Opinion

Sierra Leone Democracy Requires More Than a Leadership Change!

29 December 2008 at 23:28 | 1016 views

By: Kortor Kamara, USA.

By all objective standards, we must now have come to the stark realization that the “change of leadership syndrome”, with its resultant enforced public euphoria and sometimes genuine expectations of change our society has continually been subjected to with the Milton Margai, Albert Margai, Andrew Juxon-Smith, Siaka Stevens, Joseph Momoh, Valentine Strasser, Maada Bio, Ahmed Tejan-Kabbah and the current Ernest Koroma regimes have not in any significant and meaningful manner impacted our society and its peoples living standards, infrastructure, socio-economic and political development.

THE CHANGE OF LEADERSHIP SYNDROME:
The concept of the “change of leadership syndrome”, not to be confused with “democracy“, can best be described and characterized as the aspiration to and achievement of political power by a nation’s political elite, without a concomitant vision, knowledge and know-how as to how best the levers of political, economic and social power can positively be utilized in effecting change in one’s society.

This intense urge for naked political power, witnessed especially among our political leaders, devoid of any coherent and sustainable national economic and infrastructural strategy or purpose-driven agenda both in implementation and execution, remains the common bond and thread linking the current Koroma administration to its failed predecessors.

The SLPP LEGACY:
The emergence of Sierra Leone’s socio-political and economic disintegration, though not started under the SLPP government of President Ahmed Tejan- Kabbah, certainly reached monumental proportions during his 10-year stewardship, as the country remained at the bottom strata of every index used in measuring societal growth and development in the world.

Despite the rising crescendo for change leading up to the elections in 2007, the SLPP leadership and elite had become resolutely tone deaf and exhibited such callous disregard for the peoples genuine aspirations for development and change that even their traditional power base in the south and eastern regions of the country could no longer hold.

The RUF war in the 1990’s had caused untold destabilization in the country with wanton and rampant destruction of lives and property being the order of the day. The destruction was even more acute in the regions of SLPP traditional support, the south and eastern regions. The election thus of the SLPP government in 1996 and to a subsequent second term in 2002 was meant to signal our peoples overwhelming desire and hope for security, reconstruction of the country’s basic infrastructure, governance and for a sustainable economy and development.

However, despite the enormous mineral and natural resources, together with the overwhelming international donor financial support afforded the Kabbah administration, in combating not only the RUF menace but the economic challenges confronting the country, it had become glaringly clear to every objective commentator and observer, by the time of elections in 2007, that the country, and certainly the regions of the south and east, had not seen any appreciable change in their living standards and economic development.

During annual visits to Sierra Leone, between 2002 and 2007 and in social and business interactions with SLPP ministers, permanent secretaries, the police brass, parastatal heads, civil servants, business owners and a cross section of the populace, it quickly became crystallized in my mind that the SLPP leadership was not only lacking in the requisite political and socio-economic vision but was alarmingly incompetent and inarticulate in mapping out and implementing a strategy for sustainable development needed to effectuate transformation of our country in the wake of the civil war.

While the beneficiaries of the party’s largesse, in an effort at self-preservation of their way of life banded themselves into support groups like the so-called “Reform Group” and the “Friends of Solo B“, with ostentatious living and verbal and physical assaults against perceived opponents, the administration had by the elections effectively succeeded in squandering even the goodwill of the international community.

Regrettably though our compatriots by an large not only seemed to have succumbed to the avarices and greed the system afforded it’s participants, but most detrimental was their utter lack of understanding of our peoples mood for change, lack of critical thinking and policy innovation exhibited by the likes at “Stop Press” and regulars at “Jay Bees”, with whom I had come into contact. For while even the “Joe “ in the village was aware that the leadership needed to change course and direction, the SLPP was totally deluded and thus became incapable of effecting this change.

One of the most shocking aspects of the disconnect in the country was that some of the top members of the ruling elite were either former school mates, college mates and or friends who during our transformative years had engaged in the kind of development-vision discussions we all longed to see for our country. I was disappointed with the type of development projects organizations like NACSA, headed by a former college mate of mine, were embarking on as development projects.

While the construction of water wells and court barrays became the symbol of development under the SLPP administration, some of us became increasingly disenchanted as such projects only served to foster and portray the level of backwards the country was wallowing in and further epitomized the bankruptcy and vision deficiency exhibited by the leadership.

THE ERA OF “TALK-SHOPS”:
As a local musician aptly put it, millions of dollars in development assistance was being spent on workshops, seminars and “talk shops“ while essentials as electricity, roads, pipe borne water supply and youth employment were left unattended.

It was not uncommon to find people with questionable local NGOs being awarded large sums for merely organizing seminars and writing proposals or party stalwarts given contracts which knowingly would not be completed or performed at all, while the bread and butter issues relevant to the peoples welfare and development were ignored and remained unaddressed.

Such was the modus operandi permeating developmental programs operated by NACSA, SABABU Educational Project, HIV-AIDS to name but a few, whose collective legacy remains 19th century type water wells, shoddy school buildings, court barrays and non-existent project signs that dotted the cities and the nation’s countryside.

Non of the hugh resources available for development at NACSA’s disposal were channeled into creating an infrastructure for sustainable economic and jobs activity in the country. Apparently the model of the government’s development strategy was one of building court barrays, water wells, community centers and other non-economic infrastructure as “talk-shops”.

The problems of youth unemployment, lack of adequate electricity and energy, clean pipe borne water supply, dilapidated roads, corruption, lack of vision and innovation in stimulating sustainable economic growth, unhygienic environs and over dependency on NGOs and international donors, were all too conspicuous throughout the country.

To the common man, the SLPP bureaucracy and elite became increasingly viewed as not understanding their plight, not innovative in addressing the country’s problems, was out of touch with basic management risk analysis and implementation required to lift and transform their various departments, agencies and ministries into revenue generating sources, were fearful of agents of innovation and change, were corrupt to the core and lacked apathy for the plight of the average Sierra Leonean.

It was thus against this backdrop and political landscape that the 2007 elections was fought between the SLPP, APC, PMDC, NDA, CPP, PLP and UNPP parties.

THE APC PURSUIT OF THE SAME FAILED POLICIES?
This change of leadership syndrome, devoid of any reasoned programs and policies designed, articulated and implemented to provide alternatives to the current economic malaise in the body politic of our nation, is again being manifested in the perceived polarization the country has been plunged into as a result of policies and personnel changes pursued by the current APC administration.

While, it is reasonable to expect personnel changes with every new administration, the APC must seek to ensure that “balance” is maintained in governance structures and institutions in order to promote national cohesion and forestall the perception of an imbalance and thus non- representation by their political opposition.

Whilst a host of coercive and unprogressive measures during past regimes succeeded in creating an apathetic atmosphere, I am alarmed at the preponderance of tribal political consciousness and identity witnessed among Sierra Leoneans abroad since the last general elections ushered in the APC administration. This situation if allowed to fester will in both the short and medium terms represent the single most impediment to development and a true democracy.

However, with the new Koroma administration, there is still hope that the President might reverse course and seek to rectify some of the mistakes and hurdles encountered in the learning curve this past year. For the APC’s failure to change course risks relegating it to the dustbin of unresponsive failed administrations to have dotted the Sierra Leone political landscape.

The level of our societal disintegration has continued to remain pervasive to such an extent that the recent 2008 United Nations Human Development Index again ranked Sierra Leone the very last in the world; a dubious position and distinction not unknown to her peoples, as the country has over the past decades being so placed at or near the bottom consistently and with such regularity that progressive Sierra Leoneans must step up to this challenge and spearhead policies and efforts to salvage our country.

The Finance Minister, Mr. David Carew’s recent expression of “disappointment” over the low level of donor support or “delays in the disbursement of external budgetary support” resulting in adverse economic management and budget execution, highlights a failure of the administration’s economic team in charting an economic vision, that is bold and development oriented, devoid of donor reliance, that so characterized and doomed the prior Tejan-Kabbah administration.

The APC government in order to get a handle on this economic stagnation, underdevelopment and growth must start thinking bold and designing programs not in the 300 million dollar national budget range, as is currently the case, but in the billions of dollar range. Through leveraging of the nation’s marketable mineral resources, such as along lines recently proposed by Mr. Patrick Bockari’s SLID proposals, our nation’s perennial disappointments over delays and outright non-existent pledges of external budgetary support from donors will be a phenomenon of the past.

To paraphrase a common saying, performing the same tasks and expecting always a different result is tantamount to lunacy. For as a people with a strong sense of knowledge and education, this apparent dichotomy in our political leadership’s penchant for resorting to the same old tried and non performing policies of dependency, despite abundant resources stems directly from the utter bankruptcy of initiatives and ideas coupled with the inordinate penchant for power so far glaringly exhibited, not only by the political leadership but of greater concern to this author, the educated elite that any nation must depend on to facilitate her development.

An immediate area of implementation that can help alleviate the issues of unemployment, infrastructure development and maintenance is through a coordinated pubic works program that will provide employment and training to youths while at the same time modernizing the nation‘s dilapidated infrastructure.

CONCLUSION:
The challenge thus to progressive Sierra Leoneans is to utilize and express their various expertise’s in formulating models, institutions, businesses and programs of workable alternatives to pull our nation from the near-perpetual last position on the human development index.

It is hoped that a consensus emerges in creating new models and institutions of governance to replace the old and current models of local government administration, reform of the institution of chieftaincy, health care delivery and financing, taxation, job creation, pubic works programs, management and leveraging of mineral resources towards economic development, a proactive and functional privatization program and a robust public-private partnership arrangements for management of the nation‘s unproductive parastatals.

For if we as a society were to pause and objectively reflect upon the stewardship of our leaders and their policies since independence in 1961, we will find and conclude that despite the several leadership changes, Sierra Leone has woefully failed in the pursuit of sustained socio-economic and political development deemed essential and necessary for the betterment of her peoples. Rather the country continues to plunge into the abyss and bottomless perdition of poverty and underdevelopment hitherto unknown in any society of such economic abundance and developmental potential.

Finally, we must realize that the intractable significant problems facing our nation cannot be resolved at the same level of thinking and perception as we were when they were either created by our forefathers or by ourselves. I have always believed that the change of leadership syndrome and its resultant negativity towards effective participation in our country’s economic and socio-political processes remains the single inhibiting factor to our democracy and nation‘s development. The nation’s experience must make it abundantly clear that by just engaging in a change of leadership syndrome, without addressing the essential underpinnings of societal reformation, risks bring about no significant change to the now descredited status quo.

About the Author:
The author, Mr. Kortor Kamara(photo) has over 25 years experience in the insurance industry both in Sierra Leone and the United States. He is a Chartered Property & Casualty Insurer and holds the Workers Compensation Claims Professional (WCCP) designation. He is a Member of the Chartered Insurance Institute ( London); Certified Self-Insurance Claims Administrator-State of California; Registered World Bank Consultant and has served as a Consultant on various Insurance initiatives in Sierra Leone, including design of the country’s first Title Insurance Policy.
In addition, Mr. Kamara is a graduate of Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, 1978-1981; studied Law at both the Univerisity of West Los Angeles School of Law and the California Southern School of Law in Riverside. He is currently a Doctoral Candidate in Insurance and Risk Management. Through association with Saddleback Re, were he serves as the Regional Manager, Africa Division, Mr. Kamara is intimately involved in the provision of reinsurance coverage, policy design, loss control, training and risk management services to the African Insurance marketplace.

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