Gee Mi Cole Wata: A Visit to Sierra Leone (Part 2)
We continue to move on as a nation. Our future depends on our young people today who must be equipped with the educational tools to lead our nation tomorrow. Politicians complained that millions of our youths are languishing in the dark corners of our streets, but the question is: what do you have to offer them? Where are the jobs and what can they do to bring food on the table for their families. When I asked the 13 year old girl I met in the â€œpoda podaâ€ why is she not in school on a Monday morning? Â She replied: Â â€œbecause my step father doesnâ€™t have the money to pay for my school. I cannot verify whether she was telling me the truth or if we have a free education system in Sierra Leone, but somebody is not doing their job to have thousands of kids roaming around the streets of Freetown. Something must be done to give these forgotten children a chance in life. Clearly, this is not a political dehumanization of any party or government but a morally compelling realization. Every child deserves an education. Every poor person deserves a roof over their head. Every man or woman needs a job. (Photo: Mohamed C Bah)
Like millions of Sierra Leoneans, I represent a new thinking of a â€œcountry first before any other interests mind set.â€ I am not a party fanatic nor interested in protecting any political party, but an independently driven nationalist, who see nothing more than what is best for my country. I am more loyal to my nation than anything else because Sierra Leone has given me a nationality and a culture to be proud of. I belong to a think-tank of intellectual Sierra Leoneans, who asked the question every single day: what is the way forward for Sierra Leone? How can we transform â€œa land that we all loveâ€ into a nation that honors the full promises of its constitution and the greatness of its people?
Thus, our next generation of leadership should focus on creating a system that provides the resources and framework in making education more accessible, affordable and quality-driven. Rather than spending more time in winning elections, our young leaders must shift the culture of propaganda and the â€œemotional politicsâ€ into a new vision of hope, deliverance and accountability. This is the future nation like Sierra Leone must work tirelessly to build. For without education, the people perished. Education is the salvation to Africaâ€™s tomorrow. President Kwame Nkrumah knew that an enlightened Ghana was a road to national independence, While President Seretse Khama Ian Khama of Botswana, made education a free and available tool to every child up to the age of 13.
Indeed, on the public utility sector, electricity is gradually coming out of the comatose stage of the â€œMomoh-ismâ€ and the â€œKabba-ismâ€ failed era. President Siaka Stevens, will his short comings and legacy of corruption, was one of our few national leaders who built bridges, roads and other national infrastructures. This is evident on the tangible landmarks we see in Sierra Leone today. During his leadership, Sierra Leone enjoyed infrastructural expansion, a stronger economy and a better public utility system. Since, the end of his era, electricity and water system has been Sierra Leoneâ€™s constant nightmare. And history is a witness to my testimonial.
I must confess, however, that President Koroma is very serious about energy security in Sierra Leone. To remove the 37 year old settled dust on the turbines of the bumbuna plant by getting the hydro-electric machines running is incredibly commendable. I would be generous to give him a â€œBâ€ for his effort and commitment to addressing the electricity crisis of his predecessors. The 5% megawatt operation is a good start and a positive step in the right direction. The on-going plans to expand electricity to the provinces and rural areas are welcoming news. He deserves a feather on his hat more than President Momoh and Tejan Kabba.
However, I must be honest to my fellow citizens that the road to sustainably energy security and permanent electricity in Sierra Leone remains a long and winding road. It is interesting to note that the so-called â€œkabba tigerâ€ generators are slowly disappearing into the woods. The infuriating noise of the generators and the asphyxiating air quality from the environment are so hazardous to the heath and well being of the citizens of Freetown.
Thus, the issue of reliable and sustainable electricity is still â€œa hunting ghostâ€ that continue to deprive our people from enjoying the comfort of modern civilization. I observed that government and business offices have access to the day time electricity, but within the three weeks period I was in Freetown,( Feb 20 â€“ March 12-2010) Â light was hardly available at night. This may be a relative observation depending on what part of Freetown you live, but we cannot have one part of our city beaming with hydro-electricity and the other part living in constant darkness.
Furthermore, I cannot accept my country living in the 21st century with energy security still a major socio-economic challenge to national development. In as much as we hold our government to higher standards, our citizens must do better to pay for utility services, refrain from illegally connecting services without authorization and try to maintain public property with a sense of patriotic dignity. Also, National Power Authority (NPA) needs to be overhaul or privatize if it is running on a massive deficit and cannot pay for its cost of operations without government intervention. What good is it to have â€œa do nothingâ€ public utility company that donâ€™t meet the expectations of its customers? Indeed, good service performance is a definition of an excellent attitude with the commitment of integrity and loyalty to the customers. Invariably, this is not an impossible task to accomplish from any business perspectives.
I am a firm believer that nation building of any form or shape is not an American, British or Canadian standards, it is a universal concept deeply rooted on the same instinct and desire to live in freedom with the common pursuit of happiness. And the basic character of fairness, accountability, result- oriented and nationalistic values are the prerequisites to growth and success of any sovereign nation. The problems that we confront on the utility sector are both the question of resources to maintain operations and the issue of leadership to control and direct the management of services. These are the systemic inadequacies and leadership failures we inherently experience both on the administrative and political landscape.
The Sierra Leonean pessimists always use the defensive argument that: we must not compare developed nations to under developing nations, because they are more advanced and sophisticated than third world. To simply suggest that ones own country cannot be competent and capable to achieve basic human needs exposes Africaâ€™s poor mind-set and their ability to limit themselves from doing the necessary things to spur development. Consequentially, such chronic low self-esteem attitude has robbed many African countries from becoming centers of economic development where the democratic institutions of transparency and justice are protected and valued.
I would refuse to accept any reason why Sierra Leone is not 100% electricity powered and operational today. What we need is a comprehensive budget to pay for the cost of operations, a 10 year plan on sustainable energy growth, a transparent system of revenues collections toÂ offset cost, pay salaries and make profit, a competent leadership organization to direct, supervise and manage the electricity services to the general public. That is how the city of Atlanta, with 7 million people, operates to provide regular electricity to its residents. That is what the city of Jakarta (Indonesia), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) do to keep their electricity power plants running. That is what Gambia, Nigeria, Libya and Guinea are doing to create sustainable electricity in their own countries.
The â€œblame gameâ€ of the past or the need to give the present leadership more time to tackling the problem is merely a procrastinating strategy that seeks to deny the people their basic rights to utility services in Sierra Leone. I would have mounted the same critical observations if it was the SLPP, PMDC, NDA or whatever party that is governing our country. The matter is simply an issue-oriented position and a strategic analysis of the prevailing conditions in Sierra Leonean. My perpetual love for Sierra Leone transcends my personal sentiments to any political personalities or parties.
On the other hand, access to quality water service to millions of people remains a grave and serious national problem especially during the dry season (November to April). Last December 4, 2009, Guma Valley received an additional LE 33.2 billion on the 2010 national budget. But I wonder if that budget will help to improve the pumping capacity and expand its infrastructural supply pipe lines to the surroundings areas of Freetown. What I found incomprehensible is the lack of technical and structural expansion of Guma Valley since its construction in the early 70â€™s.If population growth dictates the need to grow and accommodate consumption demands, why has Guma Valley fall short of embracing the natural trend of population expansion. Again, the failure on the part of government to plan and allocate the resources or funding for future developments have contributed to the supply and demand problem of the water system in Sierra Leone. Imagine how the water supply situation will look like in the provinces or rural areas, if Guma Valley in Freetown is consumed by management failures and budgetary problems.
The 14 year old boy, who was selling gallons water in the streets, personified the glaring picture of the water supply woes Sierra Leoneans are facing on the daily basis. If Guma Valley can implement the current UN Water supply and Sanitation policy for Sierra Leone and improve its water delivery capacity to millions of people, the situation will improve significantly. But the challenges are real and the opportunity to ameliorate the problem is within reach only if we show progressive leadership, put together a developmental plan, create an adequate budget system and properly implement existing water supply and Sanitation policies. These are the forward â€“thinking solutions to the troubled water supply situation in Sierra Leone.
HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
On the healthcare front, one of the visible signs that caught my attention was the funeral of a 26 year old mother who died from pregnancy complication. This incident fits the profile of the high maternal mortality rate among pregnant women in Sierra Leone. The World Health organization (WHO) defines maternal death as: â€œthe death of a woman while pregnant or 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of pregnancy from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes.â€
While in Freetown, I was encouraged to learn that by April 27, 2010, the government will commission the free health care for pregnant mothers and children of all ages. Indeed, this is a welcoming news, because, Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate of 2100 per 100,000 live births in the world. With access to quality healthcare and pre natal care of pregnant women, the maternal mortality crisis will be reduced significantly.
Comparatively, Â according to the World Health Organizationâ€™s records on maternal mortality per 100,000 live birth in Sub Saharan Africa, Guineas has (910) Gambia (690), Liberia (1200), and Senegal (98). Even birth attended by skilled healthcare professionals, Gambia leads the Sub Sahara Africa with 57 doctors, while Senegal has (52) Ghana (50),Liberia (46) Sierra Leone (42),Guinea Bissau (39), Nigeria (39) and Guinea (38).Infact, these figures are general disappointing compared to small size nations like Mauritius that have (99)Â and Botswana (94). Why has Sierra Leone fallen further behind its own neighbors and other Sub Saharan countries over the years?
Â Indeed, as a country, we are spending 9% of our GDP or $9 million on health care. Sierra Leoneâ€™s maternal healthcare is primarily supported and funded by donor organizations and countries. Infact, the Abuja Declaration adopted at the April 24, 2001 UN summit demanded that signatory countries spend 15% of their GDP on healthcare. We are outsourcing our health care system to donor institutions, while we are not revamping existing medical schools to cover the brain drain of the exodus of skilled healthcare professionals for better salaries abroad.
What practically needs to happen is a shift in the funding source of the health care system in Sierra Leone. We cannot entirely depend on donor assistance to run our hospitals and clinics. Put it this way: Sierra Leone is not a non-profit corporation that derives most of its revenues though donations and grants. We are a sovereign country that must take the leadership initiatives to develop our own budgets and manage our health care institutions through our mineral and tax revenues. If we choose to obtain technical and training assistance from donor countries, it will be an added opportunity, but the donor culture of depending on the Western countries to pay for our health care delivery should fundamentally change.
If we maintain proper accountability, plug the hole on the institutional corruption and secure our boarders from mining smugglers, our mineral wealth from diamond and gold alone could pay for Sierra Leoneâ€™s health care system. Diamond revenue make up 50% of Botswanaâ€™s national budget as a case in point. Diamonds and other minerals account for 35% of South Africaâ€™s export. Namibia earns 40% of its export through diamond. All these countries are in Africa not in North America or Europe. Sierra Leone has slipped through the cracks, over the years, with a significant drop in diamond export to 52% and declining annual revenue of LE 20.3 billion last year?
Relatively, it seems to me that people are dying of illnesses that are preventable and treatable. The delay in accessing care and the current cost recovery systems where patients are charge for services seems to be a major obstacle to quality and affordable health care in Sierra Leone. Poverty and the lack of early intervention and treatment of sick patients remains a troubled spot for the health care sector. And Sierra Leoneâ€™s medical infrastructures needs be seriously overhauled without delay. With more available medical equipments, surgical instruments, trained professionals and affordable drugs, the goal of providing high-quality service is achievable I am more optimistic that if government follow through on its 2010 budget theme: â€œconfronting the future with the objective to improve health care delivery services in the countryâ€ Sierra Leone will be a â€œnew Atlantaâ€ of West Africa, where quality health care is one of the best in the world. But the salary increase and working conditions of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals must be improve if President Koroma and his government are serious about addressing the health care crisis in Sierra Leone.
I know that the greatest love one can offer his or her country is to point out the challenges as well as the opportunities to finding ways in making things better for every citizen. Sierra Leone, like any nation, is an imperfect evolution of manâ€™s continues search for a common prosperity and the pursuit of individual freedom. Good citizens donâ€™t sit by and allow the pervasive conditions of human frailty to destroy the arc of modern civilization. Rather, they become the strongest gravity of change and the radiant star of hope. Those who are afraid to use the vessels of enlightenment and the mind of a fearless patriot never positively impact the lives of others nor be part of history that defines the future of their nation. And what good is it to be a citizen without a cause.Mohamed C. Bah, USA
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