By Alhaji U. N’jai*
I first wrote this piece four years ago in 2018 and represented my introspection on the state of the nation Sierra Leone at 57. It was also a time of great optimism as the nation had just ushered in the new direction government of President Julius Maada Bio. Expectations across the country where high that the new Bio led administration will correct some of the wrongs of the previous governments. It has been my fervent desire that much of the narrative on this piece would have changed for the better in the last four years, but unfortunately except for few areas, it seems to have largely tilted towards the worse. So why has President Bio’s New Direction failed so far in its effort to create meaningful changes in the lives of average Sierra Leoneans. Why has previous governments from Milton Margai, Siaka Stevens, Joseph Momoh, Valentine Strasser, Ahmed Tejan Kabba to Ernest Bai Koroma also failed to do so, and woefully. Why is poverty ‘d gron dry’ and abject food poverty still a major factor in a land of abundant natural resources with a population less than eight million? Why has the country become a place where dreams of young people die and wither out as they grey without realizing them? Why does it seem like we are retrogressing rather than progressing as far as quality of life is concerned? Is it something borne out of the people aka the bad heart? Is it a leadership deficit? Is it that we lack true transformational leadership? Is it widespread greed, lip service and systemic corruption? Is it politics and ethnic polarization? Is it the lack of ideology with our politics? Is it the lack of prioritization of what is important? Is it that we lack patriotism and basic civic responsibilities like integrity, empathy, honesty, mindfulness? Is it the lack of capability and capacity or is it because incompetency is rewarded? Is it because mediocrity has taken center stage and excellence has been marginalized? Is it due to our colonial and neocolonial legacies? Is it because of our perennial dependencies on external donors/investors for our development? Is it that we lack ownership and sustainability plans in our development agenda? Is it our educational curriculum that has not been fully decolonized and domesticated to our needs? I simply do not have the answers, however, to understand the roots of our present-day condition, historical antecedent matters.
On April 27th, 2021, Sierra Leone as a nation turns 61. Celebrations across the country to mark Independence Day have become a usual tradition. There is nothing bad with fellow Sierra Leoneans celebrating Independence. After all, our colonial era began with the British Crown Colony establishment in 1808 and annexation of the entire country through establishment of a British Protectorate in 1896. Colonial era was a period of harsh, crude, and inhuman de-culturation of our people. All forms of resistance including Bai Bureh and many others were met and crushed with heavy force. So, in 1961, Sierra Leone gained independence, thanks in part to our deadly mosquitoes that made it unbearable for the British, and in part to the steadfast endeavors of our many ancestor’s nationalists from across the country, who organized themselves under the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). The country was ushered into Independence by Sir Milton Margai of the SLPP, who was considered a “nice person” and a “good leader” at the time. Mr. Margai, though a nice gentleman then, lacked the transformative vision to carve a unique decolonization direction and national agenda for Sierra Leone beyond the British legacy. As a result, the formation of a genuine national agenda was replaced by political party and regional agenda, which up to date continues to plague national development efforts.
Sixty-one years later, we are as dependent as ever; dependent mentally, psychologically, socially, economically, politically, scientifically, technologically, and in all things considered. Is it Happy free dependence day? Are we as a country Sierra Leone free, politically, economically, and culturally? The argument could be made that we are free politically, in as much as we are ‘freely electing’ and changing governments. This then brings me to the core of why I chose to merely just reflect on the day, what our ancestors had to go through under colonial rule, and how they must be turning around in their graves from our failures and lack of direction to lead our societies to prosperity. I often reflect on this ancestral curse and our inability to completely decolonize ourselves leading to new forms of colonialism, imperialism, slavery, low self-esteem, and reduction to beggar donor driven nations. It was Patrice Lumumba who famously said that “the Belgian’s have granted us (Zaire now Democratic Republic of Congo) political independence on the one hand and the other taken economic independence away from us.” These words hold true to this day, political independence minus economic independence. The question to be asked today is, are we as independent nations politically, culturally, and economically free.? Can we re-write our history with a new paradigm that has Sierra Leone and Africa interests front and center.? If development is modernization minus dependency, can we assert that true development is taking place.?
Let us revisit the case for political independence with regards to the nation state and political dispensation in Sierra Leone. In 1884, 14 European Countries gathered in Berlin to partition Africa among themselves. No African or country was invited. Today European Union (EU) is sending observers to Sierra Leone and other African Elections to make sure that the colonial hegemony continues in the great disguise of democracy. In the psycho-affective realm of funding our elections, economic and cultural emancipation are never the consideration. It simply ensures the colonialists unfettered access and control of the colony’s natural resources and political economy. What we simply have in the last 61 years in Sierra Leone is a kind of old wine in new bottles paradigm and a welcome to neocolonialism, the British Sovereign Club aka Commonwealth club. All aspects of our lives have been and continues to be “Britishmanism” with colonial acculturation to the highest degree. The same colonial education with limited connections to our cultural experience; same old colonial laws and legal systems for a different cultural experience; same economic systems that are largely extractive, exploitative, and geared towards supporting our British Colonial or western societies. There is no emphasis or attempts at economic emancipation from the colonial master or creating opportunities and the conditions for local economic stimulation or boom that creates wealth and thriving healthy society. Rather we have become perennially dependent on donors, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), or World Bank loans, and a whole host of non-governmental organizations, and foreign nations helping us run our country. This foreign domination syndrome is aptly captured by Dr. Y.K. Amoako of the UN Commission for Africa Executive Secretary “Africa is the only region in the world where foreign development paradigms dominate her development process.” Not only does this indicate that Africa’s development process is not “culturally close” to Africans, but also a revelation that African elites are mediocre in both their intellectualizing and their direction of the continent’s progress.”
Indeed, that intellectual mediocrity along with a heavy affinity and taste for the colonial lifestyle has become endemic, permeating all facets of our cultural space. In fact, the nature of westernization and acculturation in Sierra Leone and many other African countries surpasses all regions of the world. Prof. Ali A. Mazrui succinctly describes the nature of westernization in Africa as compared to the Japanese experience, “the nature of westernization in Africa has been very different. Far from emphasizing western productive technology and reducing western lifestyles and verbal culture, Africa has reversed the Japanese order of emphasis. Among the factors which have facilitated this reversal has been the role of the African university as a vehicle of Western influence on African culture.” Yes, the African University and systems of education that emphasizes western culture and lifestyles as superior to the African way has played a huge role. There has been limited emphasis on indigenization or domestication of modernization based on our habits, norms, and value systems. In fact, we have simply handed our colonial masters or the west ownership of knowledge and any form of intellectualization process. Our knowledgebase systems are insufficient, archaic and does not meet modern standards. For any African knowledgebase in Science, Arts, Engineering, Literature, History, Humanities, and the like to be accepted, it must have a colonial master or western validation or seal of approval. We “the colonized” have now been reduced to accepting this as our fate, a kind of status quo that we cannot change. Hence, we remain impotent, disable and unable to effectively change the course of the colonial master. You cannot blame our current leaders for being retrogressive since their minds are still heavily colonized. Colonization has clouded their minds to the extent that they lack the know-how and wherewithal for true sustainable development that requires as in Japan domestication of modernization and indigenization. Hence, the only way out for many is continuous dependence on western nations and ties such as the commonwealth, UN, or Francophone.
We are so colonized that we celebrate our Sierra Leone or African leaders meeting and dining with the Queen of London. African leaders attending Commonwealth summit and dining with Queen is a sucker punch in the face for all Africans, specifically our African ancestors who suffered the wreath of British colonial rule. A colonial loot, the Queen continues to enjoy at the expense of us Africans. The commonwealth has never been common, and it is wealth stolen from Africa, India and others. This is our wealth and must be given back to Africa, India, and all where it was forcibly looted or where we were sheepishly brainwashed with the illusion that human capital development comes with western education as in the elementary school lyrics “we are all going to our classes with clean hands and faces, to pay great attention to what we are told. Or else we shall never be happy and clever; for learning is better than silver and gold.” This lyric represents both a superficial academic assertion and a ploy by the colonialist to loot our gold, silver and diamond in exchange for some western brainwashed education that lacks commerce or entrepreneurship. In essence, we got elitism in place of rural agriculture and feeding ourselves, our silver and gold ended in their hands, and we continue to obey them in a hegemonic master and servant relationship.The relationship should no longer be one of master and colonized. It should be based on equal partnership and not “Laybelleh” relationship. If that relationship must continue, we must take on the leadership. This is no longer time for Queen/royal family and colonial subjects. It’s about complete decolonization and forging our own paths as well as destiny. And decolonization means complete decolonization and not replacing one colonist with another aka China, India or others. Frantz Fanon must be turning around in his grave from the realization that the complete decolonization from the colonizer has not occurred since Wretched of the Earth came out in 1961. Indeed, if Frantz Fanon was alive today, he would have seen an Africa that is largely independent from the colonizer but an Africa still at war with itself captured beautifully in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The colonizer may be gone but the colonized mind is still with us, and we are at war with ourselves. The totality of being a Sierra Leonean and an African will come with decolonization of the mind. This process of decolonization is liberating and aligns the mind to the body physique. We breathe again as Sierra Leoneans with a renewed vigor and sense of purpose to effectively utilize our resources for social good.
The nation state of Sierra Leone still suffers from the residual effects of colonialism and systemic racism that now interestingly intersect with poor leadership, corruption, greed, mediocrity, short sightedness and lack of transformational vision, ethnic based (polarization) politics. Over 130 years of colonialism and systemic racism in Sierra Leone sowed the seeds of self-hate and self-doubt. We all have been conditioned to hate ourselves; to hate our dark skins; to hate ourselves based on imaginary national boundaries of colonial construct. We are Sierra Leoneans, Guineans, Liberians, Gambians, Senegalese, Malians divided by a colonial construct despite strong family and ethnic ties. The Ebola virus disease taught us the hard lesson that we are all connected as a people, but we continue to work in silos and in line with our colonial masters (Sierra Leone with Britain, Liberia with US, and Guinea with France). We cannot get ECOWAS or Mano River Union to work for us and address common issues simply because of colonial allegiances. As a nation state, we practice democracy based on ethnic numbers and self-hate; we elect our political leaders, hire and fire people based on ethnic sentiments and differences; we care less whether our actions hurt others or communities, if we perceive them to be different. We have in effect tied resource allocation to ethnicity or political tribes and at some point, weaponized tribalism as a mechanism of oppressing progressive voices, which have in effect held us as national hostages. As Frantz Fanon, notes “there is always a danger of the nation states in Africa to disintegrate along ethnic lines”. National Consciousness and a National Agenda should be borne out of the concerted action of the people, which embodies the actual aspirations of the people and transforms the state, which depends on exceptionally inventive cultural manifestations for its very existence.
In the post-colonial African states, all aspects of our traditional African value systems have been replaced by the values and even vices of the colonizer and their neo-liberal allies. First, Greed and individual material self-interests replaces the traditional communal sharing systems; Britishmanism, Frenchmanism, and Europeamanisms have become the order of the day. Second, African education systems replaced by a colonial western formal education that has enhanced both academic (Science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, and humanities) and cultural dependency, therefore everything African has to be evaluated and validated from a Eurocentric lens, the culture of dominance and power; This has essentially led to the crave for degrees and academic titles even fake ones like the Yea Dominion University saga in Sierra Leone. Third, long-sighted visionary and transformational Panafrican Independence leaders replaced by mediocre leaders, whose shortsightedness are enjoyed by the western donors or colonialists as it ensures the chain of dependency and unfettered access to Africa’s resources is maintained. Fourth, African traditional pluralistic religions replaced by monotheism and strong tendencies for dichotomy; you are either Christian or not, Muslim or not, and no tendency to combine them. By contrast, African traditional religions are less dichotomous, less monotheistic, and are readily accepting of other religions, which allows for greater plurality and acceptance of diversity. Fifth, African ingenuity, self-reliance, and economic activity replaced by donor funding, foreign investments (world bank, IMF), International NGOs, foreign aid, multinational investments, and variety of half-sighted neoliberal foreign economic models that are unsustainable, inimical to the African needs, and ensures economic dependency. Therefore, continental Africans continue to be trapped in some form of neo-colonialism, systemic racism, mediocre leaderships, ethnic polarization, and dependency, respectively. In the same vein, the vicious cycle of poverty, despair, violence, wars, and underdevelopment has taken hold in communities and countries. The divide and rule actions of the oppressor also makes it impossible for unity of the oppressed African people; many of whom are caught up in self-hate, ethnic rivalries, disunity, and distorted views of their own histories provided by the same oppressors bent on keeping them apart.
So, at 61 years of independence, Sierra Leone is somewhat of a paradox. A nation with tremendous natural and human resources potentials that has shown deep resilience through war, deadly Ebola epidemic, landslide, and Covid19. But, sadly as a nation, we are as dependent as ever, we are as hungry (food poor and insecure) as ever, we are as corrupt as ever, and we are ranked among lowest in human development index across Africa despite being one of the most naturally endowed in the continent. In the last 30 years of the 60 years of “Independence”, we have become the land of survivors or rather the bland simulacrum of desolate living standards. Yes oh, War Survivors, Ebola Survivors, Landslide Survivors, Tollgate Survivors, Austerity Survivors, Deforestation and Timber logging Survivors, Okada Survivors, WASSCE Exam Survivors, No Job Survivors, Job with no pay Survivors, Trafficking or Kuwait Survivors, Suck Air Survivors, Beggar Beggar Survivors, Political Rally Survivors, Police Brutality Survivors, Foreign Debt Survivors, Temple Run Survivors, Inflation Survivors, Fake Degrees Survivors, and All Things Considered Survivors, Blackout Survivor, and so on. The Temple Run and Middle East Trafficking Survivors just simply re-iterates the lack of hope in Sierra Leone for young people. How can we as a nation celebrate independence when a significant proportion will rather die in the Mediterranean seas off Libya than live here. People are risking it all, including been sold as slaves in Libya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar or other countries just to leave. Migration in the independent state should be about choice and hope. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres nicely states that “migration should be an active hope, and not despair.” Yet, in Sierra Leone these hopes have now been replaced by despair and act of survivorship aka “we dae manage” has become normalized. Survivorship and hardships brought on by greed, corruption, power intoxication by politicians and leadership that is as narcissistic and vainglorious as ever. Hence, clouded by the narcissism and desire for public praise where there is none, Politicians want the poor ignorant victims of their loot to thank them for making roads, hospitals, and providing basic services for which they are elected to make happen. It’s often as if they are doing the populace a favor and of course it works well because they have succeeded in keeping the populace ignorant through a failed educational system.
Apart from a failed educational system that has put mediocrity at the center and marginalized excellence, we are a nation without a holistic transportation solution, food security solution, access to portable water supply, energy or electricity (still struggling with lighting a bulb yet alone industrial energy despite abundant hydro, solar and other renewable potentials), tourism (despite beautiful mountains, landscapes, beaches, and incredible biodiversity), health care and public health (case management is so poor that a basic condition requires a trip to Ghana and maternal mortality remains one of the highest in the region), and so on. Freetown, the capital city is largely unplanned, risky and hazardous from uncontrolled sprawl, deforestation and environmental degradation. Despite the formation of a Ministry of Environment and four agencies dealing with environment, our precious forest resources are being depleted for timber at an alarming rate in the north and successive governments seem unable to protect our environments. Ironically, our leaders travel to Climate change meetings, are signatories to climate change accords, and still drive V8 SUVs and do nothing to protect our environments. Instead, they are busy selling precious natural habitats like Black Johnson to shady investors and busy traveling without regards to their carbon footprint, in the name of attracting investors. Interestingly, shady investors are all too aware of the dysfunctionality of our state systems and greed among the political elites. Hence for short term gains by our leaderships, shady investors can reap huge profits at the expense of the indigenous people. Lack of political ideology accounts for some of the greed, unscrupulous exploitation of the masses by shady investors, and lack of a transformational vision. In fact, since Independence in Sierra Leone, the only ideology that seems to operate is ‘now we turn for eat’; largely between APC versus SLPP. For the last 61 years, we have been held hostage by the two thieves (APC and SLPP) and the ideology of ‘now we turn for eat’ by their supporters. Yet, we love our hostage takers (APC and SLPP) akin to the Stockholm Syndrome; are willing to protect them and vote for them continuously. This in turn creates vicious cycles of looting, deepens mediocrity, retrogression, and decadence. Our current political systems in Sierra Leone bereft of a viable political ideology cannot yield economic freedom, self-reliance, and the necessary cultural empowerments needed for domestication of development. For example, how do we stimulate local production to minimize our dependencies on imports of basic commodities like rice, flour, and food stuffs. How do we eat what we grow and grow what we eat, reducing our external dependencies? How do empower use of local building materials and indigenous architectures, and thereby minimize importation of cements, which also has a high carbon footprint and bad for climate?
True sustainable development in Sierra Leone requires political, economic, and cultural independence. In other words, a complete decolonization of our minds, institutions, structures, and functions. It requires a paradigm shift that puts our Sierra Leone/African values front and center “an inward thinking and outward outlook approach.” Thinking first from within African values, national agendas and matching African values with the enabling aspects of their colonial legacies and the global values. In addition, intellectually linking our Sierra Leonean and African values to the wider world of scholarship, science, engineering, and technology. To break the cycle of dependency in Sierra Leone and across Africa, may require nothing short of a revolution, a break with current capitalist structures that ensures western hegemonic dominance. The series of revolutions that won’t be televised, should at the very least include; a Blue Intellectual revolution from which new sources of knowledge should emerge; a green revolution for food security, greater control of Sierra Leone/Africa’s natural resources; a black revolution that culturally empowers Sierra Leoneans; a red revolution that creates strong sense of national consciousness, unity, identity, and cohesion, that links young and old through mentorship, service, volunteerism, projects, and cultural education; a yellow revolution that ushers industrialization and wealth creation; and a white, pink, purple, orange, and so revolutions that ensues all aspects of self-reliance and sustainability are attained. Ultimately, Sierra Leone requires development that is closely aligned with our cultural space, economic emancipation and taking ownership of our resources at all stages of the value chain. It requires imagination, vision and building capacity at all levels, functions, and disciplines in the country. This ultimately requires building a strong University system and domesticating modern systems to suit local needs or modernizing from local systems and architecture. However, it ultimately requires a unique African leadership and governance that is devoid of corruption, greed and can put forward bold, transformational, phenomenal vision for the country to make a difference in lives at all ages and the build resilient thriving population and communities.
Finally, as Fanon put its aptly in The Wretched of the Earth, “Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.” Therefore, to achieve full and total liberation of the African people will require unification of thoughts, economic freedom, self-reliance, and politically powerful Africa. An economically and politically powerful federated Africa (including the Diaspora) will restore the dignity of its people and ensure that it resources are utilized to the benefits of its people and preserve the diverse cultures of its people. We must work towards a collective national and continental agenda for Sierra Leone and Africa, decolonize our systems, de-link resource allocation along party or ethnic lines and refrain from utilizing tribalism as a weapon of mass oppression that favors the bourgeoisie class elites strangle hold of power. We must now as individual citizens of Sierra Leone and as a government retrospect on what is our National Agenda. We must strive for a national identity and oneness borne out of patriotism and culture that is seen and felt by everyone.
*Alhaji Umar N’jai is a Senior Scientist, Professor, Panafrican Scholar, Founder & Chief Strategist of Project 1808, Inc., and Freelance writer ‘Roaming in the Mountains of Kabala Republic’. #Jata #Meejoh #ThePeoplesScientist