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The Defender – Voice of the institution or a political publication?

The Defender – Voice of the institution or a political publication?

I could not contain my urge to congratulate all those whose tireless effort facilitated the launch of The Defender – Sierra Leone Armed Forces magazine. The idea of a Forces magazine goes as far back as the early 1990s when D. B. Sowa, followed by J.E. Milton served as the Public Relations Officers of the Army. Regardless of whose idea it was, or who brought it to fruition, it is long overdue. My salute goes out to all who finally brought it to Press.

The Defender magazine is great but let me hasten to point out that the idea is already obsolete in the era of the internet.  It is going to be costly, slow to disseminate timely information, and predictably unprofitable if the editor intends to target advertisements as a source of funding successive publications.  If it is not already in the pipeline, the military leadership should be considering a website for a combination of the Defender and the institution itself.  A website is not only trendy given the internet age, it will also be relatively cheaper to maintain. Compared to the print version, an internet version of the Defender can reach a wider audience.

As the publication strives for footing among countless contemporary media outlets, it is hoped that the institution is poised to publicize the granular issues affecting the organization. These range from high level strategic issues impacting the delivery of quality service, its challenges, successes, and the everyday story of the least ranking recruit, their families and retirees up to the Minister of Defense.

The value added by this publication to the stakeholders and the audience it serves, can only be useful if it truly reflects a pristine and unbiased insight into the welfare of the institution, its men, women and their contribution to the development of the  nation they have sworn to protect and defend. It should not be molded as a printed platform for promoting personal or political points of senior officials.

It is equally exciting to know that the Deputy Chief of Defense Staff, Brigadier S O Williams,   who I personally know as a wholesome cankerworm of the decadent statusquo, is a contributor to the transformation process by giving voice to the “new dawn” of a restructured institution. I am forced to entertain the notion that a productive and measureable change is about to be unleashed in an institution where the pace of change has been a chronic evil held custody by the senior military and political leaderships.

For far too long, whether by the design of leadership, inherited culture over the years, or an inherent result of been part of the public sector, the institution of national defense has been  slow to adopt changes. The state of its static nature has created strings of embarrassments for the Army. The conduct of the recently concluded rebel war exposed some of the embarrassing examples. Rebels outcommunicated the Army using cell phones, while Army units hurdled around archaic C B Radios, which were prone to frequency interception by rebel communication experts.

By his own admission, in his speech on the occasion of launching of the Defender Magazine, S O Williams highlighted strings of fine points without leaving behind that there is “room for improvement”.

Improvement sounds like a step in the right direction, but a dynamic change would be more appropriate. That includes providing adequate retirement package for those who served the institutions of State. Serving soldiers should be able to retire with dignity. The heroism of our soldiers should be celebrated as richly as the Myhong, if not more. Young educated officers should not only be recognized, but should be given the opportunity to lead. The entire military leadership, and that includes the Minister of Defense should be encouraging and challenging innovation as a continuum of process improvement.

Brigadier S O Williams should be commended for surfacing as supportive of change. Experts of organizational development hold the view that changing an organization requires a top down and a bottom up approach. No improvement is actualized if the changes sought fails to attract support from the higher echelons of an organization. Though he did not address most of the key opportunities for improvement, and understandably so, because they are as many as can be, I am sure the military and political leadership takes note of the multitude of issues that require short and long term reengineering to streamline and sustain the nobility of the institution.

 Even in its worse form, the Army attracts some of Sierra Leone’s finest men and women to serve, but what remains a constant defect is the inability of the institution to retain its top talents and effectively utilize them for the good of the institution and the nation. Amongst the host of existing reasons accountable for the massive brain drain are economic welfare, political patronage and professional development.

 One of the key issues affecting the welfare of all employees on government payroll is the gap between wages and the exponential increase in the cost of living.  Wage increases do not keep pace with inflation. Government workers are driven to destitution and corruption as a result. Men in uniform, be they Soldiers, Police, Prison, Firefighters deserve to be uncompromisingly paid well.  They offer services to the nation that is far better than most if not all Members of Parliament. They have families to feed, kids to educate and contribute to their own communities like their civilian counterparts.

Within the ranks of the Army, one of the fundamental problems that plagued professional development is political patronage. The military leadership compromises fits and misfits, negating merit based recruitment and promotion system with the ranks. The modernized Army should not be a dumping ground for misfits or reward for patronage, but rather a platform for professional grooming. A retiring soldier should have been competently trained to compete in the private sector with civilian counterparts.

A panel should be appointed to develop and legislate the translation of service personnel’s rank and professionalism to match the experience in the civil sector, as a step to reward and prepare those who wish to  retire early and continue to work outside the walls of the Army, Police, Prison of Fire Brigade. A security job for example, is a complete downgrade and that is where a good portion of these fine men and women will be offered a chance. It is unfair because you cannot juxtapose national service to a security guard as a remediation for retiring service personnel’s workforce transition.Rtd

Capt. Ken Josiah, Process Improvement Consultant, Six Sigma Blackbelt ASQ

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