THE HEART IS THE MATTER
This comment was sent to us by a concerned Sierra Leone at home as (in their own words) "merely my own humble attempt to share with you my gut feelings on the issues afflicting our country, in agreement with the salient issues you have so often clearly raised in many of your articles".  The article, which will form the basis of further detailed work, is instructive and relevant to an understanding of some of the background to the on-going chaos and confusion inside Sierra Leone.   For obvious reasons its writer's name has been withheld, but it is published with their copyright protected.
 

THE CIVIL WAR in Sierra Leone has been dubbed a 'diamond war'. This is convenient shorthand for those who do not want to find out the real truth behind the bitterness that has overtaken our country for the last 30 years. Undoubtedly, the much sought after precious stones have played a major role in fuelling this most vicious of civil conflicts that has ripped through Sierra Leone and her neighbouring countries of Liberia and Guinea. 

Despite the signing of the Lomé peace accord in July 1999, Sierra Leoneans and the International Community have failed to address the fundamental failings of society. It is undeniably these failings that created the ideal environment for such hostility by Sierra Leoneans towards one another to fester and be unleashed, with such intensity, on the innocent people of Sierra Leone.

The problem with Sierra Leone is quite simply, its people. A people who have abandoned the core values of a viable and self respecting civil society over a long period of time, and to such an extent that unconventional behaviour and social deviancy have become the norm. In short the social and moral fabric of Sierra Leone society has long disintegrated into nothingness, almost to the point where nothing is sacred any more and everything is up for grabs.  Consequently anarchy has prevailed for over thirty years, being blatantly disregarded until it's ugly manifestation in the form of a devastating civil war in which gross atrocities have been committed against men, women and children. 

How come evil could have gripped a nation like ours' to the extent that it turns upon itself and sets about to destroy itself? It is this same evil spirit that has bred us into a nation in which malice, jealousy, selfishness, greed, and envy dwell cosily, side by side, and unchallenged in the hearts of the people. In other words bad heart has been accepted as normal. The heart, alas, has truly become the matter. 

Just take a close look at SaLone society, paying particular heed to some of the paradigms that have shaped our thinking:

Firstly“Oosai den dae tie cow nar dae e go eat” (meaning "a cow will opportunistically graze wherever it is tethered, never mind the suitability of the grass for its purpose"). This has long been the swan song of many a Sierra Leonean who wishes to justify their desire to steal money from the public purse. It was the attitude officially sponsored by the late President Siaka Stevens who, in effect, ran a purely kleptocratic government whose legacy, in the form of civil war, we are now struggling to come to terms with. 

I am not a cattle farmer, but my own limited observation tells me that grazing cows tend to be moved from pasture to pasture in order to allow the field to revitalise itself and for the grass to grow again. If cows are left to graze without opportunity for replenishment, then, as the supply of grass diminishes, the cows become more violent as they jockey for vantage patches from which to graze. That is the analogy with our country and it's (often acclaimed legendary abundant) resources!

Sierra Leoneans, it seems to me, opportunistically thrive purely on a culture of extraction. Every body extracts from government, parastatals, employers, friends, relatives, diamond mines, the Atlantic Ocean, forests, etc. No body gives account; nobody puts anything back in return. It is all a one-way traffic – always taking out and never putting anything in. Only very few people (much respect to them) are engaged in active production. Thus, extraction without replenishment in an increasing population leads to a pattern of behaviour that is similar to cattle grazing in the exhausted and parched fields. That is the simple truth of the matter.

Secondly, and following from above, let's now change the paradigm to “dar cow way eat grass wey nor to en yone, nar dae e go die” (meaning "a cow that grazes away in a patch that's not meant for it will die there"). If this message is passed along, through every strata of society, it would, one hopes, encourage the present breed of corrupt political aspirants to think again about their use of another of these paradigms - the assertion that "politics nar en dae make posin eat wetin e nor get” (meaning "politics is a means for people to enjoy the benefits of that which they do not and cannot otherwise hope to own'").  Believe me, these are the real issues at the base of the behavioural patterns that we see in every day life of today's Sierra Leonean society!

Thirdly, the issue of impunity. Sierra Leoneans commit crimes with impunity, confident that there is no sanction to be faced, which is another legacy from the days of Siaka Stevens and the APC. One can argue that men like “Highway” (the notorious thug and alleged murderer), with the political backing that they got from the State, were the early precursors of today’s armed youth by whichever label you wish to call them - rebels, sobels (soldier-rebels), CDF, new SLA, raray boys (street urchins), etc. They are all one and the same thing, i.e. disenfranchised youth who believe that they can get what they want through the barrel of the gun, as political leaders have done, and walk away without facing sanctions, which is consistent with the Sierra Leone model. Why should it be any more different now than it has been before? 

Such impunity is not limited to that obtained by the use of gun. It comes about even in every day life. Men beat their wives and throw them out of the family home, with no regard for them as mothers to their children, and expect to get away with it without being asked to give account. Men and women both cheat on their partners and it is accepted as the norm. Bankers, politicians, corporate managers, civil servants and other so-called illustrious persons regularly steal from their employers without fear of prosecution. If they are unlucky they get fired, but they are never made to face the due process of law. 

What the, you may well ask, is the disincentive when there is no enforced formal system of heaping shame and disgrace on criminals? Is it thus surprising that such 'extractive' criminal behaviour is repeated at every strata of society?  Could somebody, e.g. the government, please start punishing wrong doers for their actions, especially where they have acted against the public interest?

I know it is contentious to say this, but allowing human rights abusers to go free is not really setting a precedent. On the contrary the precedent will, and can, be set when people start paying for their crimes against society - particularly those crimes which hurt, most, those who are already disadvantaged. In that case rebels, corrupt ministers, crooked state officials and dishonest businessmen would all become equally culpable. The precedent will then be set when none of these people are allowed to go free. The term should not be conveniently applied exclusively to one group, especially by those who themselves should, but never do as a rule, pay their dues to society.

But then the custodians of authority and justice, government and the judiciary, suffer from the same moral ills like the rest of the society. Judges and magistrates are just as corrupt as their corrupters. Government has never had the political will to prosecute wrong doers let alone those from their ranks. Indeed when government officials cannot discern the difference between ownership and custody of power then abuse becomes rife. After all, belonging to the power structure offers immunity from any sanctions. Who is going to challenge me when I have power if I can use my political and ensuing economic might to crush the challengers? I guess the responsibility falls to armed men. What a vicious circle! 

The custody/ownership paradox can be seen in most other facets of life. The custodians of the nations revenue sources, treat these resources as their own personal property. They use them to enhance their private lifestyles and public profile, whilst extending patronage to those whom they deem worthy and 'on their side'. Custodians of tax and customs revenue dispense favours with impunity and for kickbacks. 

All of this is done at the expense of the rest of society. When will the common man begin to benefit from these sources of national income? When he/she finds a patron in the department? At that rate, even without the smuggling of diamonds, only a chosen few would actually benefit from diamond revenues. I guess that’s why some unpleasant  'commoners' have (wrongly) decided to go to the very source of our country's much touted wealth. They seem to be getting away with greater impunity than those in the corridors of power are in Freetown.

Take it from me, fellow compatriots. This war is not, and has never been, directly about diamonds. As the editor of Focus on Sierra Leone, in many of his articles, has often fearlessly stated, it is, and has always been first, about opportunities or the lack of them. It has been fuelled by an innate evil within our people. Diamonds are merely the currency for expressing the need for opportunities. They are easily accessible and readily realisable, not to mention the alluring appeal for instant wealth and power.

Now the new custodian of our diamond resources has taken an easy option and has reportedly banned mining in all areas even though there is no effective mechanism for enforcing the ban. How would the ban be effected, for example, in those areas not yet occupied by UNAMSIL forces? What glorious opportunity! What impunity! But frankly speaking, it is not the ban itself that concerns me here; rather, it is the activity/activities subject to the ban. It could just as well have been a ban on logging timber, fishing or even IT training! People might have been fighting over timber, land or fishing rights. No! Diamonds just happen to be the easier thing to deal with right now.

I am tempted to cry Oh! Blessed Sierra Leone! Yes the land is truly blessed but sometimes I feel the people are cursed. Because of the events that are taking place in the country, some people now openly say that Sierra Leone is a God forsaken country. But given the level of moral decadence that prevails in our country I think it is more the case of a country that has forsaken God, not one forsaken by God. With the bitterness and nastiness that we bear in our hearts towards one another and, by implication, our country, nobody should be shocked to realise the display of that same nastiness during this civil war. 

If Sierra Leone is to ever recover from the ravages of its internal upheavals, then the bitterness and anger must, at least for now, be controlled; the selfishness and greed must stop; and the malice, back stabbing and spite must cease.  When evil prevails in our midst in the form of bad heart, Satan runs riot. We have now seen his works. But now we must embrace each other in love, with truth, morality and justice as our standards. Then, when our hearts are filled with such a godly spirit, supported by a genuine desire for change, we would then begin to see what a wonderful place Sierra Leone could become. The alternative will be more of the bloodletting that we have seen in the past. That spells doom for all of us.

Copyright Protected)
28/02/00