As President Koroma is inaugurated for a second term in office after freely and fairly winning the last Presidential elections in Sierra Leone, I reminisce a particular encounter with ordinary Sierra Leoneans during my last visit to Sierra Leone which was a proof enough that the President´s development projects during his first term in office have been impacting positively on the lives of ordinary Sierra Leoneans…
It was a hot afternoon in the second week of November, a week to what later turned out to be the historic November 17, 2012 polls in Sierra Leone. I had left Freetown around mid day to conduct some private business in Kambia. Although private, I however saw that trip as an opportunity to appraise myself further with the immense infrastructural development taking place across Sierra Leone which has seen the construction of the main Port Loko-kambia highway linking Freetown and Conakry. As we cruised along that newly constructed highway in one of the trademark commercial Peugeot cars plying that route, I reminded myself of my last journey along the then rocky, bumpy, dusty and pothole-filled highway.
Our vehicle had during that time cruised slowly and carefully eating up all our time on a road that stretched only 86 kilometres. It was very annoying. Even though this is a very important highway that facilitates trade movements between the two West African capitals, it was clear from its then deplorable condition that successive governments in Sierra Leone paid little attention to upgrading it in order to ease such important commercial movements.
However, when the APC regime led by the indefatigable President, Ernest Koroma, took over the reigns of power in 2007, it became clear from the start that it was not going to be business as usual. In the historic Agenda for Change project, the President and his crew prioritized roads rehabilitation, the biggest such venture ever in the history of our nation. Among the numerous other roads rehabilitation and reconstruction that have and are still taking place in Sierra Leone, this all-important highway was a beneficiary.
As we drove on that November afternoon, I said to myself quietly that “this is an evidence of meaningful development.” In complete contrast to my last trip, this time around, our driver was cruising comfortably. Occupying the front seat, I could read the satisfaction on his face. In fact he was intermittently entertaining his passengers with jokes he told in a Krio that was heavily influenced by his Fullah accent. Our driver was truly displaying his skills not just on the steering but also showing he could even compete with “Sarah de Great“in a comedy show.
Though at that time our country was gripped with intense political debates and discussions driven sometimes by biased political sentiments regarding who will win those elections, the mood in the vehicle was very light-hearted and entertaining. I never realized I was going to change it all by asking the driver what I considered a simple question regarding how the reconstruction of that road had impacted on his job. By posing that question, my intension was never to divert the light-hearted mood to a political discussion. But that was exactly what happened. “What else should a government do for people to understand that this is the right government? May God bless the President for what he is doing to transform our country,” our driver enthused, adding “He will get my vote next week.” When I quizzed our driver further to answer my question specifically, he explained to me that he has profited immensely from the reconstruction of that road:
“Look here young man, I own this car. It’s my source of livelihood because it’s what I use to provide for me and my family and send my kids to school. Before this time when this road was in terrible condition, I had to go to the garage very often because the too many potholes were ruining my car. That means I had to give a lot of what I earn to the fitters. Now that I take my car less often to the garage, I can keep a bit more of my earnings.”
I listened attentively, intermittently nodding my head in approval like one listening to a lecture from an eloquent professor as he continued, “besides that, my whole body has benefitted greatly as well. I drive to Pamelap and back every day without feeling much pain and tiredness all over my body like it used to be.” By this time, the other passengers in the vehicle who were mostly market women going to buy some goods in Conakry and return in time for the elections had joined the discussion. They were all talking positively about how their businesses have benefitted from the reconstruction of that highway.
“I now go to Conakry more often than before because it’s much quicker. That means I make a bit more profit in my business than I used to,” one of the women said, with another adding “We don’t expect government to provide food for us but if they create the infrastructure that will enhance our business then we are very happy and grateful.”
That is just one instance of how government can positively impact on the lives of citizens. Imagine if one is to do a comprehensive survey on all the projects undertaken so far under the Agenda for Change programme, from health to agriculture, to education and infrastructural development! The instances of meaningful progress and its impact on the lives of Sierra Leoneans are certainly all over the place.
However, this is not to say there have not been challenges. As I have always stressed, corruption and our attitude towards our nation´s wellbeing have to be altered. Government and President Koroma can certainly not do it alone. The president has done a lot to curb corruption in our country since he took over – empowering the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) with more powers, a campaign on attitudinal change and the clamping down of corrupt officials have been key characteristics in his last term. The recent suspension by the President of ten Senior Ministry of Health officials who are being investigated by the ACC on allegations of misuse of donor funds is a very strong indication of the president´s firm stance in curbing corruption.
It is however unfortunate that corruption still exists. In fact during that trip to the border town, I also realized how much our individual attitudes could pose a challenge to government´s untiring efforts. Just a few meters from a huge billboard that read: Help Develop Sierra Leone, Resist, Refuse and Reject corruption, some border guards were harassing passengers to give them money though they have all the right travel documents. Totally unacceptable!
As the President is inaugurated to begin his second term to continue to better the lives of all Sierra Leoneans in the Agenda for Prosperity package, let us all join hands together to support him and his team to move our nation further.
By Umaru Jah, Information Attaché-Germany
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