Reform in Sierra Leone: The Spirit of Multi-Partisanship

5 August 2009 at 01:53 | 846 views

By Christian Foday Sesay Jr. ,PV Correspondent, Texas.

For many years, Sierra Leone has talked about fixing a broken system and a wrecked society. And for many years Sierra Leone failed to act – allowing the crooks with personal interests to freeze reform while the cracks in the system turned into crevices, then craters.

But today, it seems as if we are closer than ever to the change we need. Key blocks and political parties in the country are beginning to reach a striking degree of consciousness and consensus about how to rein in developmental change, guarantee good education for all, make quality health facilities accessible to all and provide better life for every Sierra Leonean.

Anyone who has ever competed for anything – whether it’s an election or a game – knows about the need for firmness. After all, competition in politics, like in business, means taking risks. The people we choose as our leaders are held accountable as they are often thought of as having unreal toughness in the clinches. We know what we want: steeliness, rectitude, the sang-froid – whatever it is that delivers hope for a reformed Sierra Leone.

Grace under pressure. That’s what Hemingway called it when asked to define guts. So where does it come from? And if we were born with a screaming shortage of the stuff, can we, you know, order some from the PMDC convention.

During the last PMDC convention in Kenema, Charles Margai succinctly pointed out to delegates and guests from all the major political parties, “we should come onboard now as a united country and support President Ernest Koroma reform the country. I hoped to have won the polls as Berewa too hoped, but God appointed the youngest candidate among us in the race, so let’s give him the necessary support to push our country forward” He went on to say, “My party took the APC core and SLPP as a demonstration of unity and tolerance among political parties.”

Let us forget about Charles Margai for a brief moment and let us go into a somber reflection on his utterances. The lesson learned from this statement, in no little way, epitomizes a true multi-partisan spirit for reform. It transcends all party affiliations, tribal sentiments and challenges our true spirits as Sierra Leoneans to come to the planning table and chart a path to national reform.

If one of the goals of the PMDC was to create an influential third force in the political arena of Sierra Leone’s politics, it is beginning to bear fruits. As was brilliantly argued in Alpha Lebbie’s “Is it Time for a Third Force?” article on 23rd March, 2009, “People are talking about a third force, meaning a group of apolitical politicians (not recycled) who can bring development to the country. In my travels in Europe, Asia and North America there are to be found well meaning Sierra Leoneans, who just continue to complain about how and why their country is sinking whilst every one else seems to be developing.

To his credit, the leadership of PMDC, Charles Margai, is not complaining now but actually preaching on the need for a common ground and a unified support for Sierra Leone – a cause that, together as Sierra Leoneans, we can overcome. Real leadership is putting forth a bold vision and relentlessly building a consensus around it — not splitting the difference with a party whose leaders believe on something else.

Historians will tell us that, when Galileo became convinced of the truth about how the solar system works, he didn’t decide to just split the difference with the Pope so he could get a few nice editorials about "common ground" and "working together." If he had, countless ships would have sunk — and sailors drowned — by heading out to sea armed with maps and navigation principles derived from the compromise.

Change is neither economical nor painless to come by and defenders of the status quo will continue to make them heard through their actions and in their pronouncements. However, sincere Sierra Leoneans, with or without political affiliations, will continue to put the interest of the common good first in their unyielding and unwavering quest for a new Sierra Leone.

Opponents of change within the socio-economic and political spheres of life in Sierra Leone may understand how to make life uneasy for the average Sierra Leonean, but they don’t seem to understand the stakes for the country. The standing, which Sierra Leone occupies in the current UNDP index, is unacceptable and unsustainable for our families, our businesses, and our nation as a whole. We can do better than that.

Today, the life expectancy rate for males and females in Sierra Leone according to the World Health Organization fact sheet is 39 and 42 years respectively. Nearly millions of Sierra Leoneans have little or no good health services and are one illness or accident away from losing their lives and everything else – the total expenditure on health as percentage of gross domestic product is under 4 percent.

Businesses – especially small businesses – aren’t faring much better. Skyrocketing costs associated with doing business are making it even harder to compete in today’s global economy and forcing business owners to choose between staying afloat through insane price increases and closing down.

Education in the nation today is just a charade of the glory days of St. Edwards, Grammar School, Albert Academy, Methodist Boys High school, Ahmadiyya, Annie Walsh, St. Joseph’s Convent, Bo School, CKC and Prince of Wales to name a few. Even though, the 6-3-3-4 system promised a revitalized educational system it is yet to deliver on that promise.

Sierra Leoneans are tired of waiting and can’t afford to wait any longer for a meaningful reform that will usher in back the splendid days of hope.

The real threat to what works in our system comes from maintaining the status quo and doing nothing. Without action, Life will continue to be unbearable, inflation will continue to spiral out of control. More Sierra Leoneans will continue to die at an early age. Many will not be able to access basic education at all, and those who can will continue to pay more for less quality.

So what will reform actually look like?

First, is to provide Sierra Leoneans with more affordable choices of quality education and the importance of this is quite clear. The number of literate population living in a nation easily judges the quality of human resource of that nation. This is to say that education is a must if a nation aspires to achieve growth and development and more importantly sustain it. This may well explain the fact that rich and developed nations of the world have very high literacy rate and productive human resource.

Second, we need to move from a sickness system to a wellness system by investing in prevention and emphasizing healthy lifestyles. The human body is complex and the diseases to which it is susceptible are legion. Sierra Leone cannot be a strong nation with a vibrant economy unless its people are healthy.

Third, we have to privatize some of the public enterprises and parastatals that are albatross on the neck of the government and one of these is undoubtedly the Sierra Leone Port Authority. Most of the problems of parastatals in Sierra Leone began as far back as the early days after colonialism. Although many of them were created to attain specific national goals and objectives, many of them have not lived up to their expectations. While privatization of some of these public enterprises will lead to an initial huge lose of patronage jobs and a reduction in its politically induced and significant social responsibility; the organization will experience the elimination of waste through inefficient and ineffective management.

Fourth, is the improvement of Lungi International Airport. The recent growth in air transport and airport revenues is phenomenal. Traveling through neighboring airports in the Gambia, Ghana shows the need for an updated airport sustem. Airport revenues are denominated largely in foreign currency and operational costs mostly in local currency, which provides a hedge against currency risks, facilitating project financing.

Fifth, is the construction of the Freetown peninsular road and other vital road networks leading to the provinces or inter-provincial links. Transportation is vital to development as it provides accessibility to goods, services, jobs, educational opportunities and a decent way of life. With a viable means of transportation, the quality of life begins to appreciate and poverty is checked.

Sixth, reclaiming the position that Sierra Leone was occupied in the world of tourism. Even though, it should not be regarded as simply “manna from heaven” yet it should be regarded as an integral part of our economic development strategies. According to the World Tourism Organization: Tourism Market Trends in Africa (1999), Sierra Leone ranked 18th and 20th in the Top 20 Tourism Earners in Africa in 1995 and 1998 respectively with an international tourism receipt of $57 million.

Seven, like tourism, bring back the multifunctional dimension of agriculture that the country once enjoyed. Its importance in employment, foreign exchange earnings, land and water use, and food security cannot be underestimated. Besides, as Freetown is congested and littered with petty crimes and theft, the role of agriculture in maintaining social stability will be directed towards: social protection of rural communities, social capital building and maintenance in rural societies, and prevention of excessive and premature out-migration to Freetown.

Finally, the strengthening of the independence of the Anti Corruption Commission will continue to curb on the prevalence of corruption on the part of both politicians and civil servants. Given its prevalence, whether as proven, or an assumed fact, corruption serves as an antipathetic to modern economic development and social systems.

Put together, these changes will make quality life affordable, take us from the bottom of the UNDP list of less developed nations, and give our children a sense of love and belonging for their country. Fixing the system has never been so critical, and it has never been more squarely within our reach. Now it’s time for all the different political parties and the res of the citizenry to make reform a reality.