February 1, 2022
BY Andrew Keili
I was amazed at the flurry of tributes from world leaders and other notable people to the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently. This set me pondering whether we could not have our own Desmond Tutu in Sierra Leone. I know what your initial impression may be-“Nor bring laf cam na berin ose o!”. But seriously, we need to ponder this.
Firstly, let us reflect on the extent of Desmond Tutu’s influence. He was an oratorical force whose leadership helped abolish apartheid in South Africa and was seen by many as the conscience of a troubled nation. While other leaders, like Mandela, were incarcerated, Tutu travelled and spoke widely, using his senior position in the Anglican Church and using the esteem of his Nobel Peace Prize to promote his anti-apartheid message worldwide and elevate the stories and lives of Black South Africans. He helped guide South Africa into its state of democracy, having chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was necessary for the country to heal from the wounds caused by apartheid. Tutu was credited for dubbing a united South Africa the “rainbow nation.”
Great man indeed, Tutu! But who is our own Desmond Tutu here in Sierra Leone? Can we not also have great men or women who can bring their influence to bear positively on the lives of citizens of this country, irrespective of any personal consequences of their actions? Indeed, the ills in our country have been many and persistent for a very long time. Public resources and public property are often placed in the service of the party in power. We have seen violence mar the political landscape. Our illiterate, unemployed youth have been used as cannon fodder by politicians. The country has been used to further some people’s personal ambitions. There is a dire need for national cohesion. Our problems are so many. Many people who are supposed to speak out are too afraid to do so for a whole host of reasons.
When will a leader stand up to emulate the attitude of Archbishop Tutu? Let us examine some of the attributes that made him a great man from some of the tributes paid to him. He was all of the following:
- A patriot and conscience of the nation.
He loved his country so much. He was truly the conscience of the nation and people listened to him.
- A leader of principle, integrity and pragmatism
He was described in one tribute as “a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead”. Archbishop Welby said Tutu – “always known as Arch” – was “a prophet and priest, a man of words and action, one who embodied the hope and joy that were the foundations of his life”.
- A leader against injustice and advocate of human rights
President Obama described him thus: “A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere,”.
- A leader with moral strength, moral courage and clarity
While Tutu preached against the tyranny of apartheid, he would go on to be just as critical of Black political elites. In 2013, Tutu withdrew his support for Mandela’s party, describing South Africa as “the most unequal society in the world.”
- A leader who preached national cohesion
He preached incessantly about the need for national cohesion. Toward the end of his life, Tutu also spoke with regret that the dream of a true “rainbow nation” had yet to be realized.
- An unwavering voice for the voiceless
Tutu cared for the oppressed and was very vocal about issues concerning them all over the world.
- A leader with extraordinary personal courage and bravery
Somebody said of him- “He was a man of extraordinary personal courage and bravery: when the police burst into Capetown Cathedral, he defied them by dancing down the aisle”. Former Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu said Tutu was a man of “amazing faith” who was “so rooted in Christ he feared nothing”.
- A leader who transformed lives
One tribute stated-Tutu’s love “transformed the lives of politicians and priests, township dwellers and world leaders. He was a pioneer and “a man of enormous vision”.
Tutu is obviously a hard act to follow. A South African commentator’s opinion was that in many ways Tutu was lucky that he appeared at the right time in history in the right context. His view is that it is difficult to get all these qualities in one man and that perhaps in looking out for another Tutu, South Africans should consider people who are doing their own bit in their little corner to further some of the ideals Tutu fought for, so that collectively, they can help shape the direction of the nation. I agree with this assessment.
So here is the challenge to us in Sierra Leone. This time I would like those reading this article to ponder their own thoughts on who is Sierra Leone’s living Desmond Tutu. Ponder the problems that you may consider exist in our country-poor national cohesion, unfair incarcerations, political divisions, unfair dismissals, selective investigations, concerns about separation of powers, concerns about the judicial system, corruption, nepotism, tribalism-you name them! Ponder people who are doing their own little bit to bring these to our national consciousness with a fearless call to action. I do realise that there are many who may be capable of doing such but would rather compromise with leaders of the day for self-gain. Ponder the qualities Tutu had and judge these people by these qualities. They may not need to be perfect (even Tutu had his flaws and his critics), but would need to have some of these qualities, influence a fair number of the citizenry and probably action by national leadership. I would also reiterate that he or she must be known to be fearless and speak truth to power. The person (or persons) should have a message that would be consistent, irrespective of which government is in power.
Please drop me a note, pondering your own thoughts on Sierra Leone’s Desmond Tutu. I intend publishing the findings in a related article later. Let us celebrate our heroes. Please send contributions to me by whatever means convenient or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ponder Sierra Leone’s Desmond Tutu(s). Ponder my thoughts.