By Basita Michael
As we prepare to go into the New Year let us pause, reflect and contemplate on the moments we went through at the height of the pandemic and the successes and challenges of 2020.
Although compared to many other countries in the world, our infection and death rate from the COVID-19 pandemic remain relatively low, yet most of our population has been adversely impacted mentally and psychologically. One moment you are excited to carry on and take care of yourself and your family, the next moment you are confused, sad and hopeless as you hear the news about the spread of the pandemic.
In years to come, historians will write about these events just as they did about Ebola. This begs a series of questions about how Sierra Leone will be remembered during the unprecedented period of the pandemic? What will our historians say about Sierra Leone in times of COVID-19? What will our children and grandchildren learn from our fight with COVID-19?
Our children and grandchildren will learn that there is strength in caring. Despite the challenges faced by the New Direction government, President Bio was quite proactive in his attempt to stop the spread by taking early measures and making the necessary interventions which other leaders around the world failed to do to protect their citizens.
They will learn that when it comes to matters of life and death, most people were happy to make human rights concessions that are necessary for the public interest. They will study how a state of public emergency was unanimously passed by all members of Parliament.
They will learn that Parliament was suspended indefinitely and that certain members of Parliament raised objection to this and complained that regulations were not laid before Parliament. They will learn that the former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice invoked the provisions of section 29 (10) of the 1991 Constitution.
They will learn how poverty was an obstacle to a complete lockdown and will hear about how citizens living in deprived communities had to fight for water.
They will learn how some members of the military and the police mercilessly beat and flogged people for disobeying the lockdown. They will also learn that some of those security officers were arrested and disciplined by the authorities.
They will learn about the precious lives that were lost due to the high-handedness of the security forces at Lunsar, Foredugu, Tombo, and Makeni.
They will learn how 31 people were killed at the country’s main correctional centre at Pademba Road in Freetown in an alleged prison break.
They will learn about hate and bitterness as they hear how some citizens wished death on some people in high positions and wished that Sierra Leone suffers from the pandemic.
They will learn how political opponents released fake media press releases aimed at creating panic and how we engaged in rhetorical battle and hate speech with opposing sides promoting division just as we needed unity.
They will learn about the story of Paolo Conteh, the former Defence Minister, who was called to serve in COVID-19 response team but ended up being tried for treason.
They will learn how COVID-19 failed to unite the political parties in fighting a common enemy.
They will learn how egregious breaches of the principles of natural justice and violations of the fundamental rights of individuals cast a gloomy shadow over the findings of the Commissions of Inquiry, especially the Commission chaired by Justice Biobelle George. They will learn how the names of reputable Sierra Leoneans were sullied without allowing them to be heard.
They will learn how Parliament suspended Honorable Gevao from all parliamentary committees and referred him to the Privileges Committee of Parliament for investigation upon his assertion on BBC Focus on Africa programme that Parliament is corrupt and how he subsequently apologized for his remarks.
They will learn how the Speaker of Parliament condemned two human rights defenders for publication of survey reports on citizens voices and opinions on corruption and trust in public institutions.
They will learn from the latest Auditor General’s reports that state officials continue to abuse state resources without shame.
They will learn a lot more.
Is there much to celebrate? There is some positive news. The congratulatory message from the United States Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Maria Brewer, on Sierra Leone passing 13 out of the 20 Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) scorecard indicators for 2020. “By passing two additional indicators from last year as well as increasing your control of corruption score to 81% from 79% last year, you do us proud. So, congratulations Mr. President,” she said.
In addition, Sierra Leone was selected for compact eligibility and the President has been launching several developmental projects to revamp the economy. Most recently Justice Miatta Maria Samba was elected to the International criminal court.
But as the music will get louder, we will realize that we can do a lot better. Many have become discouraged by politics. Everything in the country is politicized. Any criticism is met by a partisan response. Praise for the current government is condemned by APC supporters and criticisms of the current government are swiftly rebutted by its supporters and you are tagged as APC.
Neither attitudes of the sitting government and the opposition are democratic or healthy. It is our constitutional right to express ourselves and raise issues of concern to us. A culture of constant denunciation and condemnation does not augur well for our democracy. Rhetoric designed to demonize one another must not be encouraged.
So what’s next? Perhaps one way to fight this assault on our democracy is for a leader to emerge who can inspire others to put aside partisan interests and think of the country first. If you feel like others do that this is not going to happen and the longing for it is childish, then you are also part of the problem.
Sierra Leoneans are tired of partisan bickering. They want an end to it. They want solutions to their problems, not partisan posturing. They want leaders who reject politics and put the interest of the country ahead of the party. Most of them expressed how they have lost all faith in their leaders. They condemn the constant partisan bickerings.
Come 2021, our children and grandchildren must learn about community spirit, unity and solidarity among us. They should hear about heart-warming stories of how we put aside our differences for nation-building.