In recent weeks events around the country have thrust us into fierce debate about the rule of law and indiscipline within the country. And you will agree with me that since I started engaging you in this column, I have continued to argue that one of the major problems facing us as a nation is the break-down of law and order and the deliberate refusal of many to accept that it is a very serious problem and that its time for the government to change tactics in dealing with this matter. It is no longer a minor issue, and trying to please everyone is not the answer. The government MUST not be seen trying to please everyone all the time. That is not leadership.
The other day, the Minister of Internal Affairs informed the nation that he has personally led police raids around the capital city resulting in the arrest of over “70 armed robbers” with knives, machetes, and other lethal weapons and that his Ministry has declared war on armed robbery in the country. It is not only an indictment of the Inspector-General of Police and his command, it is a breathtaking spectacle. I am ashamed that a government minister has had to go out at night to raid and arrest armed robbers; he has spun a narrative in which crime fighting is no longer the work of the police.
This week, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone issued a strongly worded statement “warning against the use of obscene languages in the media, as well as public utterances by certain politicians and their allies including journalists.” This too is part of the cancer eating the body politic of Mother Sierra Leone.
A quick snap of the last two weeks newspapers or a replay of most of the radio and television political programs gives a picture that is deeply worrying and bring to the open yet again, the challenge we face as a nation. Our failure to learn any lessons from the very brutal and wicked civil war; the mistrust and desperation for power that led to Bintumani 1 & 2, the AFRC coup and their nine months of terror that left scars on most of us, the Court Martial that followed and the country and the world, witnessing fine men and a woman executed because they were” collaborators,” the premature peace deals and then of course, Foday Sankoh’s last fraudulently push for power that was eventually put down by the Nigerians with support from the British.
Oh I almost forgot, Charles Taylor’s bitter taste of war is still in our mouths and we are trying to spit it out, but yet still, there are certain people today trying to spoon-feed us with poison but this time the poison has been mixed with honey to hide the sword of Damocles hanging over our lives.
Even the TRC Report is today being abused and some people are even trying to drag it down the gutter in an attempt to kill the spirit of reconciliation and progress. I am ashamed to be a Sierra Leonean.
One of the major factors responsible for the poisonous state of affairs today is that most of the journalists, hangers-on and their political masters never truly tasted the bitterness of Charles Taylor’s war. They talk about issues relating to our past with no in-depth knowledge of the subject; the frequently asked questions or accepted theories that are fraudulent.
Imagine on one side, certain so-called political leaders are telling journalists that the recent police-okada riders’ clashes were the work of another political party; and on the other side, that the ruling party is behind the same clashes, so that they can deploy armed police officers across the country to disrupt the activities of the opposition parties. ARE WE SIERRA LEONEANS THAT GULLIBLE? Or am I that naïve to question both theories to the point of walking out on people I normal have respect for? We should start asking questions if we want this country to progress.
When I hear politicians talking about the November 2012 elections … and journalists reporting their statements or comments without any strong challenge from the journalists, it brings to mind a talk given by an American journalist comparing the 1988 American presidential election to the 2008 presidential election that Barack Obama won. The speaker remarked that, “It has become fashionable to lament the state of presidential politics and decry the tenor of campaigns. But in fact, this election (2008) has been a pleasant surprise. In the last debate, as the candidates discussed their respective health-care plans in some detail, the danger was that the American people would be turned off not by negativity but by boredom.” (As some of us are bored with the slanging matches here in Freetown)
“But this election is different,” he went on, “compare this election to the one in 1988-when the Pledge of Allegiance, Willie Horton, flag factories and Belgian endives dominated the campaign. Or contrast the relatively brief appearance of William Ayers with the barrage of Swift-Boat attacks on John Kerry. Some of this is because the American people are clearly tired of slash-and-burn campaign. But much of it is because the two candidates are men of decency and honour.”
Two things came to mind after reflecting on this statement; the reaction of the American people but more importantly, the “decency and honour” of the two candidates- Barack Obama and John McCain in the 2008 American presidential elections.
In Sierra Leone, sometimes the ordinary Joe-Public is even worse than the politicians and the journalist. Let me give you an example; few months back,
I was in a taxi along Wilkinson Road heading for Lumley and I expressed concern about the poor quality of work being done by the Chinese and their disregard for our safety-especially their failure to put reflective lights on the roads. A woman sitting next to me turned and looking straight into my eyes, shouted at the top of her voice inside the taxi that “we Sierra Leoneans are ungrateful” and that “you SLPP people should try and shut-up and let the president carry-on with the good work he is doing.”
Not too surprised, I waited for her to calm down and I politely told her that I am not SLPP, but a Sierra Leonean with all his faculties fully charged-up, and that it is not “ungrateful” to highlight the fact that there are no reflective lights on all the new roads being constructed by the Chinese. To that the taxi driver, an old man, joined in saying that in fact Wilkinson Road is no longer a road but a dual-carriage-way and as such, it should be renamed “the Ernest Bai Koroma dual-carriage-way.
Thankfully, I had reached my destination, so with that pronouncement still ringing in my ears, I shut-up and disembarked from the taxi at Lumley-Spur Road roundabout before I could be slapped for simply stating the obvious.
I must confess though, that renaming of the road is not a bad idea, the taxi driver is right, it is no longer an ordinary road. My concern however, is that across the country today, the silent majority have been juggled inside their own skins-afraid to talk or express an opinion out of fear of being branded as either SLPP, APC or whatever. We are doing ourselves injustice and we should be ashamed.
And it is not far-fetched to say-out-loud that behind all of the problems we face as a nation, there is a psychological one slowly but effectively interfering with our thinking and behaviors, especially the belligerence of the okada riders across the country; a set of premature sentiments that underlie actions; insecurities that warp judgement, fears that lead to inhibition, pettiness that leads to destruction, greed that leads to selfishness. Unfortunately I am not Dr Freud to diagnose this psychological disease that is preventing us as a nation to fully move forward.
However with the absence of a Dr Freud, a firm no-nonsense leadership can go a long way to help stem what is slowly eating the soul of Mother Sierra Leone. Because every day, the panels of my brain go into fast-drive trying to understand why so many sensible mature politicians, intrepid journalists, lawyers and judges, medical doctors, academics, bankers and business people are all looking the other way?
In my humble opinion, despite the progress in recent years, Mother Sierra Leone is in the middle of the sea on board a ship with the captain’s compass messed-up; ideas have been replaced by vendettas, the future confronted with past resentments, endangering the future of our children, constructive engagement with rank cynicism. And a leadership being guided by people with the arrogant belief that – “they have worked really hard, so WE MUST understand and appreciate their work.” They don’t get the “gratitude” they feel they deserve for their achievements – when we don’t know what they have achieved and why those achievements are so vital to take the ship back safely to the shores.
On the other side, the Captain of the other ship racing to the shores doesn’t have a problem with his compass. He seems to be a fighter. But his men are not comfortable in their own skins. Some of the men and women reluctantly joined the journey but still have serious doubts about the captain’s ability to get them to the crossing line on time, as the other Captain battles with his compass. Meanwhile, the other ships are just too far for us to get any understanding of their situation, apart from the odd spark light that goes up occasionally to warn us of their destination.
All of which reminds me again of another great man who once said: “Our besetting sin is not our differences, it is our littleness. We wrangle over words. We fight often for the shadow and lose the substance,” Mahatma Gandhi.
Have a great weekend and God Bless Mother Sierra Leone. Many of you are asking for my email…..write to me- email@example.com
By Winston Ojukutu-Macauley Jnr