Sierra Leone is that one country under the sun where almost everything-from telling the truth as it is, to electing a political leader and even, sometimes, to the price of pepper in the local market-is politicized. Whilst I certainly cannot ascertain whether or not such Sierra Leonean percepts have changed; I am profoundly convinced that President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma has proffered one of the best national ideologies in the memories of time in this country-a national ideology that need to be emboldened in the patriotic and nationalistic mindset of Sierra Leoneans. Whether Sierra Leoneans like it or not, the refusal to change negative attitudes and behaviours will certainly affect the country long after President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma would have exited the political stage.
It will not be an academic text book per se; rather, it will come across an apologue done about a country that was once so wealthy, so prosperous, so serene, so hopeful, so civilized, so overwhelmed with potentials and so much driven by the characteristic urges of progress and development. The book discusses the critical factors in Sierra Leone’s development or under-development, namely: patriotism, nationalism, attitudes and behaviours; and, examines a political philosophy-the ABC-that ignited a national evocative mindset of resurgence, restitution and the renaissance of the cultures of development, civility and aspirations.
Chapter One of the book, titled Old Sweet Mama Salone, has been captured in this maiden serialization because it coincides, somehow perfectly, with the 56th Independence Anniversary of the Republic of Sierra Leone which, on 27th April 1961, was granted independence by her colonial master, Great Britain. The country subsequently occupied its full sovereign status at the United Nations on 27th September, 1961.
These excerpts look back at a country that gained independence, apparently on a silver platter, having all the hallmarks of a very real and potentially prosperous nation.
“The Independence that was always celebrated
When independence was finally achieved; Sierra Leoneans took the praise and pride as a people who had their wits about them; and, to especially those who joined and jammed their wine glasses in honour of the birth of a new nation, Independence was meant to be an achievement that was to be always remembered, be endeared, celebrated and be proud about! The attainment of independence marked the start of hope, expectation and was meant to signal a permanent end to colonial domination.
Sierra Leone, a sprinter of Development
Sierra Leone noticeably started its socio-economic and political journey after independence like a sprinter who wanted, on a record time, to get to the proverbial finish line and cut the tape of global development and enlightenment.
In the first post-independence decade, every anniversary marking the attainment of independence was very much treasured and looked forward to as on that day, every pupil in primary school was guaranteed a pint of soft drink, a sumptuous plate of food, a packet of candies and a national flag to be carried in hand. Such national gestures were common practices in Sierra Leone for a long time. Independence was celebrated with pride, passion and happiness because during those days people knew only of prosperity, as hardship was an alien social vocabulary in the country.
It is on record that the early 1970s were the most successful and enjoyable years for Sierra Leone. Hence, during those early years after independence, Sierra Leone was that one country where, almost, everything was driven by the urges of perfection, order, decency and the aspirations of progress and development and as it turned out to be the country became the shining star* of the West African sub region.
There were, for example, bus stops everywhere in the capital city and major provincial towns that sheltered waiting passengers. On regular intervals, double-decker buses moved in and around the streets carrying passengers to almost all corners of Freetown, the capital city. People who wanted to travel quickly or avoid the hassles of public transport hired a cab or taxi that took them, alone, to any part of the city they wished to go for affordable fares.
The visitation of a smartly dressed Post Master standing at the door steps of homes was so beholding; he was there to deliver a letter or parcel from any part of the country and the world and this was a common routine activity. Letters and parcels on the sorting post lines were not tampered with as was demonstrated by people abroad sending foreign currencies for relatives back home in Sierra Leone which were received as sealed, enclosed and untampered.
Masterclass social services and infrastructure were noticeable in almost all parts of the country. Roads were good and properly maintained, while trains shuttled across most parts of the country to make peoples’ mobility between the capital city Freetown and the provinces very quick and on time, thus reducing the hassles of traveling. There was regular electricity supply and available tap water in most parts of Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone was among the first countries on the continent to own and operate a radio station in tandem with a television station. The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, which was the national broadcaster/operator, of Radio and Television, performed its roles independently and dutifully to the country. The national hospital, Connaught hospital, was state of the art and it ran a health programme that was similar to the National Health Service (NHS) which is even now operating in England.
The Lungi International airport was a well-organized and decent port of flight embarkation and disembarkation while, at the Hastings airfield, there were small convenient taxi-planes operated by the indigenously-owned Sierra Leone Airways which efficiently managed air shuttling services between local destinations viz: Freetown, Bonthe, Gbangbatoke, Kenema, Kono, Bo, Kabala, etc.
People who could not afford their own personal homes were allotted low-cost housing dwellings. The environment was kept well clean as men toting fumigation cans behind their backs, going around to spray gutters and cesspits, and disinfecting the environment, were always seen regularly and efficiently performing those tasks. The environment was ideal for social life; the Victoria Park was a place of leisure and provided a perfect recreational value for the capital’s citizens. The smiles of the beach revelers on a Sunday spoke volumes and showed how content people were looking. Lumley beach, on a Sunday, said it all; it was crowded with lovely people enjoying the weekends.
In the schools, every pupil was well sat and teachers looked forward to everyday of the school year. The teaching profession was a career which many graduates from college aspired for. In primary schools, the recess period was a time of expectation as government vans veered the street corners carrying decent lunch meals for school children. In the higher institutions of leaning, Fourah Bay College, Njala University College and Milton Margai College, it was one student per room, comfortably studying on government bursary. There were schools established for the physically challenged children. These schools included two Cheshire homes, one school for the blind, one for the deaf, and one-the Approved school-for feral yobs to be reformed. Between secondary schools, colleges and Universities there were annual sporting activities in football and athletics which were orderly organized and promoted the spirit of competition.
The country cared so much for the welfare its young ones that specially trained persons, known as lollipop officers, were stationed at strategic points to cross school-going children to and from school.
I am proud to be a Sierra Leonean
Culturally, there was the National Dance Troupe which entertained especially foreign guests by promoting the country’s natural cum cultural heritage. Live band shows were routine entertainment activities whereby local bands beat-the-hit for weekend revelers. Some of these indigenous bands were Super Combo Kings, Sabanoh Kings, Afro National, Sabanoh 75, Ochestre Muyei, Police Band and Military Band. There were a number of national theater groups like the Freetown Players and the Tabule Tiata which promoted the country’s culture through the staging of concerts and comedies. The tourist atmosphere was very friendly as government facilitated the construction of intercontinental hotels like the Cape Sierra hotel, Brookfield hotel, Bintumani hotel, and Mammy Yoko hotel.
Poverty is not my calling
The economy of the country was brisk and booming, and with pounds and shillings, the currency was strong enough to compete in the international market. Every household lived a life of decency and a square meal per day was a certainty. Standard of living was high and cost of living so low that even lowly paid workers, who wished to own a car, were able to mortgage vehicles from Datsun, Mercedes Benz, Toyota and Honda garages, which enabled them to drive brand new cars. Unemployment was a strange thing in the socio-economic system of the country. Anyone who wanted, then, to be gainfully employed could do so with a drop of a hat. Changing jobs was common place and even those who left, say in Form Three in secondary schools, were guaranteed employment.
The Sierra Leone Producing Marketing Board (SLPMB) was a conduit where local farmers were able to gain more financial profits from the sale of their local products; more especially, coco, coffee, and piassava which were exported and earned the country the much needed foreign exchange. In Kono District, there was the Sierra Leone National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC) which managed the mining activities to the point of ensuring that government and the people of Sierra Leone were able to benefit in diverse ways in terms of employment for Sierra Leoneans and the generation of the much needed foreign exchange.
There were many local manufacturing industries in the country; namely, the Sierra Fisheries Limited, Sierra Bricks Factory, Sierra Leone National Shipping Company, National Workshop, Bennimix Factory, Natco Factory, Aureol Tobacco Company, etc. In the east of the city, government established an Industrial Estate at Wellington to enhance the manufacturing of different consumer products like cigarettes, soap, beer, wine, rum and confectionary. Government provided essential facilities like water, electricity transportation and banks within that area to enable these industries operate with maximum efficiency.
I have integrity and I respect others
Honesty was a national watchword which was seen clearly in many cases. Respect for the elder was a national character. In public places, young people got up for the elderly to sit down. Neighbors became their brother’s keeper watching over their children and even sometimes meting out punishment on behalf of the parent when a kid behaved too badly.
In the House of Parliament, a Member of Parliament (MP) worked in the interest of those they represented. Politicians, public and civil servants, alike, believed that they were servants of the state and not masters. Local government institutions around the country had the freedom and capacity to develop their own localities and environments. Paramount chiefs were the traditional heroes and they kept responsible watch over their people in their local settings.
No one is above the Law
The country’s judicial system was relatively independent, free and fair, pursuing and upholding the great principles of democracy and of equality before the law. There was no special advantage for anyone in the face of the country’s laws as it was a respecter of no one. The press kept a watch for the people of the country, taking on the government at every opportunity of a slip-up; and, because the media was free, it pointed out areas where government was neglecting its responsibilities and where improvements were needed and the government took those critical propositions in good fate not considering the need to gag press views.
My country was always safe and secure
The Army, Police and Prison Officers acted professionally and government, desirous of enhancing optimum services from its security forces, housed these officers in barracks that were kept well clean. The Police force was exceptionally a force for good as the policemen on the beat were symbols of security and reassurance for the civilian populace. The Sierra Leonean men and women in brown had such high competence as their counterparts in the United Kingdom’s police force.
Everywhere was worth living
The Provincials (that is people from the provinces as they were fondly called), had very little reason to abandon their peaceful homes in the provincial regions and come to reside in what they felt was a congested capital city; for, they had work to do there, in the regions. In addition, there were the post offices to receive and deliver their letters; the Government hospitals were efficiently functioning, the cable network sent telegraphs at necessary times; there were big retail stores ran by the Lebanese and Syrians-stores that offered different items and articles for consumer use. The Provincial man therefore did not have the urge of the city greener pastures which many in the provinces have today.
The Athens of West Africa
Sierra Leone was such a purposeful sprinter in especially educational development that she became known as the Athens of West Africa-a name and position that many within the sub region envied and wanted. Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, in particular, provided quality education to its own local students and also to a good number of foreign students who came from across the entire continent of Africa to acquire quality university degrees at the time.
It could only get better for sweet Mama Salone
The list for the “good old times” of Old Sweet Mama Salone, as the wise heads would usually say, can roll on and on and on. Little wonder that during these periods, not many people saw any need to travel abroad except to pursue further studies, or on health treatment or for a short holiday.
The most interesting thing about what Sierra Leone then looked like is that, these are some of the same developments (phenomenally improved upon it has to be said) now happening abroad that is wooing many people to go out there in search of greener pastures. Infact if all what Sierra Leone had, then, especially in terms of infrastructural development, economic buoyancy, and a contrite social and political culture were brought back today to exist in their exact designs and forms; those who were never around at the time will think that we are living in Europe or the Unites States of America. This is because in England, for example, today; there are bus stops everywhere with buses plying the routes on scheduled times. Double-Decker buses are seen everywhere across England. In the school systems, pupils are well sat in their classrooms, and in the hospitals, citizens get free NHS treatment. The trains or tubes link every part of the country. There is an avalanche of reliable essential utility services, twenty-four hour electricity and water supply, good maintained roads, parks everywhere for leisure, lunch for pupils in schools, bursary for students in the universities and higher institutions of learning, dedicated and committed state officials, honest politicians, functional local councils, decent standard of living, relatively stable economy, decent prisons that treat people with respect, an independent press and a promising future. Sierra Leone even had prisons that were so decent that, it was said that some homeless prisoners never wanted to leave after serving their jail terms.
So the description today of Sierra Leone as Old Sweet Mama Salone, by our older generation, is neither a make-up story nor a deception; for, by all real accounts, Sierra Leone was a promising land in social, economic, political and cultural terms, all geared towards development and progress.
Looking back to that period, those early years of post-independence, is always a nostalgic-must, especially in the face of the unfortunate problems which have confronted the country for so long and which many nationalistic and patriotic Sierra Leoneans feel too angry and disappointed about. People born in Sierra Leone some fourty years ago, and now living abroad, find it very difficult to understand what curse actually befell their beloved nation. For, at the time they were leaving; they left a land that was the envy of many in the West African sub-region and returned later to find a country that was a mirage of its true self and a mockery of the world. Sierra Leone, some fourty years down the road of independence, was really, truly, indeed the story of Grass-to-grass!