By: Sierra Eye
As Sierra Leone bids farewell to the tumultuous year of 2023, the nation stands at the crossroads of history, marked by unprecedented challenges that have etched a profound impact on its socio-economic and political fabric. In the face of these trials, Sierra Leone has emerged as a crucible of resilience, testing the mettle of its people and pushing the nation to the brink
The collapse of the historic Cotton Tree in Freetown on May 24th reverberated like a seismic shock through the country, transcending the physical realm to symbolize a poignant decline. This symbolic fall served as a metaphor, echoing the broader challenges that the nation confronts – a loss of historical grounding amidst contemporary struggles. The fallen Cotton Tree is not merely an ancient giant succumbing to the forces of nature; it signifies a collective call to introspection and unity in the face of adversity.
Sierra Leone’s economic landscape mirrors the challenges of the fallen Cotton Tree, exemplified by soaring inflation, a widening trade deficit, and dwindling foreign exchange reserves. The Bank of Sierra Leone’s decision to introduce the new Leone and raise interest rates underscores the urgency of stabilizing the economy. However, the repercussions are acutely felt by ordinary citizens, with the cost of living reaching unprecedented levels. The severe economic crisis in 2023 manifested in skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, impacting the telecommunications sector, where mobile data prices surged, hindering citizens’ ability to stay connected in our increasingly digital world. Simultaneously, increased fuel and electricity prices compounded challenges for both urban and rural communities, exacerbating concerns about energy affordability and transportation costs. The inability to provide a stable power supply not only disrupted daily life but also dampened the quality of life for citizens.
The aftermath of the controversial 2023 elections unfolded into a political saga, with the main opposition APC party disputing the results and boycotting governance. The attempted coup in November heightened tensions, leading to accusations and counter-accusations between the government and the opposition. The detention of former President Ernest Koroma adds complexity to the political landscape, leaving uncertainty hanging over the cooperation between the APC and the ruling SLPP and the full implementation of the agreement brokered by the Peace Commission. The impending deployment of an ECOWAS stabilization force in the country in 2024 not only serves as a critical juncture but also underscores our nation’s reliance on external actors to safeguard our delicate peace.
Another significant turn of events was the return of Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, the former National Grand Coalition Party (NGC) leader, to the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in October 2023. Prior to the elections, both parties signed a “progressive alliance,” which ensured that the NGC, in adherence to the agreement, refrained from fielding a presidential candidate and abstained from contesting in SLPP strongholds. Despite Kandeh Yumkella losing his parliamentary seat in the elections, he assumed a prominent role as the chairman of the Presidential Initiative on Climate Change, Renewable Energy, and Food Security. However, his return to the SLPP stirred controversy, with many perceiving it as a betrayal of the aspirations for a diversified political landscape in Sierra Leone. This move exacerbated the existing distrust toward politicians among the populace, deepening the complexities of the political narrative in the country.
In addition to political turmoil, Sierra Leone faces the grave challenge of widespread ‘Kush’ consumption, a local contraband substance. This epidemic, predominantly affecting the nation’s youth, has ruined countless lives. Law enforcement efforts to curb the ‘Kush’ trade have yielded minimal arrests, leaving the social and health implications largely unaddressed. To compound these challenges, major drug seizures transshipped through Sierra Leone have further tarnished the nation’s image.
The Government continued its trend of operating with a perception of being above the law, reminiscent of previous years. It paid little regard to it. A clear example was the imposition of the recent curfew. It was ‘promulgated’ by a press release. Many political activists and ordinary citizens, including Arthur Pearce, were arrested and detained beyond the minimum period stipulated by the Constitution. Legal and environmental concerns took a backseat in the controversial leasing of Black Johnson Beach. It was only towards the end of the year that the judiciary began to reclaim its integrity by addressing a backlog of 500 unassigned files, coinciding with the Chief Justice’s unceremonious departure on leave. This crucial response marks a step towards rectifying the disregard for our laws that have persisted throughout the year.
As Sierra Leone reflects on the events of 2023, the road ahead appears challenging, with the convergence of economic hardships, political uncertainties, and societal challenges demanding collective and strategic interventions. We are tired of being resilient. We hope the word will disappear from our lexicon in the new year. In 2024, we want less political manoeuvring and more dedication to development, action must eclipse rhetoric, less launching of projects, and more tangible results. May we be able to Feed Salone, curb the alarming rates of infant and maternal mortality, combat corruption rigorously, liberate the youth from the clutches of ‘kush,’ and provide them with gainful employment opportunities. We yearn for an end to blackouts, to reap the rewards of investments in free quality education, and to foster human capital development in ways that will promote our growth. Our sincere wish is that we fix our justice system so that we can live by our country’s motto of unity, freedom, and justice. May we have a successful tenure in the Security Council. Happy New Year to all, hoping that 2024 heralds a period of constructive change and prosperity.