Taking the Bull by the Horns: A Road Map for Sierra Leone

17 May 2006 at 20:17 | 573 views

Our correspondent in Norway, Mohamed Boye Jallo Jamboria(photo), in part one of a new series, makes a strong case for the decentralization of Sierra Leone as a political and economic entity. Boye, as he is popularly known,is a geographer, trade unionist and educationist.

He is the President of ScanAfrik Foundation, an NGO that promotes the interests of Africans in Norway and on the continent.

By Mohamed Boye Jallo Jamboria

The prominent Yoruba leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in a book published in 1947 wrote:”Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no“Nigerians”in the same sense as there are “English”,”Welsh”,or “French”.The word “NIGERIAN” is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not.”

This may have and may still sound naive to a lot of people, but this is a statement of truth, a fact not only for Nigeria but for all of Africa. It is a summary of the facts of the mess that was left behind by the former colonialists and which at this moment has seen little or no changes especially in the geographical entity called Sierra Leone, a name that always is a source of questions by foreigners, as it sounds Portuguese yet the citizens speak English.

There are different schools of thought on this and other such issues. No matter what these schools may be and what they stand for ,it is a naked truth that one of the problems of development in Sierra Leone has always been the wrong social outlook of the citizenry, especially the naive politicians, elites and administrators.

The divide and rule and submissive(master -servant) political situation that was inherited from the colonialists is what is still in place and like Achebe wrote in “Things Fall Apart”,( the colonialists) succeeded in putting a knife across the string that held us together. There was never a geographical entity carrying the name Sierra Leone before 1808.In fact it was by then up till the 1920s only a limited geographical area that was 1024.05 m2 covering from the main western peninsula to Songo, a border town that is divided between the Port Loko district and the present western area.Effectively it was after the construction of the defunct railway that the present geographical entity began to take shape.

The key reason for the railway was trade with the rich hinterland and effective education from the colonialists only started in 1906 even though by then the EUB (now split to EUB and UMC) Mission that started after the repartration of Sengbe Pieh and others back to the present Bonthe district had before then made inroads into Tonkolili and Moyamba districts where they established church and school (source of the education of past leaders like Sir Milton Margai, Sir Albert Margai and Dr. Siaka Stevens).

The reason for this was that the colonialists never cared for education like Martin Meredith wrote in his book “THE STATE OF AFRICA, A History of fifty years of independence ( Free Press, 2005)” on the attitude of the European colonialists “having expended so much effort on acquiring empires, Europe’s colonial powers then lost much of their earlier interest in them. Few parts of Africa offered the prospect of immediate wealth. Colonial governments were concerned above all to make their territories financially self-supporting. Administration was thus kept to a minimum; education was placed in the hands of Christian missionaries; economic activity was left to commercial companies...”

Thus it is clear that even where education and administration were put in place it was decentralized and for the British it was a divide and rule mechanism in place in those geographical entities that were “carved up(during the scramble for Africa) at meetings in Berlin,Paris,London and other capitals at the end of the nineteenth century.” This system never took consideration of the socio political and cultural systems that were in place before and which has been a source of the lack of a national political philosophy and attitudinal problems of governance and development in Africa and especially the entity called Sierra Leone.

As a matter of fact what exists is a three- in- one entity; Creole, Mende and Themne politico- cultural entities; each being a force in the political and economic progress of the whole entity, Sierra Leone, ignoring or assimilating the other minor groupings.

This overview may seem naïve to shortsighted people but these are the realities of what is called Sierra Leone and it was the very reason why a Creole man ,JAMES JONES, SEEING THE POWER OF NUMBERS CHANGESD HIS NAME TO LAMINA SANKOH AND JOINED IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NOW DIVIDED AND THUGGISH SLPP.

It is a situation that all who consider themselves sierra Leonean must examine and accept, as it is one of the underlying causes of the war that brought so much woe to an already poor people. Some may say this is an outrageous statement but it is a fact.

The polarization of the SLPP and the disagreement before independence ,giving birth to a breakaway faction of the SLPP(APC), the winning of the 1967 elections by the APC;the first military coup by David Lansana, Hinga Norman and Larry Boston; the dispute between Siaka Stevens and the companies(DELCO AND SLST),the de-linking of the pound sterling because of the closure of DELCO AND SLST all led to a covert alliance between some unscrupulous politicians and disgruntled youths to get rid of the APC.Where did it lead to? If I must be personal, we are back to the days of colonialism but this time by consent as we cannot rule ourselves and we need foreigners to man key institutions.

So what must be done? A simple revisit of the traditional systems of governance and an appropriate combination of this with the British divide and rule system might be the answer. This means total decentralization of the political, economic and administrative structures if the entity of Sierra Leone must develop and continue to be one. Some, ignorant of some basic facts, such as the geological structures and the distribution of minerals and natural resources, may think this is an outrageous idea. It is not and it is the only way to ensure proper and equitable development of Sierra Leone.

A decentralized Sierra Leone with Chiefdom councils, District parliaments and a national senate consisting of one or two candidate(s) elected by each District with the prior approval of the Chiefdom councils will ensure the following:

Each region, ethnic grouping or socio political and economic interest will have the ability to take full control of and provide a more efficient administrative system and take full responsibility of the exploitation of the mineral and other natural resources with in their geographical domain. They will in the process also ensure the proper use of such resources and pay to the central government a part to be determined, and so make for effective and efficient use of the nation’s resources.

I must add here that every Region, District and Chiefdom in Sierra Leone has a mineral or some natural resource that is economically viable and valuable and so it is an economically feasible plan.

For example, the Port Loko district has iron ore, bauxite, clay for ceramics and brick building and a vast potential for the development of the palm oil and kernel industry;Kambia has industrial diamonds, bauxite ,iron ore and a vast potential for rice cultivation;Bombali has vast gold and other precious minerals development and rice cultivation potentials ; same with Tonkolili,Kono and other districts .

Of course a look at the geological structure indicates that minerals and resource potentials in the south can be harnessed in the north also as the bedrocks run north-south within the three basic geological regions of the country or rather geographical entity called Sierra Leone. This is a fact kept from the public, and which some egoistic and shallow minded elites and administrators have used to create a deceptive national and regional picture of productive and non- productive areas.

Each district will plan its own overall development policy based on the national developmental aspirations and policies. This will encourage and ensure efficiency as natives of districts will be recruited to govern and develop themselves and that implies vested interest in the development processes in the District rather than nonchalance as is the present administrative practice, inherited from the colonialists.

This decentralized administrative structure will ensure a more efficient and effective management of the public sector as it will imply that sons of the soil will administer their chiefdoms, districts and regions. A structure different from that which is operating now will be good for the country as there will be vested interest in the administration rather than tiff-tiff or rampant stealing. Also, important developmental sectors like agriculture, education, health and the environment will receive proper attention as they will be run from smaller and more dedicated points of administration. Also finance will be de- centralized and more efficient, reducing corruption because if districts allow their limited financial resources to be pilfered, it is they that will suffer unlike now where every one thinks ”NAR WE MONI!” and the dog eats dog syndrome operates.

Another reason or argument for the total decentralization of the politico-administrative system is that it will enhance the functional capacity of each district in the sense that those born in these districts will be the key administrative players not people from other districts who have little or no moral obligations to the districts they administer as is the case now:- district officers only administer from a central policy that reflects the wishes of some chief administrator who may only want to see a day to day functioning and payment of monthly salaries but not the overall equitable development of the geographical entity called Sierra Leone and whose vested interest may lie in some district other than that under his / her control.

The implied benefits of such a politico- administrative system is that it will empower and enable proper prioritization and developmental planning whilst creating room for competitive developmental aspirations and use of resources at local levels. This automatically means that important areas like education, health and other social services will receive adequate attention and input as both skilled and unskilled labor will be harnessed at the local level and this labor force will be more dedicated and more content.

National services and policies will still be in place but this system will ensure proper collective use and maintenance like is the case with the Bo -Kenema electricity pilot project that supplies both cities with power.

Of course in the area of power , a very important and essential sector, a private national power supply institution with the ability to harness all the water falls on the escarpment zone(an area that runs north south also along the Magbosi hills axis) and provide smaller but more effective power like the Dodo dam( rather than big ,unfeasible projects like Bumbuna) WILL ENSURE THAT EVERY DISTRICT DOWN TO THE LEAST VILLAGE have power and the future benefits of this will mean a big take off in the private sector including educational and technological development.Europe and the developed world are as they are today because of adequate and cheap power supply.This is possible in Sierra Leone given the vast hydro potential yet to be harnessed.

A further advantage of this kind of system is that it will empower those small traditional systems that were disempowered by the balkanization of Africa (a process that did not take cognizance of the existence of traditional ruling and politico- social structures).

The implied benefit is that grassroots development will mean overall and effective total development of all regions with a more dedicated approach, whilst the national identity (Sierra Leone) will be enhanced. It will be like a federation in a unitary system and every ethnic, social and political interest will be catered for. Also the economic potentials will be empowered and harnessed to their fullest, reducing corruption and other social ills as locals will run their own affairs and if they encourage these social ills they will have themselves to blame for the consequences.

The basic structure should be as follows: empowered chiefdom councils (with the chief being the only permanent (subject to his or / her health, comportment, etc) member with an elected council.

District elected councils with more power to make and execute policies in the areas of education, agriculture, mining, revenue collection, etc (in tune with the national policies).

An elected national senate or assembly based on the proportional representation principle but with equitable distribution of seats to cater for the number of chiefdoms in each district.

This national assembly can be unitary or bicameral based on having politicians and chiefs(and other eminent persons that will be elected by mass referendum for a longer period and who will serve as a check on the politicians) in one or separate assemblies as is seen fit and viable.

If this is done then Sierra Leone will cease to be three countries in one country as the major ethnic players will have local empowerment to use a greater part of their resources to develop their localities whilst at the same time contribute to the national revenue by paying taxes to the central government .

Of course this means more than it seems as proper provisions must be made for the total overhaul of the present financial system and every worker must have a bank account into which his / her wages will be paid (meaning less or no die man vouchers) and such wages will be paid from the local revenue source; implying that every district will become more responsible and accountable. No longer will unscrupulous finance officers sit down in small and dingy offices to manipulate the country’s finances and give out contracts that don’t exist, whilst in the process creating huge and horrible deficits.