Some people see in Africa’s political and economic failings proof that Africans are incapable of ruling themselves. Such people may also believe that the colonial powers opted out of the continent prematurely and that some more years of tutelage might have made a difference. In this liberal age such views are rarely spoken openly by either the enemies or friends of Africa. But it would be naive to think that Africa’s experience has not raised questions about the quality of the character and mind of the African.
The doubt certainly occupies the thoughts of many Africans as they watch their prostrated countries treated as basket cases. Before independence, Sierra Leone was doing well, exporting rice and has one of the strongest economies in Africa. The exchange rate was two Leones to the British pound. After independence, the problems started, we cannot export rice anymore, the infrastructures left behind were not maintained, the economy took a dive and we ended up with an 11 year war. The country is so blessed with abundant riches, but cursed with wicked and heartless people that only care for themselves.
Ordinary Sierra Leoneans, bewildered and disappointed by the outcome of self-rule, find little around them to instill the confidence that as a people they can manage their own recovery. In some respects Sierra Leoneans are now more vulnerable to theories of black inferiority than they were during colonialism. Under colonialism they could dream that with liberation would come the opportunity to prove their worth. The future was uncompromised by the failures of the present. After more than three decades of misgovernment, many Sierra Leoneans have lost faith.
Before I left Sierra Leone last year, during the campaign, many Sierra Leoneans I spoke to were of the opinion that none of the political parties vying for power will govern the country well.
I vividly remember a phone in program on 98.1 FM radio when a caller said since all our black leaders have tried their best but their best have not been able to improve the lives of Sierra Leoneans, why don’t we ask the whites to come back and re-colonise us, because when they were ruling peoples’ lives were far better.
The statement made by the caller, was spoken with sincerity, and was echoed by many other callers because of the hardship in the country. SLPP ruled from Independence to 1967, as I was no yet born, I cannot say much, but some people said it was the beginning of Sierra Leone’s demise, others say the country was ok with every area functioning well.
Then came APC and they were in power for 24 years and it was during that time I came to this world and Sierra Leone in particular. Well those 24 years I will describe using an American movie’s name as ‘To hell and back’ as those years was a real trying times for the nation of Sierra Leone. Infrastructurally, they did well in giving the country a facelift, but they failed to amend the ‘Land Tenure Act’ that uptill today is in place and will never help the course of the country to develop any further until it is amended.
Economically, the country was battered as we ended up in lines for every commodity we had to purchase. In 1992, thousands of Sierra Leoneans took to the streets, danced and saluted the NPRC when they overthrew the APC. The speeches of Strasser were so sweet to listen as he was hitting the nail on the head. But did they really mean what they were talking, up to now I doubt it, although some Sierra Leoneans were blaming the civilians that were working with them, but I think they were more of an opportunist bunch than the saviours of Sierra Leone. In 1996, then came SLPP again under Kabbah. During this period the war had escalated and even reached the city after he was briefly overthrown for nine months.
Anyway the war ended and in 2002, he won the re-election as most people thought that he will bring Sierra Leone out of the doldrums. This he failed to do and APC returned back to power in 2007. There is one thing I want to stress why Sierra Leone will not develop easily. Because there is no continuity in the government system, it will be very difficult for progress. The only time we have seen continuity in play was when SLPP won in 1996. All the projects in the pipeline and most of the personnel in the ministries and Parastatals were retained. If not for the 1997 coup, Sierra Leone would have been successful. Now APC is now in power and in just nine months, they have sacked almost everybody in top positions bringing new people that will have to start afresh. When will they be able to push the country forward? Is that the reason why the president is asking for 36 months before he should be judged? Time will tell.
Reading ‘The Observer newspaper’ on line the writer Norman Stone proposed a programme of enlightened re-imperialism’ to sort Africa out. Conditions in Africa today, he said, were similar to the bloody mess that prevailed before European colonization in the nineteenth century. “There is a strong case for another version of the nineteenth-century liberal international order to be re-imposed….Empires do not have to be formal or tyrannical…. There are times when they do good, and the post-independence history of Africa indicates that this is one of them.”What this writer is saying may be good for Sierra Leone as the people of Sierra Leone will never enjoy the country’s wealth.
Rather than view Sierra Leone rulers as buffoons, we should see them and their actions from the perspective of the interests they serve. The failure of economic development in Sierra Leone is due to a large part of the scramble for wealth by predator elites who have dominated Sierra Leone politics since independence. They see the state as a source of personal wealth accumulation. There is high premium on the control of the state, which is the biggest and most easily accessible source of wealth accumulation. The people in power and those who seek power use all means to attain their goal.
This includes fostering ethnic sectarianism and political repression. Competition for control of the state, between civilian political parties, is invariably ferocious and generates instability. The senseless civil conflicts we had, was due to the battle for the spoils of power. As long as Sierra Leone rulers and administrators are drawn from this class of predators, no amount of preaching the virtues of good governance or tuition on public administration will fundamentally alter the quality of governance. Most of the individuals appointed by President Koroma, are all opportunists and selfish as they would end up as failures. This is not to say that constitutional reforms and increasing civil society infrastructure are not important. They are. But they are not the key to solving the problem of bad governance.
Good governance is the effective exercise of power and authority by government in a manner that serves to improve the quality of life of its populace. This includes using state power and funds to create a society in which the full development of individuals and of their capacity to control their lives is possible. The current petroleum and food crisis in the world today is a known fact, but most leaders in the underdeveloped and developing countries have taken measures like increasing salaries, subsidizing the fuel and rice importers as well as giving tax holidays to these importers so the prices of these commodities would not be increasing.
I am hoping that the Bumbuna Hydro started in the 1970s under APC will now be completed now that they are back in power.
What are the measures taken by the APC government to help the poor in the country, as Sierra Leone has one of the lowest salary ranges in the world, with a bag of rice costing a month’s salary. The talk shows of IB Kargbo are not needed, if he wants, he can join Oprah Winfrey. What Sierra Leoneans are looking for now is not to be regretful by giving SLPP ‘INJECTMENT NOTICE’, but to be proud of making the right decision. More than four million people in the country are poverty stricken and cannot afford three square meals a day. One thing I know now is that the people will not be patient to wait 10 years if the first five years are uneventful.
Sierra Leone will not be able to achieve Millennium Development Goals within the next 50 years unless the government increases transparency in the use of public funds with better conditions laid down in our natural resources sector. The electricity that was so massively propagated is all but a hoax as there is no 24 hour electricity, areas that cables were stolen had not been reconnected and more over the voltage is very low. As long as politics in Sierra Leone is dominated by predator elites such as the ones in power and in the opposition, it is difficult to see how meaningful economic development can be sustained. The challenge facing us the poor who want better governance is how to make those in power accountable and ultimately rescue Sierra Leone from them and to transform it to an agency for positive change.
By Austine Thomas