Analysis

Sierra Leone’s Independence Celebration: A Critical Appraisal

22 April 2006 at 04:50 | 473 views

"Hopefully, this year would be unlike April 2000 when that solemn day was shamefully bequeathed to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) by the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) to celebrate on behalf of the country through a masquerade on the streets of Freetown. The then leader of the RUF, Foday Saybana Sankoh, exploited the situation and dished out hundreds of thousands of leones, money accrued from the sale of the country’s plundered diamonds, to his unscrupulous followers, most of them illiterate and ideologically bankrupt young adults.Some were mere kids. This year, though, things are expected to be different with the 2007 election year approaching."

By Abdulai Bayraytay

As expected, Sierra Leoneans both at home and in the Diaspora are brazenly looking forward to recognize, or rather celebrate, this year’s 45th independence anniversary after experiencing the somewhat dictatorial policies of British colonialism.

Hopefully, this year would be unlike April 2000 when that solemn day was shamefully bequeathed to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) by the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) to celebrate on behalf of the country through a masquerade on the streets of Freetown. The then leader of the RUF, Foday Saybana Sankoh, exploited the situation and dished out hundreds of thousands of leones, money accrued from the sale of the country’s plundered diamonds, to his unscrupulous followers, most of them illiterate and ideologically bankrupt young adults.Some were mere kids. This year, though, things are expected to be different with the 2007 election year approaching.

Expectedly, during this year’s historic independence anniversary, there will supposedly be “adequate” supply of electricity, at least in Freetown, as a way of encouraging Sierra Leoneans to be glued to their radio and television sets as president Kabbah delivers his independence anniversary speech; a speech that would not be too different from it’s predecessors and may quite possibly be in this stereotypical form: “My fellow citizens, let me pay tribute to our heroes who played a tremendous role for our country to gain independence. Since that time, the country has gone through difficulties unparalleled by other nations across the world.

Fellow countrymen, the last ten years were particularly challenging since we were grappling with a vicious war unleashed on this country by the RUF, the military and their All Peoples’ Congress (APC) Party sympathizers like Victor Foh and others. That notwithstanding, we were able to accomplish the singular feat of bringing peace to the country by signing the Lome Peace Agreement with the RUF that has brought lasting peace to the country, there will be food security by 2007, we promise completion of the Bumbuna Hydro Dam, we promise construction of a bridge linking Freetown and Tagrin, and by all indications are no one would go to bed hungry come 2007. These, fellow citizens will be accomplished with your unwavering support through your change of attitude”.

Political pundits would, after attentively listening to the usual marathon speeches typical of African presidents, would rant with dismay upon reflection on the president’s speech by indicting the government of failing to acknowledge that it mismanaged information that led to the infamous invasion of Freetown by ragtag RUF rebels and a cross-section of their Sierra Leone Army bandits in January, 1999. No wonder Freetonians still have nightmarish memories as a result of the carnage that ensued. Still, as fresh as ever was the propaganda stunt of “nar taya bors” (it’s a tire explosion) repeatedly aired on Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service and 98.1 FM stations whilst the rebels were advancing on Freetown in grand style and impunity. The result: over six thousand residents brutally killed.

Also, whilst various commissions have been established in recent times to address human rights abuses and violations in the country, the years after independence are nothing to be proud of. Following the “no school, no college” demonstrations that tacitly called on the APC to introduce political reforms, the mercurial, monstrous and dictatorial Siaka Stevens unleashed his Internal Security Unit (ISU, a notoriety that earned it the moniker of “I Shoot U”) on innocent and unsuspecting students;. Those courageous students were beaten up, imprisoned and female students raped while others were carted away for promiscuous and sheepish politicians to help themselves.

Ironically, when the drug-induced Captain Valentine E. Strasser, the half-baked Maada Bio and the erratic Tom N’yuma and their cohorts seized power in a military coup in 1992, most Sierra Leoneans were deceived to believe that the “messiahs” had come to salvage the country from the abyss of corruption and dictatorship of the APC government. But alas, the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) wallowed in unprecedented corruption that made mockery of the very establishment of the various commissions of inquiry.

Taking the cue from the NPRC was the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (APRC) that miscalculated that the economic hardship and democratic dictatorship of the ruling SLPP just after the 1996 elections would woo civil society to support its infamous coup of 1997. The price paid by Sierra Leoneans for that defiance of support was enormous: imprisonments, vandalism, exile for some critical activists etc.

Thirty years after our independence, the RUF started a “revolutionary” war in March 1991, speaking to the minds of particularly the so-called lumpen youth on the false promises of redeeming them from unemployment, marginalization and other social inequalities. The result was the hacking of limbs, arson, forceful recruitment of child soldiers, rapes, forced labour, and above, mutilations and brutal killings coupled with the sacking of many villages.

African leaders are notorious of shouting the loudest of coups when critics challenge their puerile and anti-people policies. Post-independence Sierra Leonean leaders would have to account to God, if not in this world, for the brutal killings of their kith and kin like Mohamed Bash Taqi, Ibrahim Sorie Fofanah, Salami Coker, Gabriel M.T. Kaikai, former vice-president Francis Mischek Minah, Musa Kabia, Salami Coker, Major Kula Samba, and Colonel Abdul Karim Sesay, among a list of others, on mostly fabricated charges and state trials devoid of international standards.

As Sierra Leone turns 45 on April 27th this year, there is hope at the end of the tunnel. The consistent resistance of civil society to the AFRC’s military rule in 1997 contributed to a very large extent to preventing the latter to hold on to power. And, in May of 2000, civil society also bravely confronted Foday Sankoh and his boy killers at his Hill station residence by asking him to disarm. The aftermath of this brave action was disastrous since those killed were the very people, those that constituted the hoi polloi class, who have been the victims of the RUF, bad governance and reduced to status of God’s bits of wood. Its successful outcome, which eventually led to the capture of Sankoh hence his demise along with his movement, was the only consolation to those protesters.

Also, glowing tribute should be paid to ex-student leaders like Hindolo Trye who mobilized his fellow students in 1977 to protest the APC’s dictatorship, a dictatorship that manifested itself in 1985 when other student leaders like Alie Kabba and lecturers such as the late Cleo Hanciles (may his soul rest in perfect peace), and locally and internationally respected journalist Olu Richie Gordon, editor of Freetown based Peep magazine, were scrumptiously expunged from Fourah Bay College on allegations of inciting chaos on campus.

As if taking the cue from their radical predecessors, history repeated itself twenty years later when the leadership of the National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS) called on its membership to demonstrate against the notorious AFRC on August 18th, 1997 calling for the latter to relinquish power to the “democratically” elected government of president Kabbah. NUSS’ stance was greeted with force as machetes, guns and batons were used against its members characterized by shameful sexual assaults at the National School of Nursing.

Today, apart from the misplaced confidence that the country is a republic and that we are governed by ourselves, the consolation is that the British colonialists are gone as our masters. However, modern international politics and the trend of globalization have virtually still made Sierra Leone a neo-colonial state, some would say a failed state. It is a shame that we cannot effectively manage our resources, and would go as far as mortgaging our pride, if any, by going cap in hand to lending neo-colonial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, to name but a few, to finance our fledgling democratic institutions. It was for this reason that the late president Sekou Toure of Guinea at his country’s independence from France in 1958 received kudos from anti-imperialists when he vibrantly observed that “political independence in itself does not yet mean economic liberation”.

Today, the ruling SLPP will leave as its legacy that it has lackadaisically failed to protect the sovereignty of the state by watching the Guineans colonize Yenga and Kalangba in the east and north of the country respectively. Also, the government’s human rights record has taken a Dante-esque plunge with the arrest, detention, beating to death of journalists, and their prosecution under the nefarious and colonial 1965 Public Order Act.

Forty-five years after flag independence, Sierra Leone is still incapable of providing basic electricity supply to its citizens and combating corruption has become a Herculean challenge. Education is now a privilege as the once Athens of West Africa, Fourah Bay College is in a state of disrepair with dormitories and their facilities resembling death traps rather than places fit for human habitation.

As we approach 2007, the magic year that the SLPP promised for the provision of 90% of social services like tap drinking water for Calabar town, affordable medical care, food security, less corruption and commensurate salaries for opportuned government workers, its moral authority is increasingly being challenged by the APC and the recently registered Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) under the interim leadership of Charles Margai.

What is however problematic about the PMDC is the accretive title it has given itself as a political third force. But the democratic accommodation of other politicians from defunct parties is gradually making the PMDC nothing but yet another bunch of recycled, self-seeking politicians who could otherwise not make headways within the rank and file of the ruling SLPP, the APC, the National Unity Party (NUP), and the United National Peoples’ Party (UNPP).

With the laudable roles already played by civil society in preventing the NPRC from overstaying in power (remember Maada Bio’s palace coup against Strasser alleging that the latter wanted to derail the political process only for him to lobby traditional leaders to prolong his own stay in office?), the ousting of the AFRC from power, and the confrontation with the RUF to disarm for peace, make the downtrodden masses of our country to have the moral authority to constitute the third force.

The conceived third force could be achieved through a conscientious leadership that would strategically galvanize the social aspirations of the youth, the market women, the students, the teachers, local artists, among others, in order to check the excesses of any political party or government that professes to serve the interests of the people.

Unless and until the above is achieved, flowering tributes paid to political icons like Isaac Theophilus Akuna Wallace-Johnson, Sir Milton Margai, the country’s first prime minister, John Karefa Smart, Madam Ella Koblo Gulama, Sir Banja Tejan-Sie, Kande Bureh and Ethelred Nathaniel Jones aka Lamina Sankoh, among others, who defied threats of imprisonment and castigation by the British colonial masters for self rule would remain as mere speeches whilst Sierra Leone continues to be at the bottom of successive United Nations Human Development Index reports.

Photo: Kabbah, ready to deliver yet another marathon speech on the 27th.

Comments