I have been doing some research on the Independence of Sierra Leone 49 years ago and most Sierra Leoneans who were present told me that they were really expecting the country to have progressed more than what is going on now.
Also reading some stories and articles from that era, one thing of importance that caught my eye and made me to write this article as we celebrate 49 years of independence was the pronouncement of Sir Milton Margai.
On the eve of independence, some 49 years ago, Sir Milton Margai made one of the most inspirational speeches known in Sierra Leone. The speech is usually remembered for the statement, “The independence of Sierra Leone is meaningless unless we embrace it fully and understand how to govern ourselves”
This statement was true and relevant at the time it was made and is even more relevant in modern times albeit in a different context. I strongly believe when Milton Margai made that statement he was referring to the political and economic independence of Sierra Leone.
We got rid of our colonial master controlling and governing the affairs of the country. The man wanted more than that, but after his death, Political instability rocks the country. And it is understandable why that is so, at least in some cases. Tribalism played a critical and very sensitive role in our politics. There are all sorts of power sharing agreements for various reasons. I am sure this was not the political independence Margai visualized.
However, all has not been lost. We have been able to build a political system that actually works. Of course it is. If it was not, the West would not have been sending all kinds of financial aid to us.
However, I am almost certain Margai’s vision will not be realized any time soon because we are not economically independent. We depend on foreign aid and loans from developed countries and international financial institutions. More often than not, we are not in a position to negotiate the terms of these loan agreements and sign these agreements with absolute disregard for the long term effects on our development.
Recently we published a letter from the late M.S. Forna who exposed the Siaka Stevens era and how that man called Shaki destroyed the fabrics of this nation.
In the past year, I have come across many ambitious young men who have expressed an interest in working for the development of the country. Some have been turned down because of tribe, region and political affiliation. Others have been suppressed by the older ones to the point that some have packed out and are now helping other African Countries to succeed.
First of all, it is a good thing to know the youth is interested in the politics and development of the country. Secondly, it is an even better thing to know they all have roles to play in the development of Sierra Leone. Speaking with some of these guys, I realized they all had brilliant policies and ideas; that when implemented accordingly, will definitely move the country forward economically and politically.
Many have described Sierra Leone since independence, as haven witnessed all sorts of roller coaster of a time; ranging from coups, war and economic meltdown, but also as having a semblance of stability and hope up to2007, when, by all accounts, experienced steady economic growth and low inflation, but after this period inflation and economy meltdown is the order of the day as we celebrate 49 years of political independence but economic dependent.
Political independence is a sine qua non for nationhood and national development! The importance of political independence is beyond question, but are we happy for what is going on in the country after 49 years?
In order to know where we are going as a nation, it is important that we know where we are now. I describe Sierra Leone as a nation at menopause, not to denigrate womanhood but in a sense as being past a prime. We have had enough fun fare during our independence celebration in the past. The days of sumptuous buffet dinners at State House and brass band performances should be over now.
I am deeply convinced that any sort of celebration should be a time for sober reflection. We need to sit down and have a sober reflection, read our history starting from the time we got independence and compare it with our Asian contemporaries.
Now is the time to look calmly at ourselves and identify the mistakes that we have made as nation. If we compare Sierra Leone at the time of independence to today’s Salone, I can say without apology that Sierra Leone is a failed state. In examination, when one fails, there is normally an opportunity to resit or rewrite the failed papers. Like what Confucius once said, it does not matter the number of times we fall but the number of times we rise when we fall. We have atrophied the resources we had after independence and now crossed the graph from positive surplus into negative deficit.
Sierra Leone can be likened to the pathetic story of Rip Van Winkle as told in Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book. In this story, Rip Van Winkle slept for twenty years. On his way to the mountain-top for the commencement of the 20 year- slumber, Rip Van Winkle saw a picture of King George III of England on
display. When he came down twenty years later the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountain a revolution was taking place that would change the course of historyand Rip knew nothing about it. He was asleep.
Whilst we have been in slumber, deeply snoring in military adventurism and corruption, empty India, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and the rest of the Asian Tigers have been able to use less than two generations to propel their economies from the quicksand of aid dependency to the solid rock of economic independence. Today all over the world we talk about Asia as the centre of international commerce. It must interest us to note that we all inherited the same economic conditions after independence. The difference is that whilst we in Sierra Leone were seriously engaged in military adventurism, pull him down syndrome in our national politics our contemporaries in Asia were busily embarking on good governance leaving us with no choice but to become consumers of their finished products like rice, tooth pastes and wearing apparel etc. to name but a few.
After 49 years of self-governance we have depleted our national accounts and have moved from surplus to deficit. Borrowing has become the order of the day. We are happy to be rated credit worthy nation. A nation that was once prosperous could become a chartered member of HIPIC. We borrow for everything- even to build toilets.
Whilst most women dread the onset of menopause, it must be said that this is normally a stage of great wisdom and maturity at which women would have seen everything. Not Sierra Leone. At its menopausal state, mama Salone cannot feed its children. Almost all local industries set by Colonial Masters and Milton Margai after independence has collapsed. Day by day Sierra Leone companies keep on folding up because of our uncontrolled passion for imported goods.
After 49 years our national politics, it is dirty. We call black white and white as black. We have unconsciously adopted Machiavellian tactics- the end justifies the means in our national politics. While government seeks to build an arc of peace others keep on sounding war drums. Our educational system which was one of the best in developing world is nothing to boast of. Examination leakages and malpractices have littered our educational fibre. We have minimized practical work in our educational system and maximised theory work and some of our graduates have been described as educated illiterates. Qualified students cannot even get places in our tertiary institutions. In most cases, those admitted do not get a desired course.
Today nationalism among Sierra Leoneans has reached its lowest ebb. Brain drain keeps on taking its toll on our human resource base. 8 out of 10 university graduates at one point or the other attempted to travel to U.K or the United States. Majority of those who travel to these countries, never return. A report from the World Bank estimates that about 50% of our college educated graduates live abroad. Every year we keep on hemorrhaging our doctors, nurses, pharmacists and engineers to the developed world. Of those professions and graduates who chose to stay in the country, frustration is the order of the day.
We are yet to fulfill the dream of Milton Margai because we are not fully independent and we can see it in the Free Health Care just launched by the president. Why I am saying this, when the Minister of Finance and Development Dr Samura Kamara read the budget last December, there was no mention of free health care, which means that the colonial masters have brought it for us to implement with the terms and conditions coming from them. No wonder the doctors were determining to get the $1,000 monthly salary because the money was not coming from within.
I do hope by the time we are celebrating 60 years, we would have got our political as well as economic dependence fully so that we can live and work in peace in the land that we love called Sierra Leone.
The solutions to our national problem are within our reach. No prodigious thunderbolt from heaven will blast away corruption and economic decline and increase our foreign exchange reserves and shoot per capita income to $ 6000. Again, God will not send marching armies of angels from heaven to lift us from this present stage. We the people of Sierra Leone must commit ourselves to the desired change. The national goal of economic prosperity and Sierra Leone becoming the gateway to West Africa will not roll on the wheels of inevitability and fountains of nice political oratory.
The clock of progress is ticking fast against Sierra Leone. We still can make it. There is nothing wrong for one to start all over if one messes up. Mama Salone can make it irrespective of the unfavourable dictates from the unholy trinity of international geopolitics the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization. Like what Confucius says one may not be responsible for falling down but one is responsible for rising up. Our destiny is in our hands. Sierra Leone, this is our time to rise up and build!!
By Austin Thomas