My three weeks experiences in Sierra Leone
It is that time of the year to share my experiences with fellow Sierra Leoneans who are interested in the everyday real life and goings of the people who live and work in Sierra Leone. Since 2002, I have made it a priority to visit Sierra Leone once in a year and at the end of each visit, I will write an article about one or two issues. The most recent article was about Youth Unemployment and Traffic Congestion (jam) in Freetown. In this article I made mention of Lungi International Airport where visitors see the first impression of Youth Unemployment in the country. I also talked about the traffic jam in the country especially Sani Abacha Street. This article is about two years old and nothing has changed since then. Some of us, who like writing and expressing ourselves through this means, would continue to do so with the hope that the authorities who are responsible for the tax payers’ money would take action in relation to these issues. (Photo: Momodu Mansaray, author)
I returned recently to the UK from Sierra Leone after spending three weeks with family and friends. During this time, I observed some of the changes currently taking place in post-war Sierra Leone. I thought my experiences and observations are worth sharing with friends of Sierra Leone, fellow country men and women.
Well, from my observations and what I saw, there are reasonable amounts of big ongoing projects all over the country. To name few – Mining in the South West (Sierra Rutile), London Mining and African Minerals in other provinces especially the North, road constructions in Freetown and across the countries main cities. Also Lungi International Airport is under reconstruction again. I also heard rumours about the prospect of oil exploration in the country and to build a new International Airport along the Makeni Freetown Highway. These are all ambitious projects, which have created employment for thousands of Sierra Leoneans and the prospect for long term economic growth. Bravo to the government as they make use of tax payers’ money for long term benefits.
Whilst these projects are good for long term economic growth and creating jobs, I am concerned about certain areas of government neglect and one area in particular is not a nice topic to discuss over breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The toilets system in Government Buildings (TSGB) is extremely bad. I am going to start with my departure at the Lungi International Airport. It was a bright sunny day February 19th 2012 when I checked in at the Airport to return to the UK. As always the place is hot so I had my short trousers and t. shirt on, but when I realised that I will be arriving to a cool environment according to a weather report, I decided to change and put on warmer clothes. To do so I went to the men’s toilet where I thought I would have my privacy. As an International Airport I expected the toilet to be clean and filled with toilet rolls, but to my surprised I was shocked to find out that there were no toilet rolls and the most shocking thing was when a lady – who I later realised is the cleaner, knocked at my door while I was doing my business and asked if I needed a toilet roll. I said yes. After doing my business, I realised that I had to bribe her for the offer of the toilet roll, which I did to avoid embarrassment.
I was glad to be on the flight Air France A330 back to the UK. This was a shameful experience especially when flying to Sierra Leone is not cheap. We pay airport taxes for these services. If the authorities want to attract tourists in the country in a massive scale then something must be done to address this problem.
Apart from Lungi International Airport, I have been to other government buildings such as the Immigration Office to renew my passport. I requested to use the toilet and to my dismay I found out that the flush system is not working and very unhygienic.
On another day, I went to Youyi Building, which housed the Ministry of Lands and Country Planning. While I was there I requested to use the toilet and again I was disappointed with the state of the toilet system. I had to ask the question to a friend, how are the workers doing when nature calls? The answer I got “Nar for manage” – in krio meaning we have to manage with what’s available. I thought I could ask for a building manager who perhaps is responsible for the running of the building. I avoided an argument with my friend because I know very well that this is a modern building and when it was completed the toilet system was in perfect place. So a perfect working toilet system was available.
I went to visit a friend at the Law Makers’ House – Parliament, but to be honest I did not ask to use the toilet so therefore no comment.
Overall, what shocks me most is that, these are state properties, which are relatively modern with proper toilet systems and running water when they were completed. Whether it is deliberate to damage the system or not, I don’t know, but it is a shame to see a big drum filled with water and a cup used to flush human waste. Why do we have to make things hard for ourselves when it can be simple?
I am personate about Sierra Leone as do many Sierra Leoneans. On the flight to Sierra Leone I heard some of my fellow Sierra Leoneans from the Diasporas talking about how the Western world in particular Europe has suppressed Africa’s economic, political and social development. I have heard this before and I am getting bored of the argument, especially when it is always centred on the same old story – colonialism. This time I tried to avoid the argument and I was determined not to get drawn into it. I became more determined when one of my country men started shouting about how the Whites hate the Blacks – the racism topic. He further stated that all the problems in Sub Saharan Africa are caused by white people. I like academic discussion, but this was not one of them so I continued to be more determined not to say a word. I later learnt that one of the men who made the remarks about white and black people holds a German Passport and his wife and his children also hold German passports. This gives them the guarantee should their relocation in Sierra Leone go bad to always return back to the people that hate Blacks. I am not in any way suggesting that there are no racial issues between White people and Black people, but to be shifting the blame for our failure to maintain our toilet system to a better standard, city cleanliness, create jobs for the Youth and move towards ending child poverty is childish in my view.
On the flight, next to my seat was a Guinean and he persuaded me into the discussions at last. Based on my knowledge and with an advance degree in International Development I was able to make meaningful comparison between South East Asia and West Africa. These regions were all colonised by different western powers, but South Pacific economies have moved on while we are playing catch-up. I explained to my fellow West Africans that in the early 1950s, most of the countries in the Asia-pacific were economically and politically insignificant. In the 1980s, most of these countries introduced a new cultural attitude, which led to economic prosperity. With the emergent of Japan as a new economic regional power due to hard work, discipline and good organisation, some South East Asian countries such as Malaysia introduced a ‘Look East Policy’, which was meant to adopt Japanese economic culture and business discipline. Singapore introduced a new concept called the ‘Asian Way’. All these concepts were part of a new thinking around behaviour and attitude change and they paid off as the Asia-Pacific is no longer a marginalised region by the West when making decision on global economic and political issues.
Not that I want it, but the truth is we are far away from influencing global economic and political decisions. We have to stop shifting the blame. At the time of writing this article, I just heard that Mali Coup makers have finally agreed to return power to a civilian regime. Bravo to ECOWAS for standing firm on principles. May this attitude continue – belief in democracy and good governance.
So back to Sierra Leone and my other observation was our attitude towards Children. The incident happened at Lumley Roundabout at about 10:30 in the morning on a Saturday. I was trying to buy two boiled eggs from a boy of about 11 years old when a 4×4 jeep came and parked right in front of us. The driver who appeared to look like a decent looking man approached the boy and told him go away from his sight and the poor boy humbly did as ordered. In the man’s words, he said “U borbor komor before me” meaning – you boy get out of my way. I was shocked to witness that and while I was in that state of mind, the man again made an attempt to push the boy. At this point, I made up my mind to intervene, which I did. I looked at the man’s face and I told him that this is a public place sir. He looked at me and he calmly back-off and said sorry sir. I told him to apologise to the boy and not me, but he left the scene quickly.
My regret from this incident is that I did not have the opportunity to remind the man of the days during the war when children were making decent looking men do things against their will. I have heard stories of children commanding big men to dance on the street or else they get whipped and beaten. If we adults fail to respect children they will not respect us when they have the opportunity to do so. In my assessment part of the mainstream culture in Sierra Leone is the non respect for children. It has ways been one sided, but it is time for this to change.
Sierra Leone passed The Child Rights Act (CRA) in 2007 and it is a comprehensive piece of legislation, which domesticates the UNCRC. The country is a signatory to both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). I am glad to know that Sierra Leone has ratified two optional protocols on ‘the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography’ in 2001, and ‘involvement of children in armed conflict’ in 2002.
What more needs to be done to change our attitude towards the TSGB and our behaviour towards children?
Apart from making laws and ratifying protocols in relation to child welfare, the Secretariat for Attitude and Behavioural Change needs to be more active on sensitising the populace about the rights of the child. This is a concept introduced by the President, which has been widely accepted by Sierra Leoneans. Its success depends on the people who are chosen to implement it and the methods of implementation.
Great philosophical thinkers like Marx, Weber, Devine and Giddens have all in their individual way stated that common shared values and norms could produce a strong and effective society. Giddens stated that “A society is a system of interrelationships which connects individuals together” (Giddens, p, 22). This is where the aspects of culture which are learned play an important role in bringing individuals together to form an ideal society. Culture in simply terms means: the values and ways of life shared by particular nations, groups and classes.
In my opinion, to address some of the negative attitudes toward the real everyday life of the people living and working in Sierra Leone, the Secretariat must name and shame individual departments, co-operate firms and individual people who fall short of decent behaviour. Where naming and shaming fail, then the Secretariat must be given the power by parliament to prosecute in Court of Law using the relevant Act that applies.
Changing negative attitude involves three important factors; first, cognitive which is what you think or believe about the person or situation. Second, the feeling that means what emotions you have towards the person or situation and third, the behavioural part that is how you act as a result of the knowledge and the emotions you hold about the person. Therefore trying to change someone who holds a negative attitude in society requires a different approach.
In my view, people’s attitudes are underpinned by implicit and automatic judgments. They tend to be unaware of the serious negative social consequences. In Sierra Leone it is reasonable to suggest that negative attitudes have become permanent and directed towards vulnerable people and the national resources that are meant for well-being of all. Until our way of life and beliefs is changed, I am afraid we will continue to see and believe that corruption is the way of life and therefore acceptable.
By Momodu Mansaray, UK
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