By Own Correspondent – On April 27th of this year, Sierra Leoneans will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their country. The hopes and aspirations of Sierra Leone’s founding fathers, when they agitated for independence from the British colonialists, were for a fully democratic country that would give dignity and pride to its citizens. Sierra Leone’s first prime minister, Milton Margai and a host of other prominent Sierra Leoneans eventually won their fight for independence in Lancaster, England, on April 27th, 1961.
Throughout the last five decades, Sierra Leoneans have struggled to improve their quality of life, despite the fact that those who control the political stage have never been able to maintain sanity in the society. Leaders made feverish efforts to inculcate a sense of national identity in the society and strengthen the national state that emerged, but as the country matures, its political elites — backed by their constituents — continue to usurp all tenets of democracy.
The political bankruptcy of the ruling elites is manifest. They can’t identify any major achievements since Sierra Leone’s independence in 1961, but evidence of their looting and political chicaneries is visible everywhere — making a mockery of the country’s motto, ‘Unity, Freedom and Justice.’
As the country celebrates the golden anniversary of its independence, official figures show that of the estimated 5.5 million people, many are still struggling to put food on their table and, according to experts, unemployment, illiteracy, and other social ills continue to weaken the country’s ability to maintain social order. The present government has reportedly embarked on a new agenda to encourage its citizens’ patriotism. However, analysts say a change of attitude in Sierra Leone will be very difficult to achieve because the two major political parties in the country — the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) and the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party, (SLPP) — have a penchant to exclude competent and truly patriotic Sierra Leoneans from governance.
Some Sierra Leoneans, particularly youths, bemoan the fact that since their forefathers achieved independence fifty years ago, few of the ruling classes have been able to give real meaning to the country’s democratic march. Critics say that, from the outset, Sierra Leonean politicians have relied on tribal patronage and political maneuvering to distort the essence of good governance. As for helping develop true pluralism, subsequent governments in the country have repeatedly used draconian measures, including media censorship, to stifle dissent and opposition.
As Sierra Leone prepares to celebrate her 50th anniversary, Sierra Leone’s current government faces an unprecedented challenge to dismantle all the moribund policies and structures that have made the country a laughing stock.
But government supporters say that there has been a great deal of commitment by the present regime to accelerate progress in the country. Immediately, he assumed the mantle of leadership, Ernest Bai Koroma embarked on plans to lift his compatriots from misery and uncertainties.
In today’s Sierra Leone, analysts say there is a new battle being waged to bring hope to its people. The decision to give lactating and pregnant women free medical care and the fight against corruption have been widely appreciated by its citizens – one policy that has led observers say that the present Sierra Leonean leadership is bringing a semblance of integrity and credibility to the corridors of power.
After 200 years of colonialism and 50 years of self-rule, the people of Sierra Leone are still worried about their country’s future. As planning for independence celebrations moves into top gear, there have been reports of corruption within the committee charged with organizing the event. According to various Sierra Leonean newspapers, funds intended to pay for the festivities have allegedly been siphoned off and most of the perpetrators are Sierra Leoneans who have returned to their country after spending time in the West.
When President Ernest Koroma assumed power in 2007, he called for competent Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora to return and help lift the country out of its wretched state. Critics say these Sierra Leoneans from the Diaspora are selfish and are perpetuating habits from the bad old days. This, observers say, is part of the reason the country is still under-developed after all these years of self-rule.
Sierra Leone is geographically one of the smallest states in Africa and has a population of only 5.5 million. A large number of them have virtually nothing to show for their hard work, adding to the feeling that, despite its independence and the advent of democracy, there is still stagnation in all aspects of life in the country. Some say that the ruling elites, supported by their tribal folks, have employed deceit, lies and theft to destroy what the British colonialists left behind. But more optimistic voices argue that Sierra Leoneans now have reason to be proud as the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) regime is redeeming the country from the throes of poverty and social malaise that existed in the country prior to Ernest Koroma’s ascendancy to the presidency.
However, such claims cannot disguise the fact that ordinary people have paid a heavy price over the last five decades. In sharp contrast to its pre-independence era, Sierra Leone has faced one of the most barbaric wars ever fought. The complete plundering of its natural wealth during the civil war marked the country’s low point, as it continues to struggle to catch up with other developing nations on the continent.
But not all is lost in Sierra Leone. Some of her sons and daughters have all what it takes to put their country on a strong footing. Monty Jones became the first African to win the World Food Prize in 2004 after he crossbred different species of Asian and African rice, tagged NERICA – New Rice for Africa.
During a recent whirlwind visit to Europe, President Koroma encouraged Europeans to identify with his country. He noted that his government has put in place business friendly policies. Major efforts are also being made to reduce poverty, he said, and plans are already in the pipeline to create centers that will market agricultural products within Sierra Leone and abroad.
The International Monetary Fund, for instance, says that, despite the problems in the global financial system, “economic activity is projected to recover gradually with real GDP reaching 6% by 2012 and declining towards a rate of 5.5 percent by 2018.” It also pointed out that “exports are expected to benefit from a projected increase in commodity prices, expansion in mining capacity and increased investment in agriculture.”
This optimistic outlook is itself a good sign for all as the country plans to celebrate fifty years of independence. Sierra Leone’s founding fathers hoped for a better society. The only force capable to achieving it will be the ordinary people — if they can forget about tribal and regional ties to tainted politicians.