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Sierra Leone News: CHETANYA’s View: Do we need to settle for incremental change?

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

When it comes to the problems I hear about, read about and see in Sierra Leone, I sometimes wonder if on a long-term scale, things may not be as bad as they seem. The country has successfully chased away ebola, and after decades of one party rule and civil war, it’s become a democracy with mostly fair and peaceful elections. Though there are many problems with human rights, corruption and restrictions on freedom of expression, things could be far worse. In his book A Dirty War in West Africa, journalist Lansana Gberie points out that immediately after Libera’s civil war, the country was plunged into further darkness as Charles Taylor came into power using intimidation and vote buying to win the elections. The country is now a recovering democracy. By contrast, Sierra Leone’s first elections after the civil war were a testament to the country’s resilience: the RUF completely failed as a political movement, and democracy won out. Things could have been worse  just look at what happened in Liberia  and they weren’t.
Though corruption holds back Sierra Leone, there are at least efforts to fight it. It seems like every government building I go into I see several anti-bribe stickers on the doors. And though Sierra Leone’s libel laws are abhorrent and shameful, government officials at press conferences almost wax poetic about the importance of the “Fourth Estate,” the press. Maybe they’re just paying lip service  but at least that’s better than the alternative. Maybe, gradually, things are getting better, and the slow pace of change is just a fact of life.
This is an optimistic way of looking at things…unless of course, it isn’t. Maybe it’s actually pessimistic. Maybe justifying the slow pace of development inadvertently justifies everything that’s holding Sierra Leone back. A column by Beny Sam in Tuesday’s paper reminded me that no one should have to settle for incremental change.
“Generally speaking when politically motivated compatriots tell you that development is a process, they are actually erroneously telling you to stop bothering their governing party about the slowness of project implementation,” he wrote, before showing how the people who claim development is inevitably slow are, inevitably, enriching themselves at the expense of the public.
In the United States, people often don’t appreciate that lasting change takes time and hard work, especially at the local level. People often put too much hope in the president to change everything, and ignore local politics as though it doesn’t matter, when this is where the real progress happens.
But there’s a delicate like between acknowledging that progress can be slow, and doubling down on the fact that it can be slow as a way to avoid taking any radical action. I worry that accepting the glacial pace of change, however pragmatic, is the first step to complacency. Sometimes, progress has to move fast.
This seems especially true for Sierra Leone. Many of the problems that need urgent progress in the United States are worse in Sierra Leone. America’s infrastructure is crumbling  but in Sierra Leone, not enough roads, dams and bridges are being built in the first place. The American healthcare system needs serious improvements  but Sierra Leone needs to first develop a health care system on par with other modern countries, because it doesn’t exist yet. If it seems dubious to settle for incremental change in the United States, maybe it’s even more misguided to settle for the same in Sierra Leone.
Sometimes incremental change is the only option  but we all deserve better, and shouldn’t accept it unless we have no other choice.
*Chetanya Robinson is a journalism intern from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the 7th intern in as many years in an internship program with Awoko Newspaper
Wednesday August 10, 2016

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