By Alpha Lebbie, PV Correspondent, Boston, USA.
It is almost 50 years since Sierra Leone gained independence from the British in 1961. Since then what can we really show for this?
The major public buildings, the Youyi building, the national stadium and the 18 storey Bank of Sierra Leone buildings in downtown Freetown are the only admirable structures in the country since independence.
Life is not all about edifices; but apart from that has there been any improvement in the ordinary Sierra Leonean’s living standards? Absolutely nothing! Even for structures,fairly nothing has happened. The formerly nice provincial cities of Bo, Kenema, Makeni and Koidu Town are now ghosts. Koidu Town,one of the most beautiful cities in pre-civil war Salone is now in ruins.
WHAT DOES THIS TOTAL TO?
Overall, we as a nation have not done well since independence. When Sierra Leoneans talk of or speak of DEVELOPMENT— the word doesn’t sound well. And yet,any government that comes to power continues to have a ministry of Development , somewhere affiliated with the Ministry of Finance .
Development is defined as : WHEN SOMEONE OR SOMETHING GROWS OR CHANGES AND BECOMES MORE ADVANCED.
Have any of those things been done?
CHANGES COULD HAVE COME.
Sir Milton Margai brought independence for the country,dependent on who argues the fact. The myth persists in certain quarters in the country that the pearls on the Queen of England’s crown are made of Sierra Leone diamonds(that I am not sure of). That Sir Milton presented those diamonds so that we may become independent. The old man, who was a medical doctor, did seem to have the interest of his people at heart. For one, he had worked as a medical doctor in all the districts of the country. Secondly, they say , he could speak all the major languages in the country. Growing up in Koidu Town, Kono District, I even heard the rumour that Sir Milton was a Kono man that had been adopted by the Margais as a youth. And to this day, in remote villages in Kono, there are still infants called Margai. That he was a modest man is reflected in pictures that still exist of him: in country clothes,in western style suits, although he was trained in England.
ALBERT MARGAI— SLPP 2.
This period was not a better time in the country. In the internecine political struggles of the 60s, he lost out to Siaka Stevens of the APC, who then appeared to be socialist. He was believed to have instituted the PREVENTIVE DETENTION ACT in the country in order forestall Shaki’s emergence into power by undemocratic means. Thus he wasn’t a true democrat. He lost out to Shaki and eventually ended in exile in London, where he passed away twenty years later. However he is fondly remembered as SIR ALBERT OF AFRICA for his support for African independence in the 60s. After all he was a British trained lawyer. May his soul rest in perfect peace.
ERA OF SIAKA STEVENS (APC )
This period did start on a happy note in the 70s. Sierra Leone was then SWEET SALONE. In his supposed socialist orientation, Shaki gave to the people what they seemed to have desired: DEVELOPMENT. He built schools, government hospitals in towns that hitherto had none; and when at Xmas Sierra Leoneans celebrated, they would sing:
APPI KRISMES WE NOR DIE Yate,
PAPA SHEKI , WE NOR DIE YATE
all to the glory for the good job he was doing.
Eventually the Pa became paranoid and chronicles of coups and counter coups became the order of the day. Perceived opponents like John Bangura, the man who had toppled Albert Margai was executed . So were Mohamed Sorie Forna and Ibrahim Taqi. Sierra Leoneans believed that that was the intellectual wing of the APC. Thus ended the breakaway United Democratic Front.Till he resigned in the late 80s, Shaki was almost a tyrant of the country.
JOSEPH MOMOH( APC 2)
He was a leader known to have been a respecter of civil rights. Except for the execution of his then Vice President, Francis Minah and cohorts in a trumped up coup d’etat; his government had a laissez faire attitude. Not in the light of western economic jargon, but in the sense of doing whatever one wants to do. The economy suffered while his tribal cohorts like Ben Kanu, a former elementary school teacher enriched themselves at the expense of the populace.
Overthrown in 1992 he fled into neighbouring Guinea. Momoh, throughout his 7 years of governance, never erected a single structure in Sierra Leone, nor even paint one.
YOUTHS NOT THE ANSWER?
It was then Captain Valentine Strasser and cohorts( youths in their 20s) who threw Momoh out. There could have had tangible reasons for doing so. I still reflect on the BBC FOCUS ON AFRICA MAGAZINE OF APRIL 1992) ,where one could see the current APC mayor of Freetown, Herbert George Williams, among other youths, sweeping the streets of Freetown after the APC was toppled. Today he sweeps the steets of Freetown after the demise of the SLPP. Thus the charade still continues!
SLPP 3 Tejan Kabbah
Forced or coerced into ceding power, NPRC 2 in Maada Bio conducted the elections in 1996 and handed power to Tejan Kabbah. The rebel war intensified. Thousands were killed and thousands flew or walked into exile. After 12 years of a macabre civil war, the British helped their former colony suppress the RUF revolutionaries, which eventually ended Siera Leone’s civil war. Kabbah’s government was considered a tribalistic one with the Mendes in all major positions in the country with few of his Mandingo tribesmen.
However, he is credited to have ensured a smooth transfer of power when his party lost to APC 3’s Ernest Koroma.
APC— Ernest koroma.
Since ascending power , his government is accused of being a Temne and northern dominated government. Just look at the constitution of his cabinet, people continue to remind writers.
CAN SIERRA LEONE HAVE A THIRD POLITICAL FORCE?
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.
It is this group of well meaning people both in and out of the country that we need to turn to in this dire moment. The new department of Diaspora Affairs can come in handy, if it is not tied to the apron strings of any political party in the country.
Would this be a panacea for the country’s ills? As a historian, I cannot tell. But it is worth trying. For of course after almost 50 years of independence under the tutelage of both the APC and SLPP, we have absolutely made no strides!