Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 July 2013
At the top of Sierra Leone’s society, there is kleptomania as well as greed. And elsewhere – a sort of weary cynicism. Not only that, the effort to curb corruption by those in authority has turned out to be like the Dracula running a blood transfusion service.
The result: although we are all virtually aware of it, in the eyes of the world, we are now worse off on the corruption scale than Nigerians, whom we use to deride.
The little respect and the entrenched values of our society, which we used to be well known for, have disappeared over the horizon and it is getting more and more difficult to claw back.
Wow! Our society, led by the political class is now to corruption, what Imelda Marcos had been to shoes. For those unaware, Imelda Marcos, the wife of a former President of the Philippines was found to have had a dangerous addiction to shoes. When her husband was overthrown, over three thousand pairs of shoes were found in one of her bedrooms.
Anyway, according to a survey carried out in 95 countries by Transparency International, Sierra Leone has the highest reported corruption index rate of 84% – Just as across 105 nations, our politicians, judges and the police, head the list of those public institutions which people see as the most corrupt.
In nearly half of those countries surveyed – including ours, politicians were singled out as the least trustworthy.
There you have it. But, Shoo! Shoo! Please don’t let our political managers hear that. They are in a rage. They are not impressed one bit, by our attempt to blot their squeaky-clean copybook with the brush of graft.
So, and as if on cue, the shadows behind them as well as other prattling cohorts are blowing the vuvuzella to make it clear that where Sierra Leone now finds itself, it’s entirely the fault of its hapless citizens.
In what can best be described as a moment of classic understatement, those expected to set the tone of propriety, say ridding the nation of the taint of corruption should go to our heads, while they continue to stay hyper-alert to their grand illusion of denials and fake scent of victory.
As far as our leaders are concerned, we can make a face like a bulldog chewing wasp, the battle for a cleaner society is determined by their vagaries.
They say that we are the ones not shopping the corrupt officers. In their view, we are responsible for letting those who lead us, do dodgy things and that we are the judges that let off the offenders with just a slap on the wrist.
How dare us, when we are the ones who shield corrupt officers in the corridors of power and in high places. It’s us that give them the seal and approval of innocence and the badge of honour.
Oh! We need to bury our heads in shame as we only grumble in the safety of our rooms or the street corners, when we see those who could not afford taxis yesterday, driving the most exotic cars and putting up several mansions at once.
What cheek; what impudence. How can we cover our faces in disgrace and cry out, when it is us the (dis)honourable citizens of this raped and abused nation, that negotiate contracts and demand bribes; when it’s us that appropriate the wealth of the nation within our circles; when it’s us that, against common sense, open the doors to those who want to pillage our resources once they’ve ‘settled’ us.
The coke saga? Forget it. It was our sorts alone that were involved. Timbergate? Yes! That one. But Hey! After all the dance and drama, who got done for it? Was it anyone at the top? Of course, it was your rank and file.
Come off it, it’s our fault that the barbarians are back, and that our resources are being chucked away like spent matches. And don’t you dare complain that our workforce is paid pittance and have to go to great lengths to make ends meet rather than thank their stars that they are being paid at all.
While we are at it, let’s forget the human fallibility of our leaders and the flagrant affront to societal cohesion from those in power, which are pivotal to the current state of affairs, because since by all conceivable logic, a society cannot produce something different from itself.
So, as those with money, power and influence, embark like a man possessed in their oppression and quest for land-grabbing and wealth beyond imagination, they are now robed in a god-like complex of monstrous hypocrisy which carries an unmistakable message that reminds us that the barbarians are always at the gate. Of course, we are responsible.
I mean when you look at what vomit-inducing depths, the land-grabbing, corruption-laden deals and disturbing trend of the activities of politicians and their cohorts have plunged, you will realise that what sets alarm bells ringing in the six years reign of the present administration, is that the message of change has not borne the expected fruit, in terms of a dying away of the violent and desperate variety of greed.
As a matter of fact, it now has all the fun of a carnival. Coupled with this, is the delusions of an exclusive empire where members are answerable to no one.
Our leaders who are supposed to lead by example have chosen to operate in this tiny magnolia cocoon, in which, if you are not completely vanilla and able to play ball, then you are not apparently a comrade.
The secret weapon of success?: Loyalty to the leader and being a member of the numerous social, traditional and political conclaves.
The paradox of the current situation we find ourselves is the tragic betrayal of the resilience of the average Sierra Leonean and the sacrifice of the long-cherished societal values.
These attributes have been buried under the rubbles of politics and tribalism, which have been made the opium of a people still divided hopelessly by the boundaries of wealth and poverty. It has therefore become a choice weapon for our leaders across the strata.
So, here’s the deal. We, the remaining plebs of this great republic, will get to retain an illusion of importance.
Exactly how much of an illusion, would be determined by how far we can turn our eyes from what happens at the top and ensure that we give a standing ovation, when those in the middle or at the bottom, are dragged into the coliseum for the lions to devour.
But it is important to stress that the reluctance of our leaders to summon up the faintest but sincere inclination to challenge the fundamental parameters of corruption, especially in their own circle, continues to carry a significant cost for the nation. (Photo: The ACC Chief).
While they claim to be battle ready to defy the status quo in their rhetoric, they have yet to put up the display of an alternative model that goes beyond the idea of “no questions asked” in their own attitudes and behaviour.
As a matter of fact, their inability to fill the vacuum left by the moral collapse of our society and become the new parameter for honesty, leaves one with distaste – bordering on nausea.
To placate the restless natives, the powers-that-be, conjure up a body saddled with the fight against kleptomania but hangs on to the puppeteer’s string like a cyclone, thereby perpetuating the myth of warriors, to keep the peasants at arms length and under check.
All that was achieved by that singular act was and is a cynical act of abracadabra. Yet they yearn for corruption to flee the embrace of those who have fallen in love with it, either out of greed or out of desperation.
For all the cheering and the fireworks of the so-called wrestling bout against corruption, the attitude in government is full of the bravado of a liberated man who had been dreading another day of suffering, only to realise to his delight that he was the one inflicting the punishment.
Like it or not. Some of those in the corridors of power are poster models for the unwholesome values associated with this despicable topic.
While we note the widespread cry, they simply moved the planks in the platform of decency and restraint and turned their backs on the principles of ‘your-reward-is-in-heaven’. The reason the government is unable to cope with the weight of expectation of curbing corruption is revealing.
We have become a people without abiding standards and who simply flow with the tide. We have been so pummelled by adversities that we’ve stopped questioning the actions of the custodians of our future and society, beyond feeling the occasional discomfort and expressing fleeting worries about their behaviour, mostly in the safety of our rooms and the comfortable environment of like-minded fellow aggrieved.
Survival instinct has become our top priority, leaving us without that latent attitude to look deep into and beyond the façade of situations before us and to ask probing questions. Once it does not directly threaten our existence, it is not part of us or our business.
That is also why we do not get sufficiently angry over anything. We have become an adhoc people. A people who see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil – a people without moral authority.
And as long as some of us are carried beyond the stench of our awkward life and the desperation of daily life, the cherry-picking of the best-heeled part of our commonwealth no longer interest us, though we cast envious glances at those privileged to do so.
Knowing this, those who lead us in every facet of our societal vein – be it political, economic, social and even religious – have come to realise that the omerta does not even necessarily have to apply in the lexicon of their existence.
Right now, it is easy to imagine the righteous outrage and horror being expressed by right thinking Sierra Leoneans against the backdrop of this latest humiliation for the country. It is also tragic to see the hardening of attitudes towards corruption by worried patriots.
But cast your minds back to the extracts below, for which I was a target of vitriolic attacks:
“A leader is often judged by the company he keeps. Ernest Koroma’s ministers and the stream of foreign vultures circling over the strewn innards of the Sierra Leone carcass; are part of the reasons why the silver lining seems distant and the upbeat mood at this government’s inception has lost its vibrancy.” (RANDOM MUSING: THE ILLUSION OF ACTION 30/9/2009)
“When I kept hammering that governance and corruption were still literarily business as usual in Sierra Leone, sycophants, poseurs and tin-pots who blur boundaries between facts and fictions were out with the swords.
“Despite the façade of a war cry and the reported blitz against graft, corruption remains utterly and literarily lethal and prevalent especially in high places and the entire corridors of power. Corruption is everywhere. It is in the offices, the ministries, parastatals and under every table. It is a way of life in every facet of our system.
“Pity President Koroma who obviously is unaware of what the sordid state of corruption portends for the nation outside the lip service his administration is paying to the battle. Perhaps the greatest admission of the existence of the government is that the pulse of anti-corruption is becoming weaker and weaker.
“As a matter of fact, an unusual and disturbing trend emerging is that the malaise of corruption is now being openly treated with cynicism and defended with self-serving arguments by those who should come out with guns blazing wherever the ember of graft rears its head.
“This monster which is not only the biggest challenge of development in the country, lives with us and has become a thriving lifeline. Aided by the silent complicity of governance, this once ‘haloed past-time’ has now spread deep and wide within our society. It is as much pervasive in the highest levels as it is in the lowest.
“When President Koroma promised to turn water into wine and get rid of the cankerworm, a part of me believed that he could at least make a dent on this nemesis of our national life. Instead, the nation’s ‘theftcraft’ temperature has kept rising and rising as the government watches befuddled and hamstrung by a combination of factors while pretending to be all out in battle gear.
“Just like in the past, people are still milking our treasury dry without meaningful projects to show for it and where they bother, the cost of such token gestures are unjustifiable to say the least.” (RANDOM MUSING: A BLOODY AWFUL STATE 8/8/2009)
That, it is not business as usual, must go down as one of the most cynical, dishonest and disingenuous piece of propaganda of modern times, or that has ever been. It was a moment of classic understatement, as events are now proving.
The reality: No good will come out of pretending that things are better than they are. Corruption, as has been discovered even in the well-built British system, cannot be tackled unless its depth and scale are fully acknowledged and cases and their outcomes are not selectively manipulated.
Thank God we are not soiled beyond repairs yet.