PONDER MY THOUGHTS
‘TIS A SEASON OF GOODWILL: MOVE OVER SCROOGE, MERRY CHRISTMAS
I had wanted to write about the many happenings of the past few weeks. I indeed thought of a few -the Lumumba speech, the concerns of the private sector, the spate of strike actions or threats of strikes, the “Hands off our girls” campaign etc., but thought it would be more apt to end the year on a high and write about this season of goodwill.
This is a season of goodwill but the period preceding this has been anything but. There is no doubt that politics has dominated the year, perhaps understandably. We had roller coaster elections that culminated in a Presidential runoff and ultimately a new government is in power.
The government, taking over from a party that had been in power for ten years is trying to get to grips with the difficult task of running a poverty-stricken country with empty coffers. The transition has not been easy and as we get to the end of the year, it is getting increasingly obvious that we are still in the doldrums. The usual things accompanying the ushering in of a new government have happened.
The expected changes in Ministers, apart, there have also been changes at the top in a host of government positions and positions in parastatals, government agencies and State-owned enterprises. The massive ouster of top government functionaries from the previous administration from their positions has not gone without criticism, with the opposition claiming that government laws, regulations and procedures have been thrown out the window and the cleaning up has gone further than before to include people at the managerial and sub-managerial levels. Political and tribal loyalties, not qualifications or efficiency have been the watchword in these appointments, the opposition claims. Some government supporters have not unsurprisingly said- “What goes around, comes around”. Impartial observers have warned against a political tit for tat in the government decision making process on issues and civil society in particular has been concerned about several missteps by the government.
Impartial observers have said we are still practising the politics of “majoritarialism”, which divides people arithmetically into a majority and a minority and saying that the minority must yield to the majority and opined that this is particularly dangerous in a society like ours where parties are mainly formed along tribal and regional lines. There intrusion of politics into most spheres of human activity still does exist, they claim.
It is early days yet to judge the performance of this government. If one however has to have a silver lining among all the doom and gloom, the instilling of fiscal discipline, resulting in plugging leaks, operationalizing the single treasury account and other measures taken by the NRA have resulted in markedly increased revenue, keeping the nation afloat even with little donor aid. The recent successes with the IMF and concomitant assistance from development partners will undoubtedly boost the economy. The government’s ambitious free and quality education programme, whatever its initial flaws has got to be applauded. The Ministers with stewardship over the Education Ministry appear hardworking and very committed and the government has indicated its commitment to fund this. Other forms of assistance have also been forthcoming.
Though the right utterances have been made by other Ministries, one has yet to see a very marked departure from the usual. The concern about how we will generate revenue to meet our ambitious social programmes is still a point of concern especially with the poor performance of revenue generating Ministries. Mining revenue has dropped by 16%, there are no indications we are about to have a massive boost in fisheries revenue, planned developments in the agricultural arena are still at a nascent stage and the rhetoric about tourism has not been matched with increased revenue from this sector. Many in the private sector are restless, complaining about high taxation, resurgence af administrative barriers to doing business and business confidence being at a low ebb. The year 2019 will obviously make all of these much clearer as we start seeing evidence of whether the implementation of policies by the new government will bring home the bacon. The jury is still out.
It is however disconcerting that the divisions in the country still continue to be accentuated as we approach year’s end. Everybody blames everybody else. The opposition APC claims that the government’s divisive politics of exclusion is splitting the country down the middle. They cite human rights abuses and intimidation of political opponents. The government claims the opposition APC does not want to accept they are out of power and are undermining its efforts. They claim they inherited empty coffers mainly because of the “irresponsible profligate spending by the previous government” and that all of this will be made clear with the deliberations of the pending commissions of enquiry.
Social media has worsened the political divide situation. Fake news, the preponderance of self -styled social media audio commentators and trigger-happy android phone photographers abound. Most of these have done irreparable damage to unwitting victims. On the positive side social media has also unearthed many a devilish plan to defraud the state.
On the entertainment front media groups like AYV and personalities like Zainab Sheriff have dabbled into hitherto unknown areas like “Big sister” and other entertainment shows. The spate of rape and child molestation cases confounds understanding and any sense of decency. Thankfully, the women have stood up and robustly they have. Organisations and people like Asma James and others have helped bring the consciousness of this issue to the fore. The first lady has been in the avant garde of the “Hands off our girls” campaign and should be applauded for this.
Meanwhile, whatever the cause of our current hardship, public opinion is that things are difficult and this period before Christmas has been especially difficult for people. With money in short supply and prices rocketing for basic goods, the enthusiasm generated for the yuletide period appears to have evaporated.
To compound the misery the Sierra Leone Police has come up with some heavy-handed regulations for the Christmas period, as they say, “in order to guarantee the peace, public safety and security of our communities”. Some say this is a real killjoy. It is unlawful for any person or group of persons to sound or play loud music noise after 10:00 p.m, engage in any street processions or carnivals or for any person to fire any gun or throw any firework, rocket or missile to the injury or annoyance of others. Saloon bars are reminded that their official hour of closing is 11:00 p.m. It is also unlawful for anyone to drive whilst drunk or under the influence of alcohol or drive an unregistered vehicle.
These may sound heavy handed but the Police claim these are necessary for our peace and tranquility, although they will be a bit circumspect in certain areas. Many who would normally shout “Die day?, Die nor day” may actually discover that “die day!”.
Scrooge? One would think that the constraints may force us to be scrooges over this Christmas. Ebenezer Scrooge is the protagonist of Charles Dicken’s novella, A Christmas Carol. At the beginning of the novella, Scrooge is a cold-hearted miser who despises Christmas. His last name has come into the English language as a byword for miserliness or misanthrophy. The tale of his redemption by the three Ghosts of Christmas (Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present, and Ghost of Christmas Yet to come) has become a defining tale of the Christmas holiday in the English-speaking world. Like the character, a scrooge is a selfish person who doesn’t like giving or spending.
Whatever the constraints, many Sierra Leoneans will endeavour to enjoy their Christmas and not be chased by the Ghost of Christmas present. The usual collection boxes in shops and bars with small slots at the top for your donations are still prominent-it really does not matter if what they wish you is “Happy Christams”-the free education will ultimately help! It does not matter of their refrain in the carol singing is “no wereh, no wereh”-especially if they are hungry, instead of “Noel, Noel” as long as they sing to the tune of “The first Noel”. We have a giving spirit and if the “Kaka debul” says “Ar go fodom”, don’t allow him to fall down-give him some money! Boy, Christmas is still a busy period-even “old farts” like us have been busy. I have had to chair two events and carry out two preaching assignments on top of juggling my way through various weddings and other festivities. Luckily, I am alert and fit, only needing the oil to be changed once in a while! Many people are much busier.
Many have already started enjoying themselves and judging by the raft of outings and social programmes, many will enjoy themselves, even if as usual January promises to be a very long month, when funding will be severely constrained. This has prompted one social media commentator to write- “No woman fashioned against my December salary shall prosper”-obviously a misogynist! We will still enjoy our Christmas whatever the circumstances.
For those who may not find it convenient however to enjoy their Christmas-and there are many, I have a little sermon for you.
The overwhelming message of Christmas is triumphant and joyful. The carols are very upbeat about Christmas and sadly somewhat unrealistic. We know from carols like ‘Away in a manger,’ which pretends that Jesus never cried. Sometimes we get a little less than the whole truth. But in reality, consider the following:
1. How did Mary feel when she was told that she was going to have a baby? (Terrified, lonely)
2. How did Joseph feel when he was told that his betrothed was to have baby? (Betrayed)
3. How did they both feel when they were told that there was no room at the inn? (Disappointed, depressed, poor, no choices)
4. How did Mary and Joseph feel when they heard Herod was after Jesus? (Afraid)
The message of the real Christmas is not that everything is great. There is nothing magical about having a baby out of wedlock, not getting a room in which to give birth, being away from home, fleeing to Egypt. This is helpful because we know that this is real life. For so many people Christmas is not a happy time, for some people it is positively the worst time of the year. Fortunately, the message of the real Christmas is that in the midst of the difficult circumstances of life there is real hope. A Sierra Leone without a sense of community is a Sierra Leone without love, and we as Sierra Leoneans are called to redeem and transform this country.
Let us all enjoy our Christmas in our different ways and reflect on the coming of the “Prince of peace” as we hope for a much better 2019. My prayer for you this Christmas is:
God of hope, who brought love into this world,
be the love that dwells between us.
God of hope, who brought peace into this world,
be the peace that dwells between us.
God of hope, who brought joy into this world,
be the joy that dwells between us.
God of hope, the rock we stand upon,
be the centre, the focus of our lives
always, and particularly during this Christmas period.
Ponder my thoughts.