Sierra Leone: The agonizing experience of a West African state under British Colonial dominationSeptember 1, 2015
By Anthony Kamara (Sr) takes a historical perspective of the period up to 1961.
It is becoming common practice for some educated or rather semi-educated Sierra Leoneans with little or no knowledge of colonial history who, because of the hard times in the country (which is a global problem), want to display their knowledge of the colonial era or the lack of it, to write articles in some of Sierra Leone’s on line local newspapers disparaging the present establishment and yearning for a return of the British to re-govern Sierra Leone. It is sometimes annoying to keep reading such stuff which clearly portend to show ominous signs for the country but which in fact shows a display of historical ignorance of the period and writing without authentic historical data to support their claim, but simply write for the sake of writing. While many ignorant readers may believe such piece may be true, there are a few who can and may challenge such wrong historical assumptions and respond to arrest the deliberate misinterpretation or misinformation of the period. No sober-minded person can convince Sierra Leone people that the colonial era in our country is better than our years of sovereignty. I want to assure those skeptics and readers in general that the critics got it wrong and that the worst times of our Sovereignty are far better than the years of colonialism. We are incomparably better off today than the years of colonial tutelage.
In this piece of writing, I intend to throw light on the problems left behind by the British, problems which have continued to be a source of torment up to the present day in our modern nation state.
Exactly 223 years ago, Britain un-officially set foot on the shores of Sierra Leone in her search for a home for emancipated slaves roaming the streets of London. The year was 1792 and 93 years later in 1885 Britain officially made herself rulers of Sierra Leone at the Berlin Conference which met from November 1885 and ended in 1890. But prior to this criminal conference of European nations, Britain had already established a foothold in Sierra Leone since 1792 already mentioned, following the Abolition of slavery and the slave trade first, in England, and later in the 1840s by all those involved in the inhuman commerce. I am not delving into the factors that led to this unfortunate situation in which West Africa became partitioned among Britain and France, and to a less extent Germany at a conference in Berlin the German capital under the chairmanship of the German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck. This is history sad to narrate that African states became properties of European nations at a meeting held not in Africa, but in a European capital without consulting the peoples of those lands. But even before this Berlin conference, Sierra Leone had un-officially already become a de facto colony of the British since 1800. In fact from 1792 when liberated slaves were settled in Sierra Leone, the country was already a de facto British colony and the Berlin Conference simply formalized the possession with rules laid down about effective occupation.
The First negative legacy the British left behind was to set the stage for permanent future political tensions , conflict, malice, hate and struggle for power between the two largest ethnic groups between which the country was divided into two broad divisions, namely Thaimneh country and Mende country, a policy of ‘Divide and Rule’ a policy intended to exploit the country with minimal British expenditure and mostly reliant on raising income by taxing the people through the use our native rulers, the Chiefs. The polarization of the country into Mende country covering today’s South and Eastern regions and Thaimneh country covering today’s Western area (the former Koya kingdom) of Bai Kompa and the entire northern region. It was a deliberate policy intended not to appease the people of the land, but to satisfy their own selfish interests. This, as one would expect, was to have grave devastating political consequences, perpetual strife and conflict between the two sides, a situation not entirely unexpected at election time and eventually led to the ten year brutal civil war this nation has seen in her recent history. All the former British territories in West Africa have experienced either military coups or civil wars or both due to British misrule. Political tensions began in Sierra Leone even before the British left this country over which political party should lead the country to Independence and have continued uninterrupted to this day. This polarization was not confined to Sierra Leone alone, but similar polarization was done in Nigeria with the country divided into Hausa land to the North, Yoruba land to the West and Igbo land to the East. In Ghana, the division was between Asante land to the North and Southern territories.
In Sierra Leone which is the focus of this piece of writing, the political parties did not seem to have learnt any lesson or experience from the ten year internecine conflict. The British knew that by their exit from the country, they had set the stage for future political rivalry for power and endless conflicts between the two main regional parties the SLPP of the South Eastern Region and the APC of the North Western regions, and in this the British did not miscalculate. The Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) of the South East and the All Peoples’ Congress of the North Western areas have been locked in endless power struggle, both parties seen as representing regional and popular interests. Thus to be Mende is to be member of the SLPP just as Thaimneh is synonymous with membership of the Northern Western APC. This was how this polarization came about and is still very much alive.
After Sierra Leone effectively became a British Colony, the colonial administration dispatched its colonial officials on a familiarization and goodwill tour of the entire country. The outcome of this goodwill tour was the permanent division of the country between the two major ethnic groups. During their meet the people tour, the British officials noticed the Thaimneh were roughly 30% of the population with the Mende also roughly the same. The Thaimneh speak different dialects of their language but basically understand each other. These include the Banta Thaimneh of Buya Romende area, Konike, the Yoni, Kholifa ,Masingbi and Malal Thaimneh all in Tonkolili District; next the Gbambali (deliberately misspelt Bombali by the British to suit their tongue) Thaimneh, the Sanda, of Gbambali district the Magbema, Masungbala and Mambolo Thaimneh of Kambia District and the Dibia (Gbinti) of Port Loko district. Their conclusion was that the Thaimneh language is spoken in all Northwestern area and therefore is the lingua franca of the area with the exception of the Koinadugu in the far North. There are in addition minor ethnic groups like the Limba spoken in five different dialects including the Tonko in Kambia district, Safroko in Binkolo, Biriwa of Kamabai, and Sela of Kamakwie, all in Bombali district and the Wara Wara of Koinadugu: yet they also basically understand each other though with some difficulty especially with the Wara Wara of Koinadugu. The Limba constitute the third largest group though, but the demographics did not entitle them to a designated area because they mostly live as minorities in predominantly Thaimneh areas and all speak the Thaimneh language with ease just like the Thaimneh owners with the exception of the Far North Koinadudgu where there were hardly Thaimneh speakers. Other minority ethnic groups include the Loko, in Gbendembu-Gowahun in Bombali district their only known home today, Susu, found in Kaffu Bulom in Port Loko district among the Thaimneh and Samu chiefdom in North Western Kambia district bordering Guinea with predominantly Thaimneh speakers, the Mandingo, in Bombali and Koinadugu, the Koranko, Jalonka, Fulla also of Koinadugu. Koinadugu though is the largest district in the country but the most sparsely populated probably because the inhabitants are seen as refugees of the jihad from Jalonkadu in the mountainous Futa Jalon hills in Neighbouring Republic of Guinea.
On the other hand the other major ethnic group, The Mende is spoken in all South Eastern regions of the country. Like the Thaimneh, Mende too is spoken in different dialects including the Kpa-Mende in Moyamba district, the Gola Mende spoken mainly in Kenema, the Sewa Mende along the Sewa river, the Vai Mende of Pujehun and the Koh Mende of Kailahun. Mende is the lingua franca of the South East. They too have their minority ethnic groups such as the Gola, Vai, Gissi, the Krim, Kono, Sherbro and the Gbandi tribes found on both sides of the border. Personally, I have never come across anyone who identifies as Gola, Vai, Gissi or Krim. It will appear such groups might have been completely overrun by their Mende big brothers and therefore may be described as ‘Mende-absorbed or Mendenised’ groups. These groups seem to exist only on paper today with Sherbro being the exception because of their location uniquely in Sherbro Island. These minorities belong more to Liberia than to Sierra Leone especially the Gola Vai and Krim ethnic groups.
It was clear from the very beginning that the original motivation of Britain in coming to Sierra Leone was to find a settlement for the poor liberated slaves roaming the streets of London without anyone to care for them. They promised the emancipated slaves land which they would call their own in the new country on which they could farm and become independent and self- employed. This promise was a cause for excitement to the would-be settlers more so as they were promised personal ownership of land for the first time in their lives. In the end the settlers arrived in their new country and the British tried to negotiate with the local chiefs for their settlement. The Promised Land turned out to be ‘rented land’ much to the disappointment of the settlers and thus a potential cause of future friction between the Thaimneh Landowners and the settlers. Before the naval captain Bouldie Thompson left for England, he impressed upon the new arrivals that the land on which they were settled was ‘Quit rent’ meaning they were to pay an annual fee of for the use of the land, which clearly implied that the land was not theirs but property of the Thaimneh rulers and that failure to pay would lead to eviction from the occupied land. This was the first instance of mistrust for the British administration by the new arrivals. The British raised the settlers’ hopes for ownership only to renege on their promise. This land issue was the genesis of the tense relations between the settlers and the Thaimneh landlords which eventually led to the burning of Granville town (today’s Freetown). This was the incident Christopher Fyfe exaggerated in his ‘Short history of Sierra Leone’ and described as the “Temne war on the colony”. It was in fact the British who attacked the Thaimneh for burning the settlement, an incident occasioned by the non compliance of the annual quit rent for the use of the land.
Next the arrival of Christian missionaries led by the Church Missionaries Society (CMS) in early 1800 heralded a new beginning in the history not only for Sierra Leone but for all West Africa as well. After the abolition of slavery and the slave trade some British Christians with deep humanitarian feelings led by Granvillle Sharp, William Wilberforce and others decided to go to the new ‘Province of Freedom’ in West Africa, to take not only the message of the Gospels to the Heathen peoples of Africa but also to start educational institutions which would serve as the milieu for the introduction of Western education, ideas and influences first to Sierra Leone, and later to expand to other areas of West Africa. It was clear from the beginning that the British and the Christian missionaries were in a collision course, with the former uninterested in bringing education to their colonies while the latter were for that to make up for the evils of the slave trade and slavery. The British interest was the exploitation of the natural resources of the country for the benefit of England as a substitute for the outlawed profitable slave trade in which British people were heavily involved. The British therefore gave a blind eye to all the missionary activities in the country. Even when the CMS started a Christian Institution up Leicester village on the Leicester peak to start educating children of the freed slaves and later other Recaptives, the British remained unimpressed, unsupportive and repugnant to the whole project. This Christian Institution eventually failed primarily for lack of funds and depressing enrollment of pupils. The British Governor Charles Mcarthy was sympathetic to the CMS cause and the attendant problems but could not officially do anything about it. The Governor however advised the CMS to move the school from the Mountain area to another area downtown and upgrade it to College and send away the remaining four pupils to different villages. The CMS heeded to the Governor’s advice and the institution was moved to the east end of the city now renamed Cline Town and upgraded to university college status and re-named Fourah Bay College in 1827. The new Fourah Bay College experienced some four closures and re-openings because the British failed to offer any financial assistance to the education project of the missionaries; but in spite of these frustrating situations, the CMS were equally determined to see Fourah Bay College becoming a success story with failure or permanent closure not an option for them.
Sierra Leone was the first declared British Crown colony in West Africa in 1808 with the Governor of Sierra Leone being responsible for the former Gold Coast and the Gambia. But in spite of this seemingly prestigious status, it took the British ninety-eight (98) years before they started their very first school in Sierra Leone-, the Bo Government School in 1906. The new school was a primary school aimed at teaching the 3Rs, the basic numerical skills, reading and writing and reckoning and preparing sons of chiefs and later due to poor enrollment numbers extended to admit nominees of chiefs in rural areas: the school was to remain a primary school for the next thirty (30) years. In 1936 it was upgraded to a Junior secondary school and started preparing its students for the former Junior Cambridge school examinations, and four years later in 1940 further upgraded to a full-fledged secondary school and started sending students for the Senior Cambridge School Examinations commonly known in West Africa as CANTAB. But the first primary school in Sierra Leone is the St. Edward’s Primary school founded by Roman Catholic Mission in 1865 while the oldest primary school for Girls is the St. Joseph’s primary school in 1866 also of the Roman Catholic Mission. The two schools were not only the oldest primary schools in the country but also two of the oldest primary schools in Africa.
One would ask why the British chose to open the school in Bo town barely eight years after the end of the Hut Tax uprising. Their choice was due to a combination of factors.
First to have started a school anywhere in the North barely eight years after the end of the Hut Tax insurgency would have been seen as placating and rewarding Bai Bureh and his Thaimneh people for challenging British authority, instigating rebellion and taking up arms to fight for they considered their rights over the Hut Tax imposition. Bai Bureh’s region was therefore not in their plan as the administration regarded northern chiefs and peoples as opponents of the government. Hundreds of captured insurgents were executed. The Bo School was opened one year after the return of Chief Bai Bureh from the former Gold coast (1905) where he was exiled.
There was also the fear factor. The brutality and slaughter the British experienced in the Hut Tax uprising in Mende country in which the Mende attacked and butchered indiscriminately anyone connected or suspected to have connections with the colonial administration including Christian missionaries, persons in neckties and Creole traders. The British soon learnt the painful lesson that for their foreign rule to work, they needed native partners who they would consider as reliable friends in their policy of Indirect Rule. They would not regard Bai Bureh and the Thaimneh people as trusted friends since they were seen as the rebel insurgents of the whole resistance to British rule in Sierra Leone.
On the other hand, the Chief Bai Bureh instructed his men not to harm or kill any Creole or missionaries but to target only persons connected with the colonial government in Freetown. The situation was made worse when the Governor offered a bounty of £100 (One Hundred Pounds) for the capture of Bai Bureh, and Bai Bureh countered by offering £200 (Two Hundred Pounds) for the capture or head of the British Governor. Unfortunately the only prominent casualty in the fighting was the Rev William J Humphrey Principal of Fourah Bay College who left Freetown and travelled to the Port Loko area looking for missionaries and Creole traders where he strayed into Bai Bureh’s men in the bush. Bai Bureh’s men believing he was a spy or agent of the Freetown Government captured and killed him. Bai Bureh was remorseful on learning of this unfortunate development, and dispatched a delegation to Freetown to explain to the Creoles that his men did not mean harm to the Creole people. The Creole showed great understanding and sympathized with a man who stood for the rights of his people. In fact Bai Bureh was applauded by the Creoles as a conquering hero on his arrival in Freetown after his arrest by the British and was housed (not incarcerated) in a compound under colonial protection at Ascension Town Road in Freetown where he was held with the respect due to a Leader by the British (see authentic photocopy of Bai Bureh attached, courtesy of Gary Schultz 1962 Peace Corps teacher at the Albert Academy and later Peacecorps Director). From here he and two other Southeastern chiefs Nyagua of Panguma and Be Sherbro of Yoni were exiled to the former Gold Coast. The two never came back, having died in exile while Bai Bureh was returned home in 1905 and allowed back to his chiefdom in Kasse where he died few years later. This was the beginning of the Thaimneh-Creole partnership in the colony which has endured to the present. Hence Bo town became the colonial choice for their first school 98 years after the country came under British rule, (a very disappointing and late start) ever in the new crown colony and started forging a friendship with Mende country.
On the education of the colonized people, the British performance was outrageously disappointing. Now let’s take a look at their performance:
Bo School opened in 1906: upgraded to Junior secondary school in 1936, and further upgraded to full Secondary school in 1940. Motto: “Manners Maketh man”.
The Prince of Wales secondary school in Freetown opened in 1925 in commemoration of the visit that year of the Prince of Wales is in fact the first Government Secondary School in Sierra Leone.
Koyeima and Jimmi Central schools opened in the 1930s and only upgraded to secondary schools in the 1970s.
Magburaka Secondary School for Boys opened in 1950 as a central school until 1955 when it was upgraded to full secondary status. Motto “ONWARD”
Magburaka Secondary school for Girls opened in 1959 as a secondary institution for the education of girls in Northern Sierra Leone. Motto “Multum in parvo”.
Kenema Government secondary school opened in 1955, the first and only Government school in Eastern Sierra Leone.
The British Colonial administration opened a total of only 7 (seven) secondary schools including three Central schools in 168 years of Colonial exploitation, pilfering or openly looting our natural resources including our diamonds, iron ore, bauxite in addition to our Agricultural produce.
Much of our education in colonial times and to this present times is owed to the Christian Missionaries without whose coming most of us would have been in the farms with cutlasses busy with farming with a very short life span. The Christian Missionaries have opened countless numbers of mission schools during colonial times and after all over the country. The Catholic missionaries are champions in this area, followed by the Methodists, the Anglicans the first to start apart from Fourah Bay College, the former CMS Grammar School 1845 and four years later the Annie Walsh Memorial School (AWMS), Muslim missionaries too joined the efforts to spread the word of God through the opening of primary and secondary schools all over the country. We owe these missions every bit of what we are today and the mission schools have been, and still are the nation’s best schools after having produced all our nationally elected democratic leaders with only one exception. These included the Father of the nation Sir Milton Margai (Albert Academy), his half brother Sir Albert Margai (St Edward’s Secondary School) who was one of seven foundation students of the school in 1922, President Siaka Stevens (Albert Academy), Joseph Saidu Momoh (WAM Collegiate School), the former NPRC leader Captain Valentine Strasser (The SL Grammar School) and President Ahmed Tejan Kabba (St. Edward’s Secondary School), with President Ernest Koroma being the first and only Government school product ever to occupy State House, and strangely enough from the relatively new Magburaka Boys’ Secondary School and for a brief period, Julius Maada Bio military ruler (Bo School). Late Thaimu Bangura was the first Government School product to have led a populist party (the PDP-Sorbeh), while Late Dr. John Karefa Smart from the Albert Academy formed another populist party (the UNDP). So one can see that political leadership of this country is very much in the products of mission schools. It’s a blessing that these Missionaries came to help us otherwise we would have been led by primary school graduates from Bo school (unfortunately) a school opened purposely to serve the colonial masters and remained in a subservience status in the rural areas and be content with life in rural areas. The chiefs were to remain apolitical. They were to remain faithful servants and partners of the administration at all times. It is no surprise that no Bo school product has ever successfully formed or led a political party in a democratic leadership position in the country. The mission school products have led the way and still on that path of leadership.
Having failed to block the growth of educational institutions, the British set stiff conditions for University entry to discourage large numbers from going to University. Until 1962, a student could pass the School Certificate scoring distinction in all subjects, but if the student got a Grade 9 in English, that candidate had failed the whole Exams. So many bright students were ruined and denied University entry due to English. But After 1962 when all West Africa won their independence and with the formation of the WAEC as a sub-regional examining body, English was no longer a determinant grade for University entry except for students wishing to read English, in which case English and English Literature became required grades. Today special English entrance exams are conducted to give a chance to those who did not make it. Why must a pass in English determine university entry of our students to university, more so when in most cases our students went to West African Universities?
Also to stifle the enthusiasm of our would-be university students, the British gave former British African countries scholastic terms different from British or European: until the eve of Independence, all British ruled African countries started their school year from February to mid December, divided into three terms with the long vacation stretching from mid December to February. This meant that a student passing the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in February now the (GCE Advanced Level) the students had to wait until the following October before they could enter universities in Britain or Europe. There were very few trained and qualified teachers and therefore staffing shortage even in the few government schools of the time was a serious challenge. In the early years of Independence, all or most University graduates went to the Civil Service to replace the outgoing British officials. There was no summer vacation but simply the Long vacation.
Instead to solve the problems of teacher shortage and prevent students idling for a whole academic year, the Government employed and deployed these students to teach in Junior forms of Government Secondary schools. These guy all of them having passed the HSC exams, were simply the best and proved incomparable with the primary school trained teachers attached to these Government schools. At Magburaka Secondary School for Boys where I happened to do my Form1, I can still recall young Sixth form Leavers like Mr George Nat Gage, my first General Science School teacher later to become Director of Medical Services (Rtd) and now Medical professor at COMAS (also Rtd) and currently Part Time professor due to staffing shortage at the school of Medicine. There was Late Osmon Cole Literature teacher, Miss Tejan from the AWMS, history teacher and Late Mr. M. A. Kawa Science teacher later Medical doctor from Bo School. All these young students had to wait for one academic year before going to overseas universities.
Why did the British give their colonies terms different from what prevailed in Europe? It was these different terms that necessitated the change to European terms of February to December to the current September to July terms. To match up with Europe’s school terms, the whole school system was affected by the transition period which ran for five school terms from February 1959 to July 1960 during which all levels of the school system from Class 1 to Upper VI. Spent five tantalizing terms in the same class, a very boring school year.
WHICH EDUCATED SIERRA LEONE WOULD STILL YEARN TODAY FOR THE RETURN OF SUCH AN EXPLOITATIVE EUROPEAN NATION TO RE-GOVERN SIERRA LEONE GIVEN THE FACTS OF HISTORY AND EXPERIENCE AS WE KNOW THEM NOW?
Only ignorance of colonial history and experience would make semi-enlightened Sierra Leoneans crave for British rule in today’s Sierra Leone. For such ignorance, we can pardon all those having such wishes ‘for they did not know what they were calling or wishing for’. All those with such wishful thinking were probably born after 1970 and we can understand the stories they must have heard from illiterate parents and grandparents.
WHAT DID THE BRITISH DO TO OUR FOURAH BAY COLLEGE AND PEOPLE WHEN WAR BROKE OUT IN EUROPE IN 1939?
The British announced the permanent closure of Fourah Bay College. We know from history that the British never had the best of intensions for Fourah Bay College and in 1939, wanted to use the war as an excuse to permanently shut down Fourah Bay College. Their decision did not go unchallenged from other West African countries whose students were pursuing courses of study at Fourah Bay College; the decision had to be abandoned as voices of protests came from all British West Africa, and this encouraged other West African nations to start considering the need to start universities in their own countries. The voices of protests forced the Brits to reconsider the whole idea and instead relocated the College to the S.B.Thomas Agricultural Academy) commonly known as Mabang College in present day Moyamba district where the College went into exile for six long years. After the war, the British denied the CMS missionaries return to their Fourah Bay Campus, and instead the College was re-located to Mount Aureol to occupy the outdated and derelict army barracks without any financial compensation to the CMS for the building at Fourah Bay which the CMS purchased, upgraded and renovated. The British did not like the idea of a university in Freetown in the first place and even had the audacity and arrogance to suggest in 1944 the closing of the university section at Fourah Bay and transfer it to Ibadan while FBC would remain a preparatory school for Ibadan. The British never had the best of intentions for Sierra Leone apart from the exploitation of our resources for the sole benefit of England.
In addition, our people were conscripted to fight in Burma against the Japanese, a war in which West Africans had no business whatsoever. Was this not bully? They argued that British West Africans were to fight for the British Empire, a war in which many never returned home having died in battle with no financial compensation to their families. The same could have happened if they were still our rulers today and our compatriots would have once again been conscripted and shipped to Iraq to fight in a war in which we had no business; we could also have been fighting in other areas of the Middle East and any area in the world where Britain was fighting.
The fact is Britain is very snobbish. We were unfortunate not to have been colonized by the French, a nation which wanted to assimilate her Black peoples in West Africa and make French West Africa members of metropolitan France. The French wanted their subjects to speak French, think like Frenchmen, behave like Frenchmen and adopt French culture and institutions; As members of the French community, they were allowed to elect Deputies to the French Chamber of Deputies in Paris. Hence President Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal was Minister of Education in France, while President Houpouet Boigny of the Ivory Coast was also appointed minister in France representing West Africa.
On the contrary the British said Africans were a different branch of the human race and could not be assimilated into British culture without running into difficulties; they must develop separately in their Africanness. They were so snobbish that the first Creole intellectuals returning home from England as Lawyers and medical doctors were denied employment pointing out that the Lawyers could not practice in English courts but must go to native courts, and the doctors were equally snobbed and denied employment in Connaught and advised to go to Health centres. The fact is the British have never disguised their dislike for Black people, but only like their resources for exploitation for the benefit of their country. All this makes it bitterly painful to see these British who deserted our mines forty years ago to be allowed to come back to excavate our resources from the same mines they abandoned under new pseudo names of African Minerals and London Mining. Everywhere there was frustration with anything British action in 1975/76..
WHAT ABOUT THE HEALTH SECTOR UNDER COLONIAL RULE? HOW MANY HOSPITALS DID THEY BUILD FOR A POPULATION OF LESS THAN 2,000,000 (Two Million People) for the same period?
At Independence in 1961, in Freetown, apart from the Connaught hospital, there was another at Murray town; there was one Government Hospital per district located in the district headquarter towns of Bo , Kenema, Kambia, Magburaka hospital built in the same year as the MSSB, Port Loko Government hospitals. Makeni the Provincial Headquarters of the North had a Health Centre until recently when a modern Government hospital was built. Kabala too had a Health Centre. The Colonial Government had their own specialist hospital at Wilberforce (commonly called Hill Station) where they and British officials received medical attention. But thanks to Missionary hospitals like Segbwema, Rotifunk, Kamakwie Wesleyan hospital, the Serabu Catholic mission Hospital, St John of God Hospital Lunsar, Ahmadiyya Hospital at Rokupr in Kambia district, and the Masanga Leprosarium outside Magburaka which acquired fame for quality attention, and now a Chinese Hospital. A specialist Government Maternity hospital the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital (PCMH or better known as COTTAGE) was opened along Fourah Bay Road shortly after independence. There was also the Baptist Mission Eye Clinic in Lunsar to help with eye sight problems. Everywhere the colonial government was found wanting. But thanks to Missionaries, our population today would have been halved due to poor health facilities. Our people sought quality medical attention by going to these private mission hospitals.
Knowing now what most people never knew, what educationally enlightened persons would wish for a return of the British to re-govern our country given the record of their dismal performance in 168 years of misgovernment and underdevelopment?
We know our true friends in moments of adversity especially economic for a poor nation state like ours. In 1975 and 1976 after nearly forty years of extorting our minerals, iron ore and diamonds and realizing that the mining of such minerals required huge capital, they packed up and quit the SLST (later DIMINCO) diamond mines and left the country. A similar situation took place at the Iron Ore mines at Marampa with DELCO shutting down with the explanation that the iron ore industry had become too difficult to extract and needed huge capital, and that they were no longer deriving any profits; they too packed up and left, paying the workers their miserable benefits. Lunsar town almost became a ghost town as all the immigrants into the town including South easterners returned home frustrated. Diminco and Delco Companies shortened the lives of the peoples dependent on those mines for their livelihood. Most of them died shortly afterwards.
HOW ABOUT THE TEN YEAR CIVIL WAR?
When this country was locked in a ten year senseless internecine conflict, did the British come to our aid to help end the craziness of the warring factions? For nine years they did nothing until rebels invaded our capital with its attendant atrocities when voices were raised at the United Nations on what the former colonial masters could do to help end this inter tribal killings. For nine years they were silent observers. The same unconcerned attitude by the United States in Liberia while Charles Taylor, Prince Johnson and Alhaji Kabba forces were slaughtering one another. To them we do not seem to matter at all. Let them kill one another but when war broke out in Europe, our people were conscripted to fight for them. Thanks to those voices at the UN which led to their belated intervention and helped end the fighting which could have ended much earlier.
HOW ABOUT THE EBOLA OUTBREAK?
Was it not the British who first announced the suspension of Air traffic to Sierra Leone with the grounding of British Airways and the other two countries affected? The suspension is still ongoing while Belgian Airlines have resumed operations? When someone we consider a friend deserts us in times of dire need, do we continue to regard him a true friend? Is he not a ‘fair weather’ friend? At the EVD outbreak, did the same British mining companies not pack out from Bumbuna and Marampa mines and quit citing health concerns? Did they not ask all British nationals to pack up and leave? What is really wrong with the thinking of our political leaders for their continued reliance on this European nation which continued to treat us as immature and fools? In a way they are right to see us as fools because having abandoned us and our mines and left to suffer economically, no one in his right mind would imagine our governments both SLPP and APC would consider British companies under new names to return to resume mining of our minerals in those same mines.
THIS BRINGS ME TO THE BIG QUESTION: WHY DO OUR LEADERS STILL ALLOW THE BRITISH TO COME BACK TO THOSE SAME MINES THEY DESERTED FORTY YEARS AGO?
Personally I thought Sierra Leone should have turned elsewhere for help. The comrades have always been our true friends in our hour of need. Britain has never for one moment awarded a single bursary to Fourah Bay College students in all her history. I can understand: a country that never supported the existence of an educational institution in a country is not expected to help with the education of its children. Instead what they have always done is to offer scholarships through the Commonwealth fund for advanced specialist training either for Doctoral or post Doctoral training, in which she imposed almost impossible conditions for the award thereby making most applicants ‘not suitable candidates’. Yes it is one thing to advertise and quite another to have the right applicants for a British award.
The former Soviet Union came to our rescue in this country, thanks to the Late President Siaka Stevens and did the unprecedented from the 1970s right up to the eighties by offering hundreds of scholarships annually to our students who went to pursue different courses of study in the Soviet Union. Medical doctors, Agriculturists, Dentists International Law etc. These were Comrades. Because they could not make such gestures, they condemned education in Eastern countries as inferior just to discourage Third World leaders. If not for the Soviet Union and other Eastern countries this country would never have boasted of even fifty medical doctors prior to the opening of the medical school in Freetown. Now the Chinese are doing the same for our students. No European nation is more snubbish than the British; to them anything not British or made in Britain is of good quality.
For our successive Governments not to consider bringing in the Chinese or Russia of today who are the true friends of Africa, to help us with exploiting our mines but to turn back to those who economically ruined us and deserted us really beats the thinking of any sober minded intellectual. This forces me to ask the question again, WHY ARE THE BRITISH STILL PREFERRED TO MINE OUR MINERALS GIVEN WHAT THEY DID TO US IN THE SEVENTIES WHY NOT TURN ELSEWHERE?
One important point of clarification on recruitment of staffing from Britain for Fourah Bay College. If only readers can get copies of the book “FROM CLINETOWN TO MOUNT AUREOL, FOURAH BAY COLLEGE 1827 TO PRESENT“, the problem is clearly explained. Fourah Bay College lecturers were recruited directly from the University of Durham and deployed on contract to FBC without British Government involvement. FBC paid for their passage to and fro with a triennial leave to the home country. When Fourah Bay College was affiliated to the University of Durham in 1876, the London Times, a fierce opponent of the work of the CMS in Sierra Leone were outrageous, displayed anathema and went on to attack the CMS pointing out that it would not be much longer before the new University College was affiliated to the Zoo. Can readers imagine the show of ‘hate and contempt’ to a colonized people?
WHAT ABOUT THE ROADS NETWORK AND OUTDATED FERRIES?
The most dismal performance of the Colonial administration was on our roads. In the majority of cases the administration instead of building bridges and carrying out roads expansion, they preferred the cheapest form of dangerous river crossing , namely the use of ferries which depended on a team of ferry workers pulling the river carrier and crossing from one end to the other. The British colonial administration was so concerned with their exploitation of our resources and profits that they deliberatively ignored the welfare of the peoples they governed. The only bridge they built was the single lane Magbele Bridge on the Rokel River in 1955, and that was the result of the sinking of the ferry one fateful day that year in which over fifty lives were believed to have been lost. Reluctantly, they managed to build the first single lane bridge in a deep and dangerous curve on entry. That Magbele bridge is 60 years old today with no repairs ever been carried out on it to this day. We can see anytime vehicles meet, one has to wait until the first crosses the bridge before the other can do the same. These are the same British some of our compatriots are yearning for their return to finish their exploitation.
The All Peoples’ Congress (APC) under President Siaka Stevens did build the two lane Mange and Kambia bridges, a very outstanding piece of legacy for his rule. Magburaka also had a new bridge constructed on a straight route thus saving peoples’ lives from the old bridge which had become as dangerous as the Magbele Bridge. The APC did a great job in the area of Roads construction with a modern road network from Masiaka, through Lunsar to Makeni and right to Kono in the seventies. No doubt it is this legacy current President is continuing relentlessly. Road construction though must go side by side with bridge construction otherwise the dangers of travelling are still a great possibility.
All these things having taken place under the watchful eyes of our so called colonial masters, what is the justification for our past and present sovereign administrations (the SLPP and APC) to continue employing the services of the British to continue looting our minerals and natural produce? We need answers to these questions which continue to puzzle this nation. What we see now is not Colonialism, but Neo-colonialism, that is, colonialism in a new form. Why do our governments prefer the British only to the exclusion of all other industrialized nations around the world to exploit our resources? To these questions, we need answers and these answers are expected not only from the current APC administration, but the opposition SLPP as well who left office before the APC took over. The two parties are both responsible for all our nation’s problems since 1961 because they have been alternating power exchanging batons from one runner to another.
WHAT ABOUT THE STATE OF BRITISH COLONIAL CITIES?
No colonial city in British West Africa is worthy of admiration. Can we not see Freetown the first capital of the first Crown colony in British West Africa? shame on them to say the least. As badly planned, Freetown looks, so does Lagos and Ibadan in Nigeria, and Accra of colonial times. The Accra of today was re-planned and modernized by Late Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkruma, the only former British capital still to be admired. On the contrary compare Francophone cities like Dakar, St. Louis in Senegal, Abidjan and Yamousukro in Ivory Coast, Lome in Togo etc. The French planned their African cities along cities in France with the same local government system based on communes; hence Dakar is branded the “Petit Paris” of Africa. So what’s the talk or preference for the British in our country?
But how many parliamentarians on both sides of the House really understand or experience those colonial times? Most of them are just as old as our Independence and many more even much younger. Can any of these parties, SLPP and APC deny responsibility for our problems? Doubtful! very doubtful indeed. Bottom line: WE DO NOT NEED BRITISH COMPANIES TO CONTINUE MINING OUR MINERALS ANYMORE. WE ARE SICK OF THEIR DUPLICITY.
P/S The author welcomes bipartisan comments and answers from both sides of the political divide for the clear understanding of the people of this nation.