The Changed Face Of Sierra Leone
I have decided to document my observations and comment about Sierra Leone after 23 years. I am doing this today, (Tuesday, 03 February 2004) three weeks after my return, so that I am not too emotionally negative soon after I came back to England feeling very distressed at what I saw there or too complacent much later.
I will title this article "The Changed Face Of Sierra Leone." I was nervously excited to return home. When I got there it was a far cry from my last visit in July 1980. At that time most things were in good condition, for example, streetlights met international standards. Now there are no streetlights anywhere to be seen. Even the street lighting columns were absent.
On the whole, it was good to return home (for Christmas and New Year) after 23 years away. I was happy that there was no sign of starvation. In general I was very sad to witness for myself the reported problems that people are facing.
Apart from the fact that I missed very close relatives and friends, I was most disappointed about the persistent water problems and to see very many young people without employment and just 'hustling' to survive.
I agree with many people who said that, "everything is a priority here" (referring to the shattered infrastructure; desperate environmental issues; terrible roads; dreadful water supply; appalling electricity, et cetera). I believe that Sierra Leone lacks development but a lot can be done in the short term. One person said, "Sierra Leone is crying, Sierra Leone is dying". Others said, "Sierra Leone is messed up"; "development is not possible in Sierra Leone because the government, Local as well as National, are so ineffectual" and "corruption is still a big issue".
THE ENVIRONMENTI felt welcome and fairly unthreatened, however I was intimidated by the methods used by the many people persistently 'hustling'. This makes some people feel unsafe. I was struck most by the way people responded to the adverse situation but disheartened by the fact that so many are forced to begging or engaged in very petit street trading all over the city to survive. I am encouraged to observe that the general public are still kind, friendly and helpful. However, pollution from exhaust fumes is seriously damaging to public health. Government need to tackle the rubbish that piles up on roads and drains.
There are too many 'traders' and young people hanging around with nothing to do. Competent government will see that there is proper planning for commercial and residential areas. Roads need to be clean and tidy if there is not to be an epidemic soon. Government don't seem to have any strategy, or power to tackle unplanned building on our once attractive hills and mountains. Visually, this makes the country look unsightly.
WATERIt is essential that the water supply facility is upgraded for the future and damaged water pipes mended promptly to help maintain the pressure for consistent supply.
EMPLOYMENTOne of the key problems, which has to be addressed, is employment. People must have proper jobs and those in jobs are entitled to consistently expect fair and prompt payment for their labour. Many workers are not paid on time. Unless workers are regularly paid in a timely manner, the workforce will be more inclined to become corrupt. To tackle corruption government must first tackle the causes of corruption. This is illustrated by the fact that officials openly ask for bribes, which is particularly worrying in respect of air travel and state security.
ELECTRICITYMost of the time there is no consistent electricity. Homes and businesses receive electricity intermittently. This problem needs determined government attention.
HOUSINGPeople still live in shacks under appalling conditions. The devastation of property during the war is massive. Low cost housing is urgently needed nationwide to ease the congestion in Freetown.
TRANSPORTATIONTo say that transport is very difficult is an understatement. When Mrs Lulu Wright wrote about the horrendous traffic situation some time ago, I was optimistic that the government will respond positively to address this enormous problem people face. In January 2004, it is still a disaster. Even a minor emergency would trap people and put lives at risk.
In summary, I believe that Sierra Leone is in serious crisis. There is stability, some post war re-construction but no real development. I saw a significant downward shift in the management of the country's human, material and economic resources.
I was disillusioned by the local and national government who hold ultimate responsibility for Sierra Leone, especially as this government was elected with great promise and support. I also now wonder if they have the capability or necessary skills to deal with the problems of the country. Some people have said that the government needs a complete overhaul.
Like many people, I wonder if there are still negative external influences making things difficult for our governments to make development possible.
I also wonder how people in government feel when they see the many issues facing our country. I honestly can't see how anyone can claim to be governing Sierra Leone in this condition. I have to agree with those who claim that "the current politicians in Sierra Leone don't have the country at heart."
People need to see development and improvement in their lives. To move forward, I, in common with many voices I heard, require committed Sierra Leonean leadership. Policies aimed specifically at the development and benefit of the entire country are also essential. We must have Lt. Col. Andrew Juxon-Smith's example of honesty, integrity and discipline as a foundation to build on. Only once we obtain that kind of leadership, will peace and prosperity prevail in Sierra Leone.
I am extremely grateful and say thank you to everyone for holding the fort and everyone who helped to make my home visit lovely. I will, with others, continue to pray for our beloved homeland. I pray for much needed, much better living conditions that people hope to get and deserve through development of value to the whole country if Sierra Leone is not to plunge into another tragedy.
Finally, as I believe that Sierra Leone is potentially the richest country in the world, blessed with more resources than other countries of its size and population, we pray for forgiveness for those responsible for unnecessarily inflicting pain and suffering on God's blessed people whilst looting the nation's great wealth. We must also pray for committed leadership to take our beloved Sierra Leone forward in Unity, Freedom and Justice.
Ronald Andrew Lisk-Carew
Tuesday, 03 February 2004