We need to take ourselves seriously

Our President, Julius Maada Bio and other African leaders have been in Washington this week, attending President Joe Biden’s US-African Leaders Summit. For Sierra Leone, there are no new learnings from the meeting. Just some stark reminders of our petty politics and the need to elevate our political conversations. We need to take ourselves seriously as a nation. 

Sierra Leonean society is easily trapped in the mundane and superficial elements even in the most important conversations. A presidential trip that is costing taxpayers an arm and a leg has been reduced to  a photo contest and bragging rights about absolutely nothing. Disappointingly, people paid by the State to do high level jobs have either failed to rise to the role or they are just choosing to be unserious about important matters and disrespectful to citizens. 

The President is away at a massive gathering of African leaders, US government officials and business leaders and one of the highlights as reported by the presidential press secretary was that Joe Biden’s meeting with President Bio at the Oval Office was a first in history. And this all-time, all-important achievement was written on Twitter for the world to see how we turn everything into cheap political banter that passes for communication—even at State House. President Bio (obviously, his communications people) also tweeted about the same meeting, describing their discussions as “robust”. Whatever that means, it took the United States to actually let us know that those meetings were about democracy and elections. Our own people were busy making a big fuss about a meeting of two heads of state without actually saying anything. They would rather use vague phrases and hashtags like “first in history” “African Icon” “Global Leadership” and other meaningless praise-singing. Supporters and opponents picked it up quite quickly and what was supposed to be a discussion about our achievements at the summit was reduced to banter and bragging rights about meeting a US President—just the meeting and no substance absolutely. This is how the people we employ at the highest levels demonstrate mediocrity and pettiness on important matters, setting the stage for their supporters on social media to plunge vital political discussions into murky waters. 

For opposition supporters, their best response is always to invoke Ernest Bai Koroma every time the ruling party chooses to flaunt Bio’s big “achievements” such as meeting a US President. They would quickly go into the now-very-dusty archives to show that whatever Bio enjoys today, Koroma did before him. As if we are locked in a perpetual Bio-Koroma contest. Yes! This is the level of seriousness (or lack of it) that we bring to the Presidency and national conversations. 

While we were engaged in all this banality, other countries were busy making deals worth millions, if not billions, of dollars and citizens asking the right questions. For our part, State House communication staffers, ministers, advisers, supporters and opponents were arguing about who our President met, with whom they had photos and the kind of clothes he was wearing. Nothing substantive. Well, probably there is nothing substantive to talk about. Oh! And for Madam, the First Lady, this was all about childhood dreams coming true for an “iconic” First Lady. Allah had to be thanked, she wrote on social media.

The US-African Leaders summit is just one example, among many others, of people reducing the Presidency to repartee in the name of political communication. When this happens, we do not only sever these conversations from their salience, but embarrass the entire nation as the world looks on. We need to elevate our political discourse—at least at the level of the Presidency. We need to take ourselves seriously. 

On a completely different note, this is our last editorial this year. It has been exciting sharing our perspectives with you since we started the Saturday Editorial. Lek play, lek play, this piece is our twenty-fifth editorial. We hope to be back next year, fresh and energetic. We are also working on a new range of content that we will be releasing slowly but steadily. Compliments of the season!