Twenty issues that defined 2021 in Sierra Leone

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 06 January 2022:

The year 2021 is thankfully behind us. As Sierra Leoneans, we look forward to a much better year in 2022. Like the rest of the World, we were however beset by the COVID-19 pandemic which took away the lives of many family members and other compatriots.

Many issues, some shaped by the pandemic and others not, defined us as a country in 2021. Let us examine some of these.

  1. Playing musical chairs with Cabinet changes

Several cabinet changes occurred during the year, with results akin to playing Musical Chairs. At the start of the year Dr. Austin Demby was appointed Minister of Health, Dr Turad Senesie replaced Dr. Dennis Sandy at Lands. Dr Alpha Wurie, erstwhile Health Minister replaced  Professor Aiah Gbakima as Minister of Technical and Higher Education. There were also a host of Deputy Ministerial changes.

In an unexpected move later on in the year, the Chief Minister, Professor David Francis was made Foreign Affairs Minister. He was replaced by erstwhile Finance Minister J.J. Saffa, and Foreign Minister Nabeela Tunis was appointed Minister of the Western Region, a new Ministry. Erstwhile Agriculture Minister, Dennis Vandi became the new Finance Minister. A host of Deputy Ministerial positions were announced-some new and some rotated. With the last changes, President Bio now had 28 Ministers, 26 Deputy Ministers, 1 Minister of State and 4 Resident Ministers making a total of 59 people with the designation of “Minister” in their title.

  1. Electricity saves the infrastructure blushes

Despite the fact that many ambitious infrastructure projects like the Lungi bridge were abandoned,  delayed or truncated, the electricity sector made good on some of its promises. The completed TRANSCO CLGS line is now set to serve seven districts across Sierra Leone. This will increase national electricity access to 31%. Some 27 communities along the transmission line corridor will be electrified.

The commissioning of rural mini-grids and 4 smaller pilot systems in 54 chiefdoms with 8,000 households and the start of electrification of 7 District towns improved electricity access. Our hope is that these gains can be sustained. The construction of a new $270 million Airport terminal Project at Lungi by the Turkish Summa Group commenced. There was a raft of road construction projects undertaken or completed.

  1. Governance- the good and the bad

The review of the White Paper on the Justice Cowan Constitutional Review Committee did not materialise. The National Peace and reconciliation Commission Act was however passed and the Commission set up. The country scored well in the 2022 Millennium Challenge Corporation, MCC, Scorecard. The MCC had earlier declared Sierra Leone eligible to develop a compact.

  1. Raft of bold legislations to upturn the status quo

Outdated pieces of legislations which had stood for decades, with various governments reluctant to upturn the status quo have been replaced. The abolition of the death penalty was signed into law. The obnoxious criminal libel law was repealed. A new Cybersecurity and Crime Bill 2021 was signed into law and legislation on women’s empowerment is at an advanced stage.

  1. Judiciary is smelling good in some areas, but……..

Fifteen more High court judges and 11 more magistrates were appointed and there are now regular High Court criminal sessions in nine Districts. In a surprise ruling, the case brought to the Supreme court by the plaintiff, David Fornah against NGC leader Dr. Kandeh Yumkella (KKY) was dismissed by Supreme court judges who made profound pronouncements on dual citizenship and qualifications to enter Parliament. These have not however put paid to the oft repeated criticism that the judiciary is inordinately beholden to the whims of the Executive branch of Government.

  1. Radical changes in the education sector

There were successes scored with the government’s flagship Free Education programme in terms of increased access and addressing some teacher and infrastructure problems. Several new universities were created and a turning of the sod ceremony took place for the new Kono University. A pledge for the President to cease to be the Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone was honoured and the new Chancellors appointed for all Public Universities.

  1. Football engenders national unity

Sierra Leone qualified for the AFCON football completion amidst a lot of patriotic fervour. Football became a rallying point for national unity. The government, realising this has markedly increased its support for football. May we qualify for more tournaments!

  1. Auditor General ambushed

The vocal criticism of the Auditor General, calling for her ouster at the start of the year which appeared to be government instigated or sanctioned continued during the year.  Towards the end of the year, she and her Deputy were suspended whilst awaiting hearings at a Tribunal set up. No official accusations have been levied against them yet despite the protestations of many, including officials of the International organisation of Supreme Audit institutions. Meanwhile the latest Audit report continues to demonstrate systematic and poor compliance with established laws, rules and practices, as well as poor accountability and transparency.

  1. Social media genie continues to wreak havoc

Whereas there were several positive aspects to the use of social media, it also became a tool for division. Several self-styled broadcasters became purveyors of false and inciting information. Disinformation and invectives spewed out have largely led to political, tribal and all kinds of divisions. It will be difficult to put this genie back in the bottle.

  1. Black Johnson and blackened institutions

The $55 Million grant from the People’s Republic of China to construct a fish harbour and its ancillary structures became the subject of considerable criticism for its potential adverse environmental effects. A lot of MDAs have not come out of the debacle smelling of roses. Community groupings and environmental groups are still up in arms.

  1. Wellington fuel tanker accident fire-A disaster of epic proportions

The accident involving a fuel tanker and another vehicle resulted in a disaster of epic proportions which made the world news. Over 100 of our compatriots died in the fuel explosion and an equal number received serious burns. It highlighted the need to take our disaster preparedness and management more seriously.

  1. Prominent women under fire

Issues relating to the bullying of women in high positions became a normal phenomenon. Activities aimed at belittling prominent women included verbal abuse, making sexual innuendoes, inquisitions, suspensions, incarcerations, media attacks and accusations of corrupt practices, nepotism, or political bias. It is astonishing that the government has either been accused of being overtly or covertly complicit or of staying mute.

  1. Census: To count or not to count?

The mid-term census became an issue of extreme controversy.  Opposition parties cried foul and impugned the motives of government. The EU and World Bank pulled out for various reasons but the government still continued with the census undeterred.

  1. Election bodies under fire

Many bye elections were marred with violence and the opposition accused NEC of complicity and falsification of results in instances-accusations which NEC denied. According to the EU, in a damning statement, there was a significant decrease in trust in the bodies directly responsible for elections, namely the Judiciary, NEC, PPRC and the Police. These institutions are not trusted and need to demonstrate their neutrality and independence.

  1. Africanist press turns squealer

In several releases during the year, Africanist Press released statements of various accounts that purportedly showed a high level of unbridled and illegitimate expenditure by various Departments of government and various government connected individuals. Any responses by government have been tepid and eyebrows have been raised in several quarters.  It is unclear who leaks such information and certainly the government has not extricated itself well from these accusations.

  1. Uncertainties in the mining sector

The long-lasting saga involving the cancellation of the SL Mining lease and subsequent arbitration exercise had left a black mark on the sector. Resolving issues at the end of the year was welcome news.

  1. A COVID economy on life support

The economy was helped along considerably by donor support as COVID-19 wreaked havoc in various spheres of the economy. Prices continued to rise. The government never seemed to have a convincing argument about why this is the case except cite the rise in global prices.  Indeed, global prices were high as shipping costs, oil prices and food prices had escalated worldwide.

The government did not do a good job of explaining what steps are being taken to get to grips with locally produced goods and services which should not be inordinately directly affected by global prices. The Central Bank Governor continued with his lamentation about poor productivity adversely affecting the macroeconomic situation.

  1. The Mayor versus government: When two elephants fight………

The FCC Mayor has been in a long running battle with government. Government claimed the Mayor was uncooperative with central government, ran her own tight ship, was unaccountable and wanted the government to look bad.

The Mayor claimed that she had run several donor-sponsored projects well and had embarked upon meaningful transformation of Freetown but was being sabotaged deliberately by Government in various ways. Whatever the case, the long suffering 1.2 million inhabitants of the city are the real losers in this never-ending fight.

  1. Opposition says it feels muzzled

The opposition claimed government was bent on muzzling them. They cited the locking up of opposition politicians without due process. harassment in various forms and bullying by Parliamentary leaders and their quaint processes. The Coalition of progressive parties (COPP) was set up during the year to give the opposition a united voice. The main APC opposition was torn asunder with court cases, amidst their accusations of government complicity and ACC bias.

  1. These are changing times – a little bit of humour helps

In a rare event, a Chinese worker at a mine was bettered at martial arts by a Sierra Leonean worker. Later on, the Chinese whom I dubbed “Him Nor Strong” in my article “Enter the dragon” made peace with his tormentor, who I christened “Sahr Lone Fetman”. Saint Joseph’s Convent girls who twerked behind closed doors were let off the hook and “to twerk or not to twerk” was a hotly debated issue.

These defining issues, whilst indicating improvements in certain areas and setbacks in others, also point our attention to the extent of the division in the country. Let us hope that as a nation we will dispel our worst fears for the future and look forward to a joyous 2022.

Ponder my thoughts


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