This weeping and wailing must stop!
August 28, 2017 By Sulaiman Momodu
Imagine going to bed after a hard day’s work. The night is relatively peaceful as the skies open. Seasonal rains fall on the corrugated iron sheets as you enjoy your sleep. Suddenly, you hear a loud bang. A deafening blast. No time to ask questions. In a flash, the roof over your head crashes. The walls cave in. Boulders and mudslides sweep you down. In split seconds your body is crushed and you are finished. Apocalypse!
This horror was the fate of our brothers and sisters who retired to bed with plans, hopes and dreams of another day. What they did not know was that 14 August was their last. Coming on the heels of an Ebola outbreak and a bloody civil war, the recent crumbling of slides of Mount Sugarloaf cruelly snuffing life out of everything in its path was a disaster far too heavy.
“Papa na you dae give na you dae take…” Ya Mabinty wailed uncontrollably (shown on international television networks) at the mortuary premises where the bodies of hundreds of our compatriots laid waste, some of them beyond recognition. All around Ya Mabinty, there was nothing but weeping and wailing. Another horror had just visited our motherland.
The catastrophe has left thousands homeless. Having worked for many years for the United Nations reporting humanitarian issues, I know what it means when people are suddenly uprooted from their homes with all their lifelong possessions destroyed.
As usual, questions are being asked. How did it happen? Why? Could it have been prevented? Who is to be held responsible? Was it nature or neglect?
To shy away from the truth is to live in denial. The recurring tragedies in Sierra Leone is an indication that something is horribly wrong with our country.
First, let us rewind to the civil war. That tragedy did not just happen. A rotten system gave birth to carnage. So-called liberators made a bad situation worse. Could the war have been prevented? Absolutely. But those who were supposed to make the lives of people better became kleptomaniacs and impregnated their bank accounts with their plunder. How many lives were lost in the war? Thousands, including peace keepers.
Just some three years ago, we experienced a deadly Ebola outbreak. Again, I have no doubt that the outbreak could have been nipped in the bud if we had a good health system and if we had not also spent invaluable time denying a looming tragedy. What we did was to politicize things. At the end of the day, the virus wiped out whole families regardless of tribe, region or religion, and dozens of medics.
The untold tragedy of our nation is that we have a very short memory. In the heat of the moment, we suddenly remember God. Civil war? God please save us, we will serve you forever! As soon as the war ended, back to corruption. During the Ebola scourge? Lord, have mercy on us! As soon as the outbreak ended, back to business. If I may ask – did the Ebola virus not spread up to Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation? Was the outbreak not crushed before claiming several lives?
In the aftermath of the mudslides catastrophe, religious and solemn songs again took over the airwaves. Sadly, while places of worship were offering prayers for lost compatriots during the days of mourning, the bars and nightclubs were booming with “mourners” dancing and boozing.
Osman Benk Sankoh, my co-debater on topical issues spanning many years, believes that sharing weather forecasts would help save lives. Granted that he means well, my take is: why should Ya Mabinty knows whether it is going to rain or not? To stand in the rain and monitor Mount Sugarloaf ? Or to pack her bundles and run? To where? Run to State House or Parliament Building? The reality is that we have thousands of people resident in the hills, mountains and slums. Where will they go if they knew the weather forecast? And in any case, is this not the rainy season?
“So what is the way forward?” asks Benkilism (as I call him). We have to stop being our own enemies. While it is not uncommon for government officials to be involved in illegal land sales, my understanding is that efforts were made some years ago to demolish illegal structures. What did some residents allegedly do? They reportedly took the laws into their hands and allegedly brutally killed a serious-minded government worker who was only passionate about protecting the forest reserve and saving lives. There is a need for experts to thoroughly take a look at all disaster-prone areas and take appropriate actions, including demolishing structures and relocating residents. These illegal settlements must never be allowed to spring up in the first place through an effective monitoring system.
Expressing his opinion in an article: “Sierra Leone’s Disaster Was Caused by Neglect, Not Nature” published in the New York Times, eminent Sierra Leonean journalist and writer, Dr. Lans Gberie, stated that this time President Koroma should do something decisive to leave a legacy other than “an image of a helpless leader always appealing for and receiving foreign donations amid national calamities…if he fails, more of Sierra Leone’s people are sure to die”.
We pride ourselves as being a religious nation. True. However, this love for God is largely in theory. Generally speaking, our way of life is full of corruption, including stealing, greed, injustice, desperation for power occasioned by killings etc. In my opinion, these vices are definitely not the ways of God but the evil one. Let us stop being hypocritical. As aid continues to stream in cash and relief items for victims of the flood and mudslides, there are even reports of the assistance being shamefully misappropriated. This is insanity. A disgrace.
Come to think of it, it does not matter which political party is in power or who is president; what we need in the country is a radical change. A responsible government must enforce the law. It is time Sierra Leoneans went beyond the borders of tribe, religion, political sentiments and work to change the increasingly shameful image of our nation being the epicentre of preventable tragedies. This weeping and wailing must stop. Enough is enough! May the souls of our beloved ones rest in peace!
Note: Sulaiman Momodu is former editor of the Concord Times newspaper and had also worked for the United Nations. He is currently based in Abidjan. Email firstname.lastname@example.org