The civil conflict in Sierra Leone ended in 2009, and we pray that although disagreements are bound to continue, these would not necessarily turn into acts of war. The people of Sierra Leone have struggled, then suffered intense cruelty, hardship and trauma and prayed without ceasing. As a religious people we are reminded that we could pray for God’s assistance but should not expect God to do the work, as well. So, now that peace has returned to our country, by God’s Grace, then what? If we are not to be faced with a vacuum and an even greater trauma of a lack of direction, we must actively engage in a serious debate on the way ahead for our Country, for the next fifty years, and consider the practical issues to be addressed. (Photo: Winston Forde, author)
I write this about a country that is only 27,925 sq. miles in size with a population of just 5.56 million, many of whom have migrated overseas since. I am conscious that some of the refugees have settled in other countries (United Kingdom, United States of America, Australia, and elsewhere) with no intentions of going back. That is a free and personal choice, but there are many thousands of refugees for whom Sierra Leone will always be their country of residence. For them, “Salone nor pwell for ever” nor is it a closed country. Rather, they are faced with the hope for a return to a country that works for them, and their children that will follow in the years ahead. That would depend on what our Government does and how people react, and are able to contribute to the new Sierra Leone. It, therefore, behoves all of us to discuss governance and the qualities and abilities we must continue to demand from our politicians to tackle the serious work that lies ahead.
Our exemplary elections that followed peace put in place a Central Government with its Parliament in Freetown that should be based on a fixed 5- year term for each Administration with a maximum of 2 terms for each President. This would create prospects for the many who are both qualified, and interested in carrying out these national tasks, and would also help to minimise corruption that flows from permanency. In addition, I believe that we should have effective Regional Government based on Chiefdoms with representatives in Parliament. All this to be supplemented by a system of Municipal government in the cities, and principal towns (Freetown, Bo, Makeni and Kenema). Within this framework, the necessary checks and balances, to be debated, should be installed to ensure that we get dedicated service, with reasonable and affordable remuneration, and restricted opportunity for corruption. Considering our recent situation, one could be forgiven for considering the Security of the State next. The Government should build on the Bengwema model, and continue to develop a well trained national Army recruited from across ethnic groups. The rank structure should match the complement and the disposal of the Army should correspond with our security needs led by the borders with Guinea and Liberia. I also favour the development of a small Navy or Coastguard as it is inconceivable that a country with some 212 miles of coastline, and several navigable rivers should have so little capability to patrol its waters. Back on land, a properly equipped Regional Civil Defence Force and a National Police Force to cope with traffic problems, crime and special investigations would complete this area of government.
The Administration must be supported by a Judiciary comprising the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, Magistrates Courts and Tribunals, including Barraes held so effectively in our Chiefdoms in the past. They in turn must be able to rely on an effective prison/detention service across the Country. We may choose to call it something else but the politicians could not operate without the various departments of a Civil Service. A central Secretariat, not just Ui Building, which would also include the Treasury, Income Tax, Audit Office and Procurement Agency, is still an essential requirement. One might say “a veritable den of possible iniquity and corruption”, but all needing people of the highest integrity, professional ability and public commitment. We desperately need an effective Central Statistics Office and Record Office to maintain records on births & deaths, training performance, pensions, leave, career development and so on. The country would depend heavily on its Post Office, Ports Authorities and Immigration! Border Patrols to complete this area of activity.
It seems logical to turn to Transport next, and despite our troubles we ought to seek to successfully launch an external Sierra Leone Airline service using a leased platform. This is despite the fact that civil aviation is struggling world-wide, particularly in Africa, and airlines are having to merge and share routes to survive. Our operation would be modest in many ways and, provided we make a conscious effort to use it when our needs can be met by the service, and demands for discounted or free travel are not made indiscriminately, then the airline should continue to provide opportunities for local crews and cabin staffs. Similarly we should waste no time in re-introducing an internal airways service as soon as a demand emerges. We need an affordable National Bus service, using economical vehicles such as are produced in India. They are more suitable to our climate and cost less to buy and maintain. Private lorries and Poda Poda’s would continue to operate but to strict safety standards. We require river boats (a combination of local boats and imported crafts) for coastal travel. Finally, the air traveller needs the ferries for the Lungi crossing and reliable helicopters as a back -up provision. A bridge across the river Rokel continues to be a serious probability!
With all that in place, I turn to the Economy, the backbone of Government. Externally and more than ever before, Government has its work cut out in developing The Economic Organisation of West African States (ECOW AS) and the Mano River Union. The greater effort, though, clearly belongs to the internal economic tasks. Paramount is the provision of power. The scourge of the electricity problems must be eradicated, and electricity including the long awaited hydro-electricity should be made available to the majority. Wood would continue to be used as fuel and Government has to control the supply, and introduce afforestation quickly to replace the widespread destruction caused already from indiscriminately cutting these trees for sale. Internally, Government must embark on a carefully crafted 5-year Economic Development Plan. This would cover agriculture to ensure cash crops are grown and encourage small holdings to accord with our agrarian society but also commercial farming to compete with the rest of the world. Re-establishing the Forestry Department and plantations of fruit, coffee, palm kernels, piassava and so on would go hand-in hand with that. Our Mining Industry is in a different league and Government must concentrate on the proper management of the mineral wealth of our country. By their very nature, diamonds/gold/rutile/bauxite/iron ore and soon oil, we have to rely on international companies based overseas to conduct this valuable extraction. But Government must ensure that “never again” should our people fail to reap the greatest benefit from this God-given wealth in our country including essential local light/heavy industry. The mines will produce enough resources to fund all the proposals in this discussion paper, and a lot more. We must be alert to the fact that those helping us now are deeply interested in the rewards flowing from those mines, and if we do not retain them for ourselves they would take them away as has always been the case in the past. I have captured that tragedy in my recent book “The Story of Mining in Sierra Leone.” That is not to say our politicians should keep this wealth for themselves either, but rather they must use it to develop a country Sierra Leoneans could all enjoy as, I trust, God intended. This wealth would demand a robust banking system (Bank of Sierra Leone and the African Development Bank inter alia) and would make a Stock Exchange an achievable and sensible goal. The scope for opening up trade, local (light) industry and the development of appropriate commercial practices including a privatisation strategy would be immense. There’s work to do.
If Government is not exhausted by now, the Medical Services continue to present a great challenge. The new Hill Station Hospital is proof of what can be achieved within our resources. I envisage at least one major Hospital in each Region with a network of National Clinics and Nursing Homes and modern Mental units to replace “Crase Yard” at Kissy. They don’t have to do it all by themselves as CHASL proved by their earlier network of medical facilities across the country and private medical provisions have continued to emerge. The new areas for Government would include enhancement of the Medical School and a Nursing School and the provision of specialist Units for our unfortunate Amputees, Aids victims and Tuberculosis patients. Underpinning all of this would be the development of our Social Services, there’s much counselling and social support to be given, and also building up our emergency services of Ambulance and Fire Brigade. So far, nar God nor mor dae hep we pan den tin dae. If I have left it till now, it is no clue that I consider Education in any less light than the rest. Without well educated citizens there could be no new Sierra Leone. During the troubled days teachers were not paid regularly, but persevered with their work against all odds. We salute you all most deeply. There is a mega task involving our University, Colleges, Technical Institutes, Schools, Play Groups, Adult education and vocational training. Central Government has the lion’s share in this task but individuals and private Groups such as YSLEEP and The friends of the Hillside Day Centre in Tengbeh Town also have a vital role to play. Education would, of course, facilitate communication and television (TV), radio, newspapers would be the vehicles for that, resulting in open and free discussions and debate in a new and free Sierra Leone.
A people with so much paid work and resources at their disposal would also develop a meaningful culture on which a tourist trade (that is bound to return) could thrive. It would be a rich culture with an interesting history, and enjoyable music and traditions. In the new country it would be as well to have the main languages (English, Mende, Temne, Krio, French and Fulani) widely understood if not generally spoken. And so, after renewing the debate, in this Jubilee Independence Year, on all this practical work, I end on the usual note of prayer and religion. We shall not only be proud of such a country but the new Sierra Leone would enjoy the added uniqueness of having Christians and Muslims working and living amicably together as one people, by God’s Grace.
By Winston Forde , Sqn Ldr RAF Re’td
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