Brain Power to Muscle Power

17 September 2010 at 04:01 | 1549 views

By Oswald Hanciles, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The government of President Ernest Bai Koroma is 3 years old. It is mid term. If it were in the United States, legislative elections that would give his governing APC party thumbs up or boo him (into and out of congressional seats) would be a measureable and electoral way of judging how a president is performing. In the absence of such ‘People’s Power Mid Term Judgment’, appraisal of President Koroma is left to his spin doctors: the persuasive Alhaji I.B. Kargbo, information/communications minister; and the honey-tongued Alhaji Alpha Kanu, his mineral resources/political affairs minister. The SLPP political opposition, with their pudgy pugnacious Chairman, John Benjamin, and the gauntly professorial and belligerent Secretary General, J.J. Siaffa, are resolute in their determination to snuff out any triumphant flame of achievement that Ernest Koroma’s men would be lighting up. With their political colors disguised under the cloak of the semblance of expected journalistic objectivity, journalists/columnists – including the indefatigable and irrepressible medical doctor-turned-politician-turned-newspaper columnist, Dr. Sama S. Banya, in his PUAWI Column – are leading the Analysts Brigade. With my pen, no, my keyboard ‘silent’ for almost six months, the timing is right for me to awaken from not exactly a Rip Van Winkle-sleep and join the crescendo of media analysts.

I am going to give the President a grade of 88%......I can see and feel John Benjamin cringing at that grade from me!! Please note, the opening sentence on this paragraph is incomplete. So, let me complete that sentence. I am going to give the President a grade of 88% in the area of provision of electricity in the city of Freetown!!!

Don’t blame me for going rhapsodic about Ernest and giving him such an excellent grade in the Subject of ‘Electricity’. For nearly all the eleven years President Tejan Kabbah was in power, especially the three years approaching the 2007 elections, the area in central Freetown where I live would be plunge in darkness at night - 97% of the time. I am one of those people who are as nocturnal as owls and tigers. When others are sleeping, I am awake. Not preying, of course. Working! Not having electricity from the national grid in pre-Ernest Bai Koroma years meant I had to invest almost Le2million to purchase a good generator. It meant spending at least two gallons of petrol every night to fuel my generator – and three to four gallons when I really have to work for longer hours. It meant waking up my boy at midnight to crank up my generator. It meant the security risk of opening my kitchen door to put my generator in such a way that the fumes won’t get into my house and asphyxiate my children to death. (You remember that celebrated case of 98.1 FM radio journalist, Arthur Pratt, whose entire family perished from electricity generator fumes – which was derisively labeled by the public as ‘Kabbah Tigers’?). That everpresent fear of generator fumes ‘murdering’ my children was palpable. A night hawk like me having to daily endure such dehumanizing situation was worse than putting me inside Pademba Road maximum security prisons for allegations which would be clearly false. O, thanks to Ernest, I now literally, and figuratively, have seen The Light!!!!

Thanks to Ernest today, when I wake up at midnight, there is Light!!! I put on my water heater and indulge myself with one of my ‘sins’ – piping hot black coffee!!! Hmmm… Aaaa!!! Inveterate coffee drinkers, even, those addicted to black coffee, would appreciate that heavenly feeling of scalding hot coffee on intellectual palates. I put on my lap top computer hooked up to the internet. And from Freetown, I link up with the rest of the world: on two of the cyberspace forums I am part of, peopled mainly by Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora – Leonet and Freedom of Information-SL – I would be debating with highly educated and well-positioned Sierra Leoneans in the early hours of the morning. And, boy, would I brag!! ‘We have 23hrs 30 minutes on average electricity in Freetown nowadays!!! Leave the ‘hell’ of the U.S. and come to the ‘heaven’ that is Freetown – especially with our idyllic beaches…’. Surely, even if you are fanatical political opposition to Ernest, you are going to increase my 88% grade for him in the realm of electricity to 97%, right?

Look, what I would spend on buying petrol for FOUR DAYS in pre-Ernest’s years is what I now spend on average ONE MONTH today to top up my pre-paid meter for electricity from the National Power Authority (NPA). Who can quantify the peace of mind I now have that there no more generator fumes to threaten the lives of my children? And, as the Liberians would say, ‘Mer meh!! My productivity level has spiked!!’ That is really what electricity in cities should be mainly about – to enable people to dramatically increase their productivity. This brings me to the juncture that would give meaning to the title of this piece.

Have those of us who use mainly ‘brain power’ used about the most telling achievement of the Ernest Bai Koroma presidency in Freetown - providing us with regular electricity - to harness the ‘muscle power’ of the majority of our people?

“The introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in January this year was supposed to raise revenue for Government in the area of indirect taxes. The system has successfully raised billions of Leones in the last eight months, but it has fueled inflation. Particularly of concern is the price of essential goods that are not even covered by GST. A sachet of milk last December was Le400. Today it is Le800…It looks like the more the government desperately searches for sources of income because of the reductions in donations to the country, the more the economic noose is tightened on the neck of the poor masses….”: those lines are from the most consistently prolific columnist in recent years, Theo Nicol, in ‘MY VIEW’, published in PREMIER NEWS, page 5, September 15, 2010.

Theo Nicol lands a broadside at our leading finance/economics expert: “….I have on several occasions listened to the brilliant speeches from the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Samura Kamara. He has always espoused sound economic theories, but the effect of such brilliant theories is yet to be felt among the people. They remain largely elitist and sometimes far removed from the reality on the ground here….”.

Do not gloss over Theo’s words: “….the more the economic noose is tightened on the neck of the poor masses…”. In case you miss the imagery there, let me build up on it. It is like daily sending thousands of our innocent citizenry to be executed by hanging at Pademba Road prisons. Did that jolt your smug and callused sensibilities? And, that upper cut on Dr. Samura really should be generic to his profession. What have all the economists over the past fifty years done in terms of stimulating wealth in our country in spite of the disproportionate mineral riches of our country? The immediacy of today’s galloping inflation apart, what have the highly paid economists in our ministries done to even minimize festering poverty, checkmate scary youth unemployment…? Corner these economists with these questions and they are likely to go into a frenzy of finger pointing.

They would finger the politicians. They would blame the decadent bureaucrats in the public sector. They would lampoon the lazy and unproductive people….In response here, I would turn a spotlight on one of my intellectual bibles: Susan George’s book, ‘A Fate Worse than Debt’, written in the late 1980s. In the wake of the Debt Crisis some twenty years ago (not the recent 21st Century one) in which too many of the economies of the developing countries crashed, Susan George made a clarion call for a dramatic paradigm shift in the way the world goes about doing business – away from the pat economic theories of econometricians, the complacent theories of economic institutions like the IMF, World Bank, etc. They have failed!! Their failure has been made manifest in not only increasing squalid urban poverty for the world’s majority since the Bretton Woods institutions were formed after the Second World War, but, it has sired the worst form of global poverty which is almost irreversible for the world’s majority – Environmental Poverty. As we square off to appraise Ernest’s Mid Term performance today, I will not refer you to only a book written by a Caucasian European woman; I would take a leaf from our own Negroid President Ernest Bai Koroma’s own ‘A-B-C’ book.

There must be a ‘Change of Attitude’ to economics; to economists. Salvation for a country like ours lie in Sierra Leoneans having the intellectual courage to redefine what ‘economics’ is all about; to inject new variables in how we use our brain power to harness the muscle power of the majority of our people. This means an interdisciplinary approach to our problems. It means the economists must merge their theories with the critiques of the philosophers, and the evangelical fervor of the preachers, to be propelled by the energies of the majority youth. Elaboration of my apparently pedantic words here would mean more newspaper articles. I still have ‘Ernest’ Electricity’ flowing in my house at about 2.26 a.m.; still have time to do more work for where I earn my ‘ress en pamine’, so, be patient with me; as I praise President Koroma the way we all should – working harder and harder with the power of the electricity he has stimulated for Freetown. As a writer/philosopher, I state categorically that taking advantage of the awesome economic opportunities of multi million dollar investments of mining companies like African Minerals to keep pace with the urgent demands of plummeting living standards of especially the urban poor would demand flexible thinking, bold imagination….And political will, of course. Or, Ernest’s Light could be dimmed in political rejection in 2012. Or, Worse!!