Australia to Sierra Leone: Tony Bee’s Recent Mission Part (2)
In my first installment of this report about my recent visit to Sierra Leone, I wrote about the tremendous work that the Kanga Schools project is doing to enable Sierra Leonean students in schools, colleges and other tertiary institutions to learn with ease by freely giving out various teaching and learning materials like books, desktop and laptop computers, solar lanterns, printers, photocopiers, assorted stationery, etc., etc. (Photo: Tony Bee, author)
I did promise in my first installment that I will take a closer look at what I found in Sierra Leone or, in the layman’s term, how Sierra Leone looked like to me after 15 years of absence – 15 years of living in various countries like Liberia, Ghana and finally Australia. I left Sydney, Australia, on 14 February and arrived in Freetown on 17 of the same month. I took one month in the country,
Sierra Leone has transformed completely from what it was. Regardless of the many negative stories I have heard and read on new sites about Sierra Leone, my one-month stay in the country made me see a different Sierra Leone, quite contrary to all what many other people have been saying about the country.
The fact can never be hidden that Sierra Leone has been moving forward for the past five years or so and it is still moving forward. The country that used to be a land of cut-throats, a land of banditry, a land of lawlessness, and a land of illiteracy has now changed for the better with the gradual disappearance of all the negative aspects. I found out that Sierra Leone is now one of the best and safest places to live on earth. There is peace and there is law and order and business is gradually booming, thanks to the involvement of local and international business people. Of course, development itself is a gradual process, according to wise people, and no matter how slow it is, at least it is happening in Sierra Leone. Even developed countries like Australia or Britain were not built in a day.
The one good thing about Sierra Leone is that there is an all-night patrol of security forces to take care of lawless hooligans who may want to test the strength of the law. This makes it easy for law-abiding citizens to go about their daily businesses peacefully without undue fear of banditry or harassment and they can sleep peacefully without reinforcing their doors a hundred times over to prevent the entry of unwanted guests.
However, extortion of money from drivers by traffic police officers is actually happening but not as seriously as it used to be. I have the feeling that it will soon become a thing of the past as President Koroma continues to tighten the screws around corruption in his second term of office. The streets are gradually getting cleared of recalcitrant traders, pickpockets and bag-snatchers. In short, Sierra Leone is not only being transformed in infrastructural development but the citizens’ minds are being alerted to positive goals as well, which is a very good sign of development. Such development strides were completely absent from the Sierra Leone I knew 15 years ago.
To see more of the country and to make my findings more authentic, I tried as much as necessary not to confine myself to the city of Freetown only but to go to provincial areas as well in order to make my fact-finding mission more effective. Some of the places I visited in the provinces include Makeni, Magburaka, Kenema, Matotoka and Masingbi. The country used to be reputable for bad roads and other backward tends but all that is gradually becoming a thing of the past as the government’s massive drive on infrastructural development changes gear.
What I would want Sierra Leoneans to know is that metaphorically, Sierra Leone, like any other country, is like having an old or secondhand vehicle or a new vehicle that has got an accident before that always needs maintenance. By the time one problem is fixed, another problem is waiting to be repaired. As a caring owner or driver, you would want to continue the repairs in order to make the vehicle road-worthy for the safety of the driver and the general public and also to prolong the lifespan of the vehicle. Those with old or secondhand vehicles know the reality of what I am talking about.
Sierra Leone, like the old or new vehicle that has faced massive destruction for 11 years, State institutions were non-functional within that period and law and order were trampled underfoot. Now at the time of peace, the old vehicle is being gradually repaired. President Ernest Bai Koroma, as a responsible driver or custodian of the state vehicle, is determined to repair the vehicle, a process which doesn’t take a day.
Besides, in the President’s patriotic endeavour to rebuild a broken country, others will be on the side line trying to break down what has already been built or rebuilt. For example, while the government is busy in the construction of roads and the improvement of education, healthcare, agriculture, international relations, electricity, etc., other are deliberately creating problems in other areas in order to sabotage and defeat the government’s spirit. Those saboteurs are always enemies of state, people who would rather want the country to crumple down so that they would have some funny stories to tell to the international community. How can any sane person pray for the downfall of his/her own country? Ridiculous!
Take the case of the uncontrollable and massive corruption at Water Quay, customs, the police, the judiciary, health, SLANGO etc. and you will understand what I mean. Some of those places can never be cured of endemic corruption with ordinary headache medicine; they need something stronger than that to rid them of their corrupt activities. President Koroma, please be firmed on your decision. There should be no sacred cow around you or in your government.
So, evidently, we can observe that the apparent slow-pace development that is currently taking place in the country is actually caused by the very Sierra Leoneans who are presently shouting out negative things about the government and the country itself, which is a clear sign that Sierra Leone is undoubtedly full of hypocrites and sycophants who would rather murder the truth for self-satisfaction. Such people or groups are always dissatisfied with progress and development.
The attitude of some police officers who continue to extort money from poor drivers, okada riders, and poor business people; doctors and nurses who wouldn’t look at a patient without a “handshake”; the corrupt attitude of customs officers at border crossings and at the airport; the deliberate sabotage of progress at Water Quay; Ministry of Housing officials, SLANGO who wouldn’t sign people’s land and house documents until they are bribed; all those people are slowing down the determination of the government to fast-track its developmental programmes.
Heads of schools and other educational institutions who deprive the kids of their basic rights; lawyers and magistrates who twist the facts against innocent people because they couldn’t pay exorbitant fees; pharmacists who import fake medicines in order to maximize profit; they are all saboteurs and enemies of progress.
In summary, without being hypocritical, I found Sierra Leone (after 15 years of absence) as a country no longer groping on its knees. It is now a country whose citizens are heaving a sigh of relief and who are shouting a loud “Alleluia!” My prayer is always that God should continue to give President Koroma, his government and all patriotic Sierra Leoneans the energy, strength and determination to continue the good work for the country and its people.
WHEN GOD SAYS YES, WHO WILL SAY NO?
By Anthony Bee-Conteh, Sydney, Australia
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