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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

52 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE:THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN'
By Andrew Keili
May 1, 2013, 17:02
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The times, they are a-changin.  Fifty years ago, I could flip the electricity switch and the room would immediately be lit. Now more often than not I turn them on only when that noisy thing called a generator is on. Fifty years ago I could open the tap and drink clean water.

 

Today, even when I could afford it, I spend my time chasing Guma to supply water to my tank. Forty something years ago, there were less than 30 students with me in class at CKC. The teachers were devoted and well paid. Today the teacher has lost all respect and dignity and many teachers are now classed as Ghosts. Our schools are bursting at the seams and the only way we can cope is to have a shift system. 

 

Some forty something years ago the railway was in its heyday and farmers could take their crops from the hinterland to the cities. Today this is a thing of the past. Ok I can go on and on! The fact remains that our living standards have fallen constantly since independence in 1961.

 

As a nation the euphoria of independence was overtaken by a realisation that we did not have a solid pervasive foundation in governance, education or infrastructure on which to anchor our nascent state firmly and embark upon a path of sustainable development. Our educational system had been geared towards training administrators. The number of doctors, engineers and middle level technical people was pitifully low. A prolonged period of one party governance, a series of coups and a rebel war that devastated our economy have all come and gone.


Post war, we have rebuilt, rehabilitated, tinkered with governance structures, embarked on a sustained period of democracy and are hopefully on a path of change and prosperity.

 

I would hate to go back several decades and wallow in self pity. Lets however take a reality check. The real problems with our actions have been the absence of sustainable practices in the face of socio-economic challenges, a growing population (from 2.3 million in 1961 to 5.6 million now) as well as external challenges. Our economy has always been largely based on natural resources.

 

This situation has not changed much. Also since the sixties, some 60 percent of our country folk have been in subsistence agriculture. That has not changed much. It is little wonder that we have a 70 percent poverty rate.

 

There are obviously a lot this and previous governments have attempted to do to redress the situation. Suffice it to say however that many actions are still ephemeral. Fifty two years after independence we should really adopt a paradigm shift from the way we have been doing business. I will  not attempt to suggest concrete solutions but would rather dwell a bit on some of the underlying problems that still need to be addressed.

 

We cannot develop as a nation if we do not have national cohesion.

 

This and previous governments have tried to tinker with the system but there are some underlying problems which would have to be addressed. A nation is characterised as integrated if 1. There is a significant numerical representation of each component group in the institutions of the nation 2. Such groups are distributed throughout the institutional structures of the nation 3. Each group enjoys equality and power within the nation and its institutions 4. All areas of the country enjoy  equitable and balanced development. Let us examine ourselves to see how far we have gone in this respect since independence.

 

Politicians still continue to use the instruments of the state to enrich themselves and their cronies. The state vehicle is used to take us on the development journey.  Our   democratic system is based on majoritarialism and parties are mainly formed along tribal and regional lines. Our system of governance is such that the State is always dominated by the party in power.

 

We must also address the many problems thwarting the growth of the private sector. Access to capital, legal impediments, bureaucracy, and poor infrastructure services will continue to thwart the private sector unless they are seriously addressed. Successive governments have mainly paid lip service to the growth of the private sector and despite their rhetoric the formal private sector is still very small.

 

We should also realise that if we do not address our education and skills training problems seriously we will always be in the doldrums.Human capacity building is a common thread that affects the operation of various sectors of our economy. It is important that technical skills are provided for youths in areas relevant for the Sierra Leonean job market. We must diversify the economy and gear ourselves toward a knowledge economy.

 

Admittedly there are a lot of good things planned on paper. To translate all of these into reality would need political will.  I dare to say that political will largely comes from the government in power but the opposition should also play its part.

 

We must not however despair. Certain things have changed. The services sector of the economy has grown with Banks, hotels and all kinds of services. Some aspects of infrastructure to a certain degree have imporoved-telecoms for example. Some more new mines have reopened so we can have a second bite at the cherry. Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora are ready to help with a renewed vigour All is not lost Mama Salone!

 

A good 52 years after independence, we Sierra Leoneans should recognise that personal sacrifice on our part is essential. This nation was built by great and famous men who made personal sacrifices. Let us remember them in words of the hymn Now praise ye great and famous menPraise we the wise and brave and strong, Who graced their generation,Who helped the right, and fought the wrong,And made our folk a nation.

 

INDEPENDENCE AWARDS: THIS LADY IS NOT FOR TURNING

Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel of honor, and another to dishonor?-Romans  9:21

 

It is heartening that whilst we have all our problems to grapple with after 52 years of independece, we could take time off to honor those to whom honor is due. I was pleased to see my old Mining Engineer friend Alpha Kanu and my old neighbour  Dr. Sam Sesay who seemed obviously very delighted to be honoured. Together with Professors Strasser King, Jonas Redwood Sawyerr and Abu Sesay they had received the highest accolade-Commander of the Order of the Republic of Sierra Leone (CRSL). The three Professors who had contributed so much to higher education, administration and policy issues in Sierra Leone  had been deservedly honoured. The honorees were from various spheres of life. Sahr Wonday had an award for services to the mining sector. Sahr with over forty years of experience in the mining industry now heads the new National Minerals Agency. Andrina Coker, our Deputy Bank Governor was honoured for her significant work in the Central Bank. Donald Osman had done a lot of philanthropic work in giving assistance to hospitals through his organisation Lead Global Inc..

 

Hawa Turay Sesay had done a lot in  philantrophic work in the education arena-building and operating schools. Odette Awada-who does not know Mammy Awada in Bo? For over fifty years she has run her educational institutions in Bo-her award is long overdue. Dr James Caisa Boimas work in medicine is legendary. One of the best surgeons in the country, he has worked selflessly. Mohamed Kallons contribution to football is nationally acclaimed. The Young Inventor,Kelvin Doe, now invited to MIT was beaming with smiles at being honoured. Mirian Mason-Sesay came to this country in 1997 and after three years decided to stay. She started the Educaid chain of schools which now comprises one primary school and 4 secondary schools with 1700 pupils. 

 

The ceremony was a mixture of exhilaration and sadness. Sahr Nbobor Saffas 36 years as a messenger had finally been noticed. Spare a thought for serviceman John Kellis widow as he was honoured post humously. She wept uncontrollably.

 

Oh, I almost forgot-I left one notable awardee out. I know I may be accused of being biased.This lady is not for turning-she had set her sights some eighteen years back on running her own educational institutions. She founded Modern Elementary school in 1995 after being thrown out of  Sierra Rutile as a result of the rebel war. Within ten years she had also started a private secondary school-Modern High School. Both schools are today amongst the foremost educational institutions in Sierra Leone. She employs over 80 staff and cares for over 1000 students. She also has considerable experience working with women empowerment groups, especially those dealing with the education of the girl child. She was also the proud recipient of the National Integrity award last year from the Anti Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone for her integrity in managing her own business in the educational sphere.

 

She has taught me that her students are the most important people in the education system  and puts paid to all limiting factors including poor performing teachers to ensure the students get a decent education. And Oh lest I forget, I was her first bursar and resigned honourably when I got a job abroad (my friends used to advise her that the best way to audit the bursar was to search his back pocket after work!). In case you have not guessed, Mrs Helen Keili received an award for Officer of the order of the Rokel. I am very proud of my wife, They say behind every successful wife there is an idt.


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