During one of my international trips, an Italian acquaintance who I met in New York USA asked me what is Sierra Leone best known for? She went further to say she knows that Sierra Leone is naturally one of the richest countries in the world, that she knows about the diamond and blood diamond story behind it. She said what more will I tell her that will make her want to come to Sierra Leone. My mind immediately resonates on so many things including our education system, entertainment, sport but since there is nothing much to write home about and I wanted to be real to her as much as I could, my first response to her was this: “can we walk to Times Square because I don’t think our discussion will end anytime soon”. That was my first response. After all, I felt like I needed enough time to think about what to say to her because in as much I was pursuing the interest of my country at the international level, I also wanted to be real as much as I could. So since Times Square is one of the most famous places in New York, and since that was the first time for both of us to visit New York, she gladly said yes and we both immediately jumped in our phones for google map direction as we decided to walk to the place.
I ended up telling her so many good things about Sierra Leone including our beautiful beaches, the way the mountains surround the capital city and the kind way Sierra Leoneans accept strangers. She said to me “from your response, everything you have told me about Sierra Leone comes naturally to Sierra Leone and Sierra Leones. What more can you tell me that will make me want to come to Sierra Leone?” At that point, I understood that what she wanted to hear was what we have achieved as a country. So I also went further to explain a whole lot and even affirmed to her that Sierra Leone is one of the most peaceful and democratic nations in World as we have democratically exchange powers to different parties twice since independence. I closed by saying, with all these, the best thing that will make anyone want to come to Sierra Leone is our “History”. The history of Sierra Leone is enough to bring people in because it is the strongest thing we have left as a country.
Our history is our strongest power.
The greatest problem in Sierra Leone is not poor education system nor a poor health care system. It’s not even the economy. Our greatest problem is unbelieve. Many Sierra Leoneans including our leaders don’t even believe that Sierra Leone will catch up with the rest of the world in terms of development. So our bad economy, poor education system, poor health care system are just a resultant of our unbelieve. Until we believe that Sierra Leone can make it before all of those things can be corrected. Many health care and education systems have been erected in Sierra Leone mostly by our development partners and we are the very ones that are destroying those structures. Unbelieve! So the problem is not the absence of the systems or structures, the problem is the way our mind behaves.
How our mind behaves?
This is the country where young people will spend their entire lives in school believing that they are stupid.
This is the country, where a student will graduate with a degree in agriculture and the person, joins unemployment queue to find a job so he can sit in an office rather than going to the farm.
This is the country where our leaders don’t trust the very health care system that they are spending so much money to build. They rather take the country’s cash from the economy, go abroad and spend the money in another economy for a medical check-up. And they will later come and say our economy is bad.
This is the country where the salary of politically appointed workers is 20 times more than the salaries of all the supporting staff combined and they will later wake up and say the supporting staff (civil servants) are corrupt when of course they set the stage for the civil servants to engage in corrupt acts.
This is the country where many of the courses offer and skills provided to students in university are not in-demand-skills for the present market and policymakers will wake up and say the unemployment rate is higher, what else do they expect?
So the reason for our 59 years backwardness is not the lack of structures or systems, because to some extent, the systems are there, some structures have been provided mostly by our development partners but we are the very ones destroying them. So it tells us even if every Sierra Leonean is taken out of Sierra Leone and the country is built to European standard, if we are brought back to the country we will destroy everything we meet. Simply because many don’t think multiplier, we compete when we need to collaborate and we sabotage when we need to support. So the problem is not the lack of system or structure. The problem is the way our mind behaves.
To correct that, we need to go back to history as it’s our strongest power left. Because the old folks who once ruled and reduced the status of this country didn’t know what they didn’t know. Now let’s focus on the little ones and make them believe that they are the ‘Future Leaders of Today’. Let’s remind them the country rests on their shoulders. Let’s remind the younger ones that Sierra Leone was once named the ‘Anthem of West Africa’ because of our then leadership role in education. Let’s remind them that most of the great leaders in Africa acquired their first tertiary education at the Fourah Bay College, in Sierra Leone. Let remind them that decades ago, Africans were running to Sierra Leone to acquire education as Sierra Leone was the hub for education.
Let’s remind them about all the lost glories so they will build their strength upon them. Let’s make them believe that Sierra Leone was once the greatest in Africa and we still have enough time to be the greatest not just in Africa but the world as a whole. Let’s make them understand that the word ‘Sierra Leone’ does not mean the land or soil that we step on every day but we the people living on the land. Let’s take ownership, solve problems and act responsibly so politicians will not have the gut to play on us. Sierra Leone is not divided. It’s the politicians that are making us believe that we are divided just to gain political scores. Until your mind behaves right before you understand that Sierra Leone is very united.
So when I told that young Italian researcher in New York that if she wants to come to Sierra Leone let her come because of our history, this was what I meant.
Happy 59th Independence Day to all Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad.
Sierra Leone will rise very soon but only if we believe.
Amb. Fouad Kanneh
Internationally acclaimed SDGs & Youth Ambassador