By Joseph S. Sherman, Washington, DC
Thursday April 26 , 2007
Sierra Leone was among the first African nations to break lose from the shackles of colonialism. The peaceful transition from colonialism to independence became a beacon of hope for many other African nations in their struggle against colonial masters. The period between 1962-1964, under the leadership of Sir Milton Margai, Sierra Leone first post-independence prime minister, the country was groping in dark for stability and direction, as the government soon realized that new state of nationhood meant much more than just the creation of the national flag, the composition of the national anthem and the election of a prime minister.
From the early 70’s to the present, like many post- independence African countries, Sierra Leone is going through tremendous socio-economic and political challenges. This is due mainly to years of misrule, corruption and a dreadful civil war that pillage the entire socio-economic and cultural sector. The deteriorating economic and social sector has also created a huge vacuum for any political leader or enterprising organization to revitalize.
The question now is, where is Sierra Leone going from here? In order to answer the question we must honestly ask ourselves where we are now. In the 45 years of existence as an independent nation the gun has ruled intermittently and a devastating civil war engulfed the country for nearly a decade. Poverty, disease, high rate of unemployment, corruption, inadequate schools is where we are. Governments after government have never been able to deliver or fulfill promises.
When Sierra Leone won its independence in 1961, it was the second wealthiest nation in West Africa. On the contrary, today it is the world poorest according to the U.N. For 45 years of existence, the nation reliance on foreign support continues to soar unabated. Sierra Leone politics has also been transformed to polytricks to the detriment of the entire masses.
The crucial question for the present government and incoming government is how to promote and revive the economic and social sector of the country through people’s participation in the strategies, policies and programs that affect their lives. Participation means contributing to and benefiting from and taking part in decision making about development. The high poverty and illiteracy rates in the country have prevented the people from developing their full capabilities and from participating in the socio-economic development of the country, consequently, the vast majority of the poor and illiterate in the country, contribute little, they benefit little and have no influence over decisions that affect their lives. They are therefore, prone to receiving little respect and recognition, and the tendency arises of been sidetracked in the democratic process and development of Sierra Leone.
Government also needs to empower communities and their representatives if urban or rural development strategy is to be achieved. Women should play an active role in the reconstruction process. Supporting grass-root organizations and leadership among Sierra Leonean women will guarantee that their interests are adequately defended. The nation reconstruction process also requires cooperation between the central government and its local representatives, as well as community and tribal leaders in the provinces. These relationships based on mutual interest devoid of partisan affiliation needs to be adequately pursued if growth and development is to be realized.
The government should recognize the existing challenges, including those of providing livelihoods for all Sierra Leoneans. Curbing corruption, extending reconstruction to all the provinces, attracting foreign investors in a safe and secure environment, freedom of the press without intimidation, should remain the top priority of the government.
Sierra Leone at this period of nationhood celebration must be born again. This rebirth must start with the leaders entrusted with the mantle of authority. At 45, the question still remains, where do we go from here? The road is uncertain, and the answers illusive, but faith in the future will get us to a promising destination.