By Abdulai Mansaray, UK
Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter. Shakespeare once wrote that “a jest’s prosperity lies in the ear of him that hears it, never in the tongue of him that makes it”. Over the past weeks, the country has been drip fed on doses of patriotism. In Sierra Leone today, we have quangos, unions, committees, organisations, stakeholders all breast beating and declaring some undying love for the country. “When a whole nation is roaring patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanliness of its hands and purity of its heart” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) with this “new found” identity has come a set of paranoia as the default position. The least that can be expected from any citizen of any country is patriotism. This is an element that goes without saying and there is nothing wrong with being patriotic. It is a necessary ingredient for nation building, peaceful existence, reconciliation, development, etc. For a country to move forward, it must benefit from the actions, ideals, spirit and good will of its citizens first. But it is the self proclaiming fervour with which such ideals have been chorused lately that have raised some eye brows. Mark Twain once described a patriot as “the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about”
Like I said earlier, it is a default position for every citizen to be patriotic. Life is made up of opposites. You are tall or short, fat or thin, beautiful or ugly etc. It is this inequality in life that gives life’s beauty. With this in mind, does that mean we have unpatriotic people in our midst? If there are Sierra Leoneans who do not feel patriotic towards Sierra Leone, the question is “what makes someone unpatriotic”? What are the yardsticks of patriotism and what makes someone unpatriotic, to the country he or she belongs. Is patriotism measured along the lines of political affiliations? Does it mean that if one is not inherently supportive of a particular political party, does that make them unpatriotic? If that is the case, considering that ruling parties change or have the propensity to change with each general election, does that mean that patriotism has an expiry date? When the music changes, so does the dance .If anything, patriotism is not a short, frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. Looking from inside out, it sounds very plausible that any critical eye on the ruling government at any time is easily deemed as unpatriotic. By implication, are we saying that the ruling party is beyond reproach or opposition parties are angelic? The newly formed Patriotic Organisations is well and good; and in the case of Sierra Leone, it can be seen as and extension of the drive for attitudinal change; one of the cardinal points of the Koroma government. That in itself is laudable; the drive to sensitise the general public about the need for a consensus push towards the betterment of all and sundry. In line with the drive to enthuse patriotism, the adage “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” comes to mind. It is all well and good for politicians to preach the rhetoric and ask the citizens to be patriotic, but it is equally important for those politicians to give their citizens something to be patriotic about. There is a lot to be patriotic about in Sierra Leone and being a Sierra Leonean. Unfortunately, it seems that such levels of patriotism have been hijacked and peddled along the lines of political affiliations and persuasions; to a point that it is bordering on the paranoia. When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.
Nevertheless, it can be very tempting especially for citizens in the Diaspora, to maintain negative attitudes towards the land of their birth. This is not a psychometric analysis but some people seem to see their country in direct comparison to their “greener pastures”. It is therefore not surprising that standards and costs of living are frequently used to gauge the level of developments in their respective countries. It is also not surprising that “Diasporans” are sometimes viewed as foreign citizens. Using adopted countries or the Western world as a yardstick can have its inherent tendencies for misguided targets and comparisons. No matter how long you swim beside a crocodile, he’s still not your brother. On the other hand, such comparisons can only serve as good focal points to aspire to. It is unquestionable that such aspirations are borne out of Patriotism; the desire for one’s country to develop and to be or have what’s best for a developed country. It is the lack of such achievements that generate negative feelings and frustrations; especially when judged against the background of the country’s resources and potential. But such frustrations should be used positively to steer the country into the right path; as there is a risk of taking it out of context.
Against such a background, does the tiger need to boast of its tigritude? It is known that the current political climate in Sierra Leone is generating a monsoon atmosphere. It has been built up into frenzy, with accusations and counter accusations becoming rampant. Disgracefully, the mainstream media has become a weapon for attacks, insults, mudslinging, character assassinations and the whole lot. It is well and good for the press to serve as a medium to preach patriotism, but the current state of the media seems to leave little to be patriotic about. The kind of insults traded in print is difficult to understand. The well meaning minority of journalists have been overwhelmed by those who see the press as a means to serve vested and personal interests. It has now become a medium for vendettas, as they jostle to place themselves in the favourable lights of their paymasters. Hatred has become so respectable that it has been allowed to masquerade as patriotism. It is this George Bush-esque “you are either with us or against us” mentality that seems to gnaw into the social fabric of our society. In patriotism, there is a fine line between a noble devotion and moral bankruptcy. A very responsible position has been hijacked by some irresponsible and literary thugs, and in the bargain misuse the “press freedom” that the country is relatively enjoying; an oxygen of democracy.
Patriotism has been defined in various ways. Under the Koroma government, there is no question that a lot has been done to move forward. The drive for infrastructural development, healthcare, and so many reported changes are all noticeable for all to see. There have been a lot of positive things to shout about. But the President himself will be the first to admit that there is more to be done. In praising the government’s achievements, we should not be blinded by the fact that the country still has a long way to go and people should be allowed to point them out; irrespective of whether it is APC, MDC, PPP, SLPP or ABC. A journey of a million miles starts with a step. So people should not be seen as unpatriotic for raising the issues of high prices, high cost of living, adding an extra 40% to imported cars and the condition of the Kono road, among others as an act of unpatriotic stance.
There is nothing criminal about criticizing the government, as long as it is constructive. There are always three sides to a story; my side, your side and then the truth. Patriotism cannot be reduced only to owing allegiance to the country, waving the flag or singing the national anthem in baritones. Patriotism is also about loyalty to a principle, which includes justice, humanity and striving that the country be righteous and strong. It is therefore expected that constructive criticism will include acknowledging and praising the government for its achievements, but at the same time pointing out its deficiencies in areas that need improvement.
There is an obvious need for a balanced approach here. And as long as the criticism is geared towards shaping a better world of the country, one would not quarrel with that. It does not matter if it is APC, SLPP, MDC, ABCD, EFGH, or IJKL. Patriotic citizens do not need to be affiliated to political parties to express their patriotism .The issue of patriotism brings to mind the recent Timbergate saga. Corruption was the central theme of the documentary. The fallout from this cannot be over-emphasised; and opinions have been expressed along diverse interpretations. On the one hand, Sorious has been charged, tried, tarred, feathered and hanged for his “unpatriotic” behaviour by some sections of the media.
From a critique point of view, it is obvious that one can take a hacksaw to the whole documentary and rip it to shreds. But that’s for another day. Others have questioned his motives for his piece. While some have seen it as a personal attack and revenge on the APC government, others see it as some political point scoring on behalf of the SLPP. In spite of the various interpretations, one cannot deny that corruption is central. Unfortunately, the theme of corruption has been lost here. The debate has been debased into personality attacks, name calling, and political brinkmanship. His professionalism, objectivity, honesty, fairness, sense of purpose, loyalty and patriotism has all been put on the anvil. Nevertheless, it has got everybody talking and has put the issue of corruption back on the agenda. If his agenda was guided by political or personal reasons, putting the issue of corruption under the microscope can be seen as equally patriotic. Did I just say patriotic? You could feel the breath of the re-branding police pulling their hair out now.
There is always the danger of confusing patriotism with nationalism. In the eyes of many, the documentary can best be described as un-nationalistic. They see it as going against the national interest and painting the picture of a country that is infested with corruption at the highest level. Such a picture is not palatable to investors or the international community. The need for investors in Sierra Leone is paramount among others, if we are to rebrand or move forward. Any attempt to gridlock such a drive can be seen as anti- Sierra Leonean. But on the other hand, exposing corruption can be one of the highest forms of patriotism on show; for patriotism is guided by principles.
But again, there is a danger of patriotism being used as the last refuge of the scoundrel. In some instances, patriotic fervour can obliterate moral distinctions whereby evil deeds can be performed in its name. There are a lot of Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad that have done a lot of good for the motherland without shouting from the rooftops. Some have done so through scholarships, medical supplies, books, food etc. These people have not sought the limelight or anything in exchange, hence their low key activities. There are others whose “patriotism” has been double-edged. It is understandable when some acts of good will are published; if it is to inspire others. There is nothing wrong to inspire others to help the country in their own ways. One would only hope that such breast beating patriotism is not based along political party lines; for blind patriotism can only provide moral consolation and a psychological basis for denial. To all intents and purposes, the hope is that all Sierra Leoneans love the country and hope for the best. There are many ways to unite the country without generating a siege mentality. Patriotism and political party affiliations are strange bed mates and we should not confuse the two. Let us strive as a nation, irrespective of our differences in politics, religion, gender, height, weight or the size of our TVs.
Turn that light off, please.