We’re Enmeshed in the Catch 22 of Rapid Development and Competitive Democracy
THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN
“His Excellency the President, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma has urged his ministers to collaborate and cooperate more than building and protecting personal empires. He made this statement on the occasion of the signing ceremony of performance contracts by cabinet ministers at the Credentials Hall, State House, Freetown on 16th April, 2013….”
- FACEBOOK posting by Jarrah Kawuse-Conteh, State House Communications Manaer
What sort of ‘Democracy’ for Africa: Non-Party or Multi-Party?
Take a second reading of the quote of President Ernest Bai Koroma above and you would be excused if you read into those words the president’s emotional anguish, or, his biting warning. There are ongoing debates by credible African intellectuals as to whether the Western-type liberal democracy that we have been practising in nearly all African countries since the Independence Era of the 1960s have really been a good thing. It was the sort of argument that rationalized the imposition of One Party states in most African countries in the 1970s. Today, to bring up such an argument in liberal ‘Human Rights’ circles would be dismissed as so reprehensible that it would smack of arguing for ‘neo Atlantic Slave Trade’.
I got this information from the www: ‘The story is told of a U.S. citizen chiding the former president of Tanzania, Julius K. Nyerere, about the fact that Tanzania had only one political party. Nyerere is said to have responded: “Well, in the United States, you, too, have only one political party, but with your customary extravagance you have created two versions of that one party.”
Funny!! Around 2006/2007, I would ask again and again on UNAMISL Radio on the DIFFERENCE in policy/action between the APC and SLPP in key areas like education, health, mineral resources management, etc. – differences which are known to the people, and voters; differences which persuade people to vote for one political party or the other. What is widely known and widely accepted by the citizenry as the ‘ideological differences’ between the SLPP and APC is that ‘one is little bit to the North’….and the other is ‘a little bit to the South’. .
African Democracy’ tends to stoke the flames of ethnic antagonism
Read this excerpt again garnered from the www: ‘Many Africans consider the Western model of political democracy to be extremely narrow and even alien to African cultures. “Democracy is not merely the right to vote and seize power,” the Rev. Jose Belo Chipenda, General Secretary, All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) has said. “It is about a whole complex of rights and duties which citizens must exercise if a government is to be open, accountable, and participatory.” Africans like Chipenda find that Western-style democracy “places people into artificial antagonistic boxes, turns friends into enemies, and aims at arousing unnecessary competition.”’
‘Salone Democracy’… while our idyllic beaches and awesome mountains being despoiled
The pedantic discourse above is merely a necessary preamble to let us examine some knotty problems of ‘democracy’ at home in Sierra Leone. Our country, especially the Freetown peninsular, has one of the best beaches on earth. Freetown is the only place in West Africa, and one of the few cities on earth, where soaring mountains are very close to Eden-like beaches. The ‘real estate’ of Freetown – especially with looming Climate Change vagaries and rising ocean levels that would cause coastal cities to simply ‘drown’ – is absolutely ‘prime estate’. Highest value! But, look at what we are doing with our beaches and mountains in the Freetown peninsular? Despoiling it!!
Last week, I took still and video camera men to Lumley Beach. The scenes I have captured on film would make any decent cosmopolitan person vomit. The worst type of slums are sprouting side-by-side luxury hotels and restaurants along Lumley Beach area. Even in the refurbished Mamie Yoko hotel, which will be managed by one of the biggest hotel chains, Redissuson Blu, and, the yet to be reconstructed c Cape Sierra Sierra Hotel, to be managed by about the leading hotel chain in the world, Hilton , there are zinc shacks and tarpaulin shacks, and tattered clothes hanging on lines, and children defecating openly…. We have ‘imported the worst slums of Freetown like Kru Bay and superimposed them on our crown jewel beach area’!!
Fighting for Survival on the Lumley Beach Front
On Tuesday, April 16, 2013, I took my camera men, and poised my pen, to have a close up of the scenes taken. Opposite ACES nightclub was the refugee-looking tarpaulin ‘shop’ of Christopher Alaba Coker. He was born on December 19, 1971, on David Street, in Kissy Old Road area, in the Eastend of Freetown. (The ‘family house’ was sold before he was out of his infancy). He is Creole. (That is, a descendant of freed slaves who were settled in Freetown in the late 18th Century; and the first people to begin to get Western-type education in Sierra Leone). He told me he “grew up” in the area where I met him. He had been operating his ‘shop’ there since 1985, while also ‘cook’ at the Cape Sierra Hotel, which has now been broken down. He used to earn Le56,000 a month in the 1980s; and, by the time he was leaving the hotel in 2005, he was earning Le156,000 a month. (His salary increased twofold, whilst inflation has increased over a thousand fold over the same period). He has only a daughter, Efua. Efua is being taken care of in Lumley by Sergeant Efua Pratt of the Sierra Leone Police. He bemoaned the fact that there used to be a lot of tourists in the 1980s, but, almost no tourists visit the beach today. He would want the filth in the beach cleaned up, but, he does not have the powers to enforce any cleaning discipline in the area.
Opposite one of the leading entertainment resorts on Lumley Beach, FAMILY KINGDOM, exactly in the section where their ‘Royal Hall’ is, there are four deep blue refugee-camp-type tarpaulin booths. In front of one of these booths was Mariama Williams. She stood in front of a wide plastic bowl on a rickety dirty table. Inside the bowl were things in cellophane paper. The wares she sells were: shoes, body cream, artificial hair, etc. She started selling on the beachfront only a month ago. For eight years she was a seamstress sewing dresses for a boss called Mr. Suma in the Fourah Bay area of Freetown. Over the past year, business dried up. It appears as if women were not sewing new dresses as they used to. To survive, her sister introduced her to a friend. This friend has a small shop on Patton Street, by Fourah Bay Road, after St. Phillip’s church, in the most densely populated part of Freetown, ‘Eastend’. She would tote the goods to hawk – earning a commission on sales. Business was slow. She was told that business would be better on the Lumley Beach prime hotel/restaurant area. She moved to the area. Every day at about 7.30 a.m., she would move from her residence at 2 Malta Lane, in Eastend, tote her wares… and walk to the Goderich Street parking station. She would board a poda poda (mini bus), and pay Le1,000 fare (about $0. 23 cents) as she would alight at Murray Town junction. From there, she would tote her wares and walk about three miles to Lumley Beach. Business has improved for her. It’s has been worth her while. At the end of the day at about 08.00 p.m., she would make the return journey home; this time, paying Le2,000 ($0.46 cents) on the same mini bus. Spending dawn to dusk hawking to make a living, does she have any children?
Mariama has two children. She first mentioned her son’s name, Dennis Alfred Cole, who is nine years of age. Dennis attends a private school, ‘Joe Fred Primary School’, on John Street, close to Campbell Street, in downtown Freetown. Though Dennis appeared to be her mother’s first love, Dennis’ father does not contribute a single cent to Dennis’ upkeep. Mariama was not even sure whether Dennis’s father works in the National Power Authority or not. (She has not reported the matter to the social welfare ministry yet). Mariama’s other child is a girl, Lolita Rashid, 16 years of age; a student in the Model Secondary School, close to where there are five secondary schools. Who takes care of her children when she would leave home the whole day? A friend. Mariama, a Muslim, prays several times a day, and goes to the mosque every Friday. She was born at No. 30 Back Street, Koidu Town, in the ‘diamond district’ of Kono.
There are millions of such ‘real people’ who are caught up in the ‘trap of development’ in Sierra Leone. They vote for one political party or the other. They don’t go out deliberately to the beachfront to make it filthy and build unsightly shacks. They are simply following the genetic impulse of survival. Note that Mariama is able to sell her petty goods and be able to even send her son to a private school. She prays for strength for President Koroma to help bring the prices of basic goods in the market down. She voted for President Koroma and the APC in the last elections. She has hope in the President. If tough action is taken on her, the APC could lose one more voter. If the Lumley Beach area is not cleansed of its present nauseous filth, the few tourists who come to Sierra Leone would not encourage others to come. We could lose potentially hundreds of millions of dollars yearly because of this. Let us all think hard, and be resolute, in taking action. Every problem has a solution. As President Koroma ‘urges’ his ministers, they should concentrate on solving the problems of Sierra Leoneans who have given them power.
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