Dear Sierra Leoneans,
Make we all kushe ya. Kushe for what you may ask. Well kushe for the deplorable state of our country; something we have deliberately turned a blind eye to for decades.
Take a step back into history for a moment.
The area presently called Sierra Leone has been inhabited for over 2500 years. This means that long after we are gone there will still be a Sierra Leone. The state the future Sierra Leone will be in depends on our present day actions. Post-Independence (1961), we had a few years as a functioning democracy which ended with the election in 1967. The Siaka Stevens led party won that election and remained in control for eighteen years. Obviously unconstitutional, but we (Sierra Leoneans) allowed it to happen. From 1978, Sierra Leone became a one-party state with Siaka Stevens as executive President and the country slowly descended into a crippling trend of high-level corruption. In 1985, Stevens retired and nominated the head of the army, Joseph Momoh as his successor. Corruption and economic decay continued, until a military coup toppled Momoh in 1992. The result is a military council led by a 29-year-old captain, Valentine Strasser who was in turn toppled in yet another coup led by Brigadier Maada Bio in 1996. We all know the events that unfolded between 1997 and 2001. Fifty thousand people died during the senseless war, many left homeless and orphaned, many left as amputees.
The post war elections in 2002 were won by the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), led by Dr Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. This was hailed as the beginning of a new Sierra Leone; a Sierra Leone united by pain, by suffering, by lives lost. Sadly, that was not to be. Rampant corruption continued unchecked and large chunks of post war aid were misappropriated by the government. Between 1970 and 2007, annual aid disbursed to Sierra Leone stands at an average of 14.2% of GDP (this may have surged after the civil conflict that took place between 1991 and 2002), a figure much higher than the regional average of 3.7% for Africa as a whole. Despite this level of support, Sierra Leone’s economic performance has remained wanting in terms of both growth and poverty reduction (http://recom.wider.unu.edu/article/aid-and-economic-growth-case-sierra-leone). Between 2001 and 2006 the country was the largest per capita recipient of foreign aid in the world, and continues to benefit from relatively generous assistance channeled through a small number of major donor agencies (http://www.oecd.org/dacfragilestates/44653693.pdf). In layman’s terms, Sierra Leone received the largest amount of foreign aid for any post war country between 2001 and 2006. Did this aid trickle down to the common man? Is the life of the average Sierra Leonean better off as a result of these generous donations by the international community? Evidently, not and even though this high level of corruption and misappropriation of public funds has continued to present day, Sierra Leoneans have turned a blind eye to it. We cry out for things to be better yet we allow our politicians to trample on us and treat us with gross contempt. It is said, that those who do not stand up for something for which they are passionate about, out of ignorance, apathy or a lack of compassion, are easiest and most obvious prey to be led in any direction by those who have an agenda; whatever that agenda might be. They can only be sheep following the herd if they have no path of their own to graze.
Our individualistic attitude has caused us to plunge into an abyss of low morals were corruption and dysfunction is our reality and the norm of everyday life. They have become so ingrained in our society that it has reached a point where it is literally killing us. We all kushe ya.
Sierra Leone has not always been in the shambolic state she finds herself. I can proudly say Sierra Leone was a shining example in Africa. The University of Sierra Leone, Fourah Bay College, first founded in 1827 is the oldest university in West Africa. I remember coming across a post-independence tourism brochure (1970s) that put the value of the Leone (Le) above the dollar ($) and Sierra Leoneans were considered the most friendly, helpful and accommodating people to ourselves and to our neighbours. When Liberia descended into chaos during their civil war, we warmly welcomed many of their refugees into our country and our homes. So, my people where did it all go wrong? The strength of a nation is derived from the integrity of its homes. Does it then follow that the present state of Sierra Leone is a reflection of the lack of integrity and morals in the everyday lives of Sierra Leoneans? Do we still look out for each other, do we still value education like we used to? Do we love Sierra Leone like the national pledge asks us to (I pledge my love and loyalty to my country Sierra Leone)?
The maelstrom Sierra Leone finds herself is no accident. It is due to Sierra Leoneans (politicians and civilians alike). Our selfishness and greed has taken its toll on mama Salone, yet we are quick to point fingers at everyone but ourselves. We have allowed our leaders to misappropriate funds, allowed them to build and live in mansions amongst us, while we live in abject poverty. We have allowed them to create an elitist group of individuals who benefit from the wealth of Sierra Leone and all we do is sit back, say nothing and suffer in silence. Those who venture to speak out are quickly shot down and silenced by those who would rather keep the status quo for they benefit from it personally. Are we afraid to fix our nation and leave behind a Sierra Leone better than the one we grew up in? Why can’t we all speak with one voice, say enough is enough and demand back what is rightfully ours?
The government is appointed by the people to serve the people. We are the boss; they are working for us. Change can only come about when there is a collective outcry from the people of Sierra Leone. A mental shift in every Sierra Leonean is desperately needed. Sierra Leoneans old and young, regardless of tribe, religion, political affiliation or social status should put Sierra Leone first. Let us start directing our anger towards the right people, the leaders. I see a lot of misplaced anger, especially on social media. Social media has given us a platform to make our voices heard, but it saddens me to see people using it to defend the government instead of demanding more from government. Why do we settle for mediocrity? Why are we so thankful for the scraps that are thrown at us? It is time our leaders realise that the wealth of Sierra Leone should be shared amongst all Sierra Leoneans. We must become a society of upright men and women our young people can look up to. Who are the role models in our society at the moment? Who do our young people look up to? A corrupt politician, a crooked civil servant, a mother selling diluted kerosene so as to make more profit? Do we realise that unless the vicious cycle that we are caught up in is broken, Sierra Leone will continue to deteriorate?
This is not a call to arms but a herald for affirmative action; peaceful marches, demonstrations and gatherings; sharing of views and ideas to help propel the country back onto the right track. More importantly, it is a call for honest discussions. It is time to stop denying what is so glaringly obvious.
If anything good has come out of this Ebola episode, it is that it has highlighted the inadequacies in all sections of our society. A more than inadequate health provision, a more that inadequate leadership (our government ministries and departments are ineffective) but most of all a more than inadequate collective mentality. Yes o, mi pipul dem we wais comot na doe. We have been putting lipstick on a pig for way too long; bandaging an injury that requires deep surgery. Where are our voices? The country is plunged into darkness and instead of taking to the streets to demand electricity; those who can afford it buy generators. Our schools deteriorate and instead of demanding higher standards; those who can afford it send their kids to private schools or out of the country. I ask again, where are our voices, and where have they been for the last 50+ years of so called independence? The better off, more enlightened and educated people in Sierra Leone need to look at themselves and ask whether they are content that they did all they could to change the status quo or rather did their silence assist to further propel our country into her current state?
One hundred Sierra Leoneans die every month since the first outbreak in Sierra Leone. Had we built a society that valued responsibility and accountability, our leaders would have been more proactive and much of the mess we find ourselves in now would have been averted. We have blood on our hands. In 2014, it is no longer acceptable that we settle for campaign promises of electricity and clean water. These are necessities not luxuries. Without these basics, our country is going nowhere. Good health care, quality education for all, food for every family, electricity, water and good infrastructure are the basics that set the foundation for any developing nation to have a chance at thriving.
We need to look after and out for each other more. Our children should not be exposing themselves to sexual assault by paedophiles because they need to be out selling wares to make a living for their families. Every Sierra Leonean child deserves a happy childhood and it is our duty as fellow countrymen and women to make that happen. It is now time for a shift in our mentality, without which our country will continue this downward spiral. Do we ever wonder why despite the numerous churches and mosques in our nation, it appears God has forsaken us? I suppose it is his way of showing us that we need to work at our situation. God is not going to come down and change things. Our over dependence on miracles and divine interventions is just an excuse for our laziness and laid back attitude. We need to get up and act and then God will bless our actions.
We need our fathers, mothers and teachers to drive us forward in our quest for a corruption free and progressive society. Let us lay the foundation for change so that future generations can enjoy Sierra Leone in ways we never did. Our children deserve more. Let us unlock our potential and together we can raise Sierra Leone to heights we never imagined. To understand a man, you must know his memories. The same is true of a nation. Not until we dare to regard ourselves as a nation; not until we respect ourselves will we gain the esteem of others. Rather, only then will it come of its own accord. Let us buck this trend of accepting mediocrity and take back what is ours.
By The TNFC Committee