From the Editor’s Keyboard

Commending the Resilience of Sierra Leoneans

15 December 2007 at 00:30 | 723 views

By Abdulai Bayraytay in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

To reiterate that the West African state of Sierra Leone is the least developed nation in the world (courtesy of the United Nations Human Index Report) will be an understatement. An understatement because it is a country that has not only endured the worst of human suffering perpetuated by heartless souls during the country’s debilitating war from 1991 until the cessation of hostilities in 2002, but the abysmal scandal with which the country has been run by successive governments since the country gained independence from Britain in 1961.

The hardship the majority of the people face on a daily basis was epitomized in two gentlemen that I ran into a day after my arrival in the country after eight odd years away in Canada. “Bra, kushe oh. We jus comot play football. Dis man score wan, mi score two. Di coach clap for we betteh wan. Now di game don don, nar angry wan kill we so. Bra nar for feed we for tiday. (translated into English means “Hello, big man. We are just coming from a soccer game in which my friend scored a goal while I scored two. The coach applauded our victory, but now that the game is over, hunger is killing us. Big man, you should feed us today).

If the two gentlemen, or rather footballers, were feigning hunger amidst the swelling number of holiday makers from the Diaspora locally referred to as the JCs (Just Comers), their lanky figures lend credence to their creaky voices of real hustlers. “Guys, you really put me on the spot”, I simply told them. They ignored me and faked some courteous familiarity. Eventually, even though I was myself literally broke, I managed to part with fifty thousand Leones (an equivalent of twenty Canadian dollars) to my new-found friends. They prayed, blessed and shook my hands until I actually felt uncomfortable.

The hustling and bustling in Freetown is no novelty. When I visited my hometown of Makeni in the northern province of the country, I was confronted with despondency and human misery as friends, colleagues and family members catalogued one problem or the other with the great expectations of me addressing them all instantly.

In all of these, if other parts of the country are in similar suffocating suffering, one can only fathom what Makeni, the long neglected provincial headquarter town in country is enduring. No wonder in spite of my unannounced visit, within minutes I found myself circled by Makenians at my famous “Ataya” base spot along Mabanta road with tailored questions ranging from when the country will enjoy constant flow of electricity, pipe-borne water and above all job creation for particularly the youth?.

One youth who still wore an All People’s Congress T-shirt with president Ernest Koroma’s face on it stole the show when he loudly echoed the murmurings of his colleagues this way: “We need good governance, jobs for the youth and we shall rule forever”. I became a passive listener without any relish not because the government is nascent, but simply because I lack the competence as a political outsider to provide the assurance the audience needed that the government will meet these demands within the shortest time.

However, as courageous people at all times, Sierra Leoneans found resilience in devising other means for their daily survival. While journalists are enduring the daily rigors of printing materials and the skyrocketing price of gas to keep their “Kabbah Tiger” generators running, lawyers competing for a small clientele just as the okadas (bike owners), ormolankays and pedestrians competing for the ever congested streets of Freetown, and lecturers downing their tools for improved conditions of service, the mass of the downtrodden are busy cleaning the streets of Freetown some on voluntary basis with scores of others employed by the German company GTZ.

The popularity of the government is so spectacular that about forty middle-aged women are enduringly stationed at the main bowl of the national stadium volunteering to clean it day in and day out.

It is my admiration of the resilience of my kith and kin in thriving under such sordid conditions, amidst the scandalous filth of corruption and the dogged competition among some crooked politicians in the display of their ill-gotten wealth, that I will ever audaciously damn detractors who would write for their godfathers in damning Sierra Leoneans as a bunch of non enterprising folks and instead commend them for their resilience. Indeed Sierra Leoneans at home should be applauded for their great resilience and optimism.

* Abdulai Bayryaytay(photo) is the Patriotic Vanguard’s Deputy Editor currently in Freetown.