THE NEED TO BRIDGE THE GAP
February 24, 2016 By Rev. Dr. Abraham J. Williams
Your Excellency Sir,
This being my maiden edition in this year, (and after a very long while though,) I wish your most honourable self and the entire citizenry of Sierra Leone, especially my beloved readers, a happy and prosperous 2016. And before proceeding I would like to express my sincere apologies to the Independent Observer, Global Times, Politico and Concord Times newspapers and my general readers for having gone out of subscription for a very long while now. This is neither deliberate nor coercive, but due to the fact that I relocated to Liberia on missionary work in the first quarter of last year. And as an investigative writer I really prefer to be on the “spot” to assess and evaluate before reporting, advocating or presenting issues to the public and/or relevant authorities. That is what I consider objective, independent, constructive and responsible advocacy and journalism.
However, I intend this column to continue from now onward at reasonable intervals, though not as frequent or regular as before. I write and advocate for “Commoners Interests” as a freelance writer and advocate out of passionate compulsion, in view of the sufferings and plights of the masses, especially the poor and disadvantaged that are either excluded or whose interests are not normally considered by those they had elected and/or are supporting with their taxes, to seek their interests.
In this piece, I shall be looking at the necessity for those in governance and public positions to deliberately work at bridging the ever so widening gap between the rich and poor (or the abjectly poor and the affluently wealthy) in our society and the investment/development landscape in Sierra Leone.
I would firstly like to retrospect that some years before the outbreak of the deadly Ebola viral epidemic, which did not only have its high toll of death on the general populace, but more so on the socio-economic growth of the country, our economy was projected to have been growing at about 14% and among the fastest in Sub-Saharan Africa. The advent of the Ebola viral epidemic that stroke for about two years grossly altered that pleasant economic trajectory. However, in my opinion and assessment, that growth was still mainly maintained among the already rich, affluent and powerful in society, as opposed to raising the living and socio-economic standards of the “middle and lower classes.” The latter socio-economic atmosphere creates or works at creating a free and equitable society that breeds peace, security and popular prosperity; which are bedrocks of socio-political stability and a truly thriving democracy.
So I would like to continue appealing that in our local content policy, practical leverage and boosters be given to our locally emerging entrepreneurs and/or businesses, so as to enable them compete with their overseas/multi-national counterparts, while still having the possibility of success and excellence.
Another area in our socio-economic development that needs to be overhauled is the rural development/investment landscape. Having travelled to several parts of Sierra Leone, I realise that whereas government is currently making very frantic efforts to bring investments and development to the rural poor and their communities, I have come to observe that the national and local community policies on investment are grossly obsolete and very much biased; tilting more towards satisfying the multi-national investors/investments, even at the detriment of the host/investment communities and the country at large; in lieu of making investment to be at a “win-win” platform for both the investment and local community partnership. This can be seen from the sporadic and intermittent popular protests and demonstrations in several local communities across the country where these multi-national investments are on-going. This is generally because the local people or workers have disaffection over the huge profits that these investors are making in grim disparity with the pittances they are paid and/or benefiting from the exploitation of their local resources and communities.
That is why protests have continued from time to time in Kono, Makeni, Lunsar, Mashumgbiri, Mobimbi, Pujehun, etc. , etc; which protests have unfortunately mostly received the heavy-handed clampdown by the Sierra Leone Police on armless civilians, who are just invariably expressing their democratic right to protest over unjust treatments by their employers and/or investment partners; some of which have even unfortunately ended in avoidable fatalities, from 2009 to date, through extreme police brutality, when some seemingly trigger-happy, unscrupulous police personnel have gone on what I would consider a reckless shooting spree.
Also consider for instance, the amount of unreclaimed land in the Sierra Rutile Mining areas; the abandoned lakes and toxic wastes left over the years that are causing great environmental degradation and pollution over generations, while our governments and public servants remain either tight-lipped or always irrationally supportive of these investments, albeit at the detriment of the local communities and the country at large.
Finally, examine for a moment, the latest of these protests which was reported last week by Umaru Fofana, our prolific and objective BBC reporter. In which case, in summary, the people in Pujehun district seem to have been legitimately deprived by the government, investors and courts of the land due to obsolete investment policies that seem to be impoverishing the local community people and further repressing them even more than when these investments had not been operated. This seems very absurd – because I expect the people to feel better and their living and socio-economic standards much more improved with these investments in their communities. And imagine the government’s position or reaction that the people should be satisfied with receiving what the people consider pittance, for the exploitation and dispossession of their generational inheritance/lands to these multi-billion investors that obtain massive profits from these investments without commensurate or reasonable compensations to the local communities. This is certainly a recipe for continual disaffection and conflict between these investors and the local community people; as well as an inevitable perennial source of instability.
In closing this piece therefore, I would like to plead with your honourable self to have our current national/local community investment policies reviewed, in order to make them truly nationally/locally/community friendly; and at a “win-win landscape” for both the multi-national investments and local/national communities. Also, that you intervene to enable practical and updated legal justice to be given the people of Pujehun District, (especially those who have been incarcerated) and other similarly disaffected communities across the country. Note that “repression breeds rebellion” sooner or later.And whereas I would not like to be a “doom’s day” writer, may I reiterate that some of the issues raised in this and some of my other afore editions are among the root causes of our gone civil war. So trailing in them again systemically, could be inadvertently leading us into that loathsome path, which I am sure, you would agree, would do us all well if we decisively worked against such vices that would reverse us into its resurgence.
Counting on your considerate intervention for the equal betterment of the entire citizenry. And in order to ensure a free, just, stable, secure and equitable society. May the good Lord bless your family and the entire people of Sierra Leone.
LAND THAT WE LOVE OUR SIERRA LEONE.
Rev. Dr. Abraham J. Williams
(Clergyman/Human Rights Advocate)
Tel: (+232) 76 994 152 / (+231) 888 229 348/ (+231) 770 422 608