If there is one universal truth in this world, it’s this: never trust a politician.
As I stood in the sweltering heat below the towering Cotton Tree, I was among hundreds of spectators who had gathered to watch former Chief of Staff Dr. Richard Konteh and timber tycoon Alie Suma get hauled off to Pademba Road Prison. Konteh had been accused of forging President Koroma’s signature to authorize the illegal export of over 4 billion Leones worth of timber, an order that Suma allegedly helped carry out despite having prior knowledge of the action’s illegality.
As the lawyers and families of the accused filed out of the courthouse, members of the crowd began to shout and jeer. One group even followed a lawyer out to his car, with one man throwing himself down in front of the vehicle out of protest. His face was drenched in sweat as he laid shouting on the ground, though I couldn’t understand what he was saying over the honking cars stalled by the crowd’s occupation of the street.
Now, I’m not going to pretend to know enough about Sierra Leonean politics to have a reputable opinion on issues like who is and isn’t corrupted (I’ve been here less than a week after all). But while flipping through the pages of various newspapers and reading stories of people like Elizabeth King defrauding the government of over 392 million, or of the on-going power struggle between the internal factions of the SLPP, I can’t help but wonder (as many of you must be wondering as well) how deep the corruption actually goes. Reading through various editorials, everyone seems to have a different opinion on that question. But one conviction remains constant throughout all of them: the corruption must come to an end.
When the world economy took a turn for the worst in 2008, everyone was frantically searching for someone to blame. Eventually it became apparent that stock brokers on Wall Street in New York had been selling stocks valued at levels extremely higher than their actual values, making millions of US dollars for themselves while screwing middle and lower class people out of their entire livelihoods. At the same time, banks were giving out housing loans that the average person couldn’t pay back, and the banks and brokers began to bet and loan each other stocks based on whether or not these people would default on their loans. It was a giant web of lies and secrecy. When the whole system came crashing down, the average man lost everything – but not the banks, not the brokers. Not a single arrest was made, and many of the guilty came out of the crisis with their fortunes intact. They got away with it.
In this circumstance, the level of corruption went so deep that their actions were actually considered technically legal. Similarly, when it was revealed that the United States government was using the internet and phone activities of people all across the globe to spy on the general public, the people’s outrage was met with inaction. In a scandal that went as high as the White House itself, it was revealed that laws had been crafted in secret to legitimize the action. Despite the international outcry, nothing could be done. The US government had made their own corrupt actions completely and indisputably legal.
The point I’m trying to make here is this: the majority of the time corruption is completely invisible to the average man, and often that invisibility allows for the guilty to create circumstances that will protect and continue that corruption. Reading that sentence back to myself I realize how hopeless I make the situation sound. But it’s not. We have more hope than the ocean is wide.
Does an action have to be illegal to be considered corrupt? Certainly not. But that doesn’t mean that we are powerless. If there is one thing that humanity has shown time and time again, it’s a continuing resilience, a burning drive to stand up against injustice. We are all one family; it just sometimes takes us a little while to remember that. The power is within us, and always will be.
In the last moments of Che Guevara’s life, he starred down the barrel of his killer’s rifle and said, “Shoot coward, you’ll only kill a man.” Because ideas live on. Corruption cannot kill an idea. And the drive for equality, the constant desire for peace, justice and equality is an idea that is, and will remain, forever immortal.
The corruption will someday end, in Sierra Leone and everywhere else. For that, you have my word. Good luck my friends.
*Cooper Inveen is a journalism and African Studies major at the University of Washington in Seattle USA, on internship with Awoko Newspaper in Sierra Leone.
Tuesday July 01, 2014