Sierra Leone: Beyond Borders

In the first part of this piece, I stated that although I have been writing on issues at home, this is the first time in many years that I have spent some weeks in Freetown, the Sierra Leone capital, after many years of working for the United Nations.

Returning home is like starting afresh. I must say it is exciting to be back to mainstream journalism amid mammoth challenges. My belief? Sierra Leone could honestly be one of the best places to live if we put our minds to it in view of the fact that there is tremendous power in a made-up mind.

As I write this piece, residents of Freetown have been contending with very annoying power cuts. All around me, it is pitch-dark with Chinese-made lights producing flickers of lights in some homes and the tropical heat making a bad situation worse. The situation of electricity or the lack of it has been escalating and now some people are once again looking for generators nicknamed Kabbah Tiger as explanations and excuses over gross inefficiency continue. To jog your memory, the Tiger brand generators were named Kabbah Tiger in "honour" of President Kabbah's government which disastrously failed to provide regular electricity in Freetown despite endless promises to do so.

The point is this - if the situation is messy, all of us will have a share in the dividend of incompetence. Over the years, even when we battle with maladministration, the lyrics by sycophants is always: De pa dae try, De pa na world best! This is the psyche of the average Sierra Leonean when partisan politics beclouds rational thinking and the indefensible is ferociously defended for crumbs that fall from the tables of kleptomaniacs.

Over the past few weeks, I have visited some offices where customer services are pathetic, systems do not work, unprofessionalism rules and integrity is dead. The other day for instance, I bought credit or "top up" from Orange, but I am yet to receive it days after. Tell me, how should we call this? How? I have also observed that some people in public offices just like the unofficial ways of doing things. If it is through the backdoor, they are very efficient and are all smiles. My argument? If something can be efficiently done through the backdoor, why can't we use the same energy to get things done officially and professionally to better the lives of all?

In a number of articles, I have reiterated that we must understand that to serve in public office is an honour. If our primary reason for doing whatever we do is mainly to make money, most times we will not care about professionalism or accountability. This is our state of affairs in Sierra Leone where most people engage in dishonest activities all week and come Sunday or Friday, we go to the house of God and raise our very corrupt hands in prayers to a holy God, give him a tiny portion of our dishonest collections and think we are very righteous and God-fearing. Who are we deceiving?

In the first part of this piece, I stated that some weeks ago I paid a courtesy call on Sierra Leone's Minister of Information and Communication Mohamed R. Swarray during which I was humbled when he recalled how I stated my journalism career in Makeni and noted that it was never for the love of money.

Following my courtesy call on Minister Swarray, I have also visited the Legal Aid Board office, where I was delighted to meet the Executive Director and some of her staff who are assisting needy people resident in the country and who have legal issues but can't afford the services of a lawyer.

My next stop? The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). Here, after booking an appointment to see Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala, I was told they will get back to me and that there was no need for a telephone number to follow up when I asked for it. Weeks after, I am still waiting to hear from the ACC. By the way, I have published a number of articles on the ACC's efforts to deal with corruption, which has dishearteningly become our culture, and I remain deeply convinced that the fight against corruption is everybody's business and not just the ACC.

While waiting to hear from the ACC, my next stop? Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella. Some days ago, I interviewed the Leader of the National Grand Coalition during which I asked him if Sierra Leone was a God-fearing nation. His response? "If we are God-fearing, we would be more ethical, corruption will be less... if we were God-fearing, Sierra Leone would have been one of the best places to live."

Lest I forget. I have also visited Life Care at Lumley said to be one of the best medical facilities in Freetown. Over the years, most people in Sierra Leone diagnose themselves when sick. And why not? Most patients are told they are suffering from typhoid or malaria or both at our health facilities. In my case, not surprisingly, I was positive for one of the two allies. My experience at Life Care? I was told to return after a few hours to collect the lab result and talk with a doctor. I returned as was told, collected the result, yes, but there was no medic to tell me what next. I had to go over to a pharmacy to buy medication. If indeed Life Care is one of the best medical facilities we have, then we need another definition of best.

Like Minister Swaray observed, some of us did not enter the field of journalism to amass wealth. Regardless of tribe, religion, region etc, all of us suffer from the consequences of bad governance and poor services.

Most Sierra Leoneans are very good at admiring other countries. We take photos and post on Facebook and expect many likes and comments. Some people will even unfriend you in real life over an unfavourable comment on social media. If I may ask, if we can admire other countries, why can't we change our story? Why? Why are you in that office?

Albert Einstein is credited with saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Among other things, the key to our success is our character. We really need to change our character and have quality leadership, staff and managers in our offices if we are serious about building a brighter future. What's next? Please watch out for Beyond Borders newspaper.

About the author: Sulaiman Momodu is a former editor of the Concord Times newspaper. He also reported for the BBC during the civil war in Sierra Leone. He has also worked for the United Nations in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ethiopia and Switzerland.

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