Opinion

Manufactured nationalism and empty slogans

29 October 2009 at 04:57 | 1276 views

By Mohamed Yongawo, London, UK.

Few weeks back I was in our beloved motherland – Sierra Leone the Land that we all Love, of course. As always, before the BMA flight landed I was consumed with euphoria.

Although the vicinity was covered with mist, through my window, I managed to glimpse the beautiful landscape and vegetation that goes with it. Many times in my head, I repeated to myself: What a Beautiful Country – God loves this Country but we the people or to be precise the so called politicians and others who have been entrusted with the people’s goodwill to ensure Sierra Leone takes her rightful place among developed nations, hates her with gusto.

From the runway one could see a shabby of a building with an insignia – Lungi International Airport – Welcome to Sierra Leone. Indeed, our people, the beautiful women, men and children are always welcoming – no wonder our politicians continue to take us for granted. By the way, in a far corner one could visibly see the infamous “Cocaine Plane” that apparently landed in an emergency, ‘unknowingly’ to the airport authorities. This was how it was reported at the time. We now know this was not the case but as they say the rest is history.

Not to forget, there were men in Military Fatigues scattered across the tarmac. I later learnt that they were there to welcome or can I say guarantee a member of the Sierra Leone Government was safely escorted out of the airport. I will return to this notorious issue of escorting government officials, their cabal and their motorcades.

In the Airport Terminal, I was amazed to observe that the arrival lounge, which doubles as the baggage collection point that on previous visits was only crowded by passengers and few airport personnel has once again become a market place with every Jack and Jill running helter-skelter. This presents difficulty for passengers to differentiate between themselves, airport personnel and bystanders. In that environment of chaos, it does not surprise me in the least, frequent reports of luggage’s going missing as if they have two legs.

There, I was ushered to an immigration officer. He came across as a fine and polite young man - an example of a true Sierra Leonean. However, before our salutations could die out, he mumbled, “bra na ya you meet we o” (sir, you’ve met was here). Deliberately, I replied, “how de body sir”? (how are you) He responded, “bra enti uself know enh (sir, hope you are aware). He appeared to enquire whether I had knowledge about his and others current predicaments. Of course, I monitor daily news on Sierra Leone and there are indications that the general socio-economic situation is in shambles but I stayed silent. I knew where he was dragging me to. However, on this occasion, I thought his job was to check my documents and not to be engaging me in an unnecessary dialogue. The man in question was adamant. He repeated, “bra enti uself know enh – if na small thing sef I go manager” (I believe you know---I’ll take any little offering). I responded, “a nor get change” (I have no change). Forgive my Creole translations. He gave up and pointed me the way.

The scenario described above is not remote to my man at the airport. From all accounts it appears this is a common occurrence all over the country. Everywhere one goes, our people have been reduced to perpetual beggars by our so called leaders. Yet still, you see these so called politicians day in and day out driving in big cars and with large followings of yes men and women. But believe me, our people – the ordinary man woman and child in the street can “only be fooled some of the time but not all of the time”. They, our people are the real re-branders not the politicians – and come 2012, these people masquerading as politicians and so called re-branders will surely get the shock of their political lives.

Hear this. My brother, who has been waiting patiently and already thinking as he later told me that I had not arrived, helped me with my luggage into his car and we headed for the ferry. My brother appeared and presented genuinely happy to have me back in Sierra Leone after three long years – but our glee was nearly thrown into the sea. Whilst waiting in the queue to board the ferry, a four wheel drive (FWD) pulled up. The driver of the vehicle made numerous attempts to jump the queue but encountered stiff resistance from the driver of the car in front of us. Then, out came from the FWD men in green combat uniforms. They threatened to beat the hell out of the driver should he refuse to give way – a new or old form of rebranding eh!

My brother and I advised that them that they were acting improper. They threatened to beat us up and that we should mind our business – not me, in particular when someone is being bullied. The men in combat echoed that their General who sat in the FWD should be given way – because he is a General. With all due respect, I said every woman, man and child including their General should follow simple rules of orderliness – this is the real rebranding and attitudinal change been preached across the land. One of the men in combat nearly slapped me just for saying this had I not dodged his flying palm – watching kun fu films all those years at primary school definitively came handy. True of Sierra Leone ‘big men’, throughout the episode, there was no sight of ‘Master General’ – another form of rebranding eh.

Brothers and sisters you will be pleased to learn that our people are awake from their slumber. They know what is happening and the so called ‘big men’ that are responsible for the despicable suffering of our people will be shown the ‘red card’ come 2012. This is the reason. Whilst the argument over the illegal queue jumping continued, a female fish monger and a male wheel barrow pusher who were passing by made the following comments against the general and his men – “na wu na gben don poil this country, weh wu na grap nor mor wu na dae tell people say, den for change den attitude, bot wu na yone attitude na e that nor mor”. They disappeared in the dark. I was thrilled, felt to have woken up from my own slumber. I thought Sierra Leone needs more like minded people.

Most of our so called “big men” (not being gender bias but the majority are men) and those they have fooled to follow them blindly need a tsunami to rouse them from their dreams. It will surely come their way one day. So, despite our protestations and those of the honourable fishmonger and wheel barrow pusher, the men in combat and their ‘Master General’ got their way as they always do – change of attitude indeed. The sea was rough but we arrived in Freetown safely.

Meanwhile, whilst approaching Freetown, I could see beams in the hills. I asked my brother whether Freetown is now getting 24 hours uninterrupted electricity as we’ve been made to understand through the APC government’s propaganda outlets. He responded derisively, “you must be dreaming about another Freetown not our own”. Indeed, I was. There was Freetown, completely dark in the valley and bright in the hills above it – no rebranding has taken effect here, I muttered to myself.

On approaching the city centre I wound up my mirror and I politely requested my co occupant to do the same. He became curious. I told him I can not stand the smell of the air blowing outside. Although it was dark, it was sadly becoming clear that like the previous government, this APC government and the APC run City Council are consciously abdicating their responsibility for cleaning Freetown – a city that has so much to offer and potential that if only attended to properly would equal any in the world. If anyone wishes to ascertain these, I recommend a climb up Leicester Peak or Juba Hill, gaze down Freetown and enjoy the picturesque panorama nature has bestowed on us, which time and again we have woefully failed to take proper care of – a little caveat, please ignore the shanty houses or can I say huts.

We would have slept in darkness and wake up in it – without the most hyped so called ‘Koroma Electricity’ had our host not provided us candles. Besides, there was serious water shortage in town. Over the air waves, I heard politicians and those responsible for providing these services either blame each other or the soft touches – thieves stealing cables and global warming. Undeniable, but what about the words you hardly hear them utter - mismanagement, misappropriation, misallocation of funds and absence of priorities – Attitudinal change indeed.

In Sierra Leone everything and everyone under the ‘APC Sun’ has become either ‘GLOBALLY’ inclined or is ‘GLOBALLY’ tainted. Politicians appear to have perfected their very own ‘GLOBAL LIES’. It is unclear when they will stop telling these ‘GLOBAL FIBS’ and begin talking about their ineptitude in addressing simple administrative issues, such as, ensuring that there are proper roads within the environs of Freetown and rubbish is collected by the responsible authority.

Of course, these are some of the luxuries we take for granted in the West, which are denied our people. Don’t get me wrong, I and I believe many of our compatriots both home and abroad are not asking our leaders to photo copy developments in the West and situate them like for like in Sierra Leone. However, a government that fails to provide her citizens the basic necessities – in particular clean drinking water, as they say is ‘not fit for purpose’. Ex Military Boss and later president of the Republic late Joseph Saidu Momoh once admitted his incompetence to rule Sierra Leone, are we facing a repeat? Hope not but only time will tell.
We left Freetown – leaving her woes behind us or so I thought. Our destination was Kenema, the provincial headquarters of the East and the third City after Freetown and Bo. As usual we made some brief stopovers at Waterloo and Moyamba Junction. The ‘cassava bread’ we bought in Waterloo was not as plump as it used to be and though significant as it is, there isn’t enough space here to discuss the unhygienic conditions ‘cassava bread’ and food in general is kept. Anytime one drives through Moyamba Junction you will hardly believe if told there is food shortage in Sierra Leone. Evidently, across the land food prices have been artificially hiked but no one seems to care - another form of rebranding and Attitudinal Change.

We arrived in Kenema very late – I wasted no time in running for my bed.

Like Freetown Kenema has the potential of becoming the business capital of Sierra Leone. It would be an understatement to state that money (local and foreign) flows in that town more than any other in Sierra Leone. It is prospectively a beautiful city with the Kamboi Hills imposing around it. However, I and many of my contemporaries often wonder why the township is so backward in every sense of the word?

For instance, there is hardly a road with asphalt. To be precise, there are only two of its kind – the main Hangha and Blama Roads. Also, the environment, which surrounds the main market from where most inhabitants in the township trade, shop for food and other services is a very sad sight to speak of. In recent years, I and many others have come to believe that the rationale for the township’s backwardness lies within. Reasons abound but principal of these in my view is the quantity of chiefs in the township. I do not know a town in Sierra Leone that has more chiefs than Kenema. By my conservative estimate, every street in Kenema boasts a chief or two – legal and self imposed ones. Each of these chiefs has their petty interests – ranging from ownership or chasing dues from market stalls, land deals etc.

I was reliably informed that foreign and domestic investors who have expressed interest in setting up business in Kenema are often so frustrated by advances from chiefs that they have taken off to other towns. The city of Bo is frequently their preferred destination.
Sadly, on this occasion, I did not travel to Bo and Makeni as I have always done in the past. However, I gathered both are thriving – bar the ‘global syndrome’.

My time in Sierra Leone was coming to a close. I wished I could have flown from Kenema to London to escape neglected Freetown – probably not in our life time. For now all roads lead to Freetown. I had few days to catch up with old mates and to further assess His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma’s APC’s two years rule or maladministration as is the view of many Freetonians. There, I had the rear opportunity of meeting with students from some of our higher institutions. From our discussions, it became apparent that APC has lost the goodwill of the young population.

Two issues stood out: first, the government’s ineptitude of addressing the general ills of society. Second, but most important is that majority of the current generation of students and other youths were either too young to remember the APC years of Siaka Stevens cum S. I. Koroma and J.S Momoh or had not been born. So in 2007, they were convinced that the so called “New APC” of Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma who had promised a different style of politics from his predecessors will live up to their expectations.

I reminded them that during his campaign for the presidency His Excelency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma had promised to run Sierra Leone as a ‘Business Colony’ and worst still to reroll the days of Siaka Stevens and J.S Momoh. My audience admitted Sierra Leone made a dreadful mistake to have voted into power the so called ‘New APC’. They unanimously agreed that on all fronts Sierra Leone is in a very bad shape and the current leadership lack the wherewithal to put things right. But where is the alternative? Is it the SLPP, the unproven PMDC – partners (at least in name) of the APC government, or the reborn Sorbeh. I’ll return to this later.

Whilst in Freetown, I decided to pay a quick visit to Lungi. Like many, I arrived very early to ensure that I did not miss the Ferry. The Ferry was loaded to its maximum capacity, so I initially thought - I continuously wondered why the Ferry was not sailing for Lungi. After forty five minutes or more my query was answered. From my vantage point in the boat, I observed a fleet of FWD’s and other cars in tow. Wearing an ‘abada’ a ‘salone big man’ flanked by dozens of minders walked straight for the VIP lounge. I curiously asked who was this ‘big man’ or ‘pa’ - if you like. Someone whispered in my ear, ‘Sam Sumana the most Honourable Vice President of the Republic of Sierra Leone’. I later learnt that the boat had delayed at his behest. I was not in the least surprised because it is common occurrence in Sierra Leone. However, I wondered whether he needed so much following, of vehicles and ‘bato men’ (hangers on). Of course, the powers that be would like us believe that this is their own form of rebranding or attitudinal change.

Whilst the ‘pa’ sat safely and quietly in his foxhole, I presumed, his hangers on went on the rampage. They demanded some vehicles be disembarked to provide space for the ‘pa’s’ motorcade. Where they failed to get their way, they used intimidation, force and invectives. Some arrogantly displayed weapons including guns. At one point the whole boat resembled a scene in a Cow Boy versus Native American film - hangers on and passengers respectively. This razzmatazz continued for a considerable period but the worst was yet come.

At sea, a young petit lady who could not use the public toilet because of its abysmal condition politely requested the use of the VIP toilet. It appeared she had triggered a coup. The ‘pa’s’ hangers on rained all types of invectives on the poor lady – not even her poor mother was speared. She responded in kind. Why not? Nobody wants her mother abused, in particular by nonentities who describe themselves as bodyguards. They threatened to arrest her and in the process strip her naked. She was not cowed. She gave as much as she received. Not that I condone this type of behaviour but my readers will agree that our mothers are sacred – they are the untouchables.
In all fairness to the ‘pa’ he may not have been aware of the unpleasant incident or if he had wind of it, as is often the case he let his boys do the dirty job. But one thing was clear, had it not been for the resilience of some of us, that poor lady would have being skinned alive.

The following day, I took a tour around Freetown to gaze first hand the happenings around town. It was along Kissy Road where I stumbled across another motorcade. On this occasion it was the ‘first gentleman’ of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. Like his VP, the ‘pa’ himself had an unnecessary large following of convoy – I counted all shades of vehicles until I could count no more. Behind his almost tinted mirrors, His Excellency could be seen occasionally waiving passersby’s but people hardly waved back. Either his hand was invincible or they cared less. At one stage a group of men who waved back were cautioned by a woman carrying trade on her head. I heard her telling them that ‘sooner or later they will start waving with their empty bellies when they start paying two hundred thousand Leones for a bag of rice’. I prayed her word does not come to pass but this was a clear indictment of the manner His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma and his men have so far mismanaged their new found ‘Business Colony’.

Under His Excellency’s and his “New APC” government’s watch, the education system is in shambles; the staple food, rice is expensive; political terrorization is rampant; the health sector is in dire straits; the economy is in downward spiral and armed robbery has taken sway over the land. From Freetown, Bo, Makeni to Kenema, every night people go to bed fearing for their dear lives. Whilst in Kenema, there were frequent reports of armed robbery – in one incident a couple nearly lost their lives. The male and the female had their shoulder and hand respectively almost severed. I gathered during the incident police were called but they never showed up.

There is a general consensus that the police, in particular the newly regrouped SSD being the only few with arms may be culpable in some of the armed robbery around the country. This may not be far from the truth going by media reports that police and military personnel have recently been apprehended in acts of robbery. Naturally, one would expect at least the services of the head of the police and the respective executive head expended with immediately pending further investigations – by way of a parliamentary committee or an independent commission. Not in Sierra Leone – what happened recently was the president going on air reminding the security agents of their own primary responsibility of protecting life and property of the citizenry of Sierra Leone. Whether they pay heed to his call or not, only time will tell.

It is now apparent that manufactured pronouncements past and present, such as the Green Revolution of J.S. Momoh; Kabbah’s no one will go to bed hungry; or Ernest Koroma’s ‘Agenda for Change’ cum ‘Attitudinal Change’ and ‘Rebranding’ of Sierra Leone are all gimmicks. There is never the political volition to see policies through.
The saddest thing of all is that the political opposition that should hold the government of the day to account appears as puny as the government. Rather than effectively discharging their responsibility of engaging the APC government on its failed policies and numerous unfulfilled promises made to Sierra Leoneans and if one is to take the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) seriously - the large misappropriation of funds, the principal opposition – the SLPP is enmeshed in an unnecessary and unproductive constitutional crisis, which if not handled meticulously would derail their prospect of challenging for power come 2012 and beyond. Of course, this will only be at the detriment of the Sierra Leone populace. The PMDC, a partner to the APC government is fast haemorrhaging of its membership after what many alleged was a Magai manipulated Kenema Convention sponsored by the sitting APC. The country’s parliament is largely a rubber stamp organ. In a conversation with a local opposition MP about the lack of development in his locality and the country at large, I essentially went out of my way to say to him that they and the executive are all hopeless – predictably he agreed with my analysis.

Paying lip service to development by dressing it in borrowed robes, such as Agenda for Change, Attitudinal Change cum Rebranding is not going to save us from the nemesis of poverty and backwardness. No amount of empty manufactured nationalism or visionary dreams is going to save our beloved nation. Sierra Leone needs action, action and nothing but action. If we want our development partners to take us seriously, we must be seen to be serious in developing our lot.

In November 2009, His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma and his followers are due in the United Kingdom on another begging pilgrimage. I wish them success. However, the president has to understand one thing – we can not as a nation continue begging forever. Indeed, this was a famous mantra during his campaign for the presidency. Besides, most developed nations and in particular their host are in recession. The question on the lips of majority of citizens of these countries, charitable as they may have been in the past, is, how long can we continue caring for others when we can not even care for ours? Therefore, the Government of Sierra Leone headed by His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroama should always ensure that funds secured from internal and external sources are used judiciously. Otherwise, there will come a time when our external partners will refuse to provide further funds to his government.

On the home front, to be seen to be serious and be interested in his people and country the president should start stripping some of his excess baggage of officials that have been found wanting of corruption by both internal and external bodies and those implicated in other misdemeanours. The likes of his ex-Energy Minister now Fisheries Minister, his notorious minder, ‘Leather Booth’ and his infamous Press Secretary Sheka Tarawalie who it is alleged has described the British as scumbags are those that come to mind. It is no good telling common people to change their attitude whilst around you are dozens with questionable characters.

His Excellency Dr Ernest Bai Koroma’s APC Government should seriously consider addressing the rampant siphoning of public funds for self aggrandisements; revisit the shambolic cow boy type tax collection within Freetown, which has definitely added to the already chaotic traffic; stop the firing of government functionaries deemed supporters of the opposition – stop calling it restructuring; stop all large scale unnecessary travels abroad; ensure food is reasonably priced. Crucially, His Excellency Dr. Koroma, Sierra Leone is not a franchise and definitely not a ‘business colony’ for the few; she is a nation state that belongs to all of us – her citizens.

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