According to gospel singer, Rich Mullins of blessed memory, “There’s thunder in His footsteps
and lightning in His fists. Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from Heaven above with wisdom, power and love”. Or to paraphrase Scripture, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Or the Battle Hymn of the Republic of the United States, “He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. And His truth is marching on.” It stands to reason that those of us who on casual assessment of the horrible mudslide of August 14 in Sierra Leone that easily took the lives of at least a thousand men, women and children some barely out of their mothers’ womb as an act of God, may well be blaming God for acts of man he reluctantly permitted. If, in fact, there is a higher authority to be blamed for this disaster, it is the government of Sierra Leone, which alone bears the greatest responsibility for the mudslide.
But before proceeding further, it is best to extend my utmost condolences to the families and friends of our dearly departed fellow citizens and to wish those who have left us so unceremoniously Godspeed and a blessed re-union with our ancestors. During my last visit to Sierra Leone about two months ago my children and I stayed briefly in Regent and we could easily have shared the fate of the those now buried in mass graves outside Freetown. Notwithstanding the unbearable horror of the moment, God is still a good God. He lets His sun to shine on the good and the evil and His rain to fall on those He likes and those He not so likes. He is no respecter of persons and God was no angrier at those who perished in the mudslide than he is at the rest of us who survived.
As Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, lamented for his contemporaries during the bloodbath of the First World War:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
God does not give building permits to people who build in geologically unstable and flood prone areas, nor does He enforce building codes or take bribes from people who circumvent proper building procedures. Government does and often with impunity and then leaves people to their own fate. If they perish, they perish. And that’s exactly what happened to the residents of Regent and environs. I am not even entirely convinced that the mudslide was solely an act of nature. I have reason to believe that Guma Valley Water Company, neighbours on the other side of the mountain from Regent, was not altogether innocent of contributing to this disaster unprecedented in the nation’s history. But this can never be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; not by me anyway.
By concentrating almost all of the country’s consumer services in Freetown, government created the conditions that enticed hundreds of thousands of people to migrate from the countryside to a relatively small town barely capable of accommodating one third of its current population of one million or more residents. Freetown is simply the largest village in Sierra Leone.
Government through acts of omission or commission over the decades created the conditions that culminated in the eleven-year civil (some say, un-civil) war that claimed the lives of thousands of mostly rural people leading to the massive and somewhat irreversible migration to Freetown. A city with no functioning garbage collection system or central sewage or drainage system that could have diverted the water away from residential areas. Sierra Leone has one of the oldest, if not the oldest institutions of higher learning in Africa south of the Sahara, the nearly 200 year old Fourah Bay College of the University of Sierra Leone with its once vibrant faculty of Engineering including the Department of Civil Engineering. It is inconceivable that for nearly 200 years of its existence, no one has figured out that water finds its own level and left to do so without human ingenuity, rain water from the mountains surrounding the Freetown Peninsula will find the shortest course to the Atlantic Ocean. This includes the path through people’s living rooms. Building canals, waterways and safe environments for their citizens was the reason the Romans and Greeks converted military engineering into civil engineering, in the first place.
It has been suggested and perhaps reasonably so that if people did not harvest wood from the forests surrounding Freetown for firewood and charcoal, or the large rocks that have held the earth together for centuries there would have been no mudslides in the first place. So what alternative resources do people have for building and cooking aside from these rocks that they break into stones for building, or firewood and charcoal for cooking? Can the average citizen of Sierra Leone afford natural gas or electricity for cooking like we do in America or Europe?
Before independence in 1961, Sierra Leone was a net exporter of food and other agricultural products: Cacao and coffee from the East, rice, ginger, piassava, palm kernels and palm oil from the South and cattle and livestock from the North to serve our domestic and export market. But then, there was something called the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLPMB) and the railway to transport excess agricultural products from Pendembu, Moyamba and the far reaches of the country to markets in Freetown and abroad. There was also a vibrant manufacturing sector at Wellington Industrial Park in Freetown to absorb the excess labour force in the city including recent college graduates from home and abroad. Suppose large segments of people in Freetown were to return to their rural hometowns and engage in the same agricultural activities people did fifty years ago. Without the train and rural road network for logistics or the SLPMB to purchase and market the resulting agricultural products how will these products get to markets at home or abroad? Only government can provide the massive infrastructural and financial resources to make this possible. Otherwise, people congregate in the cities. Youths remain largely unemployed and vulnerable to political and civil manipulations.
Former UNIDO chief and economics professor and now presidential candidate, Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, recently told his supporters that at this juncture in the nation’s history diamond rich Sierra Leone can chose to be as rich as oil rich Dubai or as poor as the people in the Niger Delta in Nigeria’s oil rich region. The choice is ours. Barely thirty years or so ago Sierra Leone used to be called the Land of Iron and Diamonds and we proudly displayed that on our postage stamps to let the whole world know it. We used to be called the Athens of West Africa for our illustrious educational system that was the pride of the British Empire. Barely forty years ago our national currency, the Leone, was mightier than the almighty United States Dollar. It is today worth less than one tenth of one American penny – less than what it costs to print the Leone note. None of these are acts of God. Neither is the mudslide.
About two weeks after the August 14 mudslide in Sierra Leone a similar torrential rainfall devastated the American State of Texas, where thousands of Sierra Leoneans call home away from home. As of date the death toll in Texas is less than twenty people compared to 400 confirmed dead and 600 missing and presumed dead in Sierra Leone. What’s more, the tropical storm which became Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas in all likelihood started as an atmospheric disturbance off the coast of West Africa. Surely an angry and vengeful God would have reversed the situation considering that since the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973 sixty million innocent babies have been murdered in the United States according to numbers reported by the Guttmacher Institute – nearly ten times the entire population of Sierra Leone. And God would still have plenty of time and anger left to rain fire and brimstone on those countries especially in Asia who officially do not believe in God.
Having failed the people of Sierra Leone over decades of un-development, mismanagement and total lack of vision (“For where there is no vision, the people perish,” says the Bible), the least government can do for our dearly departed besides blaming God is to build a fitting memorial or monument to the victims of August 14. On January 6, 1999 over 6,000 of our fellow citizens were slaughtered by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front and their allies of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council in Freetown. We did nothing in their memory. In February 2007 the man who almost singlehandedly spearheaded the defence of the nation against the RUF and AFRC atrocities, Samuel Hinga Norman, was allowed to die in exile (presumably murdered). Once again we did not even build a bamboo hut to his memory. In 2015 over 3,000 of our fellow citizens including some of our finest healthcare professionals and volunteers died as a result of the Ebola Virus Disease. Again, we did nothing as a nation to remember them.
Now that millions of dollar of foreign aid is flowing into the country from all over the world for the victims of the mudslide, Government can and should build a memorial similar to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem – the City of the Great King – for the victims of the Jews killed by the Nazis during the Second World War. It has been said that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. A national memorial is the least government can do for those who have been sacrificed as sheep for slaughter for our national malaise and lack of conscience. That is our reasonable service; we owe it to them and to posterity. Blaming God for man-made disasters like the August 14 mudslide is a slippery slope (no pun intended) to the abyss. And doing nothing to remember the victims is not an option. I would also hope that with so much financial contributions from inside and outside the country funds can be set up to provide free primary and secondary education and healthcare to both the children of Ebola and mudslide victims until they turned eighteen years of age. This too will be a fitting memorial to those who perished in these national disasters.
On a totally unrelated matter, can anyone out there please tell President Kim Jun Ugly of North Korea that throwing Intercontinental ballistic Missiles in the general direction of the United States, Territories and Assigns may be very dangerous to his wellbeing as well as the welfare of the of everyone else in Pyongyang. We know he killed his little brother and his uncle to keep power to himself so he probably does not give didly squat his fellow citizens. But action and reaction are only equal and opposite in theoretical physics, not in missile technology. The United States really does have 5,000 nuclear warheads in its arsenal. So Mr. Kim may want check with President Assad of Syria and his now more or less defunct air force after the US Tomahawk Missiles, or the so-called caliphate of the Islamic States after Mr. Trumps Mother of All Bombs fell on their rat holes in Afghanistan. Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump may have basically the same haircuts but they are not really brothers in arms.
Rev. Alfred Munda SamForay
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