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“50 Years Forward”or, Backward Again?!

“50 Years Forward”or, Backward Again?!

The slogan for the 50th Independence Anniversary Celebration of the land the British colonialists carved out a boundary for and named “Sierra Leone” – to better exploit its natural resources after 300 years + of the Protracted Holocaust of the Atlantic Slave Trade –  is “50 Years Forward”. With some 6 million people crammed in its  47,000 square kilometers land area, Sierra Leone is too densely populated; but, with a 60% percent youthful population, density of population could mean marketing blessing, especially as this country is  blessed  with some of the most  marketable mineral resources in the world (best grade of Rutile; largest quantity of iron ore in Africa; bauxite; platinum; gold, etc.).  Emerging from one of the most nauseous and brutish wars in human history between 1991 and 2002, it is encouraging that this country is ‘looking forward’, and not backwards. Not backwards at what really should be termed as ‘50 wasted years’ of glorious opportunities and gargantuan wealth between 1961 and 2010. Given its staggering latent mineral wealth, the poverty of Sierra Leone today makes it more like the Prodigal Son in the Judeo-Christian Bible who frittered away wealth bequeathed to it by an indulgent parent.  Do Sierra Leoneans have the mental capacity to look forward?

We don’t.  We are Africans, remember?  Negroid!  We are ‘trapped’ in sub Saharan Africa’s tropical rainforest regions, which has forced us into a form of ‘futureless mind trap’.  I draw a leaf from one of my intellectual ‘bibles’: the 1971-published  Heinemann book I studied in sixth form in the Albert Academy in mid-1974/1975: “African Traditional Religions and Philosophy”, by Kenyan theologian, Prof. John F. Mbiti. ‘Hear’ Mbiti: “A person (African!!) experiences time partly in his own individual life, and partly through the society which goes back many generations before his own birth….[Time] moves ‘backward’ rather than ‘forward’; and people set their minds not on future things, but chiefly on what has taken place….Time has to be experienced in order to make sense or to become real……For the African, time is equivalent to, and can only consist of, actual events – events that have just occurred, events that are taking place now, or events that will likely occur very shortly. Theirs is a two-dimensional concept of time that only minimally corresponds with Western ideas of the ‘present’ and the ‘past.’ Mbiti identifies these dimensions as the Sasa period, which encompasses the recent past, the present, and the very immediate future, and the Zamani period, which corresponds with a deeper, more infinite past…”

Let me interpret that ‘Mbiti’ for you.  Simple:  Africans don’t think of the future.  Look around you.  How many Sierra Leoneans have ten days supply of food in stock in their homes?  That was why when during our ‘rebel war’ the RUF/AFRC rebels would invade a city like Freetown during the January 6, 1999 period and lay siege on it, most people were forced to brave coming out to confront the rebels on the streets in  search of food – or they would starve to death.  One of such people was one of  my sixth form class mates in the Albert Academy, university-educated Rev. Isaac Marqui, a pastor in the A.M.E. Zion Church situated almost at  Pademba Road/Percival Street junction, who was shot at point blank range by child soldiers on Kissy Road as he ventured out in search of food for his starving family.  Away from the drama and the high tension of a capital city besieged by murderous rebels, you see this train of ‘futureless’ thought among most of us  – from the illiterate or mal-educated, from the office worker to the State House official to parliamentarians, etc.

As bulldozers razed down concrete fences and houses along Congo Cross and Wilkinson Road over the past month to construct a four-lane road in the heart of the burgeoning and crammed capital city of Freetown, one Mr. Conton wrote a provocative piece published in several newspapers, titled, “Natin Pas Advantage”. Mr. Conton hails from the crème de la crème  of one of the most highly educated Northern Province families in Sierra Leone –  what can be termed as ‘blue blood’ in European terms.  Conton lampooned the APC  government for not exercising forethought in using alternative routes for the road, and bulldozing people’s houses – some of them historic 100 year-old wooden houses – and not granting them compensation. Conton is wrong, by my estimation.  I applaud President Ernest Bai Koroma for not manifesting what ‘Thinker’/columnist, Charlie Hughes, in the 1990s once derided as ‘balls-less-ness’  in a newspaper article in THE DEMOCRAT – with our Ernest having the balls to arouse the wrath of elites of the ilk of Mr. Conton to march Freetown into the future. We desperately need wider roads around Freetown (are the expected teeming tourists going to take three hours from downtown Freetown to our idyllic beaches in the West?!!); or, even in 10 year’s time, we would be literally suffocating to death with noxious fumes from vehicular traffic.  At the national level, lurching away from the past and soaring into the future  demands a lot of balls, a deafening of the ears to the screams of the multitudes who would be hurt (like China experienced again and again as they surged forward over the past sixty years) as they are stuck in the time trap of the past. But, Mr. Conton was, paradoxically, right in his ridicule of government’s action.

From ‘Day One’ of holding the reins of power in 2007, a ‘future-thinking’ President Koroma should have started making plans for the 2011 independence celebrations.  That should have included advanced warning to the land owners in the Congo Cross/Wilkinson Road area; and negotiations, and budgetary appropriations for their just compensation.  President Koroma couldn’t do that.  He couldn’t think of that long a future, most likely. Neither was  President Tejan Kabba a ‘futures-President’, or he  should’ve formed a committee in 2001, or, in 2004, at the worst, for the 2011 50th Independence Celebrations.  Both Presidents are largely stuck in the past, like their Negroid Sierra Leonean followers.  If we are to move forward into the future, we have to begin to think like white men; think futuristically; think linear.  That will be a monumental mind shift.  There will be need for thousands of psychiatrists to guide us in this ‘Time Olympics-like Jump’. You know we only have a single western-trained psychiatrist in the country, Dr. Edward Nahim.  Since we must jump into future-thinking for us to grow, experience sustainable development, we need hundreds of amateur psychiatrists to give our Negroid African minds electric shocks that would unfreeze our ‘backward-thinking’ minds and make it flow fluidly into the future.  I start therapy for you.  Brace yourself.  Here goes!!!

Last week Sunday, I listened entranced, fascinated, to one of the most intellectual programmes on the BBC World Service radio, “THE FORUM”, as U.S. astronomer, Chris Impey, moved the world in astronomical time span to the future – to ‘the end of the universe’.  The ‘end of the universe’, Impey postulated,  could be any time from hundreds of billions of years from today to trillions of years hence.  Ha!! I warned you, didn’t I?  The shock treatment continues for you.

I searched for more information in the w.w.w. on this topic of the ‘end of the universe’.  One of the most beguiling I found was this one written by one Jim Holt (posted in THE EGGHEAD, on March 4, 2004), titled, “How Will the Universe End”.  Holt, who also writes for some of America’s most prestigious print media like THE NEW YORKER and NEW YORK TIMES magazine, titillated me with his opening prose.

One of my favorite moments in Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall is when Alvy Singer (Allen’s alter ego) is shown having an existential crisis as a little boy. His mother summons a psychiatrist, one Dr. Flicker, to find out what’s wrong.

‘‘Why are you depressed, Alvy?’ Dr. Flicker  (the psychiatrist) asks.

‘The universe is expanding,’ Alvy says. ‘The universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, some day it will break apart and that will be the end of everything.’

“’Why is that your business?’ interrupts his mother. Turning to the psychiatrist, she announces, ‘He’s stopped doing his homework!’

“`That’s the point?’ Alvy says.

“’What has the universe got to do with it!’ his mother shouts. ‘You’re here in Brooklyn! Brooklyn is not expanding!’

“Dr. Flicker jumps in: ‘It won’t be expanding for billions of years, Alvy, and we’ve got to enjoy ourselves while we’re here, eh? Ha ha ha.’

I used to take Dr. Flicker’s side in this matter. How silly to despond about the end of everything! After all, the cosmos was born only around 13 billion years ago, when the Big Bang happened, and parts of it will remain hospitable to our descendants for a good hundred billion years, even as the whole thing continues to spread out….

A half-dozen years ago, however, astronomers peering through their telescopes began to notice something rather alarming. The expansion of the universe, their observations indicated, was not proceeding at the stately, ever-slowing pace that Einstein’s equations had predicted. Instead, it was speeding up. Some ‘dark energy’ was evidently pushing against gravity, sending galaxies hurtling away from one another at a runaway rate. New measurements earlier this year confirmed this strange finding….

Stop!!!  Stopppppppp!!!! I can hear your screaming through the ear plugs I had in my ears  in expectation of the excruciating pain my forcing you to leap into the that too distant a future would cause you. Okay, let us don’t bother ourselves with the end of the universe; let us be unperturbed that  about five thousand years from now  our sun will lose its energy, and die out; or, we should remain unconcerned that a thousand years from now  our sun will become incredibly hot, and boil up the oceans on planet earth, and that will force all intelligent life on earth to either go underground, or, some twenty billion of humanity  will have to escape  to Mars or some other distant planets….  Let President Koroma lead us into the ‘near future’….of 2012.

What is going to happen in 2012? As we going to have a tribal armed face-off in what we could masquerade to the world as democratic elections?  What future are we preparing for our millions of youth and children who we are schooling in institutions were they are barely able to read or write; living out their youthful lives not learning carpentry, tailoring, farming, etc. – yet, thronging the cities?  What is going to happen to our country as we churn out every year thousands of mal-educated university graduates who would have bloated expectations but would not be equipped to meet those expectations, and there would be cut-throat competition for limited jobs and opportunities? As we approach the 50th Independence Anniversary Celebration of our country, we must become really independent in thought by developing that courage enough to do our own diagnosis of our most chronic national mind problems and hazard suggesting cures for them.

One of our worst diseases as a nation, as Africans, is this inability to think about the future. In Monrovia, Liberia, the environment/development organization I was the brains and  co-founder/CEO for, was (is) called “Save My Future Conservation Society”. That was in between 1987 and 1990.  I realized that educating people to conserve and preserve the invaluable wealthy tropical rainforests in Liberia would entail ‘moving them into the future’ – so that they can see the horrors that await them should they not change their ‘attitudes’ and their habits of being trapped in the past, and wantonly decimating their forests.  As we aim to move “50 Years Forward”, we absolutely need those Sierra Leoneans who have the capacity to move into the future and yank our compatriot away from the dead hand of the past.  There is going to be need for Thinkers, and generalists, like Oswald Hanciles in the vanguard of this ‘Futures-Train’, those who have the intellectual capacity and mental flexibility to  juggle complex variables, and piece them together, showing how they all interface to forge a desirable future.

Oswald Hanciles, Freetown

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  • Greetings,

    I stumbled on this article accidentally. But I found it compelling, thought provoking and entertaining.

    I will be actively reading Oswald Hanciles every chance I get.

    Thanks, SEM.

    10th November 2010

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