Don’t promise bridges where there are no rivers

It is a new year, the end of a decade and the beginning of another.. It is the time to take stock of life in general, mark new beginnings for a better future, as resolutions come and go. This is no different from politics. The last decade would be remembered among other things, as the era that saw democracy take a detour, that democracy became a desktop job and can no longer be taken for granted.

Now we know that “democracy substitutes elections by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few” (G.B. Shaw).

Just watch how America, one of the greatest democracies is shredding the very foundations of democracy. We have seen the rise of populism, fascism, protectionism and jingoism disguised as patriotism. But closer to home, we witnessed the SLPP took the reins from the APC; thanks to the people’s mandate.

Sierra Leoneans therefore expect a changeover, not a hangover. Better changes to the system, changes to people’s lives, the cost and standards of living for all – would be the minimum requirements.

The Bio led government has been in power for nearly two years. If we were to provide a balance sheet of President Maada Bio’s brief tenure, what would it read like? Don’t answer that because I know that your answers would largely depend on which side of the political spectrum you are sitting. Nevertheless, if you speak to a green leaning supporter, the answer will most likely contain a noun, a verb and superlatives. And if you try one with a red hat on, it would definitely contain a noun, a verb, an adjective, and loads of “isms”.

Notwithstanding this, Bio’s reign has seen a new wave of additions to our local parlance. While the late Sheki had “Usai den tie cow” (that’s where it all started), we now have “de grun dry”, “De game don big” and “Ar nor dae o – Ar travel” etc. It is very tempting to dismiss such phrases as loose talk. But for any politician to dismiss such will do so at their peril. They say that a day in politics is a long time; just like a phrase in politics is enough to make or break a political party’s chances of victory.

Maada Bio came to power on the crest of the people’s disillusion with the APC party which had fast become synonymous with corruption. He vowed to fight corruption, which led to the inception of the Commission of Inquiry (COI). I don’t even remember when last I heard the words ‘Commission of Inquiry’ mentioned.

Donald Trump cannot even spell “politics”, but his “Make America Great Again” was enough to present him as a pure distillation of accumulated white grievance and anger. Even his staunchest supporters would struggle to show how he has made America great again. Trump has been accused of being a racist, but Trump did not make Americans more racist. Rather, he normalised it and let out a lot of the long suppressed demons out of the box.

Against such a backdrop, one is not surprised to see that his Republican Party has rather been transformed into a political cult; steeped in the paranoia that dark forces threatening America can only be saved by “True” Americans who are white, Christian and conservative. That is the driving force that has made his Republican Party become selectively blind, and afflicted by amnesic syndrome. It is no wonder that the party has gone Machiavellian, become drunk on a political potion, just for the acquisition and maintenance of power. It is no wonder then that the party now has as its sole purpose to protect and promote its leader by any means necessary and at the expense of political sanity. Does that sound familiar?

Coming closer to home, the SLPP Party came to power on the back of unrivalled levels of corruption under the previous APC government. It has not missed the opportunity to ram down the throats of the electorate about the massive corruption; the fight against which has been the SLPP party’s sing song since taking the helm.

No one is disputing the issue of corruption. However, there will be many wondering how long this narrative is going to last; blaming everything and anything that has gone wrong on the APC party.

Bio’s reign has seen the exchange rate of foreign currency and its corresponding rising cost of living, and the price of basic food items threaten air traffic.

But there have been some smoking guns already in the fight against corruption. The ACC and the COI have unearthed a lot of cases of corruption. But again, we saw and heard the First Minister speaking about the retention of 1% of public contract value; and then came the yet to be concluded allegation of $1.5M bank deposit.

These stories are now dwarfed by the exposure of the disappearance of over One Hundred and Forty Billion Leones by the Auditor General’s 2018 Report which the ACC is looking into.

With such a bad smell in the air, is the Bio led government at risk of losing its moral authority as the High Priest in the fight against corruption; or does “New Direction” means “More of the same” in Yoruba?

Many are really wondering why the country appears to be either stuck in 1st gear or in reverse. One of the apparently successful areas for this government has been the NRA, which continues to raise cash beyond its targets. Many say that the revenue generated has been used to fund programmes and largely fund wages. Bravo and good home economics. The notion is also that a lot of leakages have been cauterised to stop the blood sport. Good. But that is where the paradoxical irony of corruption comes in.

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of people in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it. So when Lansana embezzles thousands or millions out of government coffers, the chances are that his secretary, his driver, his side kick and his family and friends will get their cut. This new pay day means that the driver’s girlfriend will get a new smart phone, the phone seller will make money and pay his rent, the landlord will pay his children’s school fees and the Principal will repair that classroom window. Lansana’s wife will send money to her father who is sick and the money will be used to buy medicine. The pharmacist will pay his children’s lesson fees and that poor teacher will have something to “manage” until the government decides to pay his wages. Catch my drift? Some will say, the world must go on. The lack of employment opportunities and the creation of a tertiary industry of hangers on, has lead to most of these unfortunate scenarios.

Those are the leakages the government claims to have plugged which will obviously support Bio’s Quality Free Education. There have been a lot of initiatives like free school buses, maternity help, new clinics, and many more positives undertaken and in the pipeline. They all require money.

There is talk of linking Lungi to the capital with mortar and steel pipes. Against the backdrop of all these, the government has been signing loads of Memoranda of Understanding, reportedly received loads of aid, grants, and loans from our international partners and especially the Chinese.

Many projects like the Pineapple plantation and the Tormabom Rice are long term projects, the benefits from which cannot be realised overnight. The tourism industry is slowly getting some oxygen transfusion.

Sierra Leoneans are renowned for their patience, with their all too familiar – “how for do” mentality. There is need for patience from all to see these projects come to fruition – thanks to the visionary approach of the government. But the latest offering of a fleet of million dollar limousines from our Chinese life support machine raises more questions about the government’s priorities.

I know that you cannot look a gift horse in the mouth; (if it’s a gift), but could the government have asked for something else instead? Could we have asked for solar panels for schools to operate computers for example? Does the Maada Bio government need a reset? Is this a case of misplaced priorities or society for self preservation? Is this becoming a case of all animals are equal (March 2018) but some are more equal than others (2020)? I hope that Mr Jones is not smiling in Makeni.

The APC is no longer in power. The SLPP came in on the audacity of a “NEW DIRECTION”. But as we enter a new decade, the hope is that Sierra Leoneans will not replay this scenario: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” (G. Orwell).

Will it be a case of “Sierra Leoneans outside looking from APC to SLPP, and from SLPP to APC, and from APC to SLPP again; but still find it impossible to say which is which? (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray).

With the ACC and COI in situ, how long will the people continue to swallow this narrative that the SLPP inherited empty coffers?

The government needs a reset, a rewind and to reverse current trends to avoid a rebound. The people can take so much explanation, theorems and theories from the professors, but the woman in Dove Cot only understands the price of rice, cassava, and Panadol. We know who are in the majority here.

The APC was corrupt – so, get the money back if you can. If not, using the APC as a smokescreen or scapegoat is losing its appeal, and cannot be a substitute for government inefficiency.

Remember that leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation.

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