The road to a middle class in Sierra Leone

8 June 2009 at 22:11 | 1322 views

By Mohamed C. Bah, EX-President Sierra Leone Community Atlanta, USA.

"Anyone who has struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor." Said a famous African-American writer James Baldwin. The road to a middle class demography in Sierra Leone is an inevitable journey that must be taken if our democratic nation is to transcend from the colossal mountain of poverty into the high beautiful plains of human prosperity. If Sierra Leone is to take a unique and bold approach against poverty,not the poverty reduction programs that is just a “program-in-theory”,the urgency to building a strong middle class society must be the new thinking in this age of global competition.


After 48 years since independence,the faces of poverty have been a disturbing landmark on the socio-economic lives of millions of our people. This abhorrent and undesirable way of life have bought an untold suffering on the mental,physical and social well being of Sierra Leoneans. Today,many of our fellow citizens are grossly neglected,under-served and poorly represented in their common pursuit to seeking a better future for themselves and their families. Many are unable to fulfill what Robert Kennedy once said “i dream of the things that never were and ask why not.”

While, there are hopeful signs that Sierra Leone is emerging and growing to meet the broader aspirations of the people,it is just a revealing truth that poverty is so deeply entrenched and more visible in our society today. That,as good as,the government is working to influence changes,more needs to be done to radically transform Sierra Leone from a poorly managed and corrupt society into a viable,vibrant and progressive nation. Sierra Leone cannot afford to live another 48 years of the same cruel,unnecessary and unjust human suffering.


To understand the concept of a middle class society,it is profoundly significant to see how modern economies such as the USA, Europe, Canada and other developed nations are structured, how the operates and how this demographic group have created the source of wealth,increased government revenues and stimulated the economies of these countries. Without a strong middle class, the financial engine of any nation will never gather the speed of national progress nor the traveling distance to alleviating this shameful condition of poverty.

The concept of a middle class is fundamentally rooted in the foundation of peace and prosperity through education,medicine,technology and economic investments. It is where countries like Sierra Leone becomes the hub for economic and political developments,where the democratic institutions of transparency and justice are protected and valued and where good governance are manifested in governments ability to increase its tax revenues,triples it accumulated foreign reserves through mineral revenues and increase its human capital. Thus, a new middle class culture with greater socio-economic latitude must be the new wind of change that should be blowing across our promising nation.


The philosopher, Confucius succinctly describe wealth disparity in this way: “In a country well governed,poverty is something to be ashamed of and in a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” Any government without a middle class “agenda” that does not find a strategic path way to building the educational capacity and economic independence for its people are bound to widen the gap between the few greedy rich and the depressively poor population.

Indeed,such is the confluence of events in Sierra Leone today; a nation paralyzed by greed and corruption,a politics driven by fear over hope and a system that rewards the “anything goes mentality.” The few public servants,who have amassed tainted wealth from the vaults of our nation’s treasury are artificially some of the so-called “middle class” group. And the most vulnerable among us are the poor who seem to constantly wonder when will their long journey of poverty ends. While the privilege "few" have built mansions along the coastal lines,the common citizens are disproportionately subjected to poor housing conditions,little or no food to eat and no hope for the future.

The burden of poverty is a moral issue and the overwhelming need to tackling this man-made disaster must be politically, socially and spiritually compelling. Realistically, the bench marks to determine a middle class category are: income level, tax ratio,educational standards,belief in the “bourgeoisie” values such as housing or property ownership,strong purchasing power,stock market investments,small business establishment and job security such as professional doctors, lawyers, and engineers.


In February 2009, according to the Economist magazine, it is believe that over half the world’s population now belongs to the middle class, as a result of rapid growth in emerging countries. It characterized the middle class as having a reasonable amount of discretionary income, so that they do not live from hand to mouth as the poor do, and defined it as beginning at the point where people have roughly a third of their income left for discretionary spending after paying for basic food and shelter.

Subsequently,this allows people to buy consumer goods, improve their health care, and provide for their children’s education. Most of the emerging group consists of people who are middle-class by the standards of the developing world but not the rich one, since their money incomes do not match developed countries level, but the percentage of it which is discretionary does.

The Economist predicted that the surge across the poverty line should continue for a couple of decades and the global middle class will grow enormously between now and 2030. This may have profound social consequences, since the middle classes which emerged in Europe and America tend to be much better informed and politically active than the poorer classes. This must be the future,Sierra Leone, should work towards in a collective and significant way.


Does the road to a middle class society runs through the heartland of Sierra Leone?From an analytical perspective,poverty is a perception, a thinking and a state of mind. For Sierra Leone to begin the journey to a middle class society,we need to change the culture of sabotaging good works,the obsession of working against national progress and the deceptive physcology of “wishing-you-will-fail” syndrome. Collectively, we must create a just and equitable Sierra Leone for everyone. Government must understand the magnitude and serious obligations bestow on them to promoting the welfare of its citizens. And public service must not be consumed by the politics of confrontation and division or the mindset of everybody is my enemy if you don’t believe in my party or belong to my so-called “party club.”Sierra Leoneans must understand that only through taken personal responsibility of our destiny and working with our government,can we move our country from a state of poverty and into a land of abundant wealth and collective prosperity.

Indeed,real meaningful progress comes from an inclusive leadership,one that embraces a team of diverse backgrounds and the participation of principled citizens who shared common objective of a prosperous Sierra Leone. History reminds us that a nation and its leaders are remembered for their positive impact on people and society,not their personal fortunes or the emotional and professional challenges they faced with those whom they fundamentally disagree with.


More importantly,we must import technology,expand our basic infrastructures,reduce health care disparity and create income for our people through job markets and small business ownership. The need to restructure and revamp our education system is long over due. Government must invest in education by allocating substantial funding to accommodate the the growth of new technology and labor skills required to be competitive in today’s global market. Merely reading the history of “the “Songhai empire” or knowing the “molecules of the universe”,as important as they may be, are insufficient to creating a supply and demand work force in Sierra Leone.

We must reform existing universities and build new colleges of engineering,computer information,allied science and medicine in Sierra Leone. These learning institutions must be modernize and streamline to train highly qualified professionals,who are ready to join the community of the middle class family. It is a shame to have more Sierra Leonean doctors practicing medicine in Chicago (USA) than in the homeland.


Furthermore, we cannot grow a middle class when our towns and cities are without access to electricity,water supply,poor feeder roads,inadequate financial infrastructures and weak business protection laws. Vietnam had a history of a long brutal war and massive poverty rates some decades ago,but now enjoys a modernized electricity,good commerce,better infrastructures and increasing foreign investments. They have made themselves the “little giant of Asia.” with their source of exports and transparent democratic institutions.

However,despite the poverty and the lack of governing resources we face today,i still see a more hopeful and promising future for Sierra Leone. The road to a middle class is just miles away from within reach if only we have the political will and determination to bring about the changes we wish to see. I am convinced that our nation will rise to meet the challenges and the new opportunities of the 21st century. And with great optimism, Sierra Leone will soon take the lead of becoming the “new economic giant” of sub Sahara Africa, thereby building a peaceful and more prosperous future for every Sierra Leonean and the rest of Africa.


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