What has the Isle of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, lying between Greece and Turkey, in common with Sierra Leone? At first sight this seems a question in Geography, but rather it is my attempt at linking readers up with the last paragraph of my previous article, when I drew attention to the way Christians and Muslims co-habit in our country in a very practical and amicable manner. This short article should prove a test of the tolerance of our Muslim brothers and sisters who will, I have no doubt, similarly wish to put the future of our Country in the context of the teachings of the Koran. (Photo: Winston Forde, author)
For the Christians of our Country, the funeral service in church is a very important part of the religious ceremonies we follow so fastidiously in bidding farewell to our departing loved ones. In most of those church services the Bible Reading or Lesson from the Book of Revelation Chapter 21 vs 1 – 6, in which St John the Apostle describes The New Heaven and The New Earth is read, and those words have become well known to us in our time of grieving, healing, and preparation for the future. The point is, though, that St John wrote his apocalypse, The Book of Revelation, including his letters to the 7 churches in Asia, whilst taking refuge on the Isle of Patmos, at the end of the 1st Century. Those were difficult days for Christians, and the persecutions and killings that they had to endure were, perhaps, just as horrific if not more so than the atrocities perpetrated by the RUF on our people. Through those poignant words of the Book of Revelation that we have come to use so often, we experience John’s warning against spiritual indifference, and his desire to elicit courage from those under persecution. John recognises the historical situation (Roman persecution) that elicited his writing, but many interpreters have come to look upon it as a prophecy depicting events that were to take place at the end of ages. Many, though, would know that the ultimate victory of Christ is the dominant theme of this book.
I am conscious that several subscribers would have read my last article in which I tried to depict what it would take to develop a new Sierra Leone in the next fifty years. And, more than likely, they would have dismissed it as yet another pipe dream about a Country and a people that are doomed to remain hopeless and condemned. Its not that I should, therefore, seek to justify my views, as there is no harm in human optimism. But it has occurred to me that having spent several decades hanging on to every word in Governor Clarkson’s famous prayer, it is now timely to make John’s words, which were recorded in Patmos, our clarion call for the future. I am not just talking about some theoretical vision because those that are aware would know that real things are happening already under this Government. Unlike John, I cannot say that I have seen a new Heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. However, what is patently obvious is that the worst of the armed conflict is behind us, leaving a trail of changed attitudes and perspectives.
We have to admit that the old Sierra Leone is no more, and it is as if the home of God will be among us. He will dwell with us; we will be his people, and God himself will be with us; he will wipe every tear from our eyes. More importantly, death arising from pointless, and mindless killings will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. This is not intended as a sermon, but it is as if I have been directed to write this “for these words are trustworthy and true”. Also, it is partly in response to Tony Blair, former UK prime minister who expresses similar Biblical convictions. I refer to his piece in This is Africa Special Reports in April 2011, when he discussed progress made in Sierra Leone since his govt’s intervention during the civil war, as well as the work of his African Governance Initiative.
Although he started in the 1960′s he commented that our 50th anniversary of Independence is an anniversary worth celebrating. He seemed to blame everything on the 11 year civil war, but I don’t think so. He quotes our successful elections as our commitment to democracy yet this is hardly proclaimed to the rest of the World. He reminds us that the UN regards us as the least developed country in the world; the poorest indeed! He talks about electricity from Bumbuna, the free Healthcare initiative with no attempt at highlighting the inadequacy of the hospital facilities these ‘pregnant women and new mothers’ are expected to attend under the scheme. In particular, no mention was made of the Medical School, a wholly African initiative that continues to improve, and produce sufficiently qualified doctors several of whom would later be shamelessly grabbed by the NHS of the UK. He correctly sees our farmers as part of our future, but avoided the real issue of trade embargoes and adverse tariff practices of the Western nations that will continue to prevent those farmers from selling their products at economical prices in the World market. Above all, he ends on the inevitable if real issue of our incredible natural resources, and potential tourist trade.
How can Government improve the business climate for investment with proper returns for our people without effective Education, and a country that is working properly with a standard of living that is in line with our extremely wealthy land? With such resources, including oil, every President of a future Sierra Leone should have a stronger voice, and influence in the world than any ex Prime Minister. Our now oil rich African continent must enjoy a similar influence as the oil producing countries of the Middle East have done for a long time.
So, instead of being automatically dismissive of any hint of optimism in a renewed Sierra Leone let us put those words we know so well, and have committed to our ancestors for so long, into good practical effect. I am told by one recently arrived from Freetown that it is no longer the case that people are blindly fearful of those in a position to terrorise. The former might not have guns but a new spirit of determination and ownership of their own destiny is emerging which is reversing that situation. In the ‘Patmos spirit’ this is bound to gather even more momentum as areas of the Country come under proper control. In another way, who would have imagined the time would come when Sierra Leoneans would spend so much time agonising over the future of their Country, and what needs to be done to put the old order behind us? Is it not as if the one who is seated on the throne is saying “See, I am making all things new”? What would be our greatest folly as a people is not to recognise what’s going on, whilst busy living in the past. We are not going to have the Colonial days again (and, in any case, who said everything about those times was good, and in the interests of all our people?) And, we must move away from the convenient reminiscence ””Bo Salone bin sweet”. Yes it was, but sweet for whom? And how did this perceived sweetness for a few turn so sour for the whole?
In looking forwards, we must begin to believe in ourselves and the future. John did not write about a vacuum; the old was replaced by the new. So, when corruption wanes this would be replaced with integrity, as we have never seen before. So, let’s consider a Minister who resigns from office because he genuinely came into Government for a limited period with a sense of purpose, and a desire to serve his country for a measured period. Under the old culture, we would immediately conclude that his early departure followed the gaining of ‘mass mass’, as sure as light follows day. Our, as yet, instinctive reluctance to accept that this could be an honourable move arising from the greatest sense of service and an impressive level of integrity that must henceforth be demonstrated by many in public office, does not accord with the Patmos spirit. That must be the spirit and ethos of the new Sierra Leone, as the old Sierra Leone passes away and the mass exodus of her people is no more .
By Sqn Ldr Winston Forde