By Leeroy Wilfred Kabs-Kanu :
When President Ernest Koroma’s AGENDA FOR CHANGE, which has been endorsed by the United Nations, Sierra Leone’s development partners and stakeholders , is fully implemented , it will set the stage not only for socio-economic and political renaissance but sustainable peace in Sierra Leone.
Peace has eluded Sierra Leone since she gained Independence from Britain in 1961 and the reasons have not been hard to find. Maladministration, malfeasance, misfeasance, corruption, abuse of power and neglect of the people’s welfare by previous governments , leading to chronic poverty and suffering in the land, sowed the seeds for the instability that has been the hallmark of life in Sierra Leone’s turbulent and chequered history.
The visionary leader he is, President Koroma realized when he came to power that pulling Sierra Leone permanently out of the woods needed more than the minimalist conceptions of peace ( Negative Peace ), which merely entailed the absence of violent conflict or avoidance of the recurrence of conflict within a few years. Sierra Leone , the President observed, needed a more positive and durable peace than the one the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party ( SLPP ) left when it was voted out of power in 2007 . The SLPP, while being commended for ending the war, only laid the grounwork for the minimalistic nature of peace mentioned above , which is unsustainable and fragile .
The SLPP government was also too busy fighting itself to conceive pragmatic programs that would have not only brought development and prosperity to the common man in Sierra Leone, but peace that would have flourish and lasted for long . The government’s running battles with the Hinga Norman , Charles Margai and Tegloma factions, the infighting in North America and the cold war that brewed between former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the then Vice-President Solomon Berewa, coupled with the rampant corruption, lack of vision, backwardness and inepitude of the government defined governance in Sierra Leone during the SLPP era. Sierra Leone was heading backwards, not forward. But as God would have it, dramatic changes came in 2007 when President Koroma won the Prsidential elections .
As soon as he came to power, President Koroma creatively decided to devise a different masterplan , which, if allowed to be implemented , will effect a meaningful change to governance and peace consolidation and set the nation on the path to national development and durable peace and tranquiity . Inadvertently, President Koroma conceived a plan that was much like the Ghanaian model that has earned the Cocoa-producing country high marks in the international community and among donor agencies .
President Koroma vision for Sierra Leone is embodied in his AGENDA FOR CHANGE Program, a bold venture that would enable the All People’s Congress ( APC) Government to “provide for the people of Sierra Leone the basic services which many countries take for granted but which our people continue to be deprived of–available, accessible and affordable food, electricity, water, health care and jobs for our bulging youth population. ” ( Excerpts of the President’s address to the recent United Nations Peacebuilding Commission’s High Level Special Sesion on Sierra Leone at the UN ) .Expounding on the principles of his Agenda For Change initiative, President Koroma further explained, during his effective speech to the UN that “The four priority areas in the agenda–Agriculture and Food Security, Infrastructure and transportation, Energy and Water Resources and Human Development–hold the key, we believe , to our ability and capacity to lift our people out of the type of poverty that you all know continues to relegate my country to the last rungs of the Human Development Indices. Our Agenda For Change is a symbol of my government’s determination to escape from this trap through a paradigm shift from a narrow focus on increasing social sector spending and achieving human development targets to national productive capacity -building for sustainable economic growth and jobs creation. It is a production-and-employment -oriented approach to poverty reduction as well as a development-driven approach to trade rather than a trade-driven approach to development “.
The Agenda For Change also indirectly identifies the main causes of instability in Sierra Leone : Poverty and backwardness . If previous governments had improved the quality of life of our people, war would have been unknown in Sierra Leone .Come to think of it, we have never had a truly tribal conflict , though there are many tribalists using the internet to inflame tribal passions in Sierra Leone. During the last Special Court trial of Chief Hinga Norman, the then pro-government militia he led, the Kamajors, were accused, by witnesses, of tribally-motivated killings , but the conflict never became a tribal war. Therefore, if the living standards of the people in Sierra Leone are improved , backed by a liberalization of our democracy, there is the possibility that sustainable peace will be attained in Sierra Leone.
President Koroma’s AGENDA FOR CHANGE is the multi-faceted strategy that will make sustainable peace possible, as it will address most of the root causes of Sierra Leone’s last war , while also setting the nation on the paths to socio-economic and political development . The Agenda for Change is a creative program for rebuilding Sierra Leone’s post-conflict society to the extent that the causes of war will become negligible . It will usher fundamental socio-economic and political reforms that will transform our citizens from agitators to willing partners of national reconstruction and national development, as is happening in Ghana today.
The Agenda For Change commands wide and popular support from the UN, the international community at large and development partners who have also seen in it the foundation from the government for rebuilding Sierra Leone into a progressive , stable and peaceful country . Dramatic improvements in electricity supplies, communications, transport, education, health care delivery, food security , clean water , housing and job provision , via President Koroma’s Agenda For Change , are certainly capable of uprooting most of the causes of conflict in our society .The reforms targeted by President Koroma’s Agenda For Change are the achievements that the Sierra Leonean people have been clamoring for since Independence . If Sierra Leoneans cooperate with the government to have it implemented , Sierra Leone will join Ghana as the other nation that the International community will classify as a success story in Africa. The onus of the sucess of the Agenda For Change program rests equally on the shoulders of the people of Sierra Leone. We must therefore support it for the good of our nation.
However, the international community and development partners too have a big hand to play to help the government implement it through a generous infusion of funds , incentives and breaks . The Office of the Special Adviser on Africa in the UN proferred that post-conflict countries should enjoy preferential treatment and Sierra Leone qualifies for such a privilege . Explaining what it meant by preferential treatment , the Office suggested : “In practice, that means that these countries should be freed from the strict conditionalities and heavy regulations that might otherwise be applicable to countries not emerging from conflict. For example, where there is a legitimate post-conflict government, most , if not all debt, should be forgiven and tariffs for vital export goods cut or cancelled for the recovery and consolidation period “. It is time for Sierra Leone to begin benefitting from these incentives which will then give the government sufficient latitude to implement its Agenda For Change.
Sierra Leone has the potentials to become the giant of West Africa . We have abundant and enormous human and material resources . But we need the help of our development partners, friendly nations and the international community to help us actualize our dreams.
Leading peace consolidation organizations like the UN and its specialized agencies and donor agencies like the World Bank, IMF, The Paris Club, the London Club and the G-8 countries must help us build a strong, prosperous and stable Sierra Leone by providing the much-needed funds and resources for the successful implementation of President Koroma’s Agenda For Change.