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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

Celebrating 50 Years of What?
By Austin Thomas
Apr 15, 2011, 17:00
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Sierra Leone is gearing for its 50th Independence anniversary celebrations from the British colonial masters. It is a fact that we should be celebrating such independence if truly we were independent, but even as I write this article, we are still under colonialism, politically and economically.

Why? Its very simple, the British through United Nations installed our current leader and they are in full control of our economy. They dictate the pace the economy should grow, what economic policies should be implemented and who should be appointed to certain positions of trust.

If you want to prove me wrong about neocolonialism, just look at Ivory Coast and Afghanistan. The French have almost succeeded in installing Quattara because Gbagbo never accepted neocolonialism, so he is being kicked out to make way for someone who will take orders from France, and they too are doing it through United Nations.

America did the same for Ahmed Kazai to be re-elected in Afghanistan. The UN official who was in charge came out openly and said the election was a farce and was rigged, what happened he was sacked.

So, back to our independence celebration, I have been doing some research on the Independence of Sierra Leone and most Sierra Leoneans who were present said they were really expecting the country to continue its development path, but after 50 years they were very disappointed to see Sierra Leone so backward in all spheres of life.

Reading stories and articles from that era, one thing of importance that caught my eye was the pronouncement of Sir Milton Margai on the eve of independence, 50 years ago. He said 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 that time and is even more relevant in modern times albeit in a different context. I strongly believe when he 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 we wanted.

However, all has not been lost. We have been able to build a political system that actually works for the West. Of course it is, if not, they would not have been sending all kinds of financial aid to us.

However, I am almost certain Margais vision will not be realized any time soon because we are not economically and politically 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. 

There are many ambitious and qualified young men and women 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 generation to the point that they have packed out and are now helping other 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 to know they all have roles to play in the development of Sierra Leone. When they write or make speeches we realized they all had brilliant policies and ideas; that when implemented accordingly, will definitely move the country forward economically and politically, if our leaders are sincere as well as these young men and women. We do not have to look outside of Sierra Leone for brains, because we have them within that are capable of turning the country around.

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 economic meltdown is the order of the day as we celebrate 50 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 50 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 and we will have more this time and in the future. The days of sumptuous buffet dinners at State House and brass band performances should be over now, thats why the committee set up did have a field day with monies donated to them for the celebration. It was really absurd to read on line that the committee awarded Spencer Le700 million just for fire crackers that would have been donated by the Chinese government.

Even we students in China over 100 of us would have donated enough firecrackers for the celebrations because it is very cheap in China.

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 todays Sierra Leone, I can say without apology that Sierra Leone is a failed state. In examination, when one fails, there is normally an opportunity to 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 Irvings 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 history and Rip knew nothing about it. He was asleep.

Whilst we have been in slumber, deeply snoring in military adventurism and corruption, Singapore, Malaysia, 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 was seriously engaged in military adventurism, pull him down syndrome in our national politics our contemporaries in Asia and South America were busily embarking on good governance leaving us with no choice but to become consumers of their finished products like computers, phones, tooth pastes and wearing apparel etc. to name but a few. Today they are now giving aid to us and send experts to help us grow.

After 50 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, but not the case of Sierra Leone. At its menopausal state, mama Salone cannot feed its children nor clothe them. Almost all local industries set by Colonial Masters after independence has collapsed. Day by day Sierra Leone companies keep on folding up because of our uncontrolled passion for imported goods and the rise of the dollar that is depreciating in the world market. Even second hand underwear has high value in the country today.

After 50 years our national politics is dirty, full of tribalism, regionalism and corruption, with we the journalists joining the fray to feel our pockets through opportunistic articles, painting the economic degradation colorful even though we know life today in Sierra Leone is extremely difficult. 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 an envy 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 maximized 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. Eight 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 sometime ago estimates that about 50% of our college educated graduates go abroad annually. 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. Today the number of Sierra Leonean doctors in Chicago alone is twice the number of doctors all over Sierra Leone.

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, the GST and even the Judiciary. I do hope by the time we are celebrating 60 years, we would have got our political independence 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. Sierra Leone can make it irrespective of the unfavorable dictates from the unholy trinity of international geopolitics - the IMF, World Bank and DfID. 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!!


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