By Mohamed Sankoh (One Drop)
I came to know of the American author, Mark Twain, through the abridged version of his celebrated novel: “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, which was one of our Literature in English textbooks at the Prince of Wales, Kingtom west of Freetown, when I was in Form Two.
When I developed the voracious appetite for reading, after taking the GCE O Level in 1992, I encountered Mark Twain again in his masterpiece novel: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, which is still being regarded as “the Great American Novel”. And as I continued reading his works, notably his short stories and “Life on the Mississippi” which is a memoir; I came to appreciate his humorous humour, savage and icy sarcasms, and unforgettable quotes.
And one of those quotes, which I think resonate very well with today’s One Dropian dropping, is the one which says: “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason”. Indeed, I find the nexus between the politicians of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and diapers striking! That connection is striking because like soiled diapers; they need to be changed during the 2023 multi-tier elections because they have not only soiled the economy of Sierra Leone but also stained every facet of the ethos that once held the nation together.
In recent times, I have been fond of reexamining the 2018 Manifesto of the SLPP, dubbed the “People’s Manifesto”, and juxtaposing some sections in it with what is now happening in Sierra Leone. In that document, President Julius Maada Bio promised the nation “food security” if elected.
And that promised “food security” is personified in the Tomabum Rice Project, which is supposedly aimed “at developing 12,500 acres of land for rice production by small-holder farmers.” And not too long ago the Minister of Agriculture reportedly told the nation that: “Sierra Leone is set, for the first time, to produce a projected 1.6 metric tons of rice from extensive farming activities in Tomabum”. The project, he is said to have claimed, would cost US$500 million and that it would bear fruit before the 2023 multi-tier elections.
But I had taken that statement with a pinch of salt because if the SLPP government could not even build the promised “tapalapa bakery” which might cost less than US$300 to construct (hyperbole is intended here); how then could it carry out a US$500 million project. But as Mark Twain would put it, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story “. So, because the story of a project that would increase rice production in Sierra Leone to help reduce the space between local demand for rice and local production was, and still is, good; I allow the truth about its impossible achievement to pass.
But because that truth refuses to pass; so I will go back to that good story. After President Bio and First Lady Fatima jointly commissioned the Tomabum Rice Project, a local newspaper reported that, “50 tractors, harvesters, and other heavy machineries were headed for…Tomabum [to] engage some 7,000 farmers and private companies to plant, cultivate and process rice for local consumption.”
But at present, both local and international surveys are showing that millions of Sierra Leoneans are hungrier today than they were four-and-half years ago. A press release released on 14 October 2022 by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) stated that, “In Sierra Leone, a lean season food security analysis that the Ministry of Agriculture conducted jointly with WFP in August found that food insecurity has further deteriorated, with over one million people (15 percent) facing severe hunger”. That excludes the percentage of those facing slight or not-too severe hunger!
But that is not the end of the story about a government that is said to be implementing a US$500 million rice project aimed at “food security”. The 2022 Global Hunger Index (GHI) notes that Sierra Leone is amongst the ten hungriest African countries. It notes further that the “WFP’s Hunger Map for Sierra Leone shows that 2.2 million people are chronically hungry, and 1.6 million people were acutely hungry as of July 15, 2022. Energy processes—petrol and diesel—have more than doubled in 2022. Prices of food and non-food commodities have also increased exponentially”.
Like the fiascos called Free (minus “Quality”) Education policy and the Lungi Bridge; the Tomabum Rice Project is another deception by the Bio-led administration which is now known for deceptively deceiving majority of Sierra Leoneans. Instead of stabilizing the economy and concentrating on the “bread and butter issues” coupled with genuine moves at national cohesion; President Bio has been very busy in calling his compatriots “thieves” (Ayampi), “terrorists”, “coupists”, and “insurrections”. But as Mark Twain would say: “A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation”. And also his “work ethics” and the people he surrounds himself with. I’m not inferring anything; but just making an inference from an inferential fact!
As I noted in my One Dropian dropping of last week, the SLPP government’s “New Direction” is taking the nation nowhere. Hunger and anger are palpable everywhere one goes in Sierra Leone today. But the government is playing politics with the people’s hunger and always downplaying their anger. It is true that a hungry man is an angry man. And when hunger and anger are brewed, the result might be catastrophic!
But people’s hunger and anger might reduce next year if only majority of Sierra Leoneans take into consideration the words of Mark Twain that: “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason”. As I noted earlier, I find the nexus between the politicians of the ruling SLPP and diapers striking! That connection is striking because like soiled diapers; they need to be changed in next year’s multi-tier elections because they have not only soiled the economy of Sierra Leone but also stained every facet of the ethos that once held the nation together.
It is on that note that I will end today’s One Dropian dropping with a quote from Mark Twain, for the last time, that: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” But President Bio and his toadies have always tried to remember what they told the nation in 2018!