The Sierra Leone Bicentenary Trust

Registered Charity No: 700447 England

My 2011 Reflections on Sierra Leone

IS SIERRA LEONE TAKING THE RIGHT STEPS FORWARD?
by Ronald Andrew Lisk-Carew
Chair, Sierra Leone Bicentenary Trust
Registered Charity No: 700447 England
FRIDAY, 24 JUNE, 2011

I promised to share honest feedback following my visits to Sierra Leone to help inform everyone interested as regards where the Government are doing a great job and where there is still room for improvement.

Since mama “SaLone” has sentimental value for many of us, we are drawn there or feel we can’t abandon the land of our birth. But, frankly, in this 50th year of our independence, you have to consciously decide to adapt in order to survive in the country, where there is very little sign of regular law and order. Violence and intimidation happens continuously even by police officers. Therefore, it is fair to say it is a case of “survival of the fittest”. The environment is also being damaged by sustained littering. People should be educated not to throw rubbish about but more bins need be provided. A “primitive existence” is what one European visitor called life in Sierra Leone.

My latest SaLone visit was a magical experience. Because of the length of time I spent (nearly 7 months) this visit brings back very happy memories of my childhood days. I was able to revisit memorable places like my Fullah Town, Magazine Cut, Brookfields and of course Kissy Brook neighbourhoods, my Trinity Church and Primary School, my Government Secondary Technical School, as well as various other churches and communities.

As Sierra Leone celebrates 50 years of independence, firstly, huge congratulations to All Works Of Life (AWOL Sierra Leone) for saving the day regarding the 50th Anniversary Celebrations. Following the astonishing failure of the government appointed official committee, this voluntary organisation did as much as they could magnificently, signifying that we have capable and dedicated Sierra Leoneans.

In 2011, “50 years forward - celebrating a new Sierra Leone” we salute those who have made the effort in past years and the present for our beloved independent country, to do right, to improve the lives of citizens. To these, I say a big thank you.

I am trying my best to write positively about my country but honestly, there is little I can say, looking objectively at the situation, that one can be excited about. For example, child labour / exploitation are prevalent in the country. No doubt the economic crises, adult unemployment and poverty are contributing to this particular social problem. I am therefore a little concerned about the big challenge particularly of youth unemployment.

Arguably, all in all, the general public are reasonably happy with President Ernest Bai Koroma. Unfortunately, people are unsure about the rest of the government players.

It is shocking how unfairly customers are treated by traders, especially a large number of Lebanese and Indian wholesalers and retailers and there is no one to complain to. Stories are that their attitude is mainly disrespectful, unhelpful to their customers and employees. Goods are sold with no guarantee/warranty, returns are forbidden and refunds are not given for faulty goods.

Standards are definitely very low in Sierra Leone. The court system demonstrates this very well. Courts are usually overcrowded, don’t start on time, Magistrates and lawyers behave very unprofessionally and the maxim of “justice delayed is justice denied” does not hold in Sierra Leone where cases are regularly adjourned willy-nilly several times for no good reason. One notorious Magistrate regularly turns up around 2pm, repeatedly announces he will rise around 3pm saying “and no power on earth will stop me” as lawyers make incredibly silly jokes with each other, amusing each other whilst the Magistrate chews gum and chats on his mobile phone. As a result, landlords face unnecessary delays to legitimately evict tenants.

In the streets one can observe that the very poor are struggling but life does not seem hard when you see the many jollification. Sierra Leoneans happily celebrate at every opportunity. For theatre, I look forward to trips on a ferry from Kissy Dock Yard to Lungi, “Alhaji Ferry” is truly entertaining.

However, it was a real reassurance to see many police recruits in groups patrolling the streets during festive times making communities feel secure.

The scale of the problem facing Sierra Leone is diabolical; especially the behaviour of individuals who break the law with impunity and know all they have to do is bribe the police, Magistrate or Court Official or call on their political masters to intervene, thereby meddling with “justice” and eroding public confidence in the judiciary.

Basic services like waste collection cannot be provided but Mayor Herbert Williams is striving to do things uniquely difficult after years of neglect. Progress is slow but he is right to strongly urge people to only trade at designated markets and so keep the capital city clean and tidy. A naturally beautiful country but Freetown is not clean. Waste is dumped everywhere and anywhere. It is not surprising that shocking mountains of garbage causes health and safety issues for people, particularly after “Operation Pick Plastic” cleaning Saturdays. The City Council should put more effort into organising garbage collection, after inspiring the citizenry to work together for the common good.

People are choking to death from pollution daily. Roads are dangerously overcrowded and travel is a gruelling experience. Travelling through the congested city is hellishly unsafe. One problem that slows down the traffic is broken down unroadworthy vehicles. I therefore cannot agree with those who say motorbikes (Okadas) are the most dangerous form of transport. Many rely on them as a quick means of transport. Traffic jams are also partly caused by road blocks whenever there is a funeral, match-past or when the President, Vice-President and other political figures are expected to pass through.

Other options like recycling could be explored. One option is to use organic waste from household waste to fertilise crops to help deal with the garbage problem. Communities must be encouraged to separate their refuse, thereby reducing the amount of disposable waste.

The safety of the travelling public in particular is seriously compromised by the lax security regime at Lungi Airport too, where police and customs officers openly ask to be bribed and accept bribes in plain view of everyone.

I regret to say that corruption is still rife in Sierra Leone. When challenged, many people are hostile and aggressive, responding that staff do not earn enough and they have to pay escalating prices for goods and services.

If you want a healthy environment - complete peace and quiet, Freetown is not for you. They call this a vibrant environment. It is disappointingly very noisy when you first arrive. This anti-social behaviour can be unbearable especially when many people are too frightened to complain.

One cannot sleep at night due to excessive noise pollution in some areas. We are talking 100’s of decibels. The loud noise from unregulated music at all hours of the day and night is a real concern and can be seriously disturbing and harmful.

A clear example is music from one club with massive speakers outside their building, with turned up volume of the set to the maximum, so loud, it makes my glass windows vibrate. This causes incredible distress which sadly the police are not interested in and the City Council are ambivalent to this problem when asked to help.

There appears to be no planning laws to regulate hoped-for protection of the rain forest. Buildings are subsequently erected in violation of planning laws.

I don’t think it is all bad news. Some improvements can be seen. One positive aspect is the new housing developments by NASSIT (National Social Security and Insurance Trust) that have sprung up in several areas including Goderich, Waterloo, Makeni and Kenema.

Another major improvement in Freetown is that many streets in the West End have received a facelift. Clearly, there is more work to be done to repair and maintain many roads and pavements. Better roads and safer footpaths can only be good for the people and for investment.

We must build on these achievements. The main area of improvement in 2009, was the increased electricity supply. It appears no provision was made for the dry season, to take into account there will be no rainfall to supply water to the Bumbuna hydroelectric plant, resulting in a shortage of electricity this year. Recycling of the water supply would solve that problem.

Considering where we are coming from, I believe there has been progress since 2007, a clear choice now for people of Sierra Leone in terms of who gets their vote in 2012. The Bia Koroma government were trusted in 2007 and we must acknowledge they have succeeded in improving some things in Sierra Leone. In response, we need to cautiously give President Bai Koroma the thumbs up and have faith and confidence in his administration.

Remember, some newspapers are biased, economic with the truth and some publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information about the government in office.

We must remember that President Bai Koroma had his work cut out when he took over leadership of our country. Also, that some newspapers focus on negativity; are economic with the truth and some publish critical, inaccurate, misleading or distorted information routinely. That’s why people must trust their own judgement of progress.

As mentioned before, based on my observations, actual reforms and the tangible evidence thus far seen in the country since 2007, give me faith for the future. I feel the present government represent hope and deserve credit for their effort to consolidate and sustain development in Sierra Leone, even though there is still work to be done. I believe Sierra Leone is moving forward in small ways and steps are being taken in the right direction.

If we care about Sierra Leone; we want the best for ourselves and our community, it is our patriotic duty to vote in the 2012 elections. Vote for hope, for continued progress, for health care, better policies, e.g., on anti-corruption, genuine opportunities and determined, strong leadership for our country.

Looking forward, I am inspired by Dr’s Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Modupe Taylor-Pearce. I have a dream, that one day, this great nation of Sierra Leone will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. I am confident and pray that this nation will be transformed into a true oasis of Unity, Freedom and Justice, making it impossible for evil to succeed there.

In spite of the financial difficulties and frustrations of the moment, with determined effort, “we shall overcome”. It is also worth remembering those who have gone before us. As a Christian, I believe that we will all be reunited one day.

I hope this article will encourage all to redouble our effort for the sake of Sierra Leone. Please share this, my latest article on Mama SaLone, with your family and friends. Please, please encourage your daughters and sons and all who are eligible to vote to get out there and Vote in the 2012 elections!!!! YOUR VOTE AND EVERY VOTE IS VERY IMPORTANT! Lest we forget, we will be right back where we came from. I believe that even though we are a "quiet minority" we can surely make a significant difference by exercising our right to vote. If there was ever a time to exercise our right, it is now -- Please Vote, We cannot become complacent.

A big thank you to the few individuals who gave me good advice and support. I very much appreciate all the help from these people particularly regarding my affairs in Sierra Leone. It is true to say that the projects were hard work for me, but it was a labour of love. With reference to my family land case, the fight for justice continues.

Finally, as Canon Dr. Modupe Taylor-Pearce inspiringly said on the occasion of the Transform Sierra Leone Day Conference, organized by the Sierra Leone Prayer Network UK at Sheffield, England, on Saturday, 18th June, 2011:

The Lord has changed Sierra Leone;
The Lord is changing Sierra Leone;
The Lord will change Sierra Leone.

I would commend the focus on Attitudinal Change bearing in mind the many challenges facing the nation. We all hope and pray that an amazing transformation will be realised in our lifetime.

Overall, I am optimistic and can safely say the process of change has begun.

Continue to have a Blessed and Beautiful 50th Anniversary Celebration year!!! I love Sierra Leone. The country of my birth and where I grew up has much to offer. This land has plenty of character and history that needs conserving and preserving. This beautiful country has great potential to further the tourist industry.

By Ronald A. Lisk-Carew