Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sierra leoneans Endure Tough Christmas

The Agenda for Fuel
After a full year of President Ernest Bai Koroma's Agenda for Prosperity, the majority of Sierra
Leoneans, a people faced with the highest rate of inflation in West Africa  have had to endure a very tough Christmas, bombarded on all sides by unreasonably high prices of  basic goods and a shortage of fuel that almost paralyzed vehicular movement in the mineral rich West African country. A rich land filled with excruciating poverty.

While 2012 became a hopeful year for Sierra Leone with the reelection of President Koroma and his promise of an Agenda for Prosperity, 2013 was a bitter year for the majority of Sierra Leoneans. The massive purge of government offices of state employees viewed as not loyal to the President's party the All People's congress (APC) has created a class of new poor as APC supporters with dubious academic credentials are relocated from the diaspora and given prime government positions, while veteran public employees and civil servants are dismissed with reckless abandon, without regard to the number of years of experience or the amount of monies spent over the years on their development and training. These square pegs in round holes situation have just aggravated the situation of increased public inefficiencies and led to a bloated government bureaucracy remarkable only for the degree of corruption within its ranks.

When former opposition presidential aspirant and political turncoat Usu Boie Kamara was rewarded for his defection with the trade ministry, many Sierra Leoneans were jubilant, as he had portrayed himself as a man with considerable business experience who had all the knowledge to get the trade sector back on track in the country. Unfortunately the fuel shortages of the holidays and the generally chaotic trade sector has revealed Usu Boie to be just another African politician who talks the talk, but fails to walk the walk. In his defense though he can argue that in the midst of such entrenched corruption and grab for all, no one man can disturb the gravy train that the Koroma clan feeds on. However, every man has an option. So for now Usu Boie has been revealed as just another bogus knight with a chink in his armor. His performance does not help rumors that he is planning to run for APC flagbearer.
Christmas at the Petrol Station

2013 turned out to be a particularly bad year for the international reputation of Sierra Leone. Following on an earlier Al Jazeera investigation scandal that had exposed petty corruption in the highest ranks of the Sierra Leone government, the international corruption watchdog, Transpancy International, accorded the country with the accolade of "country with the highest reported rate of bribery in the world," a dubious distinction which the country's officials strenuously denied, even though 95% of adult Sierra Leoneans have been forced to pay bribes in cash or in kind at a certain point in their lives, including the President's golden nosed boys who were denying the massive scale of local bribery. One Sierra Leonean noted that these people were talking as if they were ostriches with heads buried in the sand.

While the bribery denial was gathering momentum, the Deputy Minister of Education tried to get a student to use her body as a bribe for international scholarship. Luring her to a secluded location, the Minister, Mahmoud Tarawallie, violently raped the school girl who was brave enough to rush to a police station all bloody. In a knee jerk reaction the minister was summarily dismissed, while pro-government journalist David Tam-Baryoh used his monologue radio program to eviscerate the character of the student victim. Many people who had held the journalist in high regard lost respect for him after his insane statements against the rape victim. He appeared as just another opportunist with a pen and a microphone.

As if things were not bad enough, the new Special Assistant to the President, a character called Dr. Sylvia Blyden who just a few years ago was the lead journalistic crusader against the reported ineptitude of the Koroma adminstration, filling her tabloid with juicy details of Presidential sexcapades, now decided to use her newly minted position to harass journalists she had over the years disagreed with and harangue them about seditious libel laws. Vowing a sanitization of journalists in the country, the President's office has colluded with the country's notoriously malleable judiciary to embark on a campaign of intimidation of the few journalists who have resisted the sycophantic pull of the Koroma journalistic purse. Jornalists are now not only being threatened, but they are now routinely locked up and either refused bail or have ridiculously high amounts set for bail.

Most unfortunately, the country's police which the previous Kabba government had spent hundred of thousands of dollars to modernize are now the errand boys in the campaign of intimidation that State House has recently unleashed on opposition figures and journalists in the country. In the previous year an eminent opposition lawyer and a once close political ally of the President, Charles Margai, was detained and publicly humiliated for fighting over land that had been forcefully grabbed by the president's wife and for threatening to use local hunters to defend him and his intersts. The main opposition party candidate in the 2012 elections Julius Maada Bio,  a former military ruler of the country had his house and office raided on at least two occasions on the pretext of looking for weapons.

To compound the bad image of the country further, funds allocated by the GAVI Alliance, a branch of the Gates Foundation concerned with immunization in developing countries was squandered by health ministry officials in a blatant case of stealing that shocked the international community, many of whom could not fathom the caliber and mentality of health officials that would steal funds meant to immunize children in a country with one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the world. To further the debacle, the country's inept Anti Corruption Commission, the worst corruption fighting agency in Africa failed to get a conviction.
Agenda for Prosperity

However, the worst blow to Sierra Leone in 2013 came with he decision by the American bilateral aid agency Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to not even bring up the Sierra Leone aid Compact for a vote, citing entrenched corruption in the country and the fact that President Koroma was just paying lip service to the fight against corruption in the country while his minions were fattening themselves on the public largess. This insane corruption led the country to lose over 500 million dollars of free grant money and technical assistance that could have been used to revitalize power and electricity supplies in the country.

The real tragedy of the MCC compact debacle is that while many people feel that it is President Koroma's reputation that has suffered a hit, little do they realize that the real cost of the loss of this great opportunity will be borne by the people who will continue to drink water from contaminated sources and continue to sleep in darkness, due to the simple fact that a few of their country men think that public service is an excuse to steal. The fact that just a year or two ago, unsanitary water supply led to the outbreak of a very aggressive form of cholera that ended many lives is long forgotten in a country in which daily survival rather than history is the main source of history.
Yams White No 444

As always happens in Sierra Leone, it is the musicians that have become the main voice against the insane corruption that has gripped the country. Two Christmas hits from popular musicians Emmerson Bockarie and Innocent detail the extent of the destitution that has gripped an already poor people. To make light of adversity, the hardship in the country is now jokingly refer to as 444. In an act of provocation and a public display of callousness and lack of empathy, the Special Assistant to the President now rides in a red Mercedes Benz with Licence Plates 444, indirectly reminding the people that they are the ones feeling the hardship not her and they can as well as go to hell.

Sierra Leoneans are however a resilient people who have survived many years and forms of hardship. As a friend of mine recently said, "kaka long tay e go cut." As I gently reminded him, "befo e cut, backsie go suffer"

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