AUSTERITY, AUSTERITY, AUSTERITY Mr. President, beware of your legacy
This was one word I always prayed, will be banished from the political vocabulary of our country; because I saw, felt, and tasted what AUSTERITY was. This is no attempt to digest the inner bowels of the economic gymnastics that is staring at us from the barrels of extreme poverty. It is no secret that Sierra Leone has monopoly over the unenviable tag; “as one of the poorest nations”. It is also an open secret that Sierra Leone’s poverty tag is one of the most paradoxical in modern times; considering that this is a nation that is drowning in mineral resources that countries like little Gambia can only dream about. But in spite of the numerous wealth and potential, our country has been reduced to the proverbial “man that is sitting by the banks of the ocean and washing his hands with spittle”. As the country struggles to come to terms with the bleak outlook of our economic malaise, it is worth considering the legacy of the Koroma government.
Shakespeare once said in Julius Caesar that “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” People often struggle to remember the good deeds of others, but they will never forget the bad ones. The only thing you take with you when you’re gone is what you leave behind. I believe our legacy will be defined by the accomplishments and fearless nature by which our daughters and sons take on the global challenges we face.
As President Ernest Bai Koroma inches his way towards the exit door of our political corridor, it is worth remembering that in politics, “ it’s just one small step from legacy to lame duck.” The recent announcements of the need for some economic belt tightening by the government has been greeted with sighs of déjà vu. They are a painful reminder of the bad governance of the Pa Sheki era. When late Pa Sheki invited Africa’s heads of states to hold a political jamboree and talking shop which passes for the OAU summit in our country in 1980, many will recall that this painful exercise of self-aggrandisement left painful birth marks on our country’s economic life span, and the beginning of our economic malaise. Some will say that the OAU saw some significant infrastructural developments in our country; as symbolised by Youyi Building, the national stadium, City hall etc.; but at what cost?
Mr Ernest koroma would be fondly remembered for his commitment to the infrastructural development drive, which has seen projects like Bunbuna, solar, road constructions, health care etc. among others, as visible markers of his legacy. There would be very few people who would envy him for presiding over one of the toughest challenges of the country during the Ebola pandemic. But even that was soiled with allegations of embezzlements. Added to these were other natural disasters which many in the red corner will see as impediments to his vision for the country. There is no doubt from even his strongest opponents that these, did apply the handbrakes to his development drives in the country. However, it will be grossly erroneous to attribute our current and pending economic strangulation to only these unfortunate events. One thing is for sure; that these were natural disasters that any government would have struggled to come to terms with. This has not been helped by the economic downturn of the global scene.
Notwithstanding these natural disasters, we should be honest enough to acknowledge that some of the reasons for our plight today were not only self-inflicted but also avoidable man-made disasters. And that brings us to the issue of “corruption”; which has been the perennial DNA of all governments past and present. No one, no country or institution can eliminate corruption, but systems of accountability, if implemented can reduce the risks of corruption. Corruption in our country has always been oxygenated by nepotism, favouritism, tribalism and all the isms one can think of. Comparatively, it is fair to say that the government made significant strides to stem the bleeding, by implementing shades of accountability in our country. The implementation of the Anti-Corruption Commission was hailed as one of the markers of better days ahead. Unfortunately, not many people appear to be satisfied with its work; as some feel that much of its fishing lines only caught the small fries in the sea of the deplorable.
“No legacy is as rich as honesty,” and honestly speaking, the level of corruption in our country has been propagated with reckless abandon. Many lives have been torched by this canker worm. It will be reckless to blame all the ills of our society on the president and the president alone. Take the issue of smugglers siphoning our relatively cheap fuel to neighbouring countries. These are citizens depriving their fellow citizens of much needed goods and draining the oxygen from our lives. But you can bet your bottom dollar that such practices have the finger prints of some big “Alayjos” who will never be brought to book.
But as the saying goes, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. There are those who believe that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. But if we take a microscope to this notion, we would realise that power does not corrupt; it is fear, and the fear of losing power that corrupts. Just ask Mugabe.
To all intents and purposes, the head of government cannot fix all of society’s ills. It requires the collective responsibility of all citizens to do so. If people are not ready to bribe, there will be no takers. Sadly, the will to root out corruption requires a top to bottom approach. But what do you say to the ordinary man, when politicians are seen to build massive mansions, own powerful gas guzzling automobiles, live lifestyles that you and me can only fantasize about; knowing full well that that there is no way in cats hell that their salaries can subsidise such lifestyles? What do you say to the unemployed youth, who do not know where the next meal is going to come from? We see endless reams of photos and videos streamed on social media about petty thieves caught and imprisoned, while the big “alayjos” are safely insulated behind tinted gas guzzling 4 x 4s on our streets.
Our president just returned from the latest United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. He made an impassioned plea on behalf of African nations. His speech was one that any citizen could be proud of. Unfortunately, the whole trip has been met with disdain from many pundits along the political landscape. There have been accusations of mismanagement and avoidably lavish spending of the country’s meagre resources. There have also been accusations that the government spent in excess of $1 million dollars to fund the trip to the UN meeting. Many see the President’s entourage, which has been widely described as hangers on, as unnecessary. But what did the government bring back from the meeting? As ironies go, against the backdrop of allegations of lavish spending, the take away was the announcement of austerity. And you wonder why people are angry? But as we all know, the IMF has been conveniently used as the whipping boy of all African governments for their mismanagement. The IMF has always been sold to us as an unforgiving and ruthless demagogue. But all what the IMF is doing is acting as a credit referencing agency; telling governments not to spend money they don’t have. It is there to tell governments to stop printing money and stop borrowing beyond our abilities to repay. Governments come and go, but the people remain saddled with the countries’ credit card repayments.
As the president prepares to hand over the reins of power, “what will be your legacy”? We expect the dance to change when the music changes. But we should also remember that “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy. Legacy is greater than currency.
So Pa Ernest, NA FOR TELL YOU NAYBA, BUT NOR SEND DI CONTRI GO DON.
Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.
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