Beyond the 50th Golden Jubilee Celebrations
As we prepare to celebrate our 50th anniversary, let us look back to our glory days and believe that we can shape a better future for the next 50 years. The best way we can celebrate our historic freedom is not only to invite the world heads of states to Freetown with the best champagne party or decorate our streets with flamboyant national colors and make long fiery speeches at our national podiums, as important as they may be, the most befitting way to cherish our permanent independence is by strategically planning towards the future and responsibly learning from our past history.
After the clean ups of the city streets and the parade of school children with hopeful smiles, the debate about whether we must celebrate or reflect will continue to rage over the hallways of politicians and Sierra Leoneans across the globe. We will be remembered as a nation not how we celebrated our 50th golden jubilee, but how we took care of our citizens in the midst of their socio-economic difficulties. When Diaspora visitors return after the commemorative events, what message will they bring back to their communities? Were they inspired to someday serve their beloved nation? Were divergent political and civil participations encouraged at the helm of our celebrations? Was the anniversary a national affair or just a political coronation of the ruling party? Was there much to celebrate about anyway?
After the singing of the national anthem and the street dancing, what do we say to those children who go to bed hungry? What do we say to those graduates from our universities who have been without jobs since their graduation? Why has our nation neglected and abandoned the poor people, when so many corrupt politicians over the years built gated mansions with no driveways and even sent their children to colleges in America and England?
Today, at the King George home (Eastern Part of Freetown), being elderly is not only extraordinarily lonely but growing old is a nightmare in Sierra Leone. The Kissy mental home- those who are not too mentally challenged – may never know what happens on April 27, 2011, while the young men and women at the Kroo Bay and the Marbella ghettos will have no reason to celebrate our freedom. A sick mother will have to make a choice between staying home without medical care because she will not have the money to buy the drugs or pay for the hospital service.
That beautiful girl at Fadugu, Kabala (Northern Province) will have no access to safe clean drinking water while the young promising boy in Koidu Town, Kono District will be reading under the shadow of a burning lamp where they have had no electricity for the past 43 years.
Indeed, our country lost its political will and commitment to nation building long ago due to the chronic pattern of poor governance between the two oldest dominant political parties (APC and SLPP). And that is why the need for a new political party like the National Democratic Alliance – NDA with a different philosophy of leadership should be given the constitutional mandate to democratically take over the reign of government.
Historically, it is relevant to examine why we have not shown so much reason to celebrate our golden jubilee. First, the one party state of 1978 was the political laboratory field that incubated the civil war of the 1990’s.When we look at the 40 year politics of exclusionary tactics and the state institutions of ethnic balkanization, we can see why our nation gradually disintegrated into a stateless society.
If we boldly reflect on the last 20 years, Sierra Leone suffered from an internal civil conflict because we created a nation tragically divided from within, and its citizens were woefully marginalized by the political dynasty of the day. We failed to govern on the sound principles of fairness, transparency and justice. Our nation continued to wallow into a fragile state because of these functionless public institutions that were incapable of providing the basic human needs to our people. And Corporal Foday Sankoh was the most ignominious rebel leader who traumatized and murdered his own people from a senseless war that forever changed the moral consciousness of a peaceful nation.
Indeed, Sierra Leone experienced coups since 1967 and a protracted war due to the increased level of mismanagement, the poor apparatus of governance with an old generational style of leadership that conceptualized power by targeting rivals and destroying strong oppositions. It became a repeated pattern for the past 39 years to use extra-judicial killing, as a means, to eliminate credible oppositions and consolidate political power.
In that process, our nation lost some of its brightest and gifted citizens, whose contributions to our country would have been significant and historical today. Such ill-fated act of injustice further deepened the political acrimony of the pre-independent generation. Today, most post-independent generations of Sierra Leoneans are allergic to public service. The distrust of government, the lack of tangible legacies and the stained records of politicians have discouraged many young Sierra Leoneans from participating in our democratic political process.
Furthermore, the absence of a credible elections and the selection of President Momoh in 1985 by President Siaka Steven increasingly weakened the integrity of our political foundation and set the stage for the military uprising that led to the overthrow of President Momoh. Perhaps, the NPRC’s greatest achievement was the adoption of the 1991 constitution that led to the return of multi-pluralism. NPRC was a “pain reliever” to many Sierra Leoneans who felt the oppression and injustice of many years of the APC and SLPP rule.
If one of Africa’s renowned diplomats, Alhaji Ahmed Tejan Kabba, who became President in 1996 failed to transform our nation into a more progressive path, Sierra Leone lost the opportunity to emerge from the brink of war and blindly made a wrong turn along the highways of prosperity. Today, we found ourselves on the dead end of the road in need of a rescue mission. Cognitively, we must switch the gears of pragmatic leadership to move forward into the direction of the 21st century development in education, technology and investments. Only young Sierra Leoneans – born after independence – can redeem the soul of our troubled nation.
On the other hand, the AFRC, who seized power through the barrel of the gun, was a thug of hoodlums who exploited our stateless society by killing innocent citizens because of their lust for power and their lack of respect for human rights. The AFRC’s brutal legacies are buried under the rubbles of the dark chapters of our history books. And Johnny Paul must face the wrath of justice if he is ever found to be alive in this world.
But the NPRC was perhaps the most people-driven government, though illegitimate and unconstitutional, that understood the plight and conditions of Sierra Leoneans. With their military background and goodwill, Sierra Leoneans showed more respect and admiration for the NPRC than any government in modern Sierra Leone. Their reign defined an era of law and order, discipline and collective national service. But like other governments, their record of human rights abuses and the protection of the rule of law were tainted and despicable.
Thus, what happens beyond the jubilee celebration is the most important question of the century. Where do we go from here remains the far reaching observation of a troubled mind. For 50 years, our citizens still live under the ominous cloud of poverty and wake up to the sounds of economic misery. A spiraling economy that has the world’s highest inflation of 17% and a GDP growth of 4.0% at the present time. Millions of our youths still languish in the street and corners of our society with no job and income to support their families.
Today, Senegal has been a medical destination for the gravely ill and our citizens cannot survive a heart attack or stroke without being airlifted out of the country. We still structured our government on tribal and regional lines instead of appointing qualified and competent citizens to represent the will of our people. We have turned our youths into weapons of violence through our political operations instead of inspiring them to lead and building strong democratic institution for the next generations.
We have been a nation where the poor are abandoned and neglected while corrupt politicians build gated mansions with no drive ways. Young boys and young girls have to travel many miles to obtain an education because their chiefdom or towns do not have schools. Teachers and policemen go without pay while the ordinary farmer or carpenter has to live on one dollar a day. The masses have to bear the brunt of the economic war waged on their doorsteps by the enemies of poverty and underdevelopments.
The state of our condition lies squarely on the old generation of Sierra Leoneans – those born before independence – who have failed us and have turned our country into pockets of ethnic and regional minefields. They have created a contagious politic that has infected the nervous system of our body politics.
We have been told that we are different and must not trust each other because we don’t come from the same political party, ethnic or regional demography. It is time for a change and the post independent generation must take the lead. This is our time and we must seize the moment.
Let us use our tragic past to build a new nation of compassionate citizens with a young generation determined to turn back the tide of history and restore the broken dreams of millions of Sierra Leoneans. Let us unleash the human ingenuity of our nation and develop the regional dominancy we once enjoyed with our enviable colleges, good natural harbor and once the capital of British West Africa. Let’s transform Sierra Leone into Africa’s new giant business center and the best tourist destination in sub-Sahara Africa.
Let us lift our citizens from entrenched poverty to a growing middle class society with a diversified economy. Let us be the generation to resolve the energy crisis of our time by introducing alternative solar and wind renewable resources to meet our electricity consumptions.
Let us build new industries instead of borrowing more money from world financial institutions to provide jobs and economic opportunities to our citizens. Let us construct more roads to advance local, regional and global commerce. Let us equip our hospitals with good doctors, better medical resources, and accessible and affordable drugs for our people. Let us make colleges more affordable, and once again restore the legacy of Sierra Leone’s educational competitive edge.
We must begin to create a progressive nation that attracts investments, trade and new technologies. By focusing on building a people-oriented government, we can win the future and secure lasting legacies of hope and achievement. By embracing our own citizens and sharing with them the simple characters of compassion, care and affection, we can be a nation loyal to our ideals and bound by our common principles of good citizenship. By understanding that we must trust each other and finding common grounds to work together, we can overcome our differences and see ourselves as citizens of the same history and common ancestry. By promoting the politics of ideas, we can replace the old pillars of tribal patronage to a more inclusive and diversified Sierra Leone. By working on building roads, industries, schools, hospitals and airports, we will collectively fight against our common enemies: poverty, diseases, and lack of good education, no better heath care resources and self-sufficiency in food production.
That is how we look beyond the 50th golden Jubilee. That is how we create a future that we will want our children to live in. This is how we celebrate our 50th birthday. May our nation continue to be the realm of the free and the land that we all love – Sierra Leone.
By Mohamed C. Bah, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Presidential Aspirant
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