the little money in the pockets of the many do a disappearing act anytime they visit the markets.

Young talents with connections in high places from the Diaspora are answering the clarion call, and our newly tarred roads are populated by their exotic cars and jeeps. But won’t it be better if the party invitation could be extended to all citizens?

Thousands of children, who should be learning their ways to a better future, are out of primary and secondary schools, roaming the streets idly or hawking goods that bring no succour at the end of the day.

Yet we continue to tiptoe around this volatile and heart-breaking socio-political and economic debate, for fear of upsetting the ludicrous aspirations of the self-perpetuating privileged political class in power.

It is sheer hypocrisy for apologists to insist that we simply continue to gloat at the good deeds that the government is doing or has done, when the luxury lifestyle of government personnel and those close to them have increased a hundredfold and the majority continue to see only blackness around them.

No doubt this is Sierra Leone’s hour and there is no turning back, but being at the crossroad at dawn, means crossing the Rubicon early to avoid social upheavals and a surge in support for social division, which is causing havoc across the world.