Sierra Leone – When bush is on fire – grasshoppers never wait to say goodbye

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 October 2016


I have just come back from a West African tour, to the increasing discourse about the national economic realities facing Sierra Leone, as our hustlers’ paradise begin to unravel.

That mighty white elephant in the room that some of us had laboured to draw attention to, but for which we were labelled as anti-government; opposition supporters; rabble rousers; attention seekers and even liars, is back with a vengeance.

When the government refused to keep it real and continued to use our resources and international stimulus for immediate personal gratification and glorified half-baked projects, without any positive outcome that would stimulate actual and sustained economic growth, we were accused of rocking the boat, even though most of us were also in the boat and do not know how to swim.

God knows this country needs a clean-up so badly. With the recent announcement of austerity measures, we should be scandalising and raging with indignation – not splitting words, now that the genie has been let out of the bottle and we are being forced to face the stark realities that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist after all.

The whole country is rotten. We’ve got to start the clean-up from somewhere, especially now that the government has thrown its hands up in the air and confessed at last that it is helpless, hopeless and ultimately clueless about ending the prolonged season of famine that has blighted the feast it claimed was on the national economic table.

president-koroma-drive-on-the-garments-of-ciitizensSadly, the public has been deprived of opinions that are rooted in reality, owing largely to the aggressive and sentimental posturing and grandstanding that have impaired commentaries on national issues and enmeshed the truth in controversy. (Photo: Despite joblessness and hunger, ruling Party sycophants in the capital Freetown spread their garments on the road upon which the president’s car has to pass).

We’ve been so cowed by our rulers and their well-choreographed razzmatazz, that we have become placid to being screwed from behind, by those elevated by society to guard the temple of our governance. What’s bad is bad.

salone poverty2When we kept on crying that the masses have been so pauperised and beaten down by poverty and illiteracy, that they can no longer discern, let alone fight for their rights; and that we are doomed unless we started to make serious and true changes, the real ugly underbelly of our politics ignored the fact that the first allegiance should be to societal morality.

As the combination of visionless leadership, depraved populace, wasted potentials and resources plundered by foreign hawks, took us up the shit creek without a paddle, we ignored the fact that this was a recipe for collapse, and it was just a matter of time.

Our madness failed to appreciate that truths and rights need no consensus; and that we need neither the Bible nor the Koran, red or green party colour, Creole or Countryman to tell us that.

When it became clear that those who could not turn the huge slosh from foreign hands into prosperity were gradually turning a crisis into a calamity with eyes wide open and brains tightly shut or between the legs of the harems on the corridors of power, we allowed them to talk at ever higher decibels, about the corrupted democracy and democratised corruption on display.

Anyway, noticeable on my West African trip, was the stark reality that just like Sierra Leone, several other countries in the region are experiencing the same crunch facing us. However, the difference, like an old 7UP advert, is very clear.

President Koroma promotes his Agenda for povertyWhile most of those countries are bending down, looking inwards and cracking on with indigenous solutions to most of their problems, our government is busy telling the town crier to raise his voice even louder about the goodies that their Santa Claus was bringing to town.

Everybody and everything else, from the accursed SLPP regime of Kabbah, to the global economic meltdown, Ebola, falling commodity prices, the IMF, loan sharks and even the hungry populace on the streets of our towns and villages, who are asking to be fed, are to blame – except the crew of the ship which has now hit the iceberg.

In the meantime, they surreptitiously search the nook and crannies of the nation for more valuable family heirloom to give away cheaply for a pot of porridge, while stretching out two hands to the world, in the beggarly fashion that we have become accustomed to. They are ready to jump in bed with anyone waving the dollar of survival at them, even if it meant another albatross round our already stiff neck.

Amidst the emerging decay in our national ethos, our contrived and collective spiral of silence is leaving only the soulless carcass of a nation and we appear not bothered, or too bogged down by our individual plight, to give a damn about the future.

tribal-support-for-president-koroma-at-2016-un-conferenceOthers feeding off the system, continue to defend the indefensible for whatever reasons that take their fancy: – blind loyalty to person or party, ethnic colouration, religious persuasion or sheer ignorance.

Finally, the cracks that have been papered over by the continued allusions to the messianic journey President Koroma’s regime was supposed to have been taking us, have come unstuck. The boatload of promises have turned out to be nothing but a teaspoon of unrobust and unenduring plans, in a state with weak institutions and dysfunctional structures.

A combination of factors, least of which are maladministration, gross incompetence, kleptomania and grand illusion, as well as unfavourable global economic situation and wily investors – some of whom deserted us in our hour of need, have turned the gilded carriage of the government into a pumpkin.

In other words, the masquerade can no longer control his dance in the public market and has now mistakenly flogged his own mother who is also a trader in the square. We did warn that this would happen, but patrons of the administration saw the criticisms as anti-divine.

Among many others, the main preoccupation of government, apart from safeguarding the lives and property of the citizens, is to establish long term stability in an enabling economic environment that creates employment opportunities.

It is also meant to ensure a modicum of equity and to fashion out appropriate and dynamic mechanisms for justice and an egalitarian society, whose value system and moral reset serve as the foundation for rebuilding or total overhaul.

It was critical that rather than the amusing cabaret which began with the Electrolux contract (remember that warning sign?), our entire socio-political and economic system needed root canal treatment and not interim measures anymore. What we needed most was a medium-term plan of 3 – 5 years to turn the then near-comatose economy around and plant a new and firm orchard.

President koroma and victor foh at APC conference 30 april 2015Instead, with the connivance of those who have personalised the country, hustlers and others without real integrity, we allowed packaged perception and a whirlpool of holistic and cohesive deception to lead us into what has now become a very awful socio-economic storm.

Sadly, it was symptomatic of the wider societal turmoil that has been our experience of governance.

True, the people needed hope. But the kind of bedtime stories and fanciful citations that were being bandied about in the last eight and a half years, did not truly address our long-term future, through the critical engagement with the realities of the present. We mistook the clouds for the skies, motion for movement and fanfare for the real thing.

We forgot to appreciate the fact that when the bush is on fire, the grasshopper never waits to say goodbye.

In the midst of the happiness of foreign dosh and wholesale donation of our natural resources to fair-weather friends, we forgot that in the long-run, there will always be a brutal danger and truth in the planlessness and wanton greed of our leaders.

President Koroma and Frank Timis - who pays the piper calls the tune

The government kept trying to colour the unintuitive and out-dated administrative and governance systems that were in operation, ignoring the challenges that have to be overcome if we were to have a strong and dynamic, long-term, radical programme of socio-economic and political re-engineering which were consistent with a well-conceived and reliable ideological agenda of reform.

But, to ignore the facts does not change the facts. We are where we are today, because we have failed to tackle the elephant in our governance which fuelled the banal sense of utopia that the government wanted us to wallow in.

president-koroma-and-the-chinese-airport-delegation-june-2016As they glowed in self-righteousness which reduced the veracity of their claims of a better tomorrow for all, to nothing but an after-thought, those in power erroneously failed to realise that the idea that lofty pronouncements alone can render the situation we find ourselves to a minor inconvenience, is too grandiose – as current realities are unravelling.

That, without moral reawakening and social re-engineering, Sierra Leone cannot change, since we are operating a rotten system in its totality.

Sadly, some of us continue to protect the pretensions and follies of a privileged few, having failed to realise that the person who goes to sleep with an itching rectum, wakes up with smelly fingers.

Let me ask, what has been our emotional reaction to the thieving that has plagued our economy since the advent of the current regime? An honest answer will say a lot more about us and the vacuum that now passes for our moral values.

Indeed, the evils that we have created – our hopeless obsession with ancient and narrow-minded sentiments; turning a blind eye to the restiveness of especially the young ones; the institutionalisation of greed as a badge of honour and impunity as a feather in our caps; the bastardisation of democratic ethos and the desecration of societal values that make for progress, have come full circle.

The whole charade of the past eight years has become more like a wink and a tap.

You won’t believe what’s going on in the corridors of power. Our leaders are easier to penetrate than rain in a basket. They are the tools that “needle” the other tiers of governance and our society, in the ever increasing desecration of all values and ethos.

Obviously, how to raise money to reflate the economy is our immediate challenge. In the face of the need for some form of continuity, there is also the issue of how to stem the inherent absurdity in the systemic rot of our existence.

Experience has shown that our system and corruption are so interwoven and un-separable, that removing one will kill the other. We are also still locked into the high-value, low-volume mindset, in approaching the rebuilding of the economy, while our attempts at mass empowerment are – to be polite and mediocre-forming.

Allocation, foreign borrowings, more debt burden and general deception are not the solution. We should focus on utilisation and impact target attainment of available resources. Money on its own cannot solve our problems and we don’t begin to have nearly enough of it any way.

Freetown Street market This is where the intervention of the collective is crucial, before the greed of a few lands everyone in bigger crisis. Time is not on our side and the leadership must step in intelligently to stem the looming disaster.

One of the major errors we have been making is to focus on the economy as an abstract entity, without taking into cognizance, the fact that the individual consumer is a key element of whatever policies that is formulated.

Until there is an increase in the disposable income of citizens – expanding their effective demand, rather than the sustenance of an ill-equipped, over-bloated drain of a government and its burdensome structures, the nation will continue to go round in circles. Our leaders will continue to talk the language of the cave, as we head for more monumental economic and social calamities.

Injecting a stimulus into the economy must be done in such a way that it has immediate effect, but is used for long term development. We can surmise that what is required is not just ethical reorientation, but genetic engineering.

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