Sierra Leoneans have always claimed to be patriotic. However, when given the opportunity to serve, those entrusted with positions of trust and authority have often times failed woefully. In a nation with abundant natural resources, where a vast majority of the populace continues to live in abject poverty, guest writer, Edward Tedson Sesay, asks “is our patriotism merely a frenzied outburst of emotion or a genuine dedication of a lifetime to the things that should hold us together as a nation?” If patriotism is about “a cause greater than self, a love and a duty towards one’s country expressed in good citizenship” when will Sierra Leoneans rise up to fulfill their collective duty and loyalty to confronting the challenges we face as a nation and perhaps lift the nation from the bottom of the human index?
Edward Tedson Sesay – London, UK.
When outside of our country and we hear the Sierra Leone National Anthem played, because this is a rare occurrence, the impact on us can be extraordinary. Our hair stands on end and strong feelings of nostalgia or patriotism are aroused. Sometimes we can’t help saying to ourselves, “Oooh Sweet Salone.”
When however we take a careful look at the way we deal with the motherland, one is tempted to ask whether the average Sierra Leonean is truly patriotic. Is our patriotism merely a frenzied outburst of emotion or a genuine dedication of a lifetime to the things that should hold us together as a nation?
While serving as a teacher in The Gambia during the Sierra Leone war years, I taught the following poem “BUILDING THE NATION” by a Ugandan poet, Henry Muwanga Barlow. The poem has applicability to many African states where public service has largely become self-service and a destruction of the nation. Each time I go through the lines of this poem, I visualize the typical Sierra Leonean boss in his dealings with state affairs and those beneath him.
Building The Nation
By Henry Muwanga Barlow
Today I did my share
In building the nation.
I drove a Permanent Secretary
To an important, urgent function
In fact, to a luncheon at the Vic.
The menu reflected its importance
Cold bell beer with small talk,
Then fried chicken with niceties
Wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs
Ice-cream to cover the stereotype jokes
Coffee to keep the PS awake on the return journey.
I drove the Permanent Secretary back.
He yawned many times in the back of the car
Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked,
Did you have any lunch friend?
I replied looking straight ahead
And secretly smiling at his belated concern
That I had not, but was slimming!
Upon which he said with a seriousness
That amused more than annoyed me,
Mwananchi, I too had none!
I attended to matters of state.
Highly delicate diplomatic duties you know,
And friend, it goes against my grain,
Causes me stomach ulcers and wind.
Ah, he continued, yawning again,
The pains we suffer in building the nation!
So the PS had ulcers too!
My ulcers I think are equally painful
Only they are caused by hunger,
Not sumptuous lunches!
So two nation builders
Arrived home this evening
With terrible stomach pains
The result of building the nation -
HOW DOES THIS POEM RELATE TO OUR SWEET SALONE?
In the poem, an African government executive claims he goes to an important government meeting, and whether it was really meant to be a government meeting or a get together with his friends, all that happened at the so called meeting was eating and drinking at the expense of the tax payer. What was actually meant to be an agenda for an important government meeting turned out to be a menu for a sumptuous dinner: cold beer, fried chicken, wine, ice cream and coffee. What a grand style of planning for the lives of the people of a nation!
Sadly, being a subordinate in the African work setting is like a curse. The boss in the poem feasts in a luxury hotel with his friends while his poor driver is condemned to sitting, drowsing, yawning and fasting in the government vehicle. Remember one of the lyrics of the late reggae maestro, Bob Marley? “Dem Belly Full, We Are Hungry.” While the driver drove the boss home, the boss developed stomach upset (due too much food and drink) while the driver developed stomach ulcer for obvious reasons.
On the return journey, the greedy, insensitive, shameless and hypocritical boss mocked his driver by commenting, “the pains we suffer in building the nation”.
The poem is a grim reminder for us of the stark realities in our motherland: the unfairness, injustice and corruption in the corridors of power. While the average citizen famishes and languishes in abject poverty, our top government officials bask in opulence.
Is this the promise of independence? Do we really feel a sense of pride when we sing, “Land that we love, our Sierra Leone.” We asked for the destiny of our nation to be put into our hands in order to discontinue singing “God Save Our Queen” (the British Anthem), but do we really demonstrate that the “ High We Exalt Thee” has any real meaning for us ?
Ours is a rich country yet we fall in the ranks of the failing nations of the world. With our rich natural resources, it is no exaggeration that even the unborn in every family deserve to have a healthy bank account. Our failing nation needs fixing and here are just a few of the things that might help the fixing process.
Integrity and Discipline
It cannot be denied that one of the reasons why we do so poorly at Nation Building is the lack of discipline in whatever that has been entrusted to us. This is not only about political leaders. At every sphere or level, the canker is rife: legislators, the judiciary, police, and other institutional heads. If we wish to do well at Nation Building, we must as public servants respect everything that belongs to the state: money, property, work hours etc. The so called public servant in Sierra Leone sees nothing wrong in using what belongs to the tax payer for his private use in the most unbelievable circumstances. For successful nation building, there should be no room for a negotiation of principles. “In matters of principle, stand like a rock” (Thomas Jefferson ) and William Arnot says , “ If honour be your clothing, the suit will last a lifetime.” Let us thus carry out our public services honourably.
Accountability and Responsibility
In our sweet Salone, people do not want to be responsible for their actions or failures. Even when we fail the nation, we expect to be rewarded rather than being asked to quit office. To evade accountability, it is common for those in power to surround themselves with sycophants: those who support their actions without question. “We must reject the idea that every time a law is broken, society is guilty rather than the law breaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” (Ronald Regan). If those in positions of authority commit crimes or fail to deliver the expected goods, they should be shown the RED CARD.
Sensitize and enable our civil society
Our civil society is weak and ill-informed and does not have the enabling environment to operate in and challenge wrong doing in high places. This creates fertile ground for collusion and exploitation. If priority is given to enabling civil society, this will have an impact on the effort to curb corruption and it will increase transparency in official positions. Benjamin Franklin wrote: “A nation of well informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins”.
Though ranked among the world’s failing nations, it is still not too late for us to fix the problem of our Sweet and Beloved Salone. Can I then conclude this article by asking whether you see yourself as the PS mentioned in the poem, or are all Sierra Leoneans (home and abroad) blood relations of the PS in the poem ?