Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 May 2013
Actions it is said have consequences. Plans have implications. Sadly, policy paralysis is leaving many ordinary Sierra Leoneans in the cauldron of agony, as hunger, poverty and economic hardship, caused by the lack of an appropriate and relevant structural transformation agenda for prosperity.
An African saying wisely warns that you should beware of a naked man who offers you clothes. Barely six months after last year’s general elections, the so called ‘operation 4-4-4’, embraced by the majority, has yielded only the dividend of ‘rough-rough-rough’ for the average Sierra Leonean, who is no longer waving- but drowning.
They are gasping for palliatives, amidst rising inflation.
While they welcome roads, they will be happier with food more. They would have liked life to be a little easier for themselves and their families, just as it is for those who throw crumbs at them.
The inability of policy makers to balance infrastructural transformation with bread and butter social needs that gives them succour, is detracting from what is on offer overall.
Yes, the world might give kudos to the ‘overwhelming development’ going on in a country that is still nowhere near what it used to be. But to the average Sierra Leonean, all that is going on in the nation’s economic realm right now is like a doctor prescribing a terminal patient with panadol.
To the average Sierra Leonean, the government is spending money on some symbols that are to the glory of money, like a drunken sailor on shore leave who has just received discharged grant, even though his family are starving at home.
The dubious delight of the past five years is gradually paling into insignificance. The people are now realising that some nationalistic economic and socio-political realities pervading today are far-fetched at most or distorted at best.
Even though the government has carried out the most sweeping rehabilitation of the country since the late 1970’s, the inability to come to grips with the mundane issues affecting the generality of the people is paving the way for the solidification of a society of deep-inequality and a country teeming with divisions of status, dogma and ethnicity.
True, since the emergence of President Koroma’s administration, Sierra Leone has been catching its breath and checking its pulse to see if our decrepit socio-political and economic institutions from the ghastly spectre of yesteryears, could survive the aftermath of our utter neglect and the socio-political intrigues that led to the decade-long senseless civil war.
To a large extent, the ride has been a lively one, considering the immediate past and the struggle to deal with the mountain of critical issues afflicting the country.
The initial thrill of course, came from the dim lights in the homes and the vibrant sound of the diggers on our roads.
Consequently, the then new administration became a sanctuary for a ‘persecuted faith of the down-trodden’, especially with the leadership entering a hallucination and promising that the expanding infrastructural development would create a more utopian society.
Sacrificing all for the ultimate political immortality and revelling in a moniker that’s within the realm that is clearly an untested and highly theoretical experiment in social and economic engineering, the government based its progress on the simple mantra of playing every achievement, like an orchestra conductor waiting for the audience’s reaction and applause for an encore.
It would have been brilliant, if decency and transparency had acted as an antiseptic for our body politic to make it cleaner; to heal the scars of tribalism and remove the cover of mass poverty.
Instead, it gradually began walking the tight-rope between democratic ideals and conflict with much-needed socio-economic perspective backed by purely selfish political wind.
As the novelty wore out, nagging experiences of the past, could not but make you feel as though beneath the glitter, lay a crippling of a sluggish passion that might soon be diluted into indifference and probably a tiresome struggle for the ostracised many in our society and an exciting and promising future for a few chosen ones.
As the spring clean of ideas reeked of the dead touch of the intern, the beacon of hope slipped into a backyard dream and a conspiracy of silence and respectability from the realm of tactical politics, enveloped the poor piece of social engineering.
Then and now, as an observer, your initial feeling is that Sierra Leone is on the starting point of something that is not only worthy, but which might also stutter in its embryonic stage and fail to reach satisfactory fruition; but which no doubt has some nobility in its intriguing and entertaining concept, as it unfolds.
Unfortunately, the stars and their Moses’ never promised an Israelites’ journey.
Now, I have long realised that politics is about playing on people’s intelligence and emotional and sentimental attachments. What I have not been able to quite fathom is that it’s on the edge of the phantom.
Believe me, no amount of hand-wringing, rationalisation or spin can explain why we, as a people, continue to revert to sentiments, ethnicity and such hogwash when it comes to our collective future.
The questions has to be asked, when will the circus in our governance that makes people hail upfront and grumble behind, come to an end?
Since we have ensured that rationalisation and reality are rarely allowed to intrude into what is gradually becoming an emotionally-charged debate over socio-political and economic performance, the result from all indications is that our politics and society is weaker, not stronger for such intolerant interventions, which debase and trivialise the line of debate.
The constant retort to ‘politricks’ of the lost plot exposes the inherent knocking knees of our governance and future. It challenges any attempt at sensible national political discourse outside our leaders’ purview.
This is like a dance in the end zone. It underlines the bankruptcy of our politics and prevents the contours of future development and prosperity from coming into view.
So let’s deal with the complicated nature of our present realities first, as a platform for the truth and our future, because people seem to be talking about them as if they are about our leaders alone.
We have the tendency to deny that there is something to discuss. We focus on trivial and ignore deeper factors that are really the cancer that’s eating us. Yet we tend to wonder why some should be searching for meaning in a world full of madness.
While the majority outside the privileged upper class of Sierra Leoneans have just one refrain: “things are tough”, they see what is going on around them as the last viewing of a body at a wake.
And our deliberate blindness to the fact that the subtleties of the first 100 days that defined the emergence of the Koroma administration, and which has now been lost amid the carnage that is the true plight of the people, makes it difficult for the people to appreciate that government has devised practical solutions for their everyday problems.
But where would we rather have our problems? Festering away like rotting fruits in the dark corners of our society or carefully and clearly laid out before us, where they can be systematically fixed?
We need to remember that when you are in a knife fight with those whose persuasions lie in a totally different ideology, it is obviously risky to send in a healer instead of a warrior.
Now, if the outlook of poverty is howling and your head is exploding in an asylum full of self-serving, pompous and untrustworthy betters – who take the people for granted and believe that they answer to themselves only, do you sit down, fold your hands and sip your drink; or do you continue to bang your head on the wall until something gives?
Since this is a manifestation of the same storm that got us drifting towards near-extinction, for me, I think it is better to continue to hit the drums for a plethora of urgent measures to tackle the acute poverty that we gloss over; to promote the plight of our youths and to protect the integrity of our governance.
I say this, not because I am anti-government, but because I am pro the catharsis of Sierra Leone and the plebs. Honesty in politics can be a gift or a weapon.
It needs to ensure that the machinery of law enforcement, contract awards etc, which have been gradually rewired for political ends and which give the indication that the government is not only running on the wrong political fuel, but is also stridently accelerating an already perceptible drift, are overhauled.
Because right now, it appears as if we have an arrogant and supporting class, which must have had a conscience by-pass for a government.
This model of self-delusion and its brash culture of unthinking praise at the altar of myth of political obstinacy is likely to sow the seeds of destruction, especially with the current aggressiveness on display.
I am quite aware of the fact that where there is a strong political consensus – where inevitably, the more vocal group and those enjoying widespread support and financial backing succeed in suppressing views they do not agree with, it is hard for minority opinions to hold firm or be heard.
Therefore, with due respect to President Koroma as he carries out his functions in this his final and highly expectant term in which the sake of the country becomes even more paramount, he MUST not only transcend party politics, but must ensure that he ignores the morally-bankrupt lackeys in the corridors of power.
They think that aspiration is what you take for a headache, and would want us to join them in the conspiracy of silence and ‘respectability’ that underpins our governance.
The rank amateurism that is often on display, any time divergent opinions are raised, also point to a pitiable future, even though we have yet to completely remove these facets from our national life and return to the ethic of public service, which so widely prevailed in days gone by.
Given the outcome of the last national polls, it is obvious that the political and public climate was unusually benevolent, especially, if we consider the explosive mix of the admirable and the distinctly worrying shallowness of our society.
There is a casual relationship with the truth, while precious little is being done about the inherent socio-economic landmines.
They do not see nationalistic views about our dear nation and the needs of the people – championed by our leaders, as a key pillar of the administration’s resolve to bring about the desired turnaround in the society.
Apart from mysterious dark forces, some of the President’s acolytes who have their sight firmly on 2017, are already thinking beyond his programme and digging the trenches for the battle of five years ahead. But, that is not really the issue here.
They are beginning to sing the chorus that will make him believe that any shrill screams of outrage or clamour for better administration, should be perceived as a perfidious irritation akin to mosquitoes buzzing and rabble rousing from opposition members.
Even where the kind of questions asked or issues raised are exactly those to which answers must be given, if the public is to have a genuine appreciation of the President’s character and the veritable focus of his administration, such lieutenants throw deference to individual perceptions out of the window.
And instead of a comprehensive and sincere overview, puff out their chest and act cock-of-the-roost.
In a way, those in power might be annoyed that most of the running, in terms of hostility, has been made by people not openly seen as supporters. In another, though, they should be grateful.
Because the government’s apparent failure to anticipate or take serious, the indignation of the majority of those without a voice as well as non-partisan Sierra Leoneans is a recipe for the undercurrent of social tension – especially when people see access to the corridors of power as a meal ticket for the undeserving.
Coupled with this is the delight of those who sense a crack in the administration’s defences of its record. The result is that both factors have thus obscured the much bigger picture, which is that after five years in office, the government has failed in its promise to turn the country into an El-Dorado.
Continually taking on those with opposing views with all the arsenals in the armoury, exposes a destructive petulance. And by throwing the toys out of the prams for non-recognition of perceived achievements, shows warped priorities.
Unfortunately, we are not going to get the desired progress, unless the people on one hand and those at the top on the other hand, decide it is important and that the time is ripe for unity of purpose.
Even though the rot in our society is mostly at the top, there is no paragon of the nation’s progress, because the low hanging fruits of decency, truth and justice – as well as selfless service, are yet to be picked across the strata.
I chuckled when I heard the strenuous public service announcement on radio, denying that President Koroma is planning to slither into a sinister third term.
Having to go to that extent as it lowers the bar all the way through like a limbo dancer, shows that no matter how much it wants to stagger to the finish line like an exhausted marathon runner, the threatening atmosphere that tended to hang over our politics like a dark cloud ready to burst, is beginning to become as nauseating as the competitive fawning that has been the hallmark of the past five years.
It shows that people are no longer willing to just watch the government tinker with the status quo by applying a sticking plaster, when radical surgery or complete amputation of society is what is required.
Even then, the last word has not been heard of the third term bid. It is likely to return like a drunk, gate-crashing a wake keeping, because that is one of the underlying truths about our realities. Mark my words.