By Oswald Hanciles
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion …over all the earth….” – Genesis 1:27
– Your Lord said to the angels, “I am going to create a human being out of clay. When I have formed him and breathed My Spirit into him – (Qur’an, 38:71-72)
Please, reader, hold on to the ‘2nd Biggest Idea’ (the first could be what came BEFORE the ‘Big Bang’) in the introduction of this piece – as has been written in the Bible and the Quran. About 15 years ago, the parlors of most houses in Freetown would have a plaque on walls with these words: ‘Petty minds talk about people. Average minds talk about events. Great minds talk about Ideas’. Even among the Sierra Leonean elite, when I do catch whiffs of conversation as I move along the streets, in offices, 90% of conversations would be on people – mostly the salacious or malicious type of gossip; 9% of conversation in bars among males would be on events – the latest corruption case that would spell doom for high and mighty government official; oEuropean football, etc. It is almost impossible to hear the majority of Sierra Leone’s elite being passionate about Big Ideas – well, except their ‘biggest ideas’ (SLPP or APC)!! All man would often mesh their discussions of people, events, and ideas……
People: Samuel Serry Jr. gives glitz and glamour to bland statistics
Let’s start at the ‘bottom rung’ of the ladder in our discourse – on people. Action! Camera!! Born at Yele, Gbongkolekeh Chiefdom, Tonkolili District, the 32 year old Samuel Serry Jr. materializes on the outdoor stage of the Bintumani Hotel in Freetown two weeks ago, busying himself to ensure that everything was in tip-top shape in a ‘show’ he was clearly the maestro of. His ‘overflowing’ bulk – 200 pounds flesh on a 5feet 11 inches height; a premature ‘borbor belleh’ protruding stomach straining on the deep blue white-lettering Lacoste “Census-2014” polo shirt which over half of the about 250 audience were wearing – stopped suddenly, swung around, and with a boyish beam and teenage whoop, responded energetically “Yeaaaaaaahh!!”…. to my ululation of “Youth Arise!!!!”. I had first met Serry about fourteen years ago when he was one of the founding members of the youth group I started mentoring, “Youth Arise!!!” He was in his final year at the Albert Academy in Freetown. He was a ‘Believer’: and he energized the first Kissy Branch of Youth Arise; and set into motion the Grassfield Branch of Youth Arise!!! in Freetown. To me, it is a natural progression for Serry to graduate with a First Class Honors degree in Mass Communication from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone in 2010.
After a stint in Hon. I.B. Kargbo’s NEW CITIZEN newspaper as reporter/editor, Serry became the Information Education and Communication officer for the Smallholder Commercialization Programme in the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) between 2010 and 2013. He excelled there – supervising the production of audio visual materials; print media brochures; regular radio/TV programmes; taking journalists for field trips upcountry, etc. But, he apparently felt constrained because the financial reins for MAFF’s public relations thrust were being held firmly by bureaucrats who were not au fait with the knowledge on the necessary fluidity and imagination that would make public relations that is developmental successful.
As the new PRO of Statistics Sierra Leone, Serry is now blooming! And clearly more efficacious. Apparently, the public relations financial purse strings are now firmly in his hands. During the launching of Census-2014 at the Bintumani Hotel in Freetown about two weeks ago – graced by President Ernest Bai Koroma, and his finance minister, Dr. Kelfala Marrah – Serry manifested his youthful dynamism and panache. There was a Serry-orchestrated ‘Census-2014’ song with lyrics in ten local languages performed by about 10 leading Sierra Leonean musicians. The musicians were led by the famous Steady Bongo; and featured other stars like Lady Mackie; Willy Jay; Sorie Walker (known country-wide for his Limba songs), Kalilu Conteh; Koskobi (the Bo Town star). After the Presidential-launching of Census-2104, Serry engineered launching ceremonies in Bo, Kenema, and Makeni – with unprecedented hyping of a census launching: massive parades of citizens from all walks of life (soldiers, police, paramount chiefs, traditional dancers, pupils, nurses, teachers, doctors, politicians, farmers, okada riders, market women, etc.) through the streets, with drumming and dancing, to launching ceremonies. Serry plans to “think out of the box” – using every medium possible to inculcate the essence of census, and to prod the populace to turn up massively “to be counted”.
Event: Launching of Census-2014
As we veer our camera from the ‘person’ of Serry to the ‘event’ of Census-2014 launching at Bintumani Hotel two weeks ago, we should pore on the words of the finance minister, Dr. Kelfela Marrah: “The significance of (Census-2014) is that this country will be able to have a clear cut data on its citizens…. The trend tells us one thing: that this country is about to go on to higher heights of development…..”.
‘Event’ without ‘People’, would this jell? When he was the Chief of Staff in the Office of the President about two years ago, Dr. Kelfala Marrah had choked with sobs, wiped tears away from his face, while he was making his acceptance speech on a lawn in State House as a coalition of youth groups gave him an award as most exemplary public sector senior worker; there were no tears as he spoke confidently at the Census-2014 launching, but, the profundity of his words should zero for the head and not kindle emotionalism in the ‘heart’; wisdom-filled words which need to be emblazoned inside every hamlet in the country: “To know who you are, you should be able to know what you wealth is…..The wealth of a nation is not necessarily mineral resources…it is our people….”
When Sierra Leoneans bemoan the shameful paradox that our country has been (we hope soon, it will be ‘had been’) they always reel out facts that our geographical space is laden with gold, diamonds, bauxite, titanium; shrimps and other marketable marine life; some of the most idyllic beaches in the world; petroleum reserves, etc… – and NOT blessed with “people”. Dr. Marrah was being sagacious in underlining the reality of the real wealth of our nation: people.
Singapore Developed its People – Salone Abused its People
Some 70 years ago, Singapore had a GNP per capita of $600 – and Sierra Leone had a GNP per capita of $350. Today, Singapore GNP per capita is $28,000 – as against Sierra Leone’s of about $560. Singapore has almost no marketable mineral or agricultural resources –Sierra Leone is among the top ten countries in the world in terms of density of mineral resources as per size and population density. What Singapore has done is to recognize that “people” are the real wealth of a nation, and emphasized on the accelerated development of its people in the realm of highest quality education, rigid DISCIPLINE of its citizenry at every corner, and a balance of capitalist reward for productivity and Socialist responsibility of the state to ensure equity. What Sierra Leone has been doing wrong is to de-emphasize people; trying to build up a society on the Big Lie that we can stimulate accelerated development when we empower the mediocre in leadership positions at all levels, and when we make the most political noise, and haul insults at each other. Would Census-2014, which could be largely quantitative, and not qualitative, change our largely skewed thinking and action on what is development?
Ideas: ‘God’ is within Man; God can be kindled
Now, to continue on the thesis of this piece – the ‘Ideas’ part. Reflect on the opening Biblical and Quranic quotations. Is ‘God’ within man? God’s spirit is in man? Modern science informs us about the ‘Big Bang’ some 13 billion years or so ago….: when ‘Time began’….; and galaxies were born in nano seconds expansions; and trillions of suns were ‘born’, and, our own solar system ‘captured’ nine planets…; with planet earth a gaseous ball; a boiling ball of molten liquid; cooling down on the outer part; atmosphere forming; oceans…and, life it is elemental microscopic form being sired in oceans; and marching on to land….One think that most learned people would agree on today is that the cosmos and its probable zillions of planets is a “evolutionary” one. Are all things evolutionary? Or, can man with the highest intelligence known today fast track the evolutionary process – like it took the UK, and rest of Europe, about four hundred years to move from the Industrial Revolution era to today’s digitalized Information Age; but, it took the ‘Asian Tigers’ of Japan, South Korea, Singapore….just about fifty years to reach the same stage as Europe? Can President Koroma fast track the developmental evolutionary pace of Sierra Leone – from general poverty to egalitarian prosperity in…(how many years?)?
Obama-eque here: Yes. President Koroma can! Yes…we can!!! Sierra Leoneans should be inculcated with the reality that ‘God is in man..’. Throughout history, a few people who would have military, spiritual, administrative and technology superior knowledge over others would posit themselves as ‘gods’, whilst the majority would be trampled on as almost sub humans. This was the accepted belief in ancient Egypt, where the pharaohs put on godhead; and ancient China too. The popes of the Catholic church in Medieval Europe who would anoint monarchs with temporal power arrogated on themselves divine infallibility, and kept the majority of the people in the leash of groveling poverty as ‘serfs’, while a few royalty live in paradise-type luxury. Tyrants throughout time, explicitly or implicitly – Charlemange, Alexander, Hitler, Stalin, Mobotu Seso Seko, etc. – would put on the halo of exclusive divinity while the people they lead would be convinced that they are less than human. Similar in Sierra Leone, too, where the educated elite would think, talk, and act as if they are ‘gods’ upon whom the masses must rely on. The 2nd Biggest Idea is to annihilate this wrong belief of a few ‘educated’ people being ‘gods’ – to inspire the majority that they can kindle the divine within and do everything…anything….!!!