Reasons why Sierra Leoneans Must Think beyond Tribal and Regional Lines Before Casting their Ballots This Time.

Dr Sorie Gassama, authos

As the national or general elections loom in Sierra Leone and, as a true citizen, I solemnly pray and hope with all hopes that Sierra Leoneans of the voting age will consider carefully who they would vote for, come March 2018. The divisive and immature nature of politics as it exists in Sierra Leone has, to a greater extent, contributed to the country lagging behind nearly all other countries in terms of progressive development. My readers should be mindful of the fact that certain countries in Africa would rather develop retrogressively than progressively, a situation wherein governments embark on ego-boosting programs that aren’t beneficial to the average citizen.

A government which expends its energy for the benefit of the people is a progressive government and that is what Sierra Leoneans want at this time after being in the doldrums for ages. It is therefore absolutely necessary for fellow citizens to refrain from casting their valued votes in favor of candidates because of tribal or regional affiliations but on how genuine and capable that candidate is, otherwise stagnation in progress is bound to follow.

Patriotic citizens cast their votes with their country in mind, not their regions or tribes. How long will it take for us to know that the demise of one citizen is a tragedy to the nation in general? Of what benefit is it for any citizen, whether enticed by bribery or otherwise, to vote for a candidate knowing fully well that the candidate’s main objective is to enrich himself at the detriment of the masses? Sierra Leone can only start seeing some progress when the citizens come to know that it is the country that matters most and not the tribe or region. I will present below tangible reasons why Sierra Leoneans must vote for any other party other than the APC this time.

When the present regime came to power almost ten wasted years ago, their slogan was “Agenda for Prosperity” which was a good one at that time as people were eagerly looking for a change though, sadly enough, that change never came to fruition. The slogan was a grave miscalculation on the side of the powers-that-be for the simple but glaring reason that they completely lacked the know-how and the manpower to bring about those changes that would ultimately bring about prosperity. This has been due to the fact that the APC government hired a bunch of misfits to do the jobs that would usher the country into prosperity not because these people had the qualifications to do the jobs but because they were either party supporters or through familial affiliations. By doing so, the lackluster government failed to take cognizant of the fact that the rag tags they employed were paid at tax payers’ expense. As it is with all degenerated governments in Africa, the APC government knew they were putting square pegs in round holes but they grossly ignored the reality of it all. To them, what mattered most was that party diehards or relatives got the jobs, while the masses were sent to oblivion.

The sad result of it all is that all major cities and towns in Sierra Leone are today known as the darkest in spite of our rich resources; our streets and roads are a nightmare; tap water pipes are dry and rusty, a symbol of the dry and rustiness of the government; teachers trek across the borders in search of greener pastures where there are good and timely payment of salaries and where they wouldn’t find a listless Minister of Education; the shelves of hospitals are empty of vital medications and patients die seven times before their death and, tragically enough, the once vibrant educational system has collapsed like a pack of cheap cards. While all this is happening, those in power, their relatives and their henchmen continue to amass wealth with insatiable greed and impunity. Resultantly, that hitherto hopeful slogan, Agenda for Prosperity, ended up being Agenda for Economic Disparity, with the corrupt rich getting richer and the poor citizenry, who support and vote for politicians, are left grinding their teeth. It has become a smash-and-grab situation where individual wealth is more glamorous than national prosperity.

History has long taught us that the first step towards gearing a country along the progressive path is by making available electricity and abundance of it. The so-called Agenda for Prosperity ought to have started with that. A country with an intermittent supply of electricity cannot be considered as one on the path to prosperity. Prosperity comes with a country being able to process basic agricultural products into preserved consumables that can hold for a long time; prosperity is when a country can boast of developing light industries that can produce and provide the basic needs of the citizens. But, alas, all these are lacking in Sierra Leone and have become a pipe dream despite the jargon, Agenda for Prosperity, being the mantra of the present political hierarchy for the past decade.

As it stands, our citizens have to always make perilous trips to Guinea to buy and sell basic goods, while being militantly harassed by greedy, rude, untamed, and insatiable Guinean police. With electricity, and the existence of a few light industries, our women won’t go through all the molestations they suffer from the hands of the inhospitable and malfeasant Guinean police.

Prosperity also comes with foreign investors’ willingness to invest in the country. For one to invest in a country, there should always be that trust that the returns will surpass the invested entity. In economics, there are four factors of production, all with returns: land-rent, labor-wages, capital-interest, and entrepreneur-profit. In a nutshell, even a mad man would think twice before throwing his money through the window.  “Jetter l’argent par la fenȇtre’’ as popularly said in French. No sober-minded investor would invest in a country with no electricity, like Sierra Leone, and no functioning water system.

While the Guinean President made electricity available in all of Guinea in only two years after he became President, the present government in Sierra Leone has, disappointingly, not succeeded in doing so for ten years of ignominy. If Sierra Leone’s present situation is counted as prosperity, it simply becomes a misnomer, or we can simply call it “retrogressive prosperity”. I have no pride in saying that Sierra Leone, as it stands today, remains the most backward country on the globe when infrastructure is considered.

 I have travelled broadly in the world and can attest to the fact that some countries with minimal resources are richer and far ahead of us. The reason for this is that as of yet, most of our past and present leaders have been rather self-serving and ostentatious, considering the country as their personal property the sooner they are propelled to power. Good to say that the problems of the masses that voted them in are soon forgotten while things affecting their henchmen and relatives become paramount. Building a country requires patriots and logical-thinking individuals, the likes we are yet to have. Maybe, with a careful choice this time based on the country in mind instead of tribe or religion, a patriot will emerge. That in itself will be a perfect beginning.

Sierra Leone, where I grew up, was a country with plenty to eat, all locally grown. A banana at that time was the size of the arm of a well-fed person; oranges, mangoes, etc. were in abundance and so cheap that a child could easily afford them. That memorable period of plentifulness is no more, as our rich and fertile lands have been left to fallow during the decade-long period of APC malfeasance. Thank God cucumbers have started to emerge at last as the APC period of stagnation comes to an end.

While visiting Sierra Leone a few years back, I bought cucumbers in Makeni and had to replace a tooth because they were as hard as granite. It is evidently clear that the APC government has done absolutely nothing to cajole those industrious farmers, who previous lived in the hinterland but now noticeably live in squalor in the city, to return to their lands after being displaced by the brutal civil war that devastated our country. A good government would induce those hardworking farmers to return home and till the soil for the benefit of the whole country but the government has been too busy depleting the economy than thinking about national prosperity. Anyone reading this piece can prove me right by driving along the Freetown-Kabala thoroughfare. The sooner you go past Waterloo, all you see are savanna grasslands and bushes, which are beckoning and inviting people to farm on them. What we have in Sierra Leone in terms of land is “Manna” from God, yet our survival disgracefully depends on imported rice and other basic commodities. Fruits in Sierra Leone have become luxury items meant only for the well-placed who can import them from across the Guinean border. Pitiful, isn’t it? And we can still boast of having a Department of Agriculture which is virtually incapable of doing anything that would better the situation, yet it is strongly funded with taxpayer funds. Sierra Leone is blessed with abundant rainfall, fertile soil and a beautiful climate.  Therefore, if we have well-focused leaders, Sierra Leone should be an exporter, not importer, of food. It is a pity that once in power, the powers-that-be become more concerned with financial gains than the affairs of the populace. A leader must consider himself as head of the household and would sleep only after making sure that the people he has been elected to take care of are well-nurtured, otherwise he is no better than a DEADBEAT DAD.

With its abundance of rainfall, Sierra Leone should be the last country in the world to lack water supply, provided politicians consider water supply as a priority. Unfortunately, nothing is being done to address the acute water shortage, not even in the capital city. Freetown still remains the only city in the world with ultra-dry water pipes dangling idly above the ground. The spectacle is nothing short of the Dark Ages, and can hardly be considered as true in this modern world. Yet it is very true.

A documentary I saw a few months ago about Sierra Leone showed school children fetching water from street gutters for drinking and bathing. The commentator candidly stated that most of those kids sometimes take weeks without attending classes because of problems from diarrhea as a result of drinking water fetched from street gutters. The question is what happens to all the money that the government receives from foreign governments in the forms of loans and grants meant to ameliorate the lives of the people? I bet that answer will never come. The APC Agenda for Prosperity should have considered a clean water system as an utmost priority, unless it considers filth, water shortage and ill-health as prosperity. A progressive and sane government will consider it a high priority to make available clean water for its citizens. That should be considered a right, not a privilege.

 I will briefly discuss another important topic: Education. Education is supposed to be the top priority for any progressive government because it is the only passport to a brighter future. The best interest comes from investing in education. Failure to do so is equal to depriving the young generation of the most powerful tool that they can use to change the society at large. Education comes with intensive thinking and love for the nation. Many negative things have happened in Sierra Leone that wouldn’t have happened if the government had invested adequately in education.

The popular saying that “An idle brain is the devil’s workshop” is currently at play in Sierra Leone where, because of the acute negligence of education by the powers-that-be, many youths have taken to the abuse of drugs and other delinquent acts. This I have personally witnessed myself. During my recent visit, I spoke to a KEKE driver that I hired during a commute to Wellington. Like always, I was anxious to know his background and what might have enticed him to become the driver of a three-wheel motorized vehicle considering his youthful look. I was surprised to learn that he was a graduate from Fourah Bay College with a major in English and a minor in French. Asked why he was not engaged in another trade that befits his qualifications, he told me with no hesitation that he would rather do what he was doing and be able to feed his family than teach and not get paid for months on end while his family goes hungry. The French language being one of my passions, I tried to engage him in a lengthy conversation, but had to divert to Krio on discovering that his French was substandard. That is a perfect example of how far the Agenda for Prosperity has taken the nation. A government that ignores paying educators ceases to be a responsible government because the teacher is both the belly and the heart of the educational system. To emphasize the importance of a teacher to society, I refer the reader to read the parable of the belly in Shakespeare’s play, “Coriolanus”. A teacher is the store-house and the shop from which the nation receives its natural competency. Ignoring the teacher then is allowing the nation to sink into a state of complete and irreparable dilapidation.

Education, which must top the government’s priorities, has progressively decayed in the past ten years. To say that education has collapsed can be a complete understatement. Several factors account for this unfortunate situation, the two most important of which are the complete lack of interest of the powers-that-be in the educational system, and the hiring of incompetent, lazy and corrupt officials to head the Department of Education.

A progressive educational system requires the hiring of qualified and experienced educators that can put in place what it takes for children to become academically sound, not what to do in maneuvering a  system that helps children cheat while taking the credit for make- belief good exam results that lack validity and  reliability. Let my statement here serve not as malice but as love for my country and countrymen. As we treat our biological children, so must we treat those of others. No one would like to see his or her child falsely progressing from one grade to the other while lagging behind academically. Any conscientious human will consider this as a heinous crime, one that requires indictment. I wish for all the children of Sierra Leone the quality education that I was once privileged to have, and that brought me this far on the academic echelon. Why then are those poor kids being denied that privilege?

It is also very accurate to blame the total collapse of education on the incompetency and lackadaisical attitude of officials, ranging from the minister down to the bottom-most person. If you allow a train driver to fly a plane, that plane is bound to crash not because of technological failure, but because the man in the cockpit knows nothing about how to fly a plane.

My advice to any incoming government is to avoid the nepotism that has been in vogue for the past ten years in the appointment of public officials. Do not, I repeat, do not give people positions that you know they are incapable of productively handling even when they are friends, relatives or party members. As long as they lack the qualifications and abilities to perform the tasks, they should be set aside. Go beyond party lines to find qualified and conscientious people to do the jobs. After all, it is Sierra Leone that matters, not individuals or parties. The progress of the nation must come first. After the elections, the winner must take time to collect resumes from qualified citizens, interview them in good faith, and make sure they are up to the tasks before giving them the jobs. A good Minister of Education should be one that will make sure that all government-sponsored schools in Sierra Leone are equipped with IT labs at no expense from the government or the taxpayers.

Ministers, like all government officials, must consider themselves as servants to the people and, as such, perform their tasks accordingly. Only when this is done will the country’s present horrible situations change for the better. Conscience and love for the nation are of essence if we must make Sierra Leone the great nation that God mandated it to be. As it is at the moment, once propelled to ministerial positions, ministers consider themselves absolute. They visit their offices as they feel fit and ignore the needs of those people that they have been hired to serve.  The below are just a few things that ministers should be doing to help the country meet its many challenges:

A Minister of Education that fails to make all stake-holders as partners is a dunce who woefully falls short of what he’s hired to do. The welfare of teachers, students and parents must be the preoccupation of a competent Education Minister, not visiting the office for one hour and disappearing for two days thereafter. The minister must be on a constant and meaningful move at all times. How can you tell the problems and know the needs of the teachers and students of Jimmy Bagboi, Foredugu, Bafodeya, Nemesedu, Sokurala, etc., if you just engage in other issues without visiting those localities? A visit and an interaction with the stake-holders in the localities will let the minister into the needs of the schools and help him brainstorm solutions to the problems with his boss. Sitting idly in an air-conditioned office or in front of the television, with the remote control in hand while switching from channel to channel, won’t do the job at all. As a minister, it is always worth being pro-active while making the school children a priority. Until this is done, things will never change for the better in our country.

As it stands, the curricula of schools in Sierra Leone need a complete overhaul. I am pleading to the next government to take this as an urgent issue. The hiring of a qualified educator that will surround himself with capable people to work on the curricula will be a first step. Judging from the woeful educational standards of our children at the moment, they are far from being academically challenged. A modification of the curricula from kindergarten to secondary is of the utmost necessity. In academia, value adding should be the norm, so that both formative and summative assessments of school children would be greatly considered as a way of improving their performances.

As an educator, I have had the opportunity to work with Ministries of Education in many Anglophone and Francophone countries where teachers have to meet certain benchmarks worthy of educators. Statistics have shown that offering teachers constant workshops on current trends in education, paying them well, and holding them responsible for students’ learning outcomes have always produced positive results. The trend these days is to have a Department within the Department of Education that researches current trends and organizes workshops for teachers. To avoid centralizing such a Department saves time and money. Each District should have a Department responsible for this, making sure that workshops for all schools on a yearly basis are equitably scheduled. Workshop presenters in all District Headquarters can easily make it to schools within the city and surrounding villages. School counsellors must also be trained and made available to help the many children that keep dropping out of school partly due to the after-effects of the brutal civil war, most of whom were child soldiers that were forcefully conscripted by the despicable and ragtag RUF. Due to the abject poverty that continues to prevail, children from poor homes and prematurely pregnant girls need special counselling.  Studies have shown that the failure to promote girls’ education is a major factor responsible for the abject poverty in Sub- Saharan Africa. An educated working female can always come handy in promoting the welfare of the family. Forcing girls into early marriages must be considered a crime. Empowering women starts with educating them. Having alternative schools for high-risk students in each district for a start will go a long way to prevent the high dropout pandemic that the country is currently experiencing. It should be known that having too many children dropping out of school to become Okada Riders is just a temporary fix that may escalate into insurmountable problems.

Of all countries in the world, Sierra Leone should be one to export instead of importing food. With fertile soil and abundant rainfall, all that stands in our way is the lack of will and technological knowhow. Instead of accepting handouts from China in the form of cash, or a deal to build toll roads that don’t serve the purpose, we should be asking for farming machineries and experts to make our farmers better in what they are doing. The government itself can produce enough food to sell at a cheaper rate to the populace. This is how to do it: Get the machines and hire all those unemployed in the country to work in the farms for decent wages. This will help cut down on unemployment, reduce corruption as well as flood the market with enough food at cheaper prices. This is what most countries do to make them self-sufficient. To this effect, the Minister of Agriculture must put on his boots and drive a heavy duty pickup truck that will safely deliver him to the farms, instead of sitting lethargically in a cozy office or in an air-conditioned Mercedes Benz car. As a Minister of Agriculture, spending four days in the farms and one day in the office is a sign of commitment and the burning desire to serve the people of Sierra Leone. It is hard to come to grips with the fact that desert countries can feed themselves while we go on importing perhaps plastic rice to sell to our people at cut-throat prices.

To conclude, I pray that the next government will avoid partisanship in selecting those who can serve our nation. There is nothing wrong in going across party lines to select the best. The best can be those who hold the right qualifications and their willingness to have the job done with the nation at heart. Employing Mr. X or Mrs. Z just because they are party die-hards while knowing they cannot meet the challenges is pulling the nation down. In selecting those to serve in foreign missions, make sure you select those that can represent the country with pride because Ambassadors have to present their credentials to government officials of the host nation and should do it the right way. The country ceases to be respected as soon as it is discovered that the person representing the country does not meet the credentials required to do so. Why send an Ambassador to Guinea, Belgium, and France that cannot hold basic conversation in French? If you choose to, make sure he or she has enough qualifications for the host country to admire and respect. How about making Sierra Leone a nation that we can all be proud of?

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About CEN 570 Articles

Critique Echo Newspaper is a major source of news and objective analyses about governance, democracy and human-right. Edited and published in Kenema city, eastern Sierra Leone, the outlet is generally referred to as a level plying ground for the youths, women and children.

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