From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

COMMENTS & OPINIONS
Special Commentary : Welcoming 2011
By Theophilus Sahr Gbenda
Jan 11, 2011, 17:06

Thanks to Jah, 2011 is here. A year we’ve been looking forward to. A year viewed by many as strategic because of its closeness to the crucially important 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary elections.

 

It is the general assumption that every year brings its own challenges...some foreseeable and some unforeseeable. The point however is that whether foreseeable or otherwise, a challenge remains thus until something realistic is done to outwit it.

 

A new year could be looked at from both individual and general perspectives. Either way, it is always advisable to evaluate the makings of the past year so as to underscore the failures and successes and consequently carve out a positive way forward.

 

This is important especially taking cognizance of the fact that the birth of every new year adds to the age of an individual and likewise shortens or reduces the tenure of office of a particular government or president.

 

Just as individuals are under obligation to make progress in life or face the brunt of hardship and ridicule, so too is an elected government or sitting president.

 

For Sierra Leone, the year 2011 is important for every reason; one principal one being that it marks the country’s golden jubilee. The question most people would ask is, ‘What is there to show’? Are we making progress as individuals and as a nation?

 

Concentrating on what we achieved as a nation in the past year and what we stand to achieve in the new year, I can emphatically state that we did not do quite badly. Thanks to the man on top of things and to us concerned citizens and critics especially, for making the noise necessary to put duty bearers under pressure to deliver.

 

Daunting as the task was, a couple of feasible achievements were made in the areas of electricity and water supply, infrastructure and health care amongst others.

 

Unlike previous years, a good percentage of Freetown residents for instance, now enjoy at least half-day electricity. Although of course it goes with heavy fees, the fact remains that the frequency of electricity has impacted positively on the lives of many and even reversed earlier claims that Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown, is the darkest in the world. We still have a long way though to go because as it is right now, there exist lot of challenges associated with the current electricity supple which if not addressed in good time, will make mockery of the gains recorded thus far.

 

Makeni, the northern provincial headquarter town, now has some form of electricity, and I learn that towns such as Magburaka, Lunsar and Binkolo, still in the north, will soon start benefiting from same. Doubts exit over the Bumbuna hydro facility, but what is clear is the government’s proven determination to make it an utmost reality. We can only look forward to that.

 

2010 also saw rapid or simultaneous development works in most parts of the country. The once bumpy Masiaka-Bo highway now has a new looks…completely different from what it was in the previous years. The Bo-Kenema highway is now a smooth ride, and so too is the Makeni-Matotoka highway. Much progress has been done on the much talked about international road linking Sierra Leone and Guinea in the Port Loko-Kambia axis, and signs are feasible that the death trap that the Kailahun road is often referred to, will soon be called something else...with the contract for the construction of the said road already awarded and mobilization of equipment and personnel now in full gear. Other major road construction works are reported to be going on in several other places, with rumours that the appalling Matotoka-Kono highway will not be left out of the equation. We also are hearing about plans to construct the terrible road network linking Kailahun and Koindu. We can’t wait to see the reality of these largely donor assisted projects.

 

The much talked about National Youth Commission has been finally established, although we still await the appointment of a youth commissioner. The long awaited Freedom of Information bill is on the pipeline of being passed into law, not to mention the bill on the rights of women which is already in place.

 

While it is obvious that some people, courtesy of their naïve political thinking are far from being happy about the developments taking place under the Ernest Bai Koroma regime, the fact remains that any citizen who prays for his or her government or president to fail is not only unprogressive but unpatriotic.

 

Imagine that a government rules for two terms and yet has nothing to show by way of achievement. If you were 35 years when that government assumes power, you’ll be 45 by the end of those wasteful two terms. It is therefore incumbent on every useful citizen to always pray for his or her government to succeed.

 

As critics, we are raising concern over everything because we want to see results. Imagine that the gains being recorded now had been done with five or ten years ago, we’ll not be talking anymore about trying to fix the death-threatening Lungi-Port Loko road, but about re-establishing our own national airline with fleets of air crafts embarking on international flights or something else. That is development.

 

As the country gears towards the celebration of its 50th independent anniversary, the question that keeps lingering on the minds of many is, ‘”What is there to celebrate”? The answer largely depends on how an individual perceives it. For me personally, I’ll say there is nothing to make noise about or celebrate...and the reason is obvious.

 

As far I am concerned, Sierra Leone, unlike the Republic of Botswana which in the early 60s could boast of barely 60 university graduates and less than 60 kilometers tarred roads in the entire country, has lagged behind for decades and therefore could not make any boast of things being achieved only now.

 

It goes without saying that our rating in the human development index still leaves much to be desired or inadmirable.

 

Cost of living remains a nightmare and clearly enough, the government seems wholly dependent on handouts from abroad.

 

50 years on, Sierra Leone still remains underdeveloped and ideologically dependent. Most of us do not see Sierra Leone as being truly independent.

 

Politically, the conduct of the 2007 general elections which saw the now opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) losing power to its arch rival, the now ruling All People’s Congress (APC), is enough to tell any critical mind that the latter lost the confidence of the West and was therefore blacklisted. In other words, evidences abound that the result of the 2007 general elections was dictated from outside. Note that even before the elections, the West cut off all aid to the country.

 

Economically, Sierra Leone is very far from being independent. In fact, Sierra Leone is yet to be mainstreamed in the global economy, which was why it was not directly affected by the global economic downturn. The country has billions of debts to offset, and yet is under obligation from the West to grant huge tax concessions to Western originated economic criminals parading as investors.

 

We see how powerful former Prime Minister Tony Blaire has become in wooing Western investors to Sierra Leone. Remember that Sierra Leone, under the patronage of Tony Blaire, went cap in hand begging investors of all sorts to come in and do business…in line with President Koroma’s poise to run the country as a business. So far, the business seems to be running at a lose.  

 

We all saw the dramatic twist by the government in overturning an earlier suspension order that was slammed on Koidu Holdings over the killing of two indigenous Kono youth who were amongst protesters against the lack of commitment to corporate obligations by the company.

 

Despite the fact that a whole commission of inquiry was instituted to look into the circumstances and a government white paper issued to back up the recommendations of the said commission, the government released a press alert announcing the surprised lifting of the Koidu Holdings suspension. This came immediately after the Israeli owner of Koidu Holdings, Beny Steinmez, jetted in and held a few minutes indoor meeting at State House with President Koroma.    

 

We also saw the undeserving welcome accorded by the government to top executive members of London Mining. The London Mining delegation was granted a presidential escort with siren blowing left and right...for outright exploiters.

 

Just recently, a publication came out that the present government lacks what is called due diligence and that the president is receiving praises he does not in any way deserve, mostly from his under men and party loyalists.

 

This is a very serious situation because without the application of due diligence, a country stands the risk of entering into wrong partnerships and wooing the worst investors or call them economic vampires if you like. Just imagine that the Romanian born Frank Timis, a three times drug convict turned entrepreneur and owner of African Minerals, has been given an exclusive right over billions of dollars worth of iron ore deposit stretching about 227 square kilometers in the Tonkolili District, north of the country.

 

Just recently, a corporate employee holding a very senior position in one of the mining companies operating in the country, confided in me that the government often asks them for assistance in balancing the national budget. This explains the reason why the companies are taking advantage of our poverty or call it mismanagement of resources…to an extent that laws are being broken just so as to ensure that so-called investors enjoy a good investment climate with less obligations to the state.

 

There is no way this country will develop without laying premium on local revenue generation as opposed to depending almost entirely on alms with conditions attached from abroad.

 

It is baffling sometimes seeing people engaging in political violence and political manipulations. It is about time that Sierra Leoneans started voting on issues rather than on party affiliation.

 

For so long, politicians have taken advantage of the vulnerability of our people. What I will measure as a major achievement by the current government is overhauling the present political landscape by ensuring that action, and not talk, becomes the criterion for re-election or re-appointment.

 

The road however seems far off, given the level of sycophancy and corruption around.

 

Sierra Leone is a great country; we can’t afford to see it remain plunged into the melancholy of underdevelopment.

 

Let me end by wishing all and sundry a hearty and prosperous 2011.



© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.