Sierra Leone at 50: My Reflection!
Each moment I browse the net I see beautifully designed pictures, flyers, banners and all sorts in honour of our 50th independence anniversary, 27th April 2011. These efforts reignite a fresh feeling of love and loyalty to my beloved country.
Indeed, it has been a long time not seeing and experiencing such feeling of love and oneness for our country than this year’s independence celebration fever. I am awed by the colourful display of our national colours – GREEN, WHITE and BLUE in all the corners of the globe. Here in China where I am residing currently, there are several preparations underway to honour this day. What a terrific euphoria! These magniloquence sights make me feel proud as a Sierra Leonean.
As I surf the net, I see some commentaries of some critics asking why the ballyhoo and hoopla over a Golden Jubilee celebration; some ask what is there to celebrate. Interesting enquiries! The answers are visible, and please bear with me as I highlight some of the reasons why I think we should and must celebrate this year’s independence with all our energy.
After gaining our independence, the country kept moving from one political trance to another. Eventually, in the 90’s we submerged into a brutal war that ravaged our country to a deplorable state. All state structures and values were destroyed, the country was in shambles.
Today, we have emerged from that destructive and protracted war and there are now signs of a successful transformation from that ugly past to a society of serenity and progress. Investor and consumer confidence has increased and has added impetus to the country’s economic success and social stability.
Our country is rich in natural resources and we relied heavily on mining especially diamonds, a resource the country use to struggle to manage its exploitation and export. I am happy that today things have changed considerably, the country is in full control of its natural resources due to some mining policies introduced in the country in order to realize its benefit by a way of providing jobs to our people and mining companies undertaking their corporate responsibilities. Such measure was introduced in October in 2000, when a UN-approved certification system for exporting diamonds from the country was put in place and led to a dramatic increase in legal exports. The government also created a mining community development fund, which returns a portion of diamonds export taxes to diamond mining communities, like in the case of Koidu Holdings in Kono. Other mining companies in other resources like African Minerals, London Mining etc. are also doing great work in terms of providing jobs to Sierra Leoneans and improving the lives of the people where they are mining. Why shouldn’t we celebrate with such developments?
When the war ended there was a desperate need to move the country again on its feet. The country received a deluge of assistance both in finance and material, unfortunately most of that assistance was embezzled and mismanaged by politicians, government officials and private organizations to the disadvantage of our country and us the its people. As a result there was this loud call for the establishment for an anti-corruption to help curb this menace by bringing to justice all those suspected of embezzling state funds. Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not saying the establishment of the ACC has wiped out corruption but it has however helped to reduced it considerably. Though the populace is still skeptical over the effectiveness of the ACC, yet they have given accolades to the commission for its effort for arresting and charging to court some corrupt officials who think they are untouchable. Today public officials are required to declare their assets to the ACC for the sake of transparency. This is a novelty in the history of our nation, and we need to celebrate for this reason.
Let’s don’t forget that much of the country’s success depends on the effort of the Government to limit official corruption, which I feel was a major cause of our brutal war. The aggressive effort by the government to fight corruption must therefore be saluted and support by us all.
In 2004, we had our first local council government elections in 32 years. There are now twelve district councils and five city councils outside the Western Area. Today the local councils have assumed full responsibility of their communities; functions previously carried out by the central government. In recent years we have seen a collaborative network between the local councils and chiefdom authorities to collect taxes and other revenues generation activities and other developmental ventures. These revenues collected from these taxes are used to undertake several development projects in all the localities right across the country.
According to statistics from the ministry of agriculture, about two-thirds of the population engage in subsistence agriculture, which accounts for 52.5% of national income. The government should work hard to increase food and cash crop production and upgrade small farmers’ skills. Also, the government should continue to work with foreign donors, especially the Chinese government, to operate integrated rural development and agricultural projects in all regions in the country. This was why I agree with the government’s decision to launched the ‘Agenda for Change,’ a strategic development plan, at a meeting of the Consultative Group of Sierra Leone’s donors in November 2009. The Agenda for Change among several other things focuses on improving agriculture, as this sector is a great employer of youths and women.
Since independence, the Government of Sierra Leone has encouraged foreign investment, although the business climate has been hampered by corruption, a shortage of foreign exchange, and uncertainty resulting from civil conflicts. Investors are protected by an agreement that allows for arbitration under the 1965 World Bank Convention. The government passed the Investment Promotion Act in August 2004 to attract foreign investors and has been working with international financial institutions to lower its administrative barriers to trade. In 2007, the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency was created to assist investors by creating a ‘one stop shop” for starting a business. In 2008, the International Finance Cooperation’s “Doing Business” guide ranked Sierra Leone 7th out of 15 West Africa countries in terms of ease of doing business. Sierra Leone continues to rely on significant amounts of foreign assistance, principally from multilateral donors as well as bilateral donors. We are urging the government to continue to bolster its revenue generation so it will reduce our financial dependency on these foreign countries.
The country has been able to get back most of its social infrastructure- schools, clinics and hospitals, yet there is still a huge gap, especially people residing in rural areas. There is an excessive effort in the process of rebuilding and reconstructing the roads. There has now been a feeling of restored confidence within the local populace and of investors, foreign as well as local as can be seen from the activities of Koidu Holdings, Sierra Rutile, the Magbass Sugar Complex, the Industrial Complex at Cline Town and many others.
ELECTRICITY AND ROADS
In the area of electricity, the government has put a lot of effort in bringing electricity to residents of not only the capital city, but all major towns in the country. Of course this effort is presently facing an uphill challenge; however there are signs that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
A sound system of road network will greatly facilitate the movement of persons and goods from one part of the country to the other. This in itself will promote trade and commerce within the country. At the same time it will enhance national harmony, national cohesion and understanding among the people as with a sound system of road network they will be willing and able to travel to different parts of the country with great ease and relative comfort.
Immediately President Koroma assumed office, he launched the “Attitudinal Change Project” to help sensitize the populace on good attitudes that will help move our country forward. I bet you, this is one of President Koroma’s finest programmes. Looking at the attitudes of our politicians, civil servants, religious leaders, professionals, business people, students, state forces etc.; there is every reason for us to spend at least a few minutes as we celebrate this day to reflect on our attitudes toward our country, ourselves, and to one another.
Sierra Leoneans, today we have seen the importance of being independent, let’s work as independent people and not the other way round; the true meaning of independence which is about assuming primary responsibility for finding solutions to our problems, not by destroying ourselves. We are therefore calling on the government to continue its effort to unify the country irrespective political, tribal and regional difference. I must commend the president for its cabinet that has representatives from different parts of the country. There is no better occasion than on our national day like this golden one to urge ourselves to rededicate ourselves to the task of national unity, reconciliation and love to one another and our beloved nation. We have no choice in this. It is the only way that we can rebuild a united peaceful and prosperous Sierra Leone.
It is time to change our attitudes to the affairs of this nation; it’s time to rekindle the hopes and dreams which inspired our nation at the time of independence. Let us settle our differences amicably instead of resorting to violence. As people of the same nation and fate, we have what it takes to move our country forward. One simple way to do this is by recommitting ourselves to building a great nation, to promoting national cohesion, economic and social development.
I want to encourage the government to continue to pursue policies that can help build the country on the solid foundation of Unity, Freedom, Peace and Progress. Policies geared towards putting this nation back on track in improving the performance of government in the delivery of public services and attracting the private sector to fully participate in national development.
Sierra Leone as we are all aware, is still struggling to rise from the grips of poverty to average living standards. The social security is one potent and vital instrument that can prevent or help alleviate poverty, this is why I lauded the initiative to introduce a programme of social protection through the establishment of a national social security scheme managed by the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT). It is through social security that generations of young Sierra Leoneans will provide for the old and other disadvantaged members of our society. Providing for a sustainable programme of social security is to nurture a safe and secure haven for our country into the future.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, with my few highlights above, I am proud to say there is every reason to celebrate this golden jubilee with pomp and pageantry. One British writer says, success is like deodorant, it takes away the bad smell. Let’s don’t allow ourselves to dwell into our dark past. The unity we are seeing today amongst us presages the news that there is a great future ahead of us.
Abu Bakarr Sesay, Jilin University, China
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