Picking Up the Pieces: Sierra Leone’s resurgence From Devastation

By Dr. Sakui W. G. Malakpa


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 17, 2004

Editor’s Note: On May 1, 2004, Dr. Sakui W. G. Malakpa served as the keynote speaker on Sierra Leone Independence Day (April 27). The occasion was hosted by the Sierra Leone Association of Michigan (SLAM). Dr. Malakpa who is a Liberian, graduated from Albert Academy in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Currently, he serves as a professor at the College of Education, University of Toledo, OH. Find below Dr. Malakpa’s keynote address:

Greetings (In English and Creole)

As I am forever indebted to Sierra Leone, I am deeply honored to give remarks on the occasion of the 43rd independence of this great nation. Indeed, regardless of our recent tragic experience, Sierra Leone remains a great nation.

The vast area of land covering the modern state of Sierra Leone was once referred to by European sailors as the Green Coast. Parts of that land were renamed The Ivory Coast and The Gold coast. A part was named Sierra Leone (Mountain of Lions) by Portuguese sailors. This land has an impressive history which it shares with its neighbors and sister African countries.

It is said that the first known outsider to visit what is now Liberia was Hanno of Carthage who visited in 520 BC. It is difficult to imagine Hanno visited the area now known as Liberia without stopping in present-day Sierra Leone. We do know for sure that Sierra Leone was visited by the Portuguese since the 15th century and British ships arrived in the 1560’s. In 1628 the English established a
trading factory at Sherbro. In 1663 King Charles II. chartered the Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa. The company established forts at Sherbro. We also know that these adventures were purposefully aimed at exploiting Africa of her invaluable natural and human resources. The Europeans therefore fought among themselves for the lion share of Africa. For example, in 1704 the French raided Sherbro and it took the Treaty of Utrecht for the British to get back Sherbro and Bence Islands (www.zum.de/whkmla/region/westafrica/xsleone).

The colony of Sierra Leone was controlled by the Sierra Leone Company. This company played a major role in the resettlement of former slaves from the Americas into Freetown. This effort was escalated when Britain abolished slave trade in 1808, after Britain and other European nations had depopulated Africa, depriving the continent of its rich and irreplaceable human resources. So valuable was this experience that Britain took over Sierra Leone from the Sierra Leone Company in 1808; we now had a British colony. Britain consolidated her colonies under one umbrella known as British West Africa which was administered from Freetown. Yet, the Sierra Leoneans and the other colonies had no voice in their administration. Sierra Leone did not get an advisory legislative council until 1863. Amazingly, though Britain was heavily involved in trading in Sierra Leone, it introduced British currency in the colony as late as 1880; hitherto, the colony used currencies (pesos) from Spain and Mexico.

In an effort to establish its control of Sierra Leone firmly, Britain struck agreements with Sierra Leone’s neighbors; the French (in guinea) in 1882 and Liberia in 1885. Of course, from the end of 1884 and the beginning of 1885, there was the infamous Berlin Conference where the Europeans, with the stroke of the pen, shamelessly divided Africa among themselves. Thereafter, Africans sought independence from their colonial masters who established institutions, and constructed roads but, on the other hand, humiliated, degraded and exploited Africans on their own continent.

A major step toward independence in Sierra Leone was the adoption of the 1952 constitution which gave the indigenous people more voice in government. This also saw the beginning of divisiveness;
The minority English-speaking settler descendants were over-represented. Yet, on April 27, 1961, the country declared itself independent of Britain. However, while Sir Milton Margai was first Prime Minister, the Queen of Britain remained head of state; independence therefore was questionable.

“Independence” was marked by various internal conflicts and disagreements. Between 1967-68, there were three military coups. After another coup in 1971, the country declared itself a republic. Between 1973-78, the republic took an interesting turn; there was virtually a one-party state as the opposition was emasculated.

In 1990, the republic of Sierra Leone made efforts to introduce a multi-party system. This effort was thwarted by military coups in 1992, 1996, and 1997 (www.zum.de/whkmla/region/westafrica/xsleone).

Beyond the horrors of military coups, the nations witnessed a devastating civil war. Fueled largely by support from Liberia, the war broke open the thin line between beings and beasts and the bestiality of beings broke loose to eliminate thousands of our compatriots. The nation was brought to a lower posture than its knees. The once towering diamond-rich, people-happy, and proud nation fell to its lowest ebb among her sister nations.

When I arrived in Sierra Leone last December, I was deeply saddened to see the painful reminders and consequences of the devastation. The pain was evident everywhere: in the economy, transportation, the infrastructure, the schools, including my beloved Albert Academy—Esse Quam Videri. However, one thing remained unchanged: Sierra Leoneans are resilient, courageous and industrious people. They are determined to bounce back from the devastation; they will pick up the pieces and march on.

Undoubtedly, we are most grateful to the international community which has come to our aid. How can we thank the men and women from various countries who risked their lives (and some lost their lives) saving us from one another? How can we thank the vanguards of efforts to protect our shaky democracy and jump-start our economy?

While we remain grateful to the international community, we must be cognizant of two truths: (1) the nation’s recovery and resurgence will take years, if not decades, and (2) Sierra Leoneans themselves must play a pivotal role. Thus, while we cannot control time, we can and must contribute to the recovery process.

There is no paucity of areas needing assistance: health, education, agriculture, transportation, human services, etc.. I therefore commend the Sierra Leone Association of Michigan for contributing to the medical and health needs of the nation but please do not stop there. We are the blessed ones to be in a nation where, although we struggle with bills, we have jobs, roofs over our heads and bread on the table. Let’s not forget from whence we’ve come.

In our determination to help our nation and people, let me make another truism clear. Our efforts will go nowhere as long as the vices among us persist: disunity, comosa, falamakata, big yea, na me normor, who da pass me na yea? Me no de listen to nobody, etc.. On the contrary, we will succeed if we put aside such egocentric, egotistical, and supercilious attitudes.

We must also trust one another. Too long have our leaders back home squandered our resources and we tend to believe that our community leaders here will do the same. Some might but majority of them become leaders not for self-enrichment or self glory but truly to serve and enhance the cause of our mission. This is important because if we do not succeed, Sierra Leone will not junk us because “bad bush no day for throw way bad pikin.” However, history will judge us as callous, uncaring, mean, and insensitive.

Our support for Sierra Leone must transcend national boundary. We must reestablish the God-given family ties among the nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. These ties buttress the Mano River Union; therefore we must resolve that families already hurt by colonial boundaries will no longer fall prey to the bellicosity of self-promoting warlords.

In sum, the history of Sierra Leone has it enviable as well as tumultuous episodes but nothing has devastated the nation as the senseless civil war launched by callous, rapacious, invidious, and treacherous people. After the death of thousands of our compatriots, the devastation of our land, the ruining of our economy, and the emptying of our national coffers, and after they used our natural resources for their diabolical ends, Sierra Leone and Liberia lie in the ruins, crying out for help. We cannot (and must not) ignore this cry. This cry is our challenge to rise to the plate, our chance to show our support in words and deeds, and our choice as to whether we will live up to the true meaning of our national creed and traditional up-bringing.