‘There should be limits to ineptitude, graft and sheer impunity’

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 October 2013

Bo districtIntentions, even the best of them, do not necessarily guarantee success.

Our politics continues to thrive on the thickening stench of falsehood. The unintended consequences of spin, showing that we are making tremendous progress, is the continued elongation of the imperfections in our dysfunctional socio-economic and political settings, as well as the rousing of sneering voices of sour resentment, from those devoid of anaesthesia for their plight.

Therefore, it is incomprehensible how those in power suddenly find in their mental kitchen, the growing public anger about pain and suffering, an inconvenient irritation.

All that the majority of those outside the realm of influence can see at the heart of a malfunctioning governance, is greed, a sense of chaos and a stack of evidence that their leaders are dangerously out of touch and only interested in themselves.

Is there not a bit of a dichotomy about a leadership that wants praise but does not want criticism?

I mean what else do politicians in authority expect, if people cast a longing glance at their political elites for leadership and expectations in championing public interests but wait forlornly; and instead they are served political soap operas and idiosyncrasies.

As the thermometer of social improvement continues to plummet, why can’t those in the ‘closed’ political and media elites see this too?

Why have they become so ignorant about real hunger; about life on the edge for the underclass as well as the politics of interests beyond morality?

Why can’t they realise that there comes a time in the life of the perpetually abused wife when, damn the consequences, all she wants to do is to throw acid in her abuser’s face. Just ask the SLPP in 2007.

But coming thick and fast in recent times, is the vindication for those of us who tried to ensure amidst the erroneous presentation of the twitching of a nation struggling to climb from a deathbed, as a miracle healing and one that is on the fast track to greatness, even when all indices point otherwise, that the government stayed grounded to the expectations of the people rather than the accolades that made for swollen heads.

Freetown Streets becoming rubbsih dumpOther than those living in the parallel universe of professional politics and the selected audiences standing up to applaud manically on cue, it was inevitable that the bubble of our so-called meteoric development was bound to reach the sticky patch of truth someday.

Placed against the nation’s excellent resource offer and the overwhelming show of international support, the poverty of our governance output, which are intrinsically linked, has shown as time went by, that there was a missing link which is bound to become more visible as the national daily life unravels.

This point, which has been the focus of this column in the last five years and which earned the writer undeserving label of anti-government or opposition member, is why there have been glimpses of irritability emanating from the corridors of power; especially since the advent of the government’s second term of office.

alpha kanu2Culminating in the recent puerile attacks and over-reaction to the demand of Civil Society organisations, I am not quite sure if the irrational ratcheting of hysteria to such innocuous but pertinent questions, reflects a collective decision in the executive corridors, about the future of the relationship with opponents and the masses in general; or if it is a slip of the mask by a great angry puffer fish.

But every day, as the public mood takes more cognisance of their true plight, I become more flabbergasted by the ineptitude and ignorance of those purporting to be leading us into the Promised Land.

My initial take is to assume that the comfort of office and privileges associated with being in government, has not only insulated them from realities, but has put them completely out of touch.

president koroma - sumana - police chief 2012Anyway, while there appears to be some commendable efforts at transformation, some of us did try to point out and voice concern also, about the danger of the populist tendencies to fire up the national imagination with rhetoric about ‘development’, while all that the government had, was more tricks up its sleeves than a magician has rabbits under his top hat.

I’ve said it often that Sierra Leoneans are a people willing to undergo a kicking provided the kicker administers it with a smile. That, even where most of us can see the country going to hell in a hand-cart – we’ll still prefer to tiptoe around some of the issues surrounding our leaders and governance. This is one of the reasons Sierra Leone is where it is today.

As a matter of fact, the inability to rouse ourselves out of this hypocritical nature is why our muddled up media and the ever-burgeoning and increasingly arrogant political class, continue to appeal to old notions of churchillian sentiments, while ensuring that the society is unable to differentiate between the legitimate and necessarily tenacious scrutiny that is required to hold those in high office to account in a democracy.

But in a society desperate for succour, even that ‘roll-over-and die’ population makes its judgments in black and white and from personal experience of bearing the brunt of government policies, actions and inactions.

However, with a large percentage of the masses hoodwinked into silence by a combination of factors, including ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, cost of living crisis, ethnic sentiments, political blackmail and the sumptuous display of megaphone socio-economic diplomacy, little wonder that this essential aspect of checks and balance by the true custodians of power, has seemingly disappeared

Sierra Leone’s politics has always been like a giant worm – no matter how much you cut off, it reforms in its old image and obviously the watertight retaining structures of the vipers’ pit of past governance have not yet been drained, till this day, even while the keel of our national life is tottering on the edge of the rocks.

Therefore any display by the ruling elite is predictably following an ideological blueprint that is to be expected of them, in addition to making light of the means of legitimate dissent at failed promises and hocus pocus reforms. The truth is that there are enduring problems of course.

Alpha kanu and Logus KoromaAbove all, politics spirals further away from the day-to-day concerns of the ordinary man. Take for example, barely nine months into a five year term, personnel of the ruling party are beginning to show their fangs as well as where their interests lie. From indications, it is surely not the nation but personal ambitions and political calculations that are paramount.

We are bound to see more titanic battles play themselves out as days go by; with more political dramas within the ruling party, made to siphon our attention. But we should not allow the genie of social outcry to the standard of living, to be put back in the bottle. No. No.

Our politicians have successfully relegated morality, service, policy and substance to the background of national discourse and instead, spin and intrigues now reign supreme.

Corruption and gut-wrenching poverty, as well as grotesque political incompetence and the over-reliance on foreign aid and shady wheeler dealers, are either swept under the carpet and over-looked or dressed in borrowed robes, as we run after the hare in a blaze of showbiz glitter.

However, I believe that there should be limits to ineptitude, graft and sheer impunity; while our leaders need to put aside their arrogant assumptions, discard damaging old narratives, and engage with today’s reality.

History tells us that if you neglect the issues and ignore the people for too long, there is always a repercussion somewhere down the line.

Because, it is very glaring, except to the socio-politically blind Bartimaeus of this country, that recent developments – nationally and internationally, have conspired to reveal the sad truth that Sierra Leone’s course isn’t living up to the sacrifices and expectations, nor to the tonnes of external financial aid that has poured into the country, especially since 2007.

Lungi water problemForget about the statistics saying otherwise. Go into the streets of our nation and find out the truth yourself or ask a non-partisan relative; or those in the Diasporas who shoulder the burden of survival for their kith and kin.

This is simply what the recent ‘disgruntlement’ of the civil society organisations, on behalf of the people, is all about.

It is that our nation will continue to wobble unless we invest in the future through quality education. Half-baked minds cannot build a nation, and some of the vain projects we have prioritised do not put food on the table of the people.

As a result of the divisions among the social and political class of our society and indeed the fourth estate of the realm, which ought to be an independent arbiter and the conscience of our society, our national reality remains resolutely stunted in the nursery of our barnyard.

But it should be possible to have a segment of our society that understands the difference between government’s approaches to the national direction, without compromising the essence of a cohesive nation and a people willing to make necessary sacrifice in the collective search for a new Sierra Leone.

The only obvious problem is the immoderate, unwholesome interests and desires of the occupants of the seats of power to everything but the truth, and the lazy vilification of any opposition to whatever is perceived by those outside the inner circle of our governance, as desirous of a second look.

Back to one of the key issues raised by that demand of the civil organisations. The government has no excuse not to adequately maintain a road that is less than three years. It amounts to a monumental waste and corruption for such a deplorable state of a new road.

I remember writing in one of my articles and also asking a minister in London, after my trip when the project started, whether we were paying for Wilkinson Road construction or whether it was a gift, because even before its completion, it was obvious that the road by its design and quality, was nothing but a cosmetic engineering whose shelf life was definitely not going to be fit for purpose.

Poverty in Sierra Leone This evolving development ignited by the civil organisations (never mind if it’s been swept under the carpet and cried down for now) indicates that some of our aesthetic and politically fuelled socio-economic reforms are worthless, if they are not going to achieve the goal of changing the lives of the majority of the people.

What it shows is that we should stop borrowing and spending on corruption-fuelled projects and instead fund development programmes that will deliver succour, such as education, health, and economic growth.

Despite being bamboozled by what can only be regarded as lunatic arrogance by the political class and the numerous national problems, Sierra Leoneans in general still maintain a rather high level of hope and optimism, even if this is now tainted by bitterness and disappointment and the failures of those who lead them.

Since the future of the country represented by its people lies at the heart of governance, proceeding only on the path of tokenism and reinforcing entrenched attitudes whenever there is a negative appreciation makes matters worse.

The people, not the political ambitions of gladiators, lie at the heart of a new Sierra Leone.

There is no need for those in power to turn off the light, draw the curtains or pull the draw bridge while they dance the tango in their palatial abode, because age always asks time to destroy beauty.

That is why it is beginning to get warm up there.