Wai Reacts to Freetown Article

3 November 2005 at 12:57 | 484 views

This is a response by Toronto-based Sierra Leonean political scientist Zubairu Wai to a recent media attack from Freetown.Wai had earlier written an article first published here in which he presented a searing analysis of socio-economic conditions in Sierra Leone today that won praises around the world.

“Fallacies of Zubairu Wai: Ignorant!”: A Rejoinder
Zubairu Wai

On November 1, my attention was drawn to an article titled “Fallacies of Zubairu Wai: Ignorance!” written by a certain Gbondima Gbondo, in Concord Times, (accessed on the pan-African news webpage Intended as a response to my previous piece titled “Sierra Leone Between Now and 2007: A Personal Reflection,” published, first by the Vancouver based Sierra Leone news site “The Patriotic Vanguard”, and then by “The Exclusive” and “Awareness Times” in Freetown, Gbondo accused me of ignorance and of making fallacious statements in order to paint a negative image of the country and its governing elites. In this article, I undertake a response to Gbondo, and the SLPP both as a party and as a government. My aim here is not however so much to speak to the concerns of Gbondo and the SLPP, (because they are scared of somebody being able to effectively use the right language to articulate the grievances of the suffering masses) but to address some of the wider questions and concerns that I had left out of my original piece because of space.

For starters, Gbondo’s attempt at a diatribe is very puerile, and his response itself is, interestingly but ironically a fallacy, (ad hominine, to be precise), attacking my person instead of addressing the issues and sticking with the facts. The entire article is a high sounding illogical collection of words that do not even vaguely relates to its very title. ‘Ignorance’, according to any good English dictionary would mean: “The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed.” I wonder how ignorant I could be when Gbondo himself boldly proclaims that I am “indeed a remarkably bright scholar of no mean standing.” Similarly, fallacy, would mean either “A statement or an argument based on a false or invalid inference;” or would imply “Incorrectness of reasoning or belief.” I challenge Gbondo to, not only show me the fallacies in my analysis, but to also, without seeking to confuse the issues by attacking my person, (a game I am refusing to play with him because I analyse issues and produce ideas not discuss people), offer counter-factual arguments and evidence that would disprove what I had previously written.

My analysis was done with a very high level of objectivity, thinking of the interest of Sierra Leone and the bigger picture, than any narrow interest of any party, group or individual. In fact, since the publication of that article, I have been inundated by emails and telephone calls from concerned Sierra Leoneans thanking me for, as one email from Freetown puts it, “a wonderful and insightful article that spoke the minds of the vast majority of silent Sierra Leoneans,” and for, as another points out, “raising a lot of salient issues ... highlighting the problems facing the country in general.” Is it a surprise then that the only people who are offended by my article are those in power, the SLPP party leadership, their cronies and ardent supporters like Gbondo? The ontology of Gbondo and the SLPP on the one hand and everybody else, on the other it would appear, differs diametrically. Why are they the only ones seeing ‘progress’ when everybody else, especially the average person on the streets, is seeing suffering, hardship and deprivation? Why are they the only ones seeing regular supply of electricity in Freetown, when all the people know, is irregular and erratic power supply at best and constant blackouts at worst? Why are they the only ones seeing a clean and crisp city, when everybody else sees filth and piles of rubbish on the streets? Indeed they are the only ones seeing jobs being created, while everyone else sees high levels of unemployment. Merely establishing institutions, without actual contents, does not equate to effective rule or enhance their institutional values. It is as simple as knowing that merely holding elections (be they at state, party or local government levels) does not equate to democratic governance. Has Gbondo ever heard of the word ‘polyarchy’? Institutional capacity and democratic practices go way beyond shallow processes, proclamations and establishments. It is both dishonest and extremely insensitive to the sufferings of the ordinary person, and an insult to the intelligence of every Sierra Leonean, that each time questions about corruption, or the internal contradictions of the socio-political life of the country are raised, we hear the same old rehearsed script: it is the APC’s fault or better yet the war’s. Nothing could be done because of the war, not even the road to Gooderich, travelling on which is still a disaster, could be resurfaced because of the war! Let alone, may the Lord forbid, build the long talked about bridge to Lungi, or generate electricity for the city. We cannot feed the people, but have to wait till 2007. Bumbuna would be completed, but only in 2007. And oh, the proposed bridge to Lungi too would be completed in 2007! Isn’t it convenient that we are constantly told that all these projects would be completed in an election year? 2007 indeed, what a year! Need I also ask how Sierra Leone faired on the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International? Should we also blame this low ranking on the war?! Or should we wait till 2007 before we could wage the war on corruption. Oh I forgot, Sierra Leone, at 124 out of 159 on the corruption index, is actually better off! How ridiculous! We have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, and also one of the lowest life expectancies, all because of the war. Our country is the second to least developed country in the world; it is surely because of the war! It is interesting and extremely unfortunate that everybody in Sierra Leone sees corruption, decay and a dysfunctional state of affairs, except for the SLPP officials and their cronies like Gbondo. I challenge not only Gbondo, but anybody else interested in showing how ‘ignorant’ I really am, to refute these claims by not attacking my person, which I believe, as an escape mechanism, is very petty and lacking in intellectual substance, but to provide counter-factual evidence that disproves what we already know. I wonder how Gbondo would explain the death of Harry Yansaneh who died from injuries sustained from beatings he received from the hands of miscreants associated with the government, criminals who are up till now being protected because of their connections in high places. How would he also explain the continued and unnecessarily vexatious imprisonment of Paul Kamara, and the death of Gloria Newman-Smart, an honest hardworking Sierra Leonean woman, who because of her tough stance against corrupt practices at the government Immigration Department by closing the loophole for shadowy passport deals, was actually harassed to death by the very institution created to help fight corruption.

Life continues to be a constant struggle for the ordinary Sierra Leonean. And if by pointing that out, as preposterously ridiculous as the claims sound, I am branded as a “terrorist” or an “arm-chair critique” intent on tarnishing the good image of the country, then I gladly accept that label. Wasn’t Mandela labelled a terrorist when he was fighting against apartheid? The real terrorists and those giving a bad name to Sierra Leone are the “borboh beles”, those that are busy milking the state dry, exacerbating the sufferings of the people, threatening their very existence and running the country down. They, and their defenders like Gbondo, are the ones criminalising the state, and turning every decent Sierra Leonean into an object of suspicion both at home and abroad. Weren’t we supposed, as a country, to have learnt our lessons from the decade of brutal conflicts that immobilised and almost broke us as a people? Have we really read the reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and sought to understand the reasons for the war, and all the unprecedented carnage that it visited on innocent people? We live with the scars of that war permanently inscribed on us: on our bodies, our psyche, the landscape etc. There are loved ones we’ll never see again, the remains of burnt houses, the amputees, the lost generation of kids forced to fight in a war which they weren’t responsible for, those that were raped, and robbed of their innocence, you name them. Couldn’t we ameliorate the sufferings and agony of these people in our midst, by striving to do the right things, and prove to them that their pain isn’t in vain, that they didn’t, for instance, lose their limbs for nothing, but as a sacrifice for the promise of better days? Shouldn’t we celebrate the lives of all those who died during the senseless war by changing the body politic of Sierra Leone, so that, at least their spirit would find peace, in the comfort that they died so that we could live, and not just so that we could survive as we are doing now? Aren’t we denigrating their memories by reinforcing the same things that led to the war in the first place? We surely could do better, other than blaming every anomaly in our society on the war, when in actual fact, we still are perpetrating the very practices that, in more than one ways, led to the war in the first place. Isn’t it laughable that Chief Hinga Norman, Moinina Fofana, and Allieu Kondewa, men who dedicated their lives to fight against the brutal RUF could be indicted for war crimes and locked behind bars, while someone like Eldred Colins, one time spokesman for the criminal RUF, could not only be a free man, but a member of the SLPP as well? Gbondo, please tell me I am ‘ignorant.’ In what world are such injustices possible?

Let me now briefly say something about my friends and myself, in order to educate Gbondo, my uninformed detractor, and to speak to his “privileged” category in which he has placed me. Merely placing me in that category means that Gbondo does not even know me. I am privileged in so far as I live and study abroad. I remember, struggling with my friends and surviving on bulgur and blended in university at FBC because we were mostly from poor homes. I have been fortunate to overturn the straitened circumstances of my birth, not through corruption or sycophancy, which is a route most people take but which some of us have refused to take, but through both hard work and luck; but how many Sierra Leoneans would be as fortunate as I am? Life is a struggle, and that struggle breaks the human spirit. Nobody has to go through what my friends and I went through in college, or what the ordinary person goes through every day. Life could be better and I believe it is achievable right there in Sierra Leone. My contributions to the peace process in Sierra Leone, through my role in the CDU leadership, helping to recruit the New Sierra Leone Army, my role as a member of the Relief Committee of the Civil Society Movement, that oversaw the emergency relief operations after the January 6 RUF/AFRC invasion of Freetown, or my contributions to the reinstatement of democracy, staying in Freetown to resist the AFRC junta, when I could have fled the country, like some people did, and almost getting myself killed at the National Nursing School where my friend and colleague Vaffie Koneh lost his life, minutes after he and I separated from each other, on August 18, 1997, protesting AFRC usurpation of power etc., disproves any claim of my being an arm-chair critique. I have always being on the frontline, and I intend on remaining there. I am not a politician in the sense of wanting to seek elected office, as my uninformed detractor would like people to believe, but I am and will remain a scholar-activist, fighting for social justice and against corruption in Sierra Leone, and I don’t really care if my activism is perceived as threatening to the established order.

By way of conclusion, I say here loudly that I am a very proud Sierra Leonean, and it bleeds my heart to see what is happening to my country. Those who know me, know that I am an uncompromising defender of Africa generally, as a continent, a concept, a civilisation and as a people, and of Sierra Leone in particular. In fact, part of my research interests speak directly to some of those concerns, namely, the misrepresentations of Africa in Eurocentric and Western discourses, and the possibilities for reclaiming the continent by conceptualising a new language through which African phenomena could not only be explained but understood. I am not therefore one who writes for the consumption of Western audiences, I don’t really care much about what they think about us. But like many well meaning Africans, both at home and abroad, who have joined the fight for social justice and against global inequality and injustice that makes Africa the world’s laughing stock, a simultaneous two prong war should be waged: on the domestic and global fronts. The only way we could defeat the global system of injustice that has tilted the table against us is for us to be self reflective and self critical, for us to be able to turn to ourselves and leaders and hold they and us accountable whenever we fail in our responsibilities, and to be constantly re-imagining ways of conceptualising a better society. In this thinking, which could be neo-Africanist in orientation, complacency, incompetence, endemic corruption that paralyses the system of internal governance, and moribund leadership has no place. I hate being told, each time I complain about global injustice, that my attention should be focused on my corrupt leaders. I hate being called the son of corrupt dictators. I want to be able to fight with a clean conscience. Let our governments and politicians do the right things and together we’ll change the system of global apartheid, as some people call it. The fight therefore has to be on two fronts. Like every well-meaning Sierra Leonean, I am just dying to see a change in the lot of the ordinary person on the streets, who negotiates hardship everyday, who has known nothing else but suffering all their lives. With these points, let me say that I promise that I won’t attempt a response to Gbondo again, or in fact any other person defending the despicable and shameful acts of looting taking place is Sierra Leone, even if that person writes the most preposterous and disagreeable stuff about me. Like Peter Tosh said in his song ‘Burial’, “I ain’t have no [sic] time to waste on you, I’m a living man I’ve got work to do.”

Zubairu Wai,

Photo: Zubairu Wai.