About five hundred and fifty two years ago, a voyager from Portugal sailed along the Atlantic Ocean in the West Africa coast of Africa. Sierra Leone was considered to be a mountainous region inhabited by ferocious lions. The sound of thunder and lightning captivated the inquisitive mind of Pedro da Centra who believed that Lions were roaming and roaring on that beautiful land mass. What he may not have known was that the people of Sierra Leone embodied the undeniable character traits of the African Lion – a fearless and brave people blessed with the unique talent of shaping their own destiny.
In 1844 to 1845, at the Berlin conference in Germany, the British scrambled for and partitioned Sierra Leone along with the Gambia, Nigeria and Ghana respectively. The centralization of colonial administration in Freetown was strategically due to the logistical advantage that Sierra Leone provided to the British colonial government at that time. The Abolitionists like Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce selected Freetown as a sanctuary and settlement resort for freed African slaves from Britain and North America because Sierra Leone had the character to be a defining nation that will protect the freedom and liberty of its people.
It was in April 27, 1961, a native son from Gbangbatoke, in Moyamba District – Sir Milton Margai who led a movement to demand for self- determination and self-rule against colonial subjugation. This genuine patriot spearheaded an independent struggle at Lancaster House in England. He told the British colonialist that Sierra Leone was ready to the affairs of its own government. And a new nation was born with the immaculate flying flag of the green, white and blue colors. Since that pioneered effort of Prime Minister Margai – no Sierra Leonean have been so serious enough to move that nation to a higher plain of prosperity either by lifting the people out of their degrading social conditions or empowering them to develop their communities and families.
Nonetheless, the birth of modern education emerged from the mountain top of Fourah Bay College where Africans from Nigeria to Gambia would come to pursue higher learning. The deep sea port of Queen Elizabeth II Quay became a gateway to commerce and trade for the first post colonial independent government. Democratic institutions like a structural judicial system, a well functioning civil service and Western style education flourished. And Fourah Bay College (FBC) produced ethical leaders who were honest and forthright in building a post independent nation. The legacy of colonialism was exploitative and evil but the gross mismanagement and widespread corruption in government today maybe far more catastrophic than the former.
In 1967, a fiery police constable and trade unionist leader Siaka Probyn Stevens won the hotly contested election from Sir Albert Margai who eventually championed his arrest and detention. But Brigadier John Amara Bangura took the side of democracy and handed the mantle of leadership to President Stevens. However, the Stevens era were marred by political entrenchment, violent elections, execution of political oppositions and the declaration of a one party state. While other West African nations were emerging from colonial degradation to educating their citizens, building new alliances, and constructing new super highways, Sierra Leone was entangled into the Siaka Steven’s power consolidation strategy from expanding the security apparatus to eliminating political enemies.
After a failed state was created, Siaka Stevens handpicked a loyalist Major General in the army – Joseph Saidu Momoh to the seat of power – a man who had no political experience about running a national government. That led to a stateless society where government cannot even afford to pay civil servants, military personnel, police officers and teachers. The disintegration of public institutions created the conditions that led to a rebel conflict. Foday Sankoh unleashed his terror movement – a war that was fought with the vicious amputation of limbs and the senseless killing of innocent civilians. Today, no efforts have been made to understand why Sierra Leone went to war with a rebel insurgency and what comprehensively could be done to avert such national tragedy in the future.
Indeed, the band of disgruntled low level military officers who stormed State House to demand better treatment and supply of military equipments saw an opportunity to seize power. The NPRC military government, however, became the poster child of the poor governance culture of the past – loathing state resources and living extravagant lifestyles. Sierra Leone virtually witnessed consecutive periods of mismanagement which further deteriorated the national economy and produced an impoverished society. Captain Valentine Strasser’s government was not only helplessly inexperience and politically ineffective, they became a massive drain to the national economy.
When Brigadier Julius Maada Bio staged a palace Coup and replaced Captain Strasser, more fear of political instability were anticipated. But the peaceful election on February 26, 1996 and the transfer of power to President Tejan Kabbah was a triumphant moment of democracy in Sierra Leone. However, the career diplomat turned President’s Election victory proved to be a mixed blessing. He could not turned the battered economy around, provide jobs for the youths and lift the people out of the cycle of poverty. Instead, he focused on winning the peace and building democratic public institutions which were historical and legacy- driven. But corruption was so rampant that Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo became a saint and Sierra Leone dipped from a low income country into a fragile state all together.
After the September run-off election in 2007 in which an insurance manager who became the leader of the APC party won that election – many Sierra Leoneans were convinced that a new day was born in Sierra Leone. He was seen as a redeemer – the man who would fight against corruption and run the country like a business institution with its corporate values and strategic mission for success. His magical smile captivated the hearts and minds of millions of citizens. Today, President Koroma joined the red bandwagon of Presidents who have failed to move Sierra Leone from an economically dependent country to a self-sufficient nation. His government is more corrupt than President Siaka Stevens and President Joseph Momoh combined in terms of the magnitude, scope and the depth of destruction to the national economy.
Additionally, his Presidency has not addressed the serious national challenges from electricity to water supply and sanitation, health care to quality education, food security and job opportunities for young Sierra Leoneans. Yet he continues to harbor a dangerous political instinct of seeking a third term that will doom his legacy and plunge the country into a state of social unrest. The “after you na you” slogan is now a political stigma that will forever hunt his Presidency. And such political ambition is the hallmark of extreme greed, the self-centered egocentric mindset and the culture of individualism that are major obstacles to democracy and development. To many Sierra Leoneans, such political overzealousness is grossly incomprehensible and fosters a lawless tendency to denigrating the constitutional laws of Sierra Leone.
Indeed, Sierra Leone has drifted away from the national values and core principles of our founding fathers. These few self-promulgated leaders have betrayed the trust of the people and lost the moral legitimacy of political governance. Political Power has become the necessity of choice instead of the will of the people. God has been abandoned in cabinet meetings and in the hearts of men and women who hold the sacred obligation to protect and care for their own citizens. A nation of six million people is poor because, many public officials – not leaders – believe in the concept of the “self- serving individualism” a ritual where amassing wealth are more important than expanding energy security to generate electricity for millions of households, encouraging foreign investments to create ladders of opportunities for the youths, while investing in technology and education to open doors for a child to surf the internet and learn about new realities.
Sierra Leone is an under developed country because the untapped resources and potential of its people has not been adequately harnessed due to the narcissistic personality disorder of those at the echelon of power who think that the politics of ‘place and tribe’ is the best weapon against their political nemesis. The problems we confront today are the loss of national values, entrenched corruption and the lack of strong commitment to nation building. There is a failure of leadership on all fronts simply because we do not see each other as Sierra Leoneans, but rather as opposing factions seeking to destroy one another Unfortunately, we installed the same political parties into governance that have repeatedly failed our people.
Our nation today is struggling from the poor governance culture of those in power who are so obsessed about retaining their political positions than improving the economy and eradicating diseases like Ebola and the high rates of maternal mortality among pregnant women. And foreign investments do not come with signing memorandums and handshakes: It happen when a nation proves its credit worthiness; its ability to pay its debts and its responsibility to manage its resources. When you have a “begging bowl’ that is leaking with wasted donor funds, a risk assessment report offers red signals to investors that – business opportunity is obsolete. When we distanced and marginalized potentials citizens from sharing their innovative talents, we are deprived of building the financial capacities to grow our economy and provide jobs for our citizens.
Nevertheless, Sierra Leone will rise again from the slumbers of its economic nightmares and the ghettos of its social predicaments. But we seriously need an ethical leadership that is integrity based across the board – one where politicians fear God and respect the dignity of every human personality. Sierra Leone will rise again when men and women of genuine conscience replace the value of “money and wealth” with the enduring legacy of becoming true “servants to the common people.” Sierra Leone will rise again when we begin to see each other not as distinct ethnic groups but as Sierra Leoneans with that unique purpose of advancing our freedom and democracy.
We did it in the past when the legendary John Karefa Smart inspired our nation to greater heights with his uncompromising principles of nationalism and his strong commitment to nation building. We did it not long ago when President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah taught us that we can shake hands and make peace with those who may be our enemies in the interest of peace and security by signing the Lome Peace accord. We revolutionized the world when a Sierra Leonean renowned scientist, Dr. Monty Jones discovered the NERICA rice – a cross breed of African and Asian rice – that is widely consumed all over the world today. We demonstrated our human ingenuity when Dr. David Kargo, a Sierra Leonean scientist equated to Einstein and Thomas Edison was indoctrinated into the world’s exclusive club of scientists for converting sludge (filth) and other fatty substance containing wastes into bio-diesel.
Sierra Leone will rise again from the ashes of incompetent government and the unpatriotic hands of those politicians who have betrayed the goodwill of our people. Sierra Leone will rise again from the brinks of ethnic discrimination and the dungeons of political exclusion into an economic hilltop of progress and prosperity for every Sierra Leonean. Sierra Leone will rise again from the divided walls of the “Northern and Southern politics” into a tolerant nation that believes in the goodness of its constitution. Sierra Leone will rise again from the evil door steps of those who deprive our children from enriching their lives and fulfilling their dreams. Sierra Leone will rise again because we are a can-do people who will overcome poverty with hope, eradicate disease with a common determination and improve the welfare of every citizen with the human character of compassion.