By WILFRED KANU JR
When we declare that this presidential candidate suffices to advance President Koroma’s agenda for human development in Sierra Leone, it does not suggest that he has no enactments on his part. We have studied the economic history of the nation, and despite being limited, we appreciate the growth of human development in the country. We note this from an international point of view. In doing so, we believe that the best course of action in this current election is, in fact, Samura Kamara, coupled with the progress made by the Koroma administration.
On the long road to economic, industrial and technological improvement, Sierra Leone’s wise decision at this moment is to maintain the current course set by this government. Those who win the next election must set a prudent standard to improve the economy. During this election, the people of Sierra Leone must recognize our premature misconceptions when we criminalized previous governments without any concrete evidence. Have they accepted bribes and made inappropriate salutations to family members and friends? Certainly. However, the wrong theory that one enriches themselves from the coffers of the government became uncertain when they died in relative poverty.
Where are all the foreign bank accounts alleged to have been owned by President Momoh? Why are his children not wealthy today? The accusation that our public officials are criminals is the same as it has been since Siaka Steven’s administration. Guess what? During Steven’s tenure, Leones and the Pound were either 1-1 or close. Even in the latter stage of his administration, situations were far better than now. How can we remind you that the West may have blackballed Sierra Leone? After all, Sir. Milton and Albert Margai along with Siaka Stevens and other national champions had worked hard to tear Sierra Leone away from the colonial control of the British.
Remember, Freetown was home to one of the largest slave markets owned by the British. When Great Britain abolished slavery and the slave trade she became the dumping ground where they got rid of freed blacks from all over the British Empire and beyond. On April 27, 1961, the country ended her century-long quarrel with colonialism. By 1971, Siaka Stevens took a step further by turning the new nation into a republic. Thus, he disposed of the Queen of England. He even removed her image from the Leones and renamed some of the monuments the colonial masters named after her.
The fall of Sierra Leone had a lot to do with retaliation from the West. After taking these drastic steps, there must be some backlash or implications for these acts. Thus, any difficulties faced by the country during Steven’s or subsequent administrations are likely from a lack of experience and mismanagement after the nation became a young and independent republic. Despite that, we can all agree now, although we claim that President Stevens was a corrupt leader, we would all be delighted if the current economy and level of development in the land was to return to what it was like during his tenure.
Sierra Leoneans also accused the administration of former president Joseph Momoh of corruption, incompetence, and nepotism to say the least. Many were frustrated about the fact that Dr. Siaka Stevens transformed the political system into a one-party consensus and appointed the Major General as his successor. Was this because Stevens fabricated Momoh’s leadership? Or was it because he was trying to protect the country from falling into disrepair? We all have our views on this issue.
I must make it clear that I do not agree with the one-party approach because it gave justification for the civil war and the overthrow of the All People’s Congress. But, under the presidency of Joseph Momoh, a loaf of bread was Le2. One could feed a family with Le40 or persevere for a week on Le200. Fellow Sierra Leoneans, did Siaka Stevens die as a billionaire? Did Joseph Momoh die as a multi-millionaire? In 2018, are we allowed to ask how come after Captain Valentine Strasser overthrew the APC on the basis of corruption, incompetence, and misappropriation, why did he not reestablish the economy as he thought it should be? Why did he fail to meet the expectations of his supporters?
The answer is simple: restoring a failed economy is a difficult task for any head of state. Strasser’s administration could not afford to create more jobs, renovate degraded infrastructure, resolve electricity shortages once and for all, or even strengthen healthcare or security issues. His reasonable excuse was that the National Provincial Ruling Council was unable to focus on development, policy-making or economic growth because of the ongoing conflict. Some could also see that if the war was because Siaka Stevens was the father of corruption who appointed an incompetent Joseph Momoh as his successor, why was there still fighting after the NPRC removed the APC from power?
When we lead this discussion from a rational perspective, the administration of former President Momoh proved over time that it was peaceful, livable and better than any other government except for the Ernest Koroma administration. In fact, when the National Provincial Ruling Council came to power, their most immediate decision was to print new money. One should commend them for at least honoring the likes of Bai Bureh, and Sengbe Pieh instead of spreading their faces on the new money. However, the value of the NPRC Leones became much lower.
During that period in 1993, the price of bread had risen from Le2 to Le100. The family now needed at least Le500 or more to survive in a day. Where one needed Le200 or more to get them through one week before, they now lack Le1000. The APC’s weak economy became more than ten times better than the NPRC’s reformed economy. Let us consider former president Julius Maada Bio a hero who spent his youth fighting for us. He also helped to bring the nation back to diplomacy. After ousting the former president, Captain Strasser, the majority were now betting on the Sierra Leone People’s Party. Although $100 was only Le35,000 during the last APC administration. And now that same amount was more than Le80,000 under Maada Bio after it nosedived from Le66,000 under Valentine Strasser.
The NPRC was in command and the country was in a full-blown civil war. The majority still blamed Siaka Stevens and Joseph Momoh for the economic decline even as it receded much faster under the new presidents. The international community and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) placed Sierra Leone under increased pressure to return to democracy. The world saw that if Stevens was corrupt and Momoh was incompetent, Strasser and Bio were both. Keep in mind that 1995 was only three years after the APC left power.
You do the math and tell me. Siaka Stevens had maintained the economy at a slow decline for eighteen years. President Momoh’s APC government had also managed the economy at a gradual descent for seven years. Within three years, both Strasser and Bio administrations had watched helplessly as the economy spiraled downward at a ten times faster pace. Unemployment, one of the main reason for the APC overthrow, had worsened. Human rights, policy-making and the economy had fallen below the reasonable standard of living.
By 1996, the same people who danced in the streets for the NPRC, applauding Strasser’s message of solidarity, reconstruction, and reform, were now sackclothed in ashes. The cost of living had risen rapidly while prices increased dramatically. Unemployment was still high, and the brutal civil war had worsened. Everyone was in a rush for the former president Maada Bio to hand the country over because now it was clear that the military juntas had no governing experience.
As is now the case, back then, Sierra Leone’s presidency required someone with experience in governance. By instead of bringing back the APC in 1996, despite the fact that they ran a peaceful country with a better economy, the people decided to give the SLPP their long-awaited chance. Understandably so, they wanted to try someone different, someone with an international resume, and that person was Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Many forget that the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council’s Kabbah overthrow was only five years after APC left power in 1992. Showing how quickly the country had deteriorated after deviating from the “corrupt” system that Siaka Stevens set in place.
Ask yourself, if Siaka Stevens was president in 1991, could civil war be possible in Sierra Leone? What happened to the Manor River Union? Sierra Leoneans believed that the SLPP was about to end corruption, nepotism, intolerance, and disorganization in the country. President Kabbah had 20 years of civil service in advanced parts of the world. He was Vice-President of the West Africa Division of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Dr. Kabbah had also held several senior positions in New York, Tanzania, Uganda and even Zimbabwe. So it could be said that he was the best choice to end the war and dig the country out of her financial and developmental rot.
Unfortunately, with all his experience and international connections, when he came to power, corruption, nepotism, and narrow-mindedness did not stop. The Leones continued to fall, and the living standard dropped so severely that Sierra Leone became known as the darkest country on the planet. Electricity was now something of the past. Indeed, Sierra Leone should respect President Kabbah because he worked hard to end the civil war. His various “Peace Agreements” and working with the leaders in opposition led to the disarmament of the RUF and the ultimate end of the civil war.
Some can claim that the SLPP and Tejan Kabbah came to power at a time of massive turbulence. That this reason is why they could not stop the free fall of the Leones, create jobs, improve education, agriculture, transportation or healthcare etc. They could argue that the times were so harsh that all Kabbah could focus on was bringing lasting peace to the country. One cannot dispute this fact. Then again, another person can show that if the war started because of some people who felt deprived by the one-party state of Siaka Stevens and the appointment of Joseph Momoh as his successor, it is likely that those who ended the war are on the same side as the ones who started it. In addition, during that period, the SLPP did, in fact, cooperate with the Revolutionary United Front.
Of course, this argument is unfounded. So I will only urge you to take note of three repetitive patterns. 1 – The fact that every new leader welcomed in office, the public later accused them of corruption, injustice, and nepotism. 2. How the Leones, the lifeblood of Sierra Leone’s economy quickly destabilized from Captain Strasser’s system all the way to Dr. Kabbah’s presidency only to show dramatic improvement when President Koroma came to power. 3. How the appointment of Samura Kamara reminds us of the transfer to Momoh and Yumkella’s sounds like a hybrid of Valentine Strasser, and Tejan Kabbah. Is history repeating itself already? You will decide.
After former president Maada Bio, Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kappa became the next hero. Despite the challenges ahead, the people considered his presidency would be great for nation rebuilding and reviving of the economy because he had experience from working overseas. Many Sierra Leoneans believed that his foreign civil service experience and connections would be vital to the rebuilding of Sierra Leone. Only, his contacts were most beneficial in returning and keeping him in power.
Sierra Leone needs a period of continuity. The absolute majority believed that its government is subject to the misappropriation of financial resources. And at the same time, the United Nations has classified the land as a “least developed country.” So, rather than yelling about misappropriation of finances, corruption or injustice, citizens should start a dialogue about civic loyalty? If history is proving anything, it is that the government cannot take the whole blame for all the problems in the country.
As we all know, civil servants and citizens must take their education and careers seriously. We should perform our duties with honor. We should not tamper with company funds or remove resources from the institution. Nor should we accept a bribe. Good-intentioned citizens should not destroy, abuse or steal from the public property. We should not discredit our governors, public officials or journalists. Or undermine progress in programs where there are no self-interests?
Do these manners apply in our people psychology when speaking about financial misappropriation or corruption? Out of all the political systems that took power in this generation, APC is the most forward-looking. Many will disagree. Some will claim that the APC has mandated me to promote their interest. Others will insist that I speak from a place of allegiance. Nonetheless, when you open economy books, do the math, research analysis and reports you will come to the same conclusion.
Samura Kamara is the best possible leader for Sierra Leone at this time. Julius Maada will serve us better as a military adviser, not a political candidate or president. He could be someone who polices the trade sector to ensure that false deals, bribes, and corruption are thwarted. It would be better if Dr. Kendall Yumkella were an economic adviser to help secure significant investments in agriculture, telecommunications, wireless technologies, mining, tourism, and transportation.
Together as a team, an organized working unit, these respected flag bearers can work to at least return the country to where it was when Joseph Momoh or Siaka Stevens left it. As pro-Sierra Leonean citizens, we should see the progress made by the administration of Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. At the national level, in the highest interest of the country, we must look back at the failure of other regimes. We must recognize that the entire administrations of the All People’s Congress are the only one characterized by peace and a relative amount of human development.
Therefore, we should support Dr. Kamara not only as government officials but also as loyal citizens locally and internationally. Has there been some progress since Dr. Koroma? Yes really! Is there progress on the scale that we would like? No! Have we improved human development and living standards for every Sierra Leonean? No! But that’s because our economy is much further away from satisfactory. Not because our ascendant had misled or practiced corruption. It is due to war, epidemic, natural disasters and the lack of civic loyalty to one another and to the country.
Sierra Leone is growing from the bottom of the least developed countries, which have some of the lowest human development in the world. As a result, there is a shortage of high paid and an excess of low-paid employment in our GDP. The country is in poverty with pathetic literacy, inadequate healthcare, sanitation, and redundant city or metropolitan planning. There is the problem of insufficient electricity and tap water supplies. And an endless maze of terribly constructed roads and reduced visibility. Sierra Leone is smoky and dusty. Almost everyone has malaria, fever or a cough.
Because of these restrictions, we rely on the export of minerals for foreign exchange. Due to insufficient infrastructure in the post office, banks, storage facilities, and airports. Our focus should, therefore, be on ensuring that these gateways are functioning on a high level and at least 60 percent of the estimated $70 to $250 million that passes through the private mining sector every year are taxed through official export institutions to prevent smuggling and money-laundering.
Dr. Kamara is intelligent enough to accept only information and data that can be verified by a reputable international observer. And he realizes that our economic development will continue to stagnate if we rely heavily on mineral resources. As with President Koroma, he knows that we need a progressive government and citizens with genuine civic loyalty to the country to dispel the belief that diamonds, gold or timber are sufficient generators of profits and investment for Sierra Leone.
Dr. Kamara seeks to improve the current situation. He promotes industrialization and envisions new development projects that encourage investment. But even this will not solve all the problems in Sierra Leone. Dr. Samura Kamara is aware that Sierra Leone should continue on an upward path from the low level of development. To achieve this, we must restore the manufacturing sectors of the economy by not relying solely on the extraction of raw materials or assets that we can not recycle.
In cooperation with the civic loyalty of the people for the future, we must improve transportation, communication, tourism, and agriculture. We need more accountability at postal facilities. At this stage of Sierra Leone’s growth, our next government should take the most practical steps. If citizens show allegiance to the system, they cease the “hunger cow” mentality; we should see an increase in the gross domestic product that will boost healthcare, sanitation, electricity, clean drinking water, high literacy, housing, and security.
These are practical and achievable goals which Dr. Kamara already has a platform to pursue. And with APC’s record as the only party that has maintained peace while increasing commerce and development programs, it should be easier to trust them instead of big promises from unproven aspirants.