By Khadija Mansaray
We have a very beautiful country, fertile soil, abundant rain, rich minerals, natural harbour and more. Our population is about five million yet with all this we are one of the poorest countries in the world.
Why is Sierra Leone poor amid all the riches it has been blessed with? The answer: The people. We are unpatriotic, dishonest and hate each other. The fundamental values, or lack of them, ensure that the country remains poor. Some may say this is a harsh conclusion but the evidence speaks for itself.
Good governance is anathema to us. We continuously elect bad governments and ensure they stay in power for too long. We cry for law and order but detest discipline and make enemies of those who enforce it. We frustrate good people. We fight them, accuse them, humiliate them and if possible physically harm them. The Sierra Leonean sense of right and wrong is completely twisted. We steal from our bosses and think it is ok because they have more than we do, they are wicked and evil if they decide to discipline us.
|Freetown, Sierra Leone|
A woman finds her husband cheating and she is unreasonable not to have expected it. The Sierra Leonean way of life is to rip the other off. Honesty and integrity are seen as weaknesses and not virtues. From the top to the bottom to cheat and lie is normal. In the markets we fiddle the meat scales, we dent the measuring cups, we add other substances to Gari and palm oil. We lie and cheat at every opportunity and all of this is acceptable business practice.
In management they talk about win-win situations but the Sierra Leonean only knows win-loss. We are always out to get one up on the other. Using and hurting people to get ahead is ok and sometimes even applauded. We completely abuse goodwill and shamelessly say ‘nar wey you fool’
Exploiting people in vulnerable situations is also ok. We have no respect for poor people and treat our domestic servants in the most appalling manner. We feel we have the right to verbally abuse poor people just because we have given them some food and shelter. We do a small good deed and follow it with numerous acts of cruelty and wickedness and expect to be loved for it. What we do to poorer relatives living with us and the so called ‘men pekin’ – ward – is disgraceful. We turn them into slaves for our children. We deny them the opportunities that would make them progress. We verbally, physically and even sexually abuse them and we scream ingratitude when they walk away.
We waste our energies on the silliest prejudices ever. Every group of Sierra Leonean thinks they are better than the other and that only they should progress. We make it a mission to hinder the progress of others. In institutions – academic or otherwise – we seek to further the interest of our own only. We believe that good things should only come to certain people and woe betides someone we look down on rise to a certain status or position. We scoff and laugh and fervently pray that they fall from grace so we can justify our prejudices. We have not yet learned that a humble beginning is no crime and that the people we should admire are the ones who achieve in spite of poverty. We are hung up on status and do the most disgraceful things to achieve it.
We are callous and heartless. We never really cared about the war and the sufferings of people until it came to our doorstep. Yes we were quite happy to keep partying in Freetown until our homes were burnt down too. Until we realized that our sons could be abducted too, our daughters could be raped and our husbands killed and that being elite was not going to save us. We all pretend that all the evil things in the war were done by rebels. But we know the homes of the privileged were swept clean by their neighbours, friends and family who moved in when the rebels left. How many of us lucky to have our homes untouched then proceeded to buy goods we knew were obviously stolen. The ‘item’ became commonplace in Freetown. The streets were flooded with stolen goods and it was ok. We were buying looted goods like they were going out of fashion.
In the aftermath of the war security became an issue and checkpoints sprang up all over the place. Now we had power over everyone. Now was time to humiliate our wealthy and snobbish neighbours. Get them down their cars and make them walk, search them in the most humiliating manner and let them know they were at our mercy. How many people did we point as rebels or collaborators because of personal vendettas, grudges or just plain envy? Those of us fortunate to escape to Guinea or Gambia, on our return we embarked on the most vicious witch-hunt ever. Everyone one left behind was a collaborator and must pay for it. To hang the collaborator became our mission. We give the impression that all rapes were committed by rebels but how many of our “respectable” men abused the women who came to seek shelter in their homes. How many displaced men abused their fellow displaced who were more vulnerable?
The Sierra Leonean is hungry for power. And it is a power to suppress and oppress the other especially the vulnerable. We are happiest when we oppress others. The teacher with the cane taking out his frustrations on a pupil, the manager with the promotion that beautiful girl wants, the lecturer with the marks yet another beautiful girl wants, the officer who allocates market space, the government minister with the lucrative contracts, even the school prefect. The list is endless and it’s all about power and exploitation.
We’ve perfected gossip and turned it into a national pastime. A person decides they've had enough of being overweight and opts for a healthy life style and lose weight. They become fit and slim and we say they have HIV/AIDS. I have never seen a people who rejoice at others’ misfortunes like we do. A woman is widowed and we smirk. A man abandons his wife and kids and we jump for joy. A family loses their home and we’re happy and laugh because now they shall suffer like us. We openly make fun of disabled people. We rejoice when people suffer loss or misfortune and cannot bear to see others happy and successful. We can’t help ourselves; instead we have to bring them down.
Our tendency to bury our head in the sand would be hilarious if it weren't so serious. All of our leaders are good it’s the people around them who mess things up. Our husbands are not uncontrollable perverts it’s the women out there desperate to get them. Our uncle can afford that swanky car despite his meager salary because his boss made a generous payout last Christmas. Our beautiful 21-year-old daughter is not dating that short and balding 56-year-old for his money. It’s the devil in the bush who takes the Downs Syndrome child away. The state of denial makes it easier for us to turn a blind eye to everything.
Then we come to the diaspora. You think we would learn something instead we take our wickedness to another level. The blatant exploitation and lack of regard for others becomes even worse. You would have thought the loss of status and the cleaning and care jobs would have taught us to appreciate people. But no! You would think the discipline we are forced to practice in our jobs and day-to-day activities would become ingrained. Again no! The speed with which we revert to type when among our own is phenomenal. We turn up late at parties, hardly give presents, talk down to people helping behind the bar, leave the toilets in a mess, steal what we can and go home. We really are a bunch of savages. We are among the world’s greatest litterbugs. The annual Fourah Bay-Foulah Town Outing in UK attracts the best and worst of our society. Whilst it brings us all together we leave the beaches in such a state it’s a wonder they don’t ban us. We litter with impunity failing to realise that is likely to be one of our own black brother or sister cleaning the beach the next day. How would we feel if we turned up at our cleaning jobs and met that same kind of filth? Yet we go on about how filthy other races are.
Our regard for the institution of marriage is a joke. We teach our daughters chastity at 13 and encourage them to be home-breakers when they turn 20. And now we have Facebook, a brand new platform to show how ugly we can get. While other communities use it more positively we do our usual thing. We bully and abuse.
But we have two good things. We are warm and hospitable to foreigners. We welcome them and make them feel at home. The Sierra Leonean will open his heart and home to anyone. We also have a very high religious tolerance. The Sierra Leonean will kill you for your property, your wife or your money but never ever for your religion. Although that itself begs the question, do we really care about God?
Every Sierra Leonean reading this knows we need to embrace the good and let go of the bad. But the question is: are we ready to change??!!
Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday