Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sierra Leone Beyond The Hype



The True World's Best
This week, Argentinian Soccer Maestro Lionel Messi reached another milestone, 76 goals in 2012, breaking Pele's record of 75 goals in a year and solidifying his soccer status as the "World's Best." Messi who is now universally accepted as one of the greatest players that ever touched a football has a status that is based on solid personal achievement. A hardworking, self effacing, quiet and selfless team player, he cultivated his skills on the streets of Argentina before the age of 10 and has not looked back since. He has also largely avoided the scandalous lifestyle that is usually the hallmark of genius and still maintains a relatively modest lifestyle. Messi worked hard for his title, has the scars to prove it and has the skills and goals to show for it.
" Hey I Earned It"
In the little West African nation of Sierra Leone, there is a pretender to Messi's title of "world's best", the nation's white haired middle aged president, Ernest Bai Koroma who has  decided that the best way to seek reelection is not to detail plans to get the country out of the economic quagmire he has sunk it into in four years, but to go around the country masquerading as a soccer maestro with a portly stomach, surrounded by crowds of rowdy supporters and sycophants shouting that he is the "world's best", while dancing to tunes composed by hooligans insulting the female vice presidential candidate of the main opposition party.
Word Best Fake Edition
The irony of the Sierra Leone situation is that the president masquerading as the "world's best," has taken a country on the threshold of economic recovery and turned into an economic basket case in just his first term in office, acquiring in the process massive wealth for himself, his cronies and members of his own immediate and extended family. While the president boasts of making roads and wasting millions on hastily conceived electrification schemes, the people continue to sink deeper into poverty, destitution and misery. The only saving grace for a lot of families in Sierra Leone is that during the drawn out civil war in the 90s, a lot of Sierra Leoneans were able to leave the mayhem behind and find resettlement in Western nations. These migrants or diasporans have become the bedrock and financial backbone of their families back home in many cases. Diasporans, in addition to coping with the high costs of living in the West, have to scrape together their little savings and help their relatives back home with not only consequential things, but even the mere basic necessities of life.
The Koroma Economy
For families without political affiliation and with no benevolent relatives in the diaspora, Sierra Leone today has become an earthly version of hell. Children in these families grow up with mineral, protein and vitamin deficiencies as can be seen by their bow legs, protruded stomachs, brown hairs and gaunt faces. An increase in the price of rice the main source of carbohydrate by over 200% in the years since the "world's best" became president means that most poor families now spend an astonishing 90% of their incomes on food. Children have to drop out of school at an early age to sell cigarettes, ice, cake and other small items on the streets to supplement whatever little income their families can scrape together, to be assured of a daily meal.

While the president's army of sycophantic journalists write in glowing terms about IMF projections about national income growth, most of these pretend intellectuals disregard the fact that national output figures have little impact on the standard of living of people in a country and what truly matters is the distribution of income. While Sierra Leone has seen a reopening of the country's iron ore mines, a rush for the country's valuable diamond deposits, a depletion of its forests for timber and a rape of its rutile and bauxite on a massive scale, only a mere 0.5% percent of people in the country are directly benefiting from this great increase in national output. The main beneficiaries of this whole scale sale of the country are the president, his cronies and top civil servants appointed mostly from his party and his growing circle of sycophants who have no interest in alleviating the suffering of the masses, but are more interested in joining presidential delegations to foreign countries at the furtherance of their own private businesses.

Education, which is the most important ingredient of development has become the main loser in the Koroma economy. Most people in the country can barely scrape together enough for mere survival, let alone have anything left to send their children to colleges. The few scholarships in the country are not distributed by academic academic, but is a tool for political reward. The sad result is that academically brilliant school graduates no longer have an advantage in college access, rather the colleges these days are mostly populated by mediocre students with political affiliations, potentially damaging the future of the country. As the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.

What is so sad about Sierra Leone is that the people in the country have been through so much hell over the last 40 years, that most have accepted poverty as a reality. Families allow those with means to chase their school age daughters and encourage these daughters to engage in every perceivable vice, all in the name of survival. The public statement by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Paul Kamara, that Sierra Leone women were less expensive than chickens was met with a massive outcry, but his statement is symptomatic of the sorry state the country is in and is in no way an indictment of the character of our womenfolk. People have to survive and in the lack of jobs and hope, easy immoral money making has become just another instrument of survival.

Even the much touted free health care in the country has as much credibility as the president being the world's best. Healthcare in Sierra Leone is a tragedy. Hospitals lack everything, from doctors to bandages. Private pharmacies selling fake drugs from Nigeria and China have sprouted all over the place and even where the sick are prescribed the right medication, they end up ingesting fake chalk and clay from these countries. Government run hospitals are death traps and giving birth in any of these institutions is almost akin to committing suicide.

The All Peoples Congress party of Ernest Koroma brought the country to its knees in 23 years of misrule in the old dispensation. In just five years Sierra Leone is now a private asset labeled Koroma. In just five years, the president has gone from a man with above average means to one of the richest leaders in West Africa with mansions and private assets scattered about the country and his cronies engaged in every conceivable get rich scheme in the country and with the national elections just fews days away, any thought by the opposition that this present government will allow free and fair ballots, is a deep misunderstanding of the character of corruption.

The people are fed up and tired of APC's cosmetic development and propaganda, but the cabal in power is not ready nor willing to give up anytime soon and will use every tactic, legal or otherwise to cling on to power. The opposition has to be united, determined and alert, otherwise November 17th is just going to be a big scam that will give chance to the Koroma cartel to take the country to the undertaker for five more years. Hopefully the people will come out and vote.

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