From the Editor’s Keyboard

The Politics of Slogans and President Koroma’s Call for Attitudinal Change

29 June 2008 at 19:11 | 574 views

By Abdulai Bayraytay, Policy Analyst, Freetown.

The political history of post-colonial Sierra Leone seems to be dominated by political demagogues reputed to be hiding behind the mask of one rhetorical political slogan or another while majority of the people, the hoi polloi, continue to wallow in abject poverty.

This trend was particularly conspicuous during the rule of the old All Peoples’ Congress Party (APC) of the late Siaka P. Stevens(alias Bandele) with his notorious philosophy of “wusai den tie cow nar dae ee dae eat (a cow grazes where it is tethered) to late President Joseph Saidu Momoh’s (aka Josephine Tucker) “economic emergency”, “constructive nationalism” and “green revolution”.

Taking the cue from their civilian administrators, the khaki boys of the infamous National Provisional Ruling Council junta headed by Valentine Strasser also perforated the political landscape with slogans like “power to the youth”, very much typical of their youthful exuberance that came to eclipse their “good intentions” to the virtual depletion of state resources as their predecessors.

After his election into office in 1996, former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah(alias Kabbah Tiger) and his Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) also forged their own slogan of “food security”, promising that no Sierra Leonean will go to bed hungry come 2010. Whether by default or not, Kabbah did not preside over the leadership of this country to the realization of that dream.

As such, when incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma recently launched his “attitudinal change” campaign, many political observers both at home and in the Diaspora lauded his audacity in doing this, noting that indeed the country has got a messiah who would transform the country from the scandalous badge of being the least developed country in the world, according to successive United Nations Human Development Index Reports.

Others though have a different take. They contend that all Sierra Leone needs is leadership by example without creating any unwanted avenue to expend taxpayers money. This has widely however been contested with Freetown now being cleaner compared to when I visited last year in December after my sojourn in Canada for the past nine odd years.

But one place where the seeds of the attitudinal change seem to defy growth, in spite the torrential rains of late, is the Health ministry. There are indications that a cross-section of Sierra Leoneans is still ensconced in the diabolical habit of “sabotaging” President Koroma’s clarion call for attitudinal change. A typical example was during my recent visit to Connaught hospital after a friend informed me that her mother had gone into coma.

To my dismay, there was no doctor available. I became desperate and called one Dr. Huballah who hastily advised that my friend’s mother should be taken to Choithram’s hospital. “I have just finished my shift and now far away from the hospital. I will advise that you rush her to the Choithram’s hospital”, Dr. Huballah graciously suggested.

But the two dedicated but tired nurses had a different view. “Sir, sorry sir. We will do our best and she will be okay”, nurses Philip and Tommy said in unison as they negotiated the use of one syringe, band aid, and other contraptions in the manually equipped outpatient ward. True to their prediction, the lady gradually recovered and was transferred to Choithram’s hospital as Dr. Huballah earlier advised.

While some apologists have attributed the lack of motivation by doctors to commit to their practice to the abysmal salaries paid them, some maintained that the establishment of private practice had only succeeded in undermining the operations of government hospitals across the country.

“This is unfortunate as majority of the poor could not afford the charges levied by private hospitals thereby making mockery of the government’s promise of attaining health for all as part of the Millennium Development Goals”, a foreign diplomat friend observed.

Indeed, while the Ministry of Health could be a microcosm of the sorrowful state of affairs in the country, there are still instances where civil servants reportedly sleep behind their desks, messengers and secretaries play mostly Nigerian movies or some crusade during working hours, while the army of drivers idle the days away playing bingo and ludo games, among several other annoying habits. And this is where one would join hands with Marina John, the Director of Nursing at Connaught hospital, in calling for the eradication of user fees especially for children and women, the two most vulnerable groups.

As such, unless and until a robust approach is undertaken by the Government in actualizing the fine dream of attitudinal change with enviable examples trickling from the top, President Koroma’s call for attitudinal change could be eventuallydismissed as yet another political mantra.

The kind of mantra the celebrated Nigerian playwright and Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka used in one of his satirical plays, “Kongi’s Harvest”, by sniping at the elitist political class with the use of good-for-nothing slogans like “positive scientificism" loaded with algebraic quotes like “...if the square of XQY(2bc) equals QA into the square root of X, then the progressive forces must prevail over the reactionary in the span of .32 of a single generation”.

Whatever that means to the masses living with less than a dollar a day is anybody’s guess!