Sierra Leone at 58 – A letter to prime minister Sir Milton Margai

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 April 2019:

Dear Sir Milton, I am so pleased to get in touch with you, even though you are on the other side of the veil. I write this letter to you as we plan on celebrating the Independence you and your colleagues won for us in 1961, a good 58 year ago.

It is not a letter of complaint but merely one meant to update you on things – more specifically to inform you that things have not gone according to plan.

We were all euphoric when we won independence after more than 150 years of British colonial rule on April 27, 1961. At the stroke of midnight, our green, white and blue flag was unfurled.

You recall that a huge crowd, gathered at the Brookfields Playground in Freetown to watch the historic moment. (Photo: Sir Miltom margai).

The day formally began as the Duke of Kent handed over royal instruments recognising Sierra Leone as an independent nation. Sir Maurice Dorman, Governor  was then sworn in as Governor-General by Chief Justice Beoku Betts.

But what I want you to recall is not so much the pomp and pageantry as you were a simple man who wore shorts and driven around with little fanfare – no convoys, no soldiers in dark glasses with RPGs.

What I want you to recall Sir Milton is the speech you gave on that day which I am pondering over up to this day.

Let me quote a few of the immortal lines – some words of foreboding which you gave us: “We must also face up squarely to the problems which will confront us, and I want you all to understand clearly that the Sierra Leone Government in future will depend very greatly upon the active support and assistance of each one of you…..I ask you to deal fairly and honestly with your fellow men, to discourage lawlessness, and to strive actively for peace, friendship and unity in our country …….I would like to make it clear that independence will not result in any sudden changes in our day-to-day life.”

“The significant change is that we are now in complete control of our destiny and for the formulation of our external as well as our internal policies. I wish you all to be assured that we in Sierra Leone will stand for the freedom and prosperity of men everywhere.”

Well, you must know by now that after some internal wrangling in your party following your transition to the great beyond, your brother Albert took over. Since then we have had an interesting history – probably not much to your liking, but as we still say “How for do”.

Perhaps on second thoughts this was not unexpected. You must recall Siaka Stevens’ protest about the independence issue. Independence festivities were overshadowed by the state of emergency, declared ten days earlier following a campaign of sabotage by his opposition All People’s Congress Party (APC).

You recall that the APC had been urging that independence should be postponed until free elections were held. Siaka Stevens, its leader was arrested about a week to independence along with his right-hand man Wallace Johnston and 16 other party members. They had been planning a general strike to coincide with the independence celebrations, and the government feared riots would break out if the strike went ahead.

Well, it would seem we went into independence with this and many problems simmering beneath the surface, some of which are with us to this day.

As much as you and your colleagues were euphoric about winning independence from our colonial masters, we have found out that some of the legacies they bequeathed to us are still hampering our development up to this day.

First, as a nation the euphoria of independence was overtaken by a realisation that we did not have a solid pervasive foundation of governance, education or infrastructure on which to anchor our nascent state firmly.

Our educational system had been geared towards training administrators. You also recall that during the colonial period, most West African countries including ours concentrated on the production and marketing of one or two export (cash) crops – for us we depended on oil palm and cocoa.

Our African countries were also structured to be permanently dependent on Western nations. They were consigned the role of primary producers for processing in the West. The terms of trade in the Western controlled international market has continued to discriminate against African nations who are unable to earn enough to develop their economies.

We have not been spared from this. Also, the prices of agricultural goods have been falling in the international markets since the 1970s.

Also. Sir Milton, you remember well that one of the most pressing challenges we faced at independence was the lack of infrastructure. The British left us with little in the way of infrastructure.

We also lacked the manufacturing infrastructure to add value to raw materials. Rich as we were in cash crops and minerals, we could not process these goods ourselves.

We have thus become locked into cycles of dependencies on our former colonial master and others.

This is not a time to complain, Sir Milton. We have to move ahead. What irks me, Sir Milton is that although some South East Asian countries initially suffered the same fate, they have gotten over most of these problems and become advanced economies.

I would not like to tell you about Malaysia and Singapore – you will just drop dead – excuse the pawn Sir! I know you must be thinking – “That Malaysia we taught oil palm planting?”

Anyway, as I said, I don’t want to dwell on what could have been. Let me just give you a status report – some good, some bad. First the bad news Sir.

Well Sir, since you left, a prolonged period of one-party governance, a series of coups and a rebel war that devastated our economy have all come and gone. Post war, we have rebuilt, rehabilitated, tinkered with governance structures, embarked on a sustained period of democracy to hopefully be on a path of change and prosperity. This has however been a forlorn hope. We have been saddled with a big debt burden.

In our desire to provide needed services for our people and initiate capital projects, we, like other African countries have resorted to massive borrowing with high interest rates, from abroad.

Talk about our youths? Well before this, let me tell you that this is not the Sierra Leone you used to know. That population of 2.6 million people in 1961 has exploded to 7.4 million Sir. I know you will probably think we have not been sleeping -excuse the pawn!

Imagine, three times the number you used to know, with not significant changes in infrastructure.

We have had serious employment problems and the youth have been the greatest victims. Between 60 and 75 per cent of our population consists of young people. These youth are able-bodied but unskilled, jobless and alienated.

Twice in the space of less than 25 years we have been taught an object lesson that human security trumps all threats to our nation’s survival. First, it was a devastating civil war and then came an epidemic that made us measure national progress or lack thereof in terms of infection rates and deaths.

The food business is very serious Sir. We cannot feed ourselves. Food prices have remained high. Households spend on average 63% of their total expenditure on food. Some 60% of the population live below the national poverty line of US$2 day.

Ok I can go on and on! The fact remains that our living standards have fallen constantly since independence in 1961.

I don’t intend to write a long letter Sir, but let me just tell you that we have scored a lot of own goals because many of our problems have stemmed from bad governance since you left. Let me just summarise for you Sir. You can find out more details from many of your young colleagues you knew -if many of them are lucky to be in the same location (some are probably elsewhere).

  • Our educational standards have dropped to abysmal levell
  • I know you looked after many pregnant women and their children but you will be shocked to learn that our maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world

I would however want to inform you about the effect of bad governance on our wellbeing. Our politics is based largely on tribal and regional lines, Sir. Your party, the SLPP and Siaka Stevens’ APC are like “Tom and Jerry” – they are still fighting.

Since you left, we have had numerous other parties – some have come and gone but these two parties still remain strong and are at each other’s throat.

Corruption has become rampant. Meritocracy has got thrown out the window. The party in power also controls nearly everything. Indiscipline in rampant.

And lest I forget, let me talk about the judiciary, Sir or better still let me say very little, as even lawyers advise not to take cases to court. The constitution is quite another matter Sir – I am sure Justice Cowan will report to you – it is not worth the paper it is written on.

And Sir, oh I nearly forgot. You were Prime Minister, but we now have a Republic and President and we are supposed to have separation of powers. But Sir, the Legislative Branch and the Judiciary easily acquiesce to the whims of the Executive. Whoever is President is very powerful.

Sir Milton Sir, I know I have been too negative, so instead of giving you a heart attack – excuse the pawn again Sir, let me tell you about some of the good news. Though I complained about education Sir, there are now more schools and more people going to school and a much higher literacy rate.

You even have graduates who are Okada riders. I know you don’t know what an Okada is, Sir, but I will explain later.

You will also be pleased to know that although we have had our upheavals, we have now had changes in government through the ballot box for the past few elections. The plurality of the press is astounding Sir. We have countless newspapers and radio stations and everybody can say his or her piece.

You however don’t want to hear about social media Sir. It is necessary but could be a humbug. It is a supreme irony that even though our politics is divided by tribe and region, intermarriages are commonplace.

We complain about the roads but quite honestly you have some good roads now Sir. You can drive from Freetown to Pendembu and Freetown to Kambia on tarred road. Oh, one bad news – lest I forget – the railway was scrapped, bringing a lot of hardship to rural farmers and the populace.

We are trying to join the modern world and now use ICT services Sir. I know you don’t know about the internet Sir, but just take it from me that although we are way behind other countries, communication has improved tremendously.

I can go on and on but I must stop here Sir. You can get the rest of the news from some late arrivals to your new abode. But I would like to end with an appeal to you Sir, to deliver a speech to us on national cohesion as we celebrate this independence anniversary.

As you very well know, we cannot develop as a nation if we do not have national cohesion.  Also talk to us about sacrifice Sir. A good 58 years after independence, we Sierra Leoneans should recognise that personal sacrifice on our part is essential.

Well, Sir, I will keep in touch once on a while to update you. I do not wish to join you soon as you need somebody reliable here on the ground to update you about developments.

Meanwhile, please wish all of us Sierra Leoneans well, as we celebrate the 58th anniversary of this independence you and your colleagues fought for.

Yours sincerely,
A patriotic citizen – Ponder my thoughts

7 Comments

  1. Sahr Matturi

    One can never dispute the fact that within the period in question many unsung heroes and heroines emerged like K.I.Kai Samba, Luseni Brewar, Berthan Macayley and others. These were selfless, patriotic Sierra Leoneans who simply wanted to project the image of Sierra Leone.

    It is just that when independence day comes around the attraction has to be Sir Milton. Perhaps more than all the leaders we have had hitherto he was the only one who had the unwavering understanding that our country was/is made up of many ethnic groups who should all be made to feel that they had a stake in whatever went on in the country.

    To me Sir Milton will always be the best, because he was ethically and morally clean as well as honest. May his soul rest in peace.

    • You are perfectly right Santhkie. For some reasons, I failed to mention the individuals you have just listed. They were great people and also PATRIOTS. Thanks Santhkie.

  2. Whenever Andrew Keili writes,it is quite broad and encompassing.One can only pick out an element or two of the piece for commentary.

    I have chosen national cohesion which is significantly lacking even though “intermarriages are common place”. From all that I have read and heard Sir Milton was for national cohesion just like the late former leader of Tanzania – Julius Nyerere.

    Julius Nyerere was able to blend together numerous and diverse ethnic groups to the point where they saw themselves first as Tanzanians before anything else. As the man who led the country to independence he was able to discern very quickly that his country was at a crude state ethnically and so he set about the refinement skillfully. Today Tanzanians are enjoying the fruits of Julius Nyerere’s far sighted vision for which, I am sure, he is being rewarded handsomely in the hereafter.

    Sir Milton had the same vision, but sadly this is where the similarity ends with Julius Nyerere. While the latter was at the elm long enough to to see his vision materialise, the latter was thwarted by being recalled by the Almighty – an invaluable loss to Sierra Leone, the repercussions of which are still being felt in every corner of the country.

    Had Sir Milton lived at most for another seven years, SLPP would not have fragmented. Siaka Stevens, therefore would not have won the 1967 general elections, which was where the country tripped and fell flat on its back, for by the time Siaka Stevens was through with mother Sierra Leone she was on death throes.

    The fragmentation of SLPP gathered momentum, according to some historians, when John Karefa-smart, a northerner,was denied the leadership of the party for the forthcoming general elections of 1967, contrary to what Sir Milton had advocated in the event that he was unable to beat his illness which indeed took him away from us.With the departure of John Karefa-smart and others from SLPP the north became a grave yard for SLPP to this day.

    The emergence of Siaka Stevens destroyed everything that Sir Milton had envisaged.

    Thank you very much Mr Keili for making light of a grim issue.

    • Santhkie, don’t forget the late Mr. Salia Jusu Sheriff and late Mr. Sahr L. Matturi, who had then, the capacity and influence to pass a vote of no confidence on the then care taker Prime Minister Sir Albert Margai.

      Mr. Salia Jusu Sheriff and Mr. Sahr L. Matturi later changed their minds for the sake of party unity, although they saw the weakness of Sir Albert Margai. It was a very dangerous mistake, which in my view led to the late Mr. Siaka Stevens becoming Prime Minister. They should have just voted Sir Albert Margai out and prepare the party for the 1967 elections. There was enough time. Unfortunately, it did not happen. It was a shame.

      Sir Albert Margai made a big mistake first of all by teaming with Mr. Siaka Stevens to establish the PNP (which was termed as PIKIN NA PIKIN by the late Sir Milton Margai).

      Had it not been for the sake of party unity, either Mr. Salia Jusu Sherif or Mr. Sahr L. Matturi would have won that 1967 elections with flying colours and would have been elected Prime Minister. What a missed opportunity.

      When Stevens came to power, he placed Sheriff and Matturi under the RADAR and close SURVEILLANCE. After some years, Mr. Salia Jusu Sheriff accepted becoming a minister under the one party state but Mr. Sahr L. Matturi refused. He wanted GOLD (SH) just like me. However, he later accepted the position of DIRECTOR of the then DICOWAF(Diamond Corporation of West Africa) to make sure that our DIAMONDS are sold for the best price and the money used for the good of the country. It did happened. AH TELL YOU (a slogan for confirmation in KRIO).

      So, let us don’t forget these two great former SLPP progressive and inclusive men. May their souls rest in perfect peace. AMEN AND AMEN.

  3. This has got to be a real letter that Sir Milton needed to read and maybe he can (if possible) find solution and send it to us by way of dreams, so we will develop as a nation.

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