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Nov 20, 2013, 17:00
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Bai Bureh was a warrior

He fought against the British

The British gee am one slap



This familiar derogatory refrain was used to exemplify how we have denigrated our historical icons, by the renowned African studies Scholar and historian C.Magbale Fyle in a speech he gave on the relevance of our history and culture to our development.  He was particularly miffed with the ABC Secretariat which he said was going in the wrong direction in trying to convince Sierra Leoneans to change their attitude and behaviour.  The ABC secretariat, according to him was not properly equipped. In his view the attitudes and behaviour of our people determine how well they will function in whatever endeavour they find themselves. This needs to be elaborately taught to our people, to the children in the school system, so that they grow up believing in these values. Nationalism will create a sense of civic responsibility. Symbols we create, national figures we idolize, have to be presented in a national context, according to Professor Fyfe. He concludes: There is a strong need for a re-valorisation of our cultural and historical traditions......our symbols, national figures should be presented in a national context


Bai Bureh organised resistance against the British in 1898 as he and others stood up to the British who required them to pay taxes to them for their own houses. Although Bai Bureh put up a brave fight, superior weapons used by the British and the scorched earth policy they adopted finally led to his capitulation after ten months. At the heart of the matter though is that people like Bai Bureh, Nyagua of Panguma and Kpana Lewis stood up to the British for what was essentially the British foisting their will on our people and impugning our national sovereignty. The fact that people like these have not received the recognition due them speaks volumes for the way we have mishandled our history and allowed it to be taught through someone elses lens. Even our educated elite help perpetuate such a psyche.

Prof. Fyfe is right.  In fact we have given little attention to civic education.  Essentially civic education is concerned with three different elements: civic knowledge, civic skills and civic disposition. Civic knowledge refers to citizens understanding of the workings of the political system and of their own political and civic rights and responsibilities. Civic skills refer to the ability of citizens to analyze, evaluate, take and defend positions on public issues, and to use their knowledge to participate in civic and political matters. Civic dispositions are defined as the citizen traits necessary for a democracy (e.g. tolerance, public spiritedness, civility, critical mindedness and willingness to listen, negotiate, and compromise).


Unfortunately the civic education taught in schools has been severely watered down.  It is now part of the social studies curriculum. Very little emphasis is placed especially on civic dispositions and issues that would make us nationalistic and eschew some of the ills that are permeating our society are often skated over. Nationalism simply means showing unconditional love for your country, and putting your country first or above personal interest. It means making sacrifices for your country, and being prepared and willing to defend your country at anytime and at all costs. A suitable curriculum should cover issues such as civility, courage, self-discipline, concern for the common good, respect for other and other traits relevant to citizenship.


A positive passion for the public good, the public interest established in the minds of people and focusing on character and civic virtue will make one view things in a national perspective in future life. Questions the citizen may ask himself/herself may include:

a) In accepting such a huge bribe, are thousands of my country folk going to suffer immeasurably because teachers will not get paid? b) In cutting down electricity pylons to make pots or stealing oil from transformers am I going to deprive several people of electricity supply c) If I give out jobs only to people of my own ethnic group or political party, what do I expect to happen if another party were to come to power?


We should obviously make a conscious national effort to revalorize our history and traditions. The question then arises: Who and what do we revalorize? This decision is not easy in the light of our various national schisms, a dearth of who we may consider heroes or role models  and our poor performance in various spheres. Thinking about it carefully we should perhaps also consider figures associated with ending the ten year rebel war. There are those worthy of adulation for their gallantry in pursuing the war or who played a direct role in bringing the peace. This may however evoke arguments from several quarters as we may have realized, that may not be easy to resolve. Our history is also replete with sports figures initially adulated and then disparaged. 


We have the occasional flashes of brilliance that would put us on a pedestal on a regional or world scale. Prof. Monty Jones role with the Nerica rice or the brilliant investor, Kelvin Doe come to mind. On the other hand there are our national historical assets which could do us proud and remind us of where we came from. Unfortunately, many historical monuments lie in ruins and are in no way linked to our teaching of our history to our young folks or to a potentially lucrative tourist industry. 


How many of us actually do sing the national anthem in a non perfunctory way, thinking about the meaning of the words? Why have the fine words in our national pledge almost been abandoned?

I pledge my love and loyalty to my country Sierra Leone;

I vow to serve her faithfully at all times;

I promise to defend her honour and good name Always work for her unity peace, freedom and prosperity And put her interest above all else.

 So help me God

Our sporting prowess which once saw us rally round our national football team with nationalistic fervour has now been reduced to a parody. In short there are very few issues which make us rally round singing thy praise O native land.


The government may want to give consideration to a knowledgeable panel of experts to think through these issues and make recommendations on how we can instil a sense of nationalism in our citizenry and broadly agree on which national symbols to tout as well as national heroes to idolise. These must be presented in a national context. This will not be easy as they may probably be engaged in needless rancour especially on those to idolise. They should however be reminded of the words of one historian who concluded:  Great men are not often good men. There is a tinge of truism in this. Both Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill who loom large over the history of the USA and Britain respectively for their immense contributions to the survival of their countries were flawed characters in many areas of their lives.


Lincolns Gettysburg address is etched in the consciousness of American children- Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal........ . William Buckley speaking in Boston in 1995 to the Churchill society illustrates the flawed character issue well in his talk titled Let us now praise famous men. He said: It is my proposal that Churchills words were indispensable to the benediction of that hour which we hail here tonight as we hail the memory of the man who spoke them, as we come  together to praise  him.


If we think hard about how people like Bai Bureh were indispensable to the benediction of the hour perhaps we should not be singing:


The British gee am one slap





We must often wonder who we have idolised over the ages. We have the familiar figures in our history and civic books. Bai Bureh, Madam Yoko, Sir Milton Margai etc. -these are more historical figures who helped make out history what it is. In contemporary life, people are more likely to idolise sporting or musical figures and want to be like them.  One thing that has always intrigued me is how we decide on which sporting heroes to idolise. Ive often wondered why Sierra Leone football players like using false names. Quite often it could be a foreign name after some notable player like Garrincha, Pele, Tastao etc. Some may say it is quite understandable if they have no local player of yore they would like to emulate.


It however gets even more confusing when they use a local name perhaps descriptive of some attitude they have. It is however hard to understand how they came about names like Tumbu, Tamba goat, Gbanaloko etc. Unfortunately (perhaps fortunately) they dont use these names on their vests and foreign commentators use their actual names-just as well-I would hate to see T-goat at the back of a vest. It gets confusing when you are more used to a local playing name only to have the player referred to as a Kamara or Conteh.


Anyway I cant say I blame them. It took me some time during my younger days to find out the team my friends and I idolised was not Hassana but Arsenal.  And then the most confusing one when we were playing bite game and referring to ourselves by names of notable foreign players was the realisation that my hero was not in fact SALIMATU as most of my fellow players would call themselves but STANLEY MATTHEWS, the legendary English winger. Never mind there was a time I liked being SALIMATU.


Ponder my thoughts

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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