By Talib Jalloh
1982: the British Jamaican reggae band, Musical Youth, released their first album, The Youth of Today. The song was a hit, and the album sold like hotcakes. The band was full of youthful exuberance, and the hit itself was a scintillating reggae that promoted upbeat skankers and effortlessly captured audiences wherever it was played. The melody kept the young and old dancing until the end and the message it amplified was pungent. That message resonates with today’s Sierra Leone.
One aspect of the Youth of Today’s message will relate to the many youths who believe that they are carrying a heavy load – high-handedness of the security forces and economic burden. The Musical Youth vocalized: “We’re under heavy, heavy manners, yeah”. The background to this is the declaration of State of Emergency in Jamaica in 1976 by Prime Minister Michael Manley claiming an attempt to overthrow his government. His detractors however believed that it was a ploy to detain opposition members. Heavy manners referred to the overbearingness of repressive and oppressive actions and situations including economic suppression which many youths in Sierra Leone very easily define as “d gron dry”. Like the youths of Jamaica would tumble down on the prices of goods, prices in Sierra Leone have become a cause for high blood pressure.
On the other hand, the song calls on the youths to stand up and drive the destiny of their countries: “The youth of today has got lots to say. It’s our life; it’s our future,” the song reassured the youths. Like the Musical Youths, President Bio, despite not receiving congratulatory messages on his re-election as much as we all would have loved, has challenged the youths by appointing a youthful cabinet.
Meet our 36-year-old (or thereabout) dread-locked wearing appointed Chief Minister, David Moinina Sengeh, a PhD grad from Harvard who, until recently, finds time to play basketball along the beach at Lumley or football at YSC on Wilkinson Road. When not on the pitch, he does cypha or rap battles with upcoming MCs on the pavement of the streets.
Greet Chernor Bah or C Bah, the girls’ champion, now Minister-designate for Information and Civic Education, also claims to be the Bukayo Saka of his six-aside Saturday football side at the YSC, where he goes to play together with Sengeh and others. Like David, Cee Bah also wears a knotted hairdo, and he is fairly young, maybe just hitting his forties, and he prides describing himself as Kanikyay Borbor on social media.
Like Tim Kabba, the Minister-designate for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, who is also in his mid-30 something or so, Haja Salimatu Bah, Minister-designate for Communication, Technology and Innovation, I am told may have just turned 30 or not too far above 30.
Truth be told, all the above names in the newly announced cabinet have a telling message: the present is in the hands of the youth. And the women. In a country where Kush or ‘pampers wata’ are drugs or illegal substances ravaging communities to a point where it deserves to be declared as a public health emergency, appointing a cabinet that looks like them, speak like them, talk like them and sometimes, even feel like them is reassuring, if we are serious about addressing the challenges facing the nation.
The Presidency or his re-election may be disputed as the main opposition has cried foul, but the drive to change is unmistakable, at least, judging from the composition of the ministers appointed.
We have had different cabinet makeups. The Joseph Saidu Momoh’s cabinet of ‘book man dem’ – many PhD holders failed us and made education a privilege. Former President Tejan Kabbah had a cabinet of technocrats, but after 10yrs, we were left with many expectations. President Ernest Koroma’s cabinet was full of names of Methuselah’s age in politics and administration. Ernest should be commended though for appointing a number of young people to ambassadorial positions and a couple to ministerial positions.
In all past cabinets, the management pattern was mainly to keep a distance from the reality of the suffering masses. Accountability and productivity suffered setbacks year after year. The culture was to get rich and invest abroad.
What would we, the taxpayers, spend on this cabinet annually? On average, a deputy minister is paid 25 million Leones monthly and a senior minister probably 30 million Leones monthly. They get security guards deployed at home and a Close Protection, an official vehicle they pay for on a cost-recovery basis plus fuel, internet and other cellular benefits. Critics believe that with the number of ministers (over 30), funds waste will hit us badly. Judging from past administrations, one can readily agree. And this is where I see the gentlemen and ladies now appointed carrying a heavier burden. Theirs is to turn history around and make their historic appointment worth reading. Theirs is to prove that young blood is hot and hot for growth and development.
Our social contract with the ministers is well-defined and straightforward. All we want as a nation is simple: an effort towards an improved standard of living and the enjoyment of our inalienable rights. What you should do as ministers is equally simple: reduce leakages. Uphold standards, including ethical values in administration. Get systems in place. Make the youths be proud of having you as ministers and be an inspiration to them. Get results, let your performance be judged by the outstanding results you deliver for the general masses and not the fancy cars you will be driving.
Previous younger ministers may have had an excuse for failing; they were like antelopes in lion’s den. Here is an opportunity of mostly equals; you have no excuse to fail the nation.
While congratulating the young ministers-designate, let me remind them that we are watching. And we will be petitioning every month.
(Talib was a journalist with the Concord Times but now works with the UN).