COMMUNITY- THE DYSFUNCTION, NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT IN SIERRA LEONE

Photo/image credited to Sama Kai (British Sierra Leonean professional photographer)

 

Freetown, Sierra Leone, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. This beauty opined by the writer is based on its rich religious tolerance, its welcoming nature to foreigners, it’s very diverse ethnic backgrounds and the overall natural landscape and resilience of its people. But like every other country in Africa, Sierra Leone faces a lot of socio-economic and political constraints. The purpose of this article is not to deep dive into the socio-political or economic issues faced by this beautiful country but to explore the concept of community.

 

For this article, the writer has defined a community as a collective group of people/individuals working in a collaborative, strategic approach to enhance the socio-economic potential of its members and beneficiaries.

 

For a long time, the Sierra Leonean community has been one of the most receptive communities to foreigners in the region. Nonetheless, this has not been fully established, to a large extent in certain spaces within the economic framework of the country. 

 

The growing numbers of entrepreneurs are being hit the hardest by this lack of community, especially in the ecosystem. Currently Sierra Leone has less than 8 active innovation, acceleration, and co-working hubs with an average of less than 5 full time experienced staff to support its growing numbers of entrepreneurs. And while many players are committed to supporting the development of entrepreneurs, there is a visible divide or a lack of community. This makes it extremely difficult for policymakers as well as international partners to see the immediate impact of their investment in the ecosystem. 

 

The lack of community does not mean a lack of peer groups. While there are no shortages of these groups from various sectors, there is an underlying wedge. One that has an unspoken competition so big that collaborative efforts between these groups are almost non-existent. The result of the continued strained efforts to build effective communities will be groups/individuals working on the same vision, which will be left frustrated due to the lack of coordination. What this means is that so-called beneficiaries will be left to make the hard decision between which group to work with and which to not to work with, a decision they should not be forced to make. 

 

Perhaps the country’s most visible community is built in the religious space, Fulla and Lebanese communities, and in recent times, the activism space. But even with this, members are not without competition, despite working on the same vision. For instance, in the activism space, political lobbyists while few, are mostly aligned with the government of the day’s agenda. And whilst their effort for a national call may be seemingly genuine on social media, the backroom agreement always almost goes against their public commitment. 

 

The lack of community can be driven by the shared divide along political lines, with groups/individuals that are closer to political power more aligned than those without that access. Leaving an almost instantaneous disapproval of their efforts for a positive change  and honesty behind their work. 

 

For instance, a conversation had with several groups of policymakers, researchers, entrepreneurs and leaders, on tax-haven for entrepreneurs clarified the writer’s position on the lack of community around specific areas like those mentioned. Policymakers, as part of their procedures in drafting policies, do a private sector engagement with groups representing different industries. But because of the lack of  active community, groups provide views that usually influences policy decisions affecting key powerful individuals of that group; Yes, even in these groups, there are what the writer calls cabals.

 

Cabals, are usually led by powerful members of the group and can be found within political parties, business networks, peer pressure groups, WhatsApp groups, the entertainment industry etc. The heads of these cabals are usually reluctant to find solutions to support the entire membership of the organisations but rather use their influence for an ego-centric portrayal of importance.

 

Our sense of community must come from the shared value of oneness, and with the same culture of receptiveness we offer to foreigners, if we are to build systems that transcend politics, religion, ethnicity, and regional lines. We must also study key communities like the Fullas and Lebanese communities to understand how they  build, interact, grow, and present a unified front.

 

It is also important to note that, when groups come together under different consortiums, the usual ego-centric cabal leaders almost always act as saboteurs of the visions of these consortiums; this is especially common in the social-activists space. 

 

Nonetheless, this does not mean groups/individuals are not trying to build communities. Some organisations are built around the context of empowering communities and even set out to build one out themselves, but the foreseen danger is, like many others, they are hoping to build a community all by themselves. 

 

The essence of community at this stage in our nation’s development cannot be overstated and it is the wish of the writer that community in this case is not subjected to groups. But rather an actual collaborative approach of intentional individuals/groups coming together to build a thriving environment for everyone.

 

What are your thoughts on Community in Sierra Leone/ Africa? What can we do to improve Community Sense?

Written by: Sidi Saccoh

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