‘Where is the enabling environment for citizens’ participation?’

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 January 2014

Bo districtFrom the evidence that litters the place, what has emerged is that alas, our lofty dreams at independence were taken over and re-written for the razzmatazz of cinematography, by actors who pretended to be leaders.

And all we could do was and still is – look on, even though we knew it was not our reality.

Till today, nothing has changed. With our leaders over-promising and ever under-delivering, even when the x-ray actually shows that they have absolutely no reason to fail or abdicate their responsibilities.

And after several decades of promoting our separate interests over national aspirations at the behest of our leaders, the centre of our nation could no longer hold.

Deep-seated jealousy, hatred, envy and tribalism have allowed the wilful and wanton destruction of our collective destiny by those who saw, encouraged and cheered socio-political hooliganism as pay back against perceived ethnic enemies and years of division.

Egged on by leaders who promoted the kith and kin syndrome, the blood flowed unto our streets, and instead of regrets we lit a fire of sacrifice, whose aroma even the demons of our national soul could not stomach.

The Whiteman divided us because they knew us not and could not allow our unity to derail their train. But our leaders, since independence kept and keep dividing us because they knew and know that our unity and education is not in their interest.

siaka stevensRather than clear the potential minefields of the colonial masters, with well structured minesweepers, they began to build a structurally deformed society that they utilised to suck the prospects out of the national bone marrow, leaving our country with several socio-political and economic cancerous tumours. (Photo: President Siaka Stevens).

As leaders sold fantasy upon fantasy to us, they gave and are giving us a poisoned chalice as a Greek gift with arsenic drink for our parched throats; knowing full well that the lack of a strong national resolve and determination, as well as the absence of a strong moral foundation in the people they lead, will not only ensure that they have a superhighway for their recklessness, but ensure that we are busy focussing on their sleight of hand.

The prosperity of the wicked and the corrupt became the barometer of our values, as we got ourselves so tangled up in the web of deceit woven by all leaders across our socio-political strata.

Even when their deception and treachery come to light, all we say is: ‘Is that all or what’s new.’

Oh yes, we are where we are today Mr. President as you enquired, because of the promotion and sustenance of mediocrity as the main criteria for leadership; the lack of sustainable vision and implementation; corruption, incompetence and tribalism.

As a matter of fact, as the innards of our nation are strewn out from our self-inflicted incisions, democratic cultures continue to be guzzled up by the political vultures and parasites that we have been unfortunate to harbour and attract.

APC SUPPORTERS IN PUJEHUN - VOTE 2012Selling our collective future was exhilarating to the charlatans without values or conscience. They enjoyed us dancing to the voodoo beat of their brand of music, which, while not enchanting, appears mesmerising to a people whose bones and limbs are creaking from the yoke of political oppression and economic subjugation.

How did we get to this point – you asked Mr. President? Where did we miss it? How did we allow such degradation of all our institutions without any exception?

How did we sit and watch as infrastructures decayed to the point of nothingness and our lives degenerated so woefully? How did our politics become worse than a rotten apple?

How did we manage to end up willingly in servitude again, after ‘Moses’ had led us out of our Egypt?

The civil service – that great institution that was the engine room of society, in the initiation of policies and programmes, was destroyed and replaced with political service.

parliamentary history - kabbah berewaAs a result, government after government created a gap between expectation and reality, as long term programmes of action supported by sound implementation became an enigma.

We stopped electing those whose records for service in our communities were apparent for all to see as being worthy of our representatives. And instead we succumbed to the imposition of fakes and lackeys of those with ill-gotten wealth.

Remember some years back when our parliament went on Christmas recess, leaving the national budget and some issues to wait despite the bewilderment of the people?

Yet, a few days later, they were more than eager and willing to convoke a special session to honour Gaddafi bearing gifts of great tidings.

They even made him an honorary member in return for his confetti. That’s the kind of lawmakers we’ve been having especially in the last twenty-five years.

How about now, despite the knowledge that a constitutional review is on the line?

Suddenly and amidst the legions of problems facing us, amending the provisions for a speaker has become so vital that the (dis)honourable house was ready to go to war with anyone who challenges their timing.

Yet, let someone point out to me one single occasion when this house or any in the last three decades, has demanded answers from the executive or directed the government to ensure that steps to redress pressing national issues are taken.

Just once please, when as the mouthpiece of the people, the legislature has checkmated the government for wrong decisions that were not in the overall national interests, such as the mortgaging of our resources.

We sat and watched as our judges disrobed and threw their wig of integrity and fairness into touch, replacing it with the cap of fraud and injustice. They became more comfortable putting truth on the scaffold and dishonesty on the throne.

Cash and carry became the password for entry into the hallowed chambers of the judiciary, which is ready to turn water into wine if the price is right.

This vital tier of the state, while appearing to be independent, is full of well-heeled manipulated poodles.

And what about our police force? More mobile than ever but………. (Let’s leave it at that).

When our leaders began to cover the platform of democracy with the carpet and lush-green rugs of despotism, tyranny, greed, and avarice, we helped to put the tack in place quickly so that we could be left alone to go and look for our succour that were not forthcoming from the same men calling themselves leaders.

They see fanfare as more important than the plight of the masses. Those with powers, who are guided by the cold calculation of strategic interests, take pride of place, ahead of principles and the milk of kindness.

As our leaders continued to boot the cat of patriotic service out into the porch of our abode, the ringing echo of Governor Clarkson’s prayer for Sierra Leone became the only redeeming song of the masses, whose lives are being held fast by the chords of affliction.

We missed it Mr. President, because we failed to exterminate the termites at work in our society, and we need to shout it from the rooftop as we chide ourselves.

Let’s stop being impressed by tiresome exhibitionists with pre-printed placards, and start treating impostors with disdain.

Education is in prostrate coma. Our health service ensures that those in power jump on the plane even for catarrh or a boil – heading for where the sun don’t shine, while agriculture which first gave us our image is just a footnote to imports and mineral exports.

As for unemployment, it is currently at its most endemic and our youths are better as thugs than entrepreneurs.

Our beautiful cities have become slums, and there is no difference between Kroo Bay and Freetown central.

Even now, with the sound of diggers purporting to bring development to us, some of the goodies are so cosmetic that they are hardly noticeable, or their rapid deterioration confirms the spectacle that they really are meant to be.

The deterioration and decay envelopes our moral and societal values, with corruption preferred to honest service and social vices and impunity – a badge of honour, especially to our leaders across board.

kandeh yumkellaYes, like Dr. Yumkella stated: “We have actually achieved a lot. But these achievements did not occur in a vacuum. They occurred under the leadership of successive governments, with the support and participation of the people, and the generosity of the international community”.

Sadly however, the impression is that the critical mass of the people have access to the basics of life, and should therefore raise their game and become creators of wealth, so that there will be general prosperity.

But how plausible is this when the government has not provided the enabling environment for individuals outside their own realm to thrive?

In truth, our national leadership has continued to create a comfortable ambience for corruption and maladministration to flourish. They have failed our moral value system to an extent where the people even see wrong as right.

And they have ensured that impunity takes pride of place to a point where, we just cannot be bothered anymore.

So, the question is what were the qualities of those leaders, and if we cannot assess them to see what they have failed to do, how can we be encouraged to follow the ones who want to lead us onto the highway to perdition?

By wanting Sierra Leoneans to change, Yumkella is reiterating the fact that leaders craft the vision, mobilize their people to believe in it, and work for it.

Leaders also learn to avoid the failures; they adjust the sequence, timing and pace of executing public-policy; and with determination, they build on the successes either by replicating them or scaling them up.

There lies the missing link in our situation. Our leaders to date have been busy performing root canal on the people without anaesthetic. They insist that their way is the only way, even though the country is labouring and looks ponderous.

“A Decade of Stability and Progress: What Next?” – Yumkella asks.

Honest answer? Strategies for socio-cultural re-engineering; a revolution of the body and soul of Sierra Leone; a determined march collectively to building a new and better tomorrow that is worth bequeathing to future generations.

No doubt there is a failure on the part of us as citizens, which is why any group of politicians can corner power and kiss their teeth in contempt at our half-hearted protestation. But we need to change that.

Current incisions into the thick poverty-riddled skin of our society are symptomatic and until we purge ourselves of the odious cankerworm and build solid institutional frameworks, such as the norms, values, cultural and legal structures that define what the society stands for, or aspires to be, we’ll only be going round in circles.

Our national malaise is an interrelated network of problems which includes mass poverty arising from lack of economic and social developmental programmes; corruption, mismanagement, lack of effective leadership, undue reliance on foreign aid and investors, as well as paucity of ideas and over-dependence on discredited international survival plans.

Crown it with ‘bad belleh’ and you’ll see why we are where we are.

But let us get something clear, the absence of ignorance and poverty will make it impossible for our not-so-well structured polities to be transformed.

It will also enable us, in the interest of everyone, to establish a culture of alternative viewpoints to national panacea, instead of the cunning device of the political class – always asking a carefully orchestrated room full of picky eaters to agree on a solitary menu.

Diamond miningThe best way to get people involved in nation building and to start looking at the glass as half full is to give them the confidence which indicates they are the centre of an all-inclusive and all-round governance that knows the power is rightly theirs.

From all indications, there are much chances of striking a match on a wet soap than that happening.

But we cannot continue to promote a future that fails to materialise in a thickening stench of falsehood and evasion.

So to Mr. President, that is how come Sierra Leone is where it is today; and Dr. Yumkella, that is why, much as the people understand your language, they are loathe to want to continue to be sacrificial lambs.