You don’t look at a gift horse in the mouth, it is said. But a cow with CJD should be sent back to the giver. Or do you eat it and get infected with mad cow disease?
Our answer here, it would seem, is YES! Eat the sheep even if it has foot-and-mouth. We are African and our system is immune to what the Whiteman cannot withstand. How cheap! How foolish! Otherwise why did we not accept arms and ammunition offered to our ill-equipped army by the former Liberian warlord, Prince Yommie Johnson during the height of our civil war?
In the last ten years or so, our country has been run like a college students’ union government. Go around clapping with cap in hand; not minding who puts what in there and why? The interest is for cheap donations and we the hoi polloi are boastfully told about the gifts. Eleemosynary! President Tejan Kabbah took that stooping shopping to the sky, and it would seem President Koroma is taking a cue from that.
By behaving this cheaply, Ghadaffi’s Libya has cached in, weighed in and buffeted our moral fibre. We have apparently swallowed all our pride and dignity and looked up to a dictator for succour. A man who, according our Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, had a hand in our war that cost tens of thousands of lives! He must apologise and pay reparations.
Even before we could mull over what to dictate to dictator, Freetown had established diplomatic relations, at ambassadorial level, with the Tripoli. Was it not the same Libya under the same Ghadaffi that bundled and deported, so ashamedly, Sierra Leoneans who had been living there for years? Where is our conscience?
This explains why during the visit here last year by the leader of the north African nation, there was so much hue and cry from the then opposition shouting out their uvula, condemning Col Muammar Ghadaffi.
Now that opposition is in power, and the new president has visited Libya twice, I think, and his government is showing off with the Ghadaffi goodies. He is now a saint who did nothing wrong to us. No apologies from Tripoli to Freetown. And it would seem the more things change, the more they stay the same. They have even visited another apparent backer of the RUF’s orgy of carnage, Burkina Fasso’s Blaise Compaore.
It reminds me of a biblical joke my friend and colleague Winston Ojukutu-Macauley, cracked with me recently. Three Cardinals, he explained, met and discussed papal succession. “If I succeed the pope many of those things he does and tolerates, I won’t do” one said. Picking a cue from that, the others made their own promises. “Look at the crowds, look at the skimpily-dressed ladies on the streets” they frowned.
It happened that one of them succeeded the Pope after his death. He acted contrary to his pre-papal days. Then his colleagues with whom he had been verbally rehearsing had no choice but to draw his attention. And hear his response as he pointed to the vast forecourt. “The crowd I see today I did not see then”. Populism!
But do the intrigues that accompany politics make us throw away our values? Again, unfortunately, it seems YES. This is what one lady, very dynamic and speaking the conscience of Sierra Leoneans outside politics, said: “The way the Chinese work is still very secretive, it’s directly with government. You don’t even know what they’re doing. And they’re into everything.”
That activist was Mrs Zainab Bangura. Today she is our Minister of Foreign Affairs. And if anything, the influence of Beijing keeps growing stronger here; and still clouded in secrecy.
The other day I was doing some research and saw a photograph of former Information Minister Professor Septimus Kaikai sitting with his Chinese counterpart thanking him profusely for helping develop our information sector. Where is that assistance when that department is haemorrhaging? It is like going to the gym for ten years and not losing any weight, if anything adding more. Why continue sweating?
In the last few years, many Sierra Leoneans, chiefly politicians, have been compromised by simply being offered a free return ticket to China. Our national interest should transcend that cheap stuff! The trade between the two countries seems to be a one-way traffic. Who cares about the complaint by lowly paid Sierra Leonean workers about harassing and inhuman treatment meted out on them by their Chinese employers? And the complaints are coming from everywhere: from their hotels to their assembly points at Cline Town. A few years ago, then labour minister Alpha Timbo became a diehard advocate for some Chinese “investors” at Rokel, outside Freetown who were into some sort of oil refinery that looked sinister. One of their local employees was allegedly died at their hands, and a journalist Jonathan McCauley, who went to cover their mistreatment of locals, was beaten black and blue. The government did not utter a word of condemnation. They were hiding under the flaky guise of “they are investors” hence should not discourage them. The same phrase that put Koidu Holdings in the quandary they find themselves in today. If the Kabbah administration had acted in the interest of the suffering ordinary masses of Kono then, the company itself would have been saved of its current predicament.
Our leaders often underestimate the intelligence of the people; something that also led to the riot by the Lower Bambara Youth Organisation that sent a mining company, Vijay, packing out of Tongo because the government signed an anti-people contract with the company.
Our policy with China and Libya need reviewing! I know we are a desperate people, the poorest in the world, according to the UN, with governments in the last decade interested in quick-fixes. But it must not be business as usual. After all, President has spoken about “change of attitude”. There is more to that than the chitchats on radio with unconvincing arguments and strategies. We are a proud nation and we must stand tall and be counted among civilised nations. We should help shape a decent foreign policy and entrench transparency in governance.
By so doing, we can afford to buy tractors for our farmers and feed our people. Not go clapping with a collection box. We have some of the world’s finest agriculturists like the award-wining Prof Monty Jones. So we would not need Chinese to come and “help” us in exchange for deforesting our country, shipping our scrap metals for their factories, and abusing our citizens who will do anything because of desperation. China can help us, yes, but not unchecked. By Umaru Fofana