The year 2022 is behind us. Many issues shaped a year in which the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were still being felt. Social media continued to divide. Self-styled broadcasters became purveyors of false and inciting information, leading to political, tribal and all kinds of divisions. Our Parliamentarians passed a considerable number of landmark legislations. Don’t worry if you do not agree with my list of 20 issues that defined the year-you may suggest yours! A friend even suggested that the exploits of Musa Tombo and Blackler should make the list-the former for his often inexplicable exploits on and off the field, in warm or cold weather and the latter for profound statements that got him behind bars and for that iconic holding of the mouth to indicate his lips were sealed. Here is my list.
1. Yea dominion yea!
The infamous Dominion saga exposed our higher institutions of learning to ridicule. Dominion proved one could bag higher degrees with little or no sweat. It resulted in the outing of shady institutions and their qualifications. Many “big men” understandably got jittery. PhD. degree certificates that were adorning tables and walls in top offices were placed in Bank vaults and some “Doctors” were no longer placing these titles before their names. Investigations, instituted soon died down.
2. A few impressive gains in infrastructure and industry
For the electricity sector many more communities and industries continued to benefit from the TRANSCO CLGS line which is now serving several districts. Electricity access increased to a significant level. The commissioning of rural mini-grids also helped increase access. The construction of a new $270 million airport terminal at Lungi by the Turkish Summa Group was at a very advanced stage by the end of the year. A raft of road construction related projects undertaken were completed including the Magbere and Mabang bridges. A new pineapple processing factory by Sierra Tropical started operations in Sumbuya, Bo District and the construction of a new steel mill commenced in Songo.
3. Educational standards? What standards?
Successes scored with the government’s flagship Free Education programme in terms of increased access and addressing some teacher and infrastructure problems were commendable and a vibrant and innovative Minister of Basic and Secondary School Education helped burnish Sierra Leone’s education credentials on the international stage. There were however concerns about educational standards and qualifications right across the sector. The considerably high pass rates in Mathematics, and English Language and several concerns about educational malpractices cast a dark cloud on the integrity of examination results. The higher-than-normal pass rates created a bottleneck with admissions into higher educational institutions, which also had their share of malpractices.
4. Africanist Press: A thorn in the government’s flesh
The Africanist Press continued with its campaign against perceived government malfeasance. Regular publications cited alleged illegal expenditures from government coffers without proper authorisation. The President and first Lady bore the brunt of their criticism. Africanist Press and other government critics also frowned upon the President’s frequent travels with huge expenditures. Government spokesmen justified these by saying that the “goodies” brought in more than offset these costs.
5. Hardship: Economy in turmoil
The year was especially difficult for Sierra Leoneans. External factors linked to supply chain problems, the war in Ukraine and slow recovery from the COVID pandemic combined to result in high prices of goods, exacerbating our poverty situation. High fuel prices had a ripple effect on prices of food, other basic commodities and services and the general cost of living. The government and its sympathisers said a lot of these problems were caused by external factors. Critics said not much had been done to improve on our exports and address our balance of payment problems and that our inappropriate local economic policies had helped increase the economic hardship further.
6. Protests turn deadly
The August 10 protests proved deadly. Many people lost their lives including civilians and policemen. Whilst the government claimed these were tantamount to an insurrection, instigated by the opposition to overthrow the government, many people opined these were genuine protests against the high cost of living. Investigations are still being conducted but court cases have already resulted in a considerable number of people being incarcerated.
7. Cry the divided country
It was all too apparent from several happenings that we were a divided country. We were:
a) Divided by Political colours
b) Divided over how we are counted-the census division
c) Divided by ethnicity and region
d) Divided over the type of electoral system to adopt
e) Divided over reasons for riots
f) Divided over government achievements
g) Divided over who has a better Human Rights records
h) Divided over cause of hardship
i) Divided between Central Vs Local government
j) Divided into various factions within parties
8. SLPP coalesces, Opposition dissevers
The ruling SLPP after primary elections which threatened to split the party asunder showed that were united by coming together after intense contests for various National Executive positions. Meanwhile, the APC’s woes continued during the year with various splinter groups threatening to upset the status quo. Court cases followed and the party by the end of the year appeared disunited. C4C seemed to tear itself at the seams. NGC maintained course serving as an effective opposition and together with Unity Party did a fairly effective job of highlighting issue of price increases and perceived excesses of government.
9. Tunde Cole: Raising the bar on philanthropy
Ing. Mohamed Babatunde Cole, an alumnus of Fourah Bay College, donated a newly furnished multipurpose building estimated at $2 million. The building which has 6 class rooms, all with whiteboards, 2 auditoriums with whiteboards and projectors, has the capacity to hold over 700 students. This was a new standard set in philanthropy in Sierra Leone that is worthy of emulation.
10. Kush rules
Kush became the drug of choice for our youths. This was portrayed in a BBC Africa Eye Documentary titled “Kush: Into the Mad World” which showed how the illegal drug was on the rise, negatively impacting youths across Sierra Leone. Social media postings showed that no section of society was spared- from policemen to military personnel to okada riders. All were shown in a “Kush stupor” which essentially rendered then numb and senseless.
11. Lawless lawmakers?
Our Parliamentarians caused pandemonium in Parliament several times. Fist fights, throwing of the revered mace and damaging of equipment and furniture accompanied one of these fights. Lawmakers took lawlessness to a new height. In one such case Members of Parliament were handed over to the Sierra Leone Police for investigation following fighting in the well of Parliament over the laying of constitutional instruments on the Proportional Representation (PR) System.
12. New Leone, new woes
The introduction of the new Leone was accompanied by new woes. The new currency was introduced with much fanfare and the Central Bank Governor was optimistic about its influence. It soon became apparent that all was not well. Currency shortages, a raft of measures to restrict currency trading and withdrawals and conflicting regulations all led to a lot of confusion, with some people suggesting, tongue in cheek that the Deputy Fullah Chief who suggested the Sierra Leone economy was on the streets should be made Bank Governor. The precipitous depreciation of our currency did not help the situation. By the end of the year, the new currency was in short supply, the old currency appeared to be in increased circulation and the exchange rate was in free fall. Altogether heads are being scratched to fathom what exactly we achieved with the currency change.
13. Football continues to unite
Football once again continued to unite Sierra Leoneans. Having qualified for the AFCON tournament, the nation was firmly united behind the team. A few draws and some fortuitous goals we scored led to a lot of hope, which was finally dashed with our exit. There is however no denying the unity this tournament engendered while it lasted. We truly became one country and one people.
14. Police: Sovula finally departs
An Inspector General of Police, much loved and loathed in equal measure departed the scene to the surprise of many. A Bio loyalist who was known for his heavy handedness especially with the opposition, and the occasional blunder, he was also subjected to social media ridicule for malapropisms and ill-advised statements. He was sacked by the President and replaced by William Fayia Sellu. The fact that the top three in the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) lost their positions at the same time set tongues wagging about what they could have done wrong collectively.
15. The political revolving door
President Bio reshuffled his team with the most notable being the ouster of the Attorney General Anthony Brewah who was replaced by Mohamed Lamin Tarawalley. Brewah’s ouster was rumoured to be related to the clemency granted to Baimba Moiforay aka LAC.
16. Census and Election uncertainties
A divisive mid-term Census took place with the opposition APC Party calling for a boycott. SLPP supporters commended the outcome, and opined that the opposition had no leg to stand on with their complaints as they had advised their members not to participate in the process.
The Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone fixed a date for the General elections. Controversies accompanied not only the registration process but the census, the boundary delimitation requirements and the electoral system to be used-PR of First Past the Post. As the year ended, there were several concerns related to the fairness of the process especially from the opposition.
17. The fuel “wahala” continues
Buoyant statements by the Petroleum Regulatory Agency on sorting out the country’s frequent fuel crises proved hollow. It became obvious that the country would still need to depend to a large extent on the traditional oil marketing companies, despite government’s rhetoric about increasing storage and having diverse players in the market. There were several instances in which fuel shortages occurred with accompanying long fuel lines and black market sales. Fuel costs were increased or decreased depending on several factors but by and large the depreciation of the Leone affected prices negatively.
18. The Yvonne and Lara show: Tickets sold out
Some prominent women seemed to incur the wrath of government for various reasons. Chief amongst them were the Freetown Mayor, Yvonne Aki Sawyer and Auditor General, Lara Taylor Pearce. In the case of Yvonne Aki Sawyer, there were several run-ins with the Ministry of Local Government which accused her of often overstepping her mandate and took several measures to curtail her powers. She and her supporters accused Government of heavy handedness and embarking on a sustained campaign to render her ineffective. In the case of Lara Taylor Pearce, she was suspended together with her Deputy and subjected to an Inquiry for alleged unprofessional behaviour which she vehemently disputes. Their travails have engendered a considerable amount of political bickering. The “Yvonne and Lara show” still continues and may even be better watched than Aki and Pawpaw.
19. Kandeh Yumkella: Yes, he will! No, he won’t!
The NGC Presidential Candidate Dr. Kandeh Yumkella unfortunately lost his wife with lots of people from all segments of society sympathising with him. It however became obvious that President Bio’s government went to great lengths beyond the normal sympathy in what seemed like extending a political olive branch to him. The President and First Lady as well as Cabinet Ministers were prominent at most of the funeral functions and made more than handsome donations. This seemed like a follow up to the invitation by President Bio to him to “comeback home” to the SLPP to which he received the retort “A hole word”. It will no doubt all come out in the wash in 2023.
20. Abacha in retreat
The street trading discombobulation at Abacha street finally seemed to come to an end. Traders were cleared off the streets and barriers erected. Complaints by market traders were met with a firm refusal by government to budge. They promised to find alternative locations for them, one of which-the Sewa grounds is in the final throes of construction by Nassit. Government detractors seemed to insinuate that, coming on the heels of the August 10 protests, this may have been punishment for their perceived support of these protests. Government spokesmen attributed this change purely to safety concerns.
Well, here endeth my list. I would appreciate feedback on what else I could have included-we may have an amended list in a future article!
By Andrew Keili
Mining and Environmental Policy Analyst with 40 years of experience in in private industry, parastatals and consultancy work.