Replicating Chinese values: a solution to bridge Sierra Leone divisiveness

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By Alhaji Haruna Sani

Sierra Leone is presently so divided that we need an emergency panacea to save our country from a looming calamity that may surpass the eleven years rebel war which brought an immeasurable loss to the country. Prior to our independence, the heart of Sierra Leone was filled with vibrant colours of diverse cultures that danced in harmony. The shadow of divisiveness only began to loom after the country gained independence in 1961 and the mantle of leadership transferred to citizens. In their quest for political power, politicians ignored constructive means of persuading voters and instead focused on tribes and regions to divide us for their selfish benefit. As time passes by, the country increasingly grappled with the quest for true democracy fueled by political and tribal discord. Today, the leaderships of even the least of wheelbarrow pushers or pepper sellers, if there are any, are influenced by tribal lines with links to the political party in power. Student unionism is highly associated with political party and tribe. Religious groups have compromised their moral status for tribal politics. Most members of Civil Society organizations and journalist have also joined the bandwagon, aligning with the APC or SLPP parties’ base on their tribe and region of origin.

Unlike Sierra Leone, most other countries have moved beyond party and ethno-regional politics. Countries in Africa and beyond have long since implemented polices to avert ethno-regional and party politics. China is one country Sierra Leone could emulate in order to have our country unified once again.

On November 6th this year, 24 of us, some of us journalists, press officers and media regulators from Freetown, Sierra Leone landed in Beijing, the capital of China. We were there on a seminar, sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and organized by the Research and Training Institute of the National Radio and Television Administration. Prior to my travelling, I was full of negative thought about China and its people, with plenty of sentiment echoed by Anti-Chinese “China is not a democratic nation and its citizens rights are trampled on”, Chinese don’t like blacks”, Chinese are not friendly”, bla bla bla… But my over three weeks stay in China proved otherwise. I came to the realization that Chinese people are highly misunderstood and stereotyped by some people or countries. During my stay, I became conscious that Chinese appreciate their government and leaders; they love black and they are lovely and super friendly. Whenever we stepped out, countless number of Chinese citizens will request for photo opps in admiration. When one asks for help, they will make sure you get what you requested, making it less troublesome for you.

It was so marvelous to see how the Chinese people are united in every facet of life. Citizens do not speak ill of their government and it is difficult to notice any ethno-regional differences among them. I began to wonder how come a nation of over 1.4 billion is so united and Sierra Leone with only 8 million people is sharply divided on tribal and political lines.

During our interactions with Chinese Professors, I learnt how China remarkably rose from turbulent times to a nation of prosperity and unity that is armed with a determination to heal her own divide. “We have 56 ethnic groups in China, but we decided to use one among all (Mandarin) as our national dialect, Mandarin is what is known as the Chinese language today,” one of the professors told us during a session. Over 70% of Chinese communicate in mandarin and a foreigner can hardly notice any difference among them in terms of their ethnic background. Citizen’s care less about regions and tribes, and they hold their government to the highest esteem and government in turn prioritize citizen’s welfare above all. Instead of unproductive journalism, Constructive journalism is what the media practices in China. If some of those Chinese values could be replicated in Sierra Leone, the widening gap between tribes will narrow the divisiveness even amidst the highest political tensions. It is obvious that Sierra Leone enjoys both religious and ethno-regional tolerance in our ordinary life. But in times of politics, tribal divisions among major ethnic groups rise to the peak. It is therefore prudent to replicate the Chineseinitiative on promoting inter-ethnic unity.

Replicating Chinese initiative on promoting inter-ethnic unity and common progress: From the late 1940s to the 1970s the central government of China advocated inter-ethnic unity through policy practice, and local government started initiating development activities. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, China has been affirmed as a unified multi-ethnic country. It regards ethnic equality and inter-ethnic unity as important principles for nation-building, and established the systems of regional ethnic autonomy as a basic state policy and political system. It is a policy that all ethnic groups within the boundaries of China are equal and that the People’s Republic of China will become a big fraternal and co-operative family composed of all it nationalities. All acts that oppose inter-ethnic unity are prohibited. It is the belief of the Chinese authorities that the realization of common prosperity and development of all ethnic groups is the only way to achieving a well-off society.

As part of our travel plan, we visited Fuzhou and Fujian province where we explored the Chinese poverty alleviation demonstration village among other tourist sites. As she took us around tourist destinations in Fuzhou, Nanah, our Tour Guide said “Our President, President Xi had worked at some top administrative positions in Fujian province for about 17 years. As we progress, a colleague informed us that Fujian province is the birth place of President Xi. This sparked some debate which led to us asking Nannah, the Tour Guide, other colleagues, our seminar coordinators and even a few people on Fuzhou streets. But none could give any correct information about where President Xi was born or which region he actually comes from. To me that was inspiring, and I reflected on the situation back home and began to ask myself “Are there matured and educated Sierra Leoneans who don’t know former President Koroma of the now opposition APC is from northern Bombali district?” “Are there Sierra Leoneans who don’t know incumbent President Bio of the SLPP party is from the southern region district of Bonthe?”, or that “Samura Kamara of the APC is from Kamalo, northern Sierra Leone?”. Those are some of the factors that widened the tribal divide. Unlike the Chinese, Sierra Leoneans are overzealous about the ethno-regional background of their politicians and they support them on those basis.

One of the solutions to our problems is for government to institute inclusive leadership policies, galvanize leaders of major tribes and communities and inviting them to preach the importance of finding a common ground in order to reach a permanent resolution. If we adopt the Chinese values of ethnic unity, Sierra Leone will emerge as a beacon of hope bridging the deepest divided and overcoming the boundaries that once divide us.

Constructive Journalism; building bridges not walls: In Sierra Leone, headlines often echoed the challenges and turmoil of the day. Shifting the goal post will definitely help out in the current situation. It is time for us to move from the status quo of critic journalism and focus on constructive journalism. Constructive reporting builds bridges not walls. Instead of only focusing on challenges, journalists should focus on highlighting the problems and proffering solutions to those problems. Constructive journalism will help reduce our current polarization, provide a more accurate view of events and instill pride and a sense of community purpose. That is the type of journalism practiced in China.

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