Sierra Leone: Transforming Ideas into Policy

9 October 2006 at 03:28 | 586 views

Not long ago there was a discussion on the Sierra Leone Discussion Group, an online Sierra Leonean forum, on the necessity of having a think tank in that country that would, according to one contributor, " help us streamline ideas and offer them for implementation through a partnering link with the government of Sierra Leone." In this piece, John Lansana Musa, a member of that forum presents his views on the matter:

By John Lansana Musa, USA.

I write in concord with the growing interest of the topic that graces this heading. The question: whither political debates into formal government policy is long overdue for all the reasons we have already heard from our compatriots. It was Jonathan M. Rose who earlier placed this issue as a pivot for us when he argued in the seminal years of the Dual Citizenship debate that we must garner every effort to ensure our discussions would be crystallized into an Act of Parliament. Hitherto this craving to transform debate into policy, Sierra Leonean discussion fora had been platforms for demonstration of knowledge of issues and invariably mere talking shops.

Now we are beckoned to graduate to fashioning ideas into policy. But how shall we reach this lofty goal? Some have already spoken a variety of desirable reasons. But the kernel of all these ideas are captured in Amadu’s suggestion above - that we fashion policy in partnership with Government. The chiefest reason for this idea lies in the fact that it is not the want of ideas being transformed into policy. It is the lack of political will to adopt ideas from thinkers by Parliament or State House.

A generation and fifteen years after flag-Independence, Dual Citizenship has at last crossed the threshold of that political will. But there remains other vexing issues deserving such a transformation. AUTARCHY - economic independence; Uniform LAND TENURIAL SYSTEM; Modern EDUCATION REFORM; SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY Modernization and general law reform among a battery of post-independence reforms.

None of these will be attained in this nascent creative upsurge of transforming ideas into policy unless Government is persuaded by a proactive citizenry contemplating a well-ordered society. Our nation is still in the grip of colonial policy fashioning. Statecraft is poorly done as may be seen in the pathetic constitution-making, vague legislation on many vital matters plaguing the nation.


Policy making does not arouse excitement in Sierra Leone as it is now being adopted with relish on this forum. The last major edition of the Laws of Sierra Leone was in December 1959. A pleading in the courts of Sierra Leone requires an advocate to disregard captions in the laws such as Colony and Protectorate among other relics of the Scepter of of the House of Windsor. It is still not clear to our Government that the British empire started under Elizabeth I and was dispersed under Elizabeth II.


Imperial idealism still looms over us and our machinery of Government crawls like a locomotive in an era of fast moving trains. In spite of these facts, this forum dares to develop the Promethean elan to transform our ideas into policy. We are hoping that this lofty goal is attained. One avenue to reach this goal is to fashion our ideas on the major questions of the day. A Think Tank has been named as one such avenue. That cannot be attained unless we subscribe to the manner on which such institutions are governed: - An organization, diverse group of thinkers, a syllabus of subjects, funding, professional discipline, etc.


Amadu’s suggestion deserves some attention. How does one effectively work with Government to reach our goals? Would a putative Think Tank supply Parliament and State House ripe ideas framed into policy in books, pamphlets, papers, etc.? Or will it also persuade through lobbying? How will a Think Tank lobby in a political system unaccustomed to it? Will the Think Tank have an ideological edge such as such institutions have developed? For instance the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, The RAND, Cato Institution are Conservative. The Brookings Institution, The Policy Institute are liberal in persuasion among others.

It is a glaring reality in our politics that the political parties have no ideological bent, hence in the SLPP, there are no conservatives or liberal ideologues but "Friends of Solo B." Party leaders do not talk of the equal protection of laws when regarding Land Tenure reform, but confine their rationales on regional insecurities against colonial fence citizens known as "Non-natives".

Ideology and political alignment will be important to any Think Tank contemplated by us. Would the Think Tank aspire to policy independence which would more likely than not cause affinity to work with the ruling party? I have posited these questions because we live a plural society where even the so called educated class still thinks along tribal, ethnic and regional moorings. Dual citizenship was easy an issue to attain because it was the issue that enveloped every person notwithstanding their local origins in the nation.

Accordingly, the league of men and women who aim at transforming ideas into statecraft must form a corpus of culture which transcends the status quo ante in our society that seeks no ideology in politics, that accepts palliatives goaded by multi-lateral institutions instead of framing economic independence on autarchy; that disregards uniform land tenure for primitive tenurial systems in a nation yearning for equal protection of laws and development and where the educated class stands hands akimbo, aiding and abetting the ruling party in Government while insular poverty looms.

The journey to the transformation of ideas into statecraft has begun in earnest. It must ferment now with vigor because the great minds which seek this grave aim are aware of the stagnation of 45 years of recycling colonial statecraft - its methods and practice into under-development and abject poverty of thought and social being.

The engine that must drive this goal is the will to adopt transforming leadership which motivates us to countenance the grim fact that we have been tarrying longer than we ought to have in the talking shop building sand castles. In short, we must act now. If not now, when?