In essence, national identity is inextricably tied to the uniqueness of a country’s national security. The degree of positive socio-economic and political circumstances a nation feels compared to other nations, determines the pride in nationalism, and a willingness to protect the security needs of the country. However, that degree of favorability may not be attained in regimes that are out of touch with the daily lives of the majority. An out of touch and self-serving leadership is incapable of recognizing and resolving problems created under its watch, and not even foresee looming catastrophes.
Sierra Leone, like many other nations is characterized by decades of stemmed development. It needs to reevaluate its culture, especially from the perspective of political discourse and economic development. For decades the country lost ground on many fronts because of socio-political instability, economic malfeasance, violent conflict, and the just ended Ebola epidemic.
Despite the current gains in the last couple of years, the ghosts of post-independence dispensations still haunt the country. In effect, this continues to weaken the fabric of the nation’s identity and pose insurmountable challenges for the nation’s security. Institutionalized “me”culture and attitudes are still manifested in many areas of Sierra Leonean life, despite the vigorous fight against corruption. It is not surprising to note that many Sierra Leoneans do not understand the strategic meaning and significance of the national interest of the nation.
It is unfortunate also to recognize that even in a presumably 21st Century era, the majority of Sierra Leoneans view the national interest as a slippery concept compared to the individual’s interest. Their ethnic alliances, tribal linkages, and colonial dispensation are at the forefront of any other interest. They view their interests endangered, and therefore requires special attention and privileges. In contrast, the country faces many challenges, and there is a need to develop a new mindset that embraces the strategic importance of our national interest and security as top priorities.
For example, view the mindset of Titus Boye-Thompson who considers the Creoles in the country as a desperate yet powerful clan that needs tangible assurances of security and determination to allow their full integration into the political landscape (Cocorioko, July 2, 2015). This is even laughable at best. One would ask whether the Creoles are still waiting for assurances to be fully integrated in the country’s political landscape even after more than two centuries. It is also very difficult to understand his position when he highlights the disunity between the Creoles as an entity within the country. This thinking dilutes the embryo of our identity as Sierra Leoneans, and it weakens our national identity with consequences for our national security.
A little over a decade ago also, some top level party establishment functionaries in the previous SLPP administration visited the U.S. In addressing Tegloma (an SLPP mainstream group) statements were made in support of tribalism, insinuating there is nothing wrong in one being tribalistic in statehood. Decades ago, the All People Congress (APC) on the other hand instituted a culture of One Party state rule, which many considered a dictatorship and detrimental to the growth of democracy in the country.
Overcoming these problems require nurturing higher levels of human consciousness; recreate the values of some of our lost cultures and institutions in line with emerging opportunities. They also require the sharing of intercultural experiences that can galvanize constructs essential to our social coherence. Cultural consciousness as highlighted by David Korten, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, (2006) has a propensity to help people live in peace, prosper, and engage in mutually beneficial relationships, especially during periods of rapid change in the human circumstance that Sierra Leone exhibits.
Human consciousness starts with individual acknowledgement of how each of us contributes to the current political culture and corruption. It is disingenuous to point fingers, blame the politician or the civil servant for the ills of our society. Such behavior will never help strengthen our resolve to unite and strengthen our national identity and security needs. We have to be resolute and resist the pressures and temptation to bribe someone to get what we may or may not be entitled to. As a nation we have to be united, stop pointing fingers, and further creating discord, because nothing will change. Positive change can only come about when a dialogue is started on how to effectively move on and create a democracy with a voice for everyone.
Invoking a stump speech of Lawyer Abu Bakarr Kalokoh, a top aspiring flag bearer under the APC party, he recently challenged every Sierra Leonean to take responsibility for the role he or she contributes to the culture of corruption, and with specific reference to paying bribes. He gave examples of a culture of bribing, sometimes disproportionately, robbing the coffers of the country’s internal revenues.
He highlighted instances of Diasporans, some of whom complain a lot about corruption in the country, and the business community paying less or not paying the legally stipulated custom duties when clearing containers from our ports. Other instances include bidding and executing contracts; bribing for a job or other opportunity under the jurisdiction of a paid public authority; and bribing one’s way out of a crime committed. He further stated that if most Sierra Leoneans believe the culture of corruption is a cancer to our society, it is their duty to acknowledge, proactively address them, and stop being hypocritical.
From the abundance of diverse cultures and traditions, the country has an opportunity to develop a 21st Century mindset with the strategic aim of elevating a cultural renaissance worthy of emulation. It should start with building an identity that strategically unifies the diverse societal cultures and values of the country. This could be done by effectively using the medium of communities of congruence to achieve desired national security needs. It needs the development and maintenance of strong democratic and educational institutions, embracing many shared and common values.
The approach also requires a strong enforcement infrastructure. Anti-Corruption Commission is proving to be one unique institutions that can help greatly in combating the issue of self against the national interest. This institution needs to be strengthened beyond its current boundaries. It is doing well by traveling around the country engaging and enlightening national institutions, e.g. law enforcement, education, and civil societies. However, it still needs more expeditious and robust means to enforce mandates. Law enforcement bodies need more training in enforcing civic responsibilities not just at the local levels, but also at the very high echelons of society.
Moreover, promoting the national interest within the framework of strong democratic and educational institutions denotes a shared set of priorities and responsibilities for domestic needs and those of the outside world (Joseph Nye, Jr). As Sierra Leone continues to make inroads towards a full-fledged practicing democracy, and gaining international recognition in many strategic areas, every effort must be made in building human capacity for Sierra Leoneans to recognize the strategic importance of the national interest. For so many decades, Sierra Leoneans especially those in very high offices have been preoccupied with individual interests that surpass the national interest. Sincerely, this culture permeates both parties that have ruled the country in the post-Independence era, including periods of interregnum the country experienced. The country now needs very aggressive strategies to combat these pressures that undermine the strategic interests of the nation.
Developing a national identity must also incorporate an appreciation of the country’s unsung heroes. It requires developing a strategy to glamorize the contributions of past heroes. While there are many who took the country for granted and contributed to its demise for so many decades, there were many men and women of honor who showed courage in Sierra Leone’s evolution as a country. This has been missing for so long. There is a lack of pride in the average Sierra Leonean for his/her heritage, culture and tradition, and even disregard for unsung heroes.
In the North for example, the name Bai Bureh was a household name for an older generation. Apart from a landmark named after him in Port Loko town, there is not much to remember him as a great patriot. The governing colonial administration at the time painted him a war monger for his opposition to the hut tax, a characteristic which for a very long time was used to define Northerners, especially the Temnes as rebellious (Gbosgbos) to authority. It was eventually used also to define the All Peoples Congress Party because of its Northern roots as a violent political party. Other forgotten heroes are Kailondo and Madam Yoko in the East and South. In the Western part of the country was a Creole who ironically assumed the name of an indigene, Lamina Sankoh.
It is worth asking how many people in today’s generations really remember these unsung heroes with pride and joy. How many are willing to assume their names with pride? It is sad to note many Sierra Leoneans assume the names of foreign leaders, celebrities, or other controversial figures at the expense of their given names. You can hear some call themselves for example Mobutu, Abede Pele, Carlos Alberto, Obasanjo, Tupac, and even Saddam Hussein, to name a few. Inherently and sadly so, their assumed names give them a greater sense of pride at the expense of the ethos of their societal and cultural relationships.
Lastly, political parties in Sierra Leone, especially the main ones, the All People’s Congress (APC), and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) need to review platforms, slogans, and manifestoes. There is a greater need for the APC, currently in power to spread more wisdom beyond the slogan Live For Ever or the SLPP’s One Country, One People. Even though the grassroots do not generally care for the real meaning behind the slogans, it is wrong to use them with no substantive meaning to motivate national pride and identify as one group and not as several dysfunctional subgroups.
It is morally wrong to endlessly caffeinate them with slogans that do not have real meaning to their existence, and it is time for a decaff of misplaced passions.