Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 July 2013
Let’s be blunt about it, the manner of our search for foreign succour is like a randy 70 year-old roaming all over town and inviting a nymphomaniac to be the live-in housemaid. The moment that happens, it’s obvious his death is definitely very near.
Therefore, as we grin like a Cheshire cat and beam with satisfaction at the orderly queues of attractive suitors seeking our hand in marriage, under the guise of one ‘arrangee’ wedlock or the other, it is instructive to peep into the mindset of the world’s ‘handsome hunks’ who are queuing up to take the hand of a recklessly wealthy bride that we have become.
Now, a big goat does not sneeze without a reason.
As the government of Sierra Leone pats itself on the back and raises a glass to toast another stage in its amorous life, while proclaiming with strong emotions – the passionate love with the Chinese Yuan, there is the need to realise that hidden beneath the auto-cued speech and politeness of the several leaders we go pandering to, is a thermostat to track our desperation for assistance and how best to seduce us further into surrendering our heritage for their own lust.
Two statements buttress this point: First is the Japanese Prime Minister, who says: “Africa will be an engine for world growth in the coming decades until the middle of this century at least, and now is the time Japan has to invest more on the continent.” But why not before?
Then listen to US President Obama on his recent second visit to the continent: “because Africa is rising and it is in the United States interests… that America doesn’t miss the opportunity to deepen and broaden the partnerships and potential here”.
The poor widow is lonely, dying for romance and ready to be plucked.
Instructively however is what he says next: “Somebody says they want to come build something here, are they hiring African workers? Somebody says … we want to help you develop your natural resources – how much of the money is staying in Africa? “I do think it’s important for Africans to make sure these interactions are good for Africa.”
While the last paragraph may be a dig at our current ‘live-in lover’ – the Chinese, we all know that if you fetch firewood infested with ants, all you’ve done is to invite the lizards for a banquet in your house.
Since the advent of the present administration, there have been many grand dreams and schemes for the country. In pursuit of this, several millions of dollars from diverse, clean and tainted sources have poured into our coffers for new roads and other infrastructural projects.
Yet, there seems to be a disconnect between the high-flown rhetoric that accompanies the announcements of such assistance and benevolence, and the difficult world of its reality, especially for those who are meant to be the beneficiaries – the people of Sierra Leone.
All that has happened is that the maddening dash for this lifeline, has not only exposed our backside, but its current inequitable arrangement, which is wrapped like a Greek gift, has ensured that almost six years down the line, those countries, foreign individuals and organisations that have or are now singing the praises of our potentials, have become nothing but vultures waiting for the last carcass when the lion has devoured the buffalo.
When the head is present, the knee should not pretend to wear the hat. Despite the public or official postulation of our leaders, the entire lop-sided and ‘magnanimous’ process has become open to manipulation and conflict of interests in the funding of projects.
Hence aside a few cosmetic changes, Sierra Leone as a nation has not truly reaped much from what it has sown in terms of sacrificed national interests and the huge natural resources that we have allowed our benefactors to cart away, during this desperate ‘awujoh’ search for economic respite in the last five years.
To say otherwise, is a masterclass in spin and sanctimonious fury.
As the missiles of poverty rain down on the people and their howls of anguish gets louder, the current custodians of our national life should cast a glance at the high level of despair and stop playing the role of a coconut in a park.
The selfishly disguised undertones of the numerous foreign aid that we attract, underlie the tedious and for many of us, quite unpleasant and artificial exchange that paying with our resources has become, geared as it is, to suit the bilateral agreements and the whims of our peacock friends and the pockets of public officials.
Which is why, the truth behind the red carpets that are being thrown all over the place and the invitations coming from right and left to our leaders are nothing but a tablecloth over the associated desire of these suitors, who have waited patiently for their turn to plunder a hapless nation desperate for salvation and solely dependent on handouts and charity.
Pretending to be aware of the need for both lovers to be equal partners, the bully suitor with the tendency for domestic violence, as was the case during the colonial marriage, hides his true colour, plies its beautiful love with poison-laden sweet wine, before showing his ruthless fangs.
We definitely need to appreciate first and foremost, that for a solid future, no outside help will make a difference if the generation coming after has not been imbued with the starting blocks, for the next step in the country’s socio-economic and political long walk to freedom.
Therefore, the health of our nation, its socio-political and economic development as well as its future, requires new rules to limit the influx of overseas influence and to open up the narrow points of entry for small and medium scale indigenous players in a bid to create an egalitarian society.
It’s the lifeline and link needed to plug Sierra Leone into the framework of true national and global economic emancipation. Small and medium-sized companies are where the growth is really needed to get our economy and nation back on track of long-term sustainability.
Yet, as I continue to look forlornly at the hollowed-out, broken-down shells of a country that was once plush and flourishing, a whole sets of political, economic and moral lines dart about in my head. One is, can’t we decode the difference between a front and what lies behind?
Amid the stinging need to let go of the great slab of our past, I realise that it is imperative to allow the ghost of previous umbilical attachments and failures that turned into a yoke round our neck to float away into the realm of our harrowing history, rather than hungrily seek fresh slavery.
To do this, requires political bravery instead of mediocrity, while the begging bowls which are no better than instruments for digging up the ruinous road of debt and neo-colonialism of the past, whose images and experience still resonate with tragedy and darkness.
The several thoughts that flash through my head, making crazy patterns that alert me to the fact that the one vital ingredient, the single commodity that the people of Sierra Leone need more than anything else at this point in time, has failed to materialise – employment for the thousands of jobless and wasting human resources with which we are endowed, under an indigenous-led economic enabling environment.
While the ethical imperatives of the despicable behaviour of most of those in the corridors of power and their grim dance of the night, seem to be crashing into each other, it dawned on me that we need to say farewell to the shrill accompaniment to every foreign promises and farewell to the doomed, lop-sided arrangements our leaders are making in times of utter desperation.
Instead of being flushed with triumph in the arid desert of pragmatism, we need to restructure our banking industry to lead the drive for a new approach.
We need to drive inflation down so that there is capital for smaller local businesses to establish or expand. Doing this will at least help tackle the chronic unemployment problem on our hand by allowing these businesses to expand, hire more people, train more youngsters to use their hands, and generate more internal revenue.
We need to tackle the issue of our poor educational system that is not producing the required skills for these fanciful symbols to the glory of money that we seek from outsiders.
By the way, why did we seek debt relief less than a decade ago, only to now choose to rely on the same garment of choking ourselves at a more costly option?
Why in the midst of plenty are we suffering so much pain and anguish? How come we are unable to utilise our own resources for our own good? How come all our efforts are not geared towards further diversification of our economy from mining and infrastructural development?
Let’s get it right. No one is saying that rebuilding our dilapidated infrastructures is a bad idea. Neither am I anti seeking bilateral co-operation that will facilitate our grandiose dream. What I find baffling is the euphoric effort of trying to pin a tail on a donkey while wearing a blindfold. To make it worse, the donkey is moving backward.
I am aware that we’ve been stranded in the desert for so long and there’s extreme anxiousness by our leaders to get us out and be seen as messiahs. However, in their desperation and taking into account our experience of the last five and a half years, I am of the opinion that it’s time for our leaders to stop grandstanding and get real.
Evaluated against the several junketing trips and sponsored jamborees held at the inception of this administration, there is no compelling argument for a policy that makes us second best or that has proved as useful as magic beans so far; especially when we are unable to deal with the long-term structural problems underneath our high unemployment and inflationary trend as well as the defining features of a sound economy.
As I become nonplussed, I have also come to realise that the continued trumpeting of this idea and the emphasis placed on it, is one of the underlying factors of what leads our politicians into temptations and allow them to trespass on clichés, as they get all sticky-fingered about every inconceivable dream while losing sight of the ideals.
The generous dose of prosperity, which the government wants to hand out as a legacy to the nation in a blaze of glory, may morph into a desperate scrap for the very survival of the country, if the present generation of leaders continue to play fast and loose with the available natural resources, our heritage and indeed our very future.
The unfortunate thing is that fate may serve up this episode, long after these managers who appear lost in the wider significance of their emergence at this period of our history have retired to the comfort of their velvet chairs in any of the several mansions they are now busy constructing, paid for by the spoils of their offices, just as Siaka Stevens’ disastrous reign laid the foundation for our senseless civil war.
Those who die as the result of their folly are many; those who die as the result of their wisdom are few.