If the older generation has woefully failed to live a legacy that will brighten the future of our beloved country Sierra Leone, then we need to invest in our children and youth. We can only ensure a better future if we invest in them and allow them to live their lives to the fullest, bringing out every creativity and dynamic effervescence. It is now becoming rather difficult to roll out the attitudinal change and behavioral change program, and perhaps it is because we have not used our children as the agents. They should definitely have training focusing on principles and values around issues like the culture of non- violence, gender, peace and social inclusion. They should be part of the decision making processes especially on issues that hinge on their livelihood and development. Good governance is also about promoting participatory decision-making, justice, transparency between the leadership and the governed, leading to peaceful co-existence and equitable distribution of resources.
Like Hillary Clinton said recently, a business is only as successful as the environment in which it operates. In like manner our children can grow up as successful as the environment within which they exist. We can build sky scrapers and other lofty projects, but if our children are not well taken care of, there will be no vision and future to look forward to. This is why a lot of advocacy groups are working hard to influence public opinion and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, social systems and institutions. In the whole process, we should all learn to open more doors with the word please, than with keys. We already have a lot of challenges to sustainable development which are also challenges to human rights. Children’s rights in particular are being abused and violated left, right and center with careless abandon. For the most part poverty and culture are used as excuses.
Stakeholders in governance have one chance to take the right decision. Their mistakes cannot be corrected ever. Our problems with creating the right environment for our kids, is an age old issue. The tail will continue to wag the dog unless we take the right actions backed by strong political will to roll them out. We all know that no matter how long a lizard lies by the river bank, it will never turn into a crocodile.
Very often adults forget that children are not miniature adults. They must pass through different phases.
I am sure that all adults today were children years back. In the Sierra Leonean setting, one big problem is that children are completely left in the hands of the adults, for the most part adult male. Some adults are so knee deep in life denying actions when it comes to children. Indeed you can never employ a dog as a butcher except it gives up its desire for meat. This twenty-first century demands that we let our children grow up as children and also participate in decision- making.
Part of the reasons why we are finding it difficult to stop the violations or abuses of our children is the divergent nature of our legal systems. Fifty years after independence, the land that we love still has two sets of laws, the common law and the customary law. Indeed our current woes have a long history.
The 1947 Constitution of Sierra Leone merged the colony and the protectorate into a single political body but divided their elite representatives into opposing groups. War was largely the result of failures in governance and institutional processes in the country. Unsound governance created the situation for the incidence and growth of poverty, marginalization, greed and grievances that caused and sustained the conflict.
In this scenario, children remain at the receiving end of the brunt. The conflict in Sierra Leone had a great impact on children because their rights were systematically by all warring factions.
They were robbed of their childhood and their innocence and thus their hope of the future. In all fairness, the children’s situation before the war was still nothing much to write home about. In the area of education, illiteracy among boys was 69% and that for girls were 88%. Less than 45 % of all school-going age entered primary school.
Only 9% entered secondary school and 1% made it through to tertiary institutions. Imagine this grim picture which was further exacerbated by the war which not only kept our kids out of school, but even got the bulk of them forced into fighting on the side of the different warring factions, adding youthful ferocity to a war that had long turned horrendously anti-people.
If the purpose of development is to improve people’s lives by expanding their choices, freedom and dignity, then our foremost priority should be children and youth who have lost so much because of a war that defied every reasonable definition. At this stage in our history it is not enough to accept the deep wounds that poverty has brought to bear on our very dignity as a nation.
We need to fight the scourge of poverty. As the UN human development report says, poverty involves much more than the restrictions imposed by the lack of income. It also entails lack of basic capabilities to lead full, creative lives, as when people suffer from poor health, are excluded from participating in the decisions that affect their communities or have no right to guide the course of their lives. Such deprivations distinguish human poverty from income poverty.
One thing that seems quite evident today is that decision makers tend to operate in the box and do not attempt to act outside the box. Take the case where a manager decides to permanently close a toilet because the plumbing works have broken down. There are only two toilets serving up to 50 staff. Imagine what happens when the only remaining toilet also breaks down…is it also going to be closed permanently? For the most part, this is the way we react to problems. We hardly dig deep enough into the root causes. Do you remember the story of the blind men and the elephant? Their idea of an elephant was skewed to the only part of the elephant which they touched. In life we sometimes behave that way; our perceptions are narrowed to an extent that we hardly see beyond our noses.
In this 21st century when transformative leadership is being advocated, many establishments are yet to drag themselves out of the conservative life-denying management styles of old. See, no agency or governance structure can boast of itself if children’s welfare does not form an integral part of their development agenda. Coupled with this, the empowerment of women which we all know is very critical to child survival. If we want to be very strategic in our development aspirations, we have to empower children, families and communities. People need to have greater voice and impact for children. We need to influence policy on child rights.
When we consider that the economically active population in Sierra Leone is 52 % and the bulk of these are unemployed, then you know that we have a big problem. Make no mistake about this; the heaviest part of our employment problem can be blamed on poor education.
Can you believe that 46% of primary school teachers are un-trained and un-qualified? How do we hope to move ourselves from where we are with these telling statistics? How about the bulk of teachers that are yet to be approved even when they have worked for over 4 years? We all know how expensive education has become, but can we afford to add to an already large population of illiterates and potential illiterates? I say potential illiterates because most of our compatriots who stopped in junior school 15 to 20 years ago are as good as illiterate today. Please do not doubt this as you well know that we are anything but a reading population. Do not tell me you do not know what I am talking about. We definitely have a long way to go.
Like Mandela once said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger for my long walk is not yet ended.”
By S. Beny SAM