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Page added on July 7, 2010

Meet Sierra Leone’s New Chief of Staff Dr. Kaifala Marah

Meet Sierra Leone’s New Chief of Staff Dr. Kaifala Marah thumbnail

For the first time in Sierra Leone, the position of Chief of Staff is being established and the man just being appointed in that enviable new office is also new to the centre of decision-making. But from his background and experience in addition to the enduring spirit, resilience and passion with which he works will make a difference.

Kaifala Marah’s appointment as Chief of Staff in the Office of the President at State House means the abolition of the Ministry of Presidential and Public Affairs, according to a press release from State House, is a strategic move by the leadership.

The release also confirms that Marah “will among other functions ensure execution of the President’s Agenda for Change by providing the necessary collaborative links and support for the Ministries, Departments and Agencies to meet their various targets.”

In London, where he worked as Adviser Public Expenditure Management at the Commonwealth, Marah described his appointment:

“It is a humbling opportunity to serve my country and I am thankful to President Koroma and the Commonwealth Secretariat for providing this unique window of opportunity to be able to play my part in nation-building. I have learnt that no one can know it all, do it all or do it alone “ so, I will be relying mostly on those on the ground, together we can all make a difference.”

Meanwhile, there have been positive responses both within Sierra Leone and the international community following the appointment and many have commended the President for what they described as  an appropriate and timely action.

Marah has made great strides in the Commonwealth and his blueprint includes series of in-country exchanges, the provision of technical advice and capacity building under the project, Building Pyramids in the Valleys, through which the Secretariat transfers skills and enhances knowledge sharing within Commonwealth countries. This is executed through a community of practitioners known as Thematic Fellows who have been leading country reform programmes. Marah has also introduced the Commonwealth Public Procurement Network (CPPN)  a forum of heads of procurement regulatory bodies and central boards within the Commonwealth.

Marah’s untiring efforts in assisting Commonwealth countries spans all regions: Africa, Asia, Caribbean, and the Pacific; for example, Botswana, which is the shining reference for good governance and economic recovery on the African continent, is at current receiving technical assistance from the Sierra Leonean, to enhance risk management and internal audit in the whole of government.

He once said at his graduation ceremony (PhD),  “Yes, we may be a small post-conflict country busy with consolidating our democracy and rebuilding our economy, but we do have some good stuff to offer to the rest of the world.”

“Honestly, there is no better way of rebuilding our country-image after being battered by the western media because of the civil conflict than through the difference our compatriots are making in every corner of the world. They have been busy reinventing our image. Indeed we have got something to offer, and it must be celebrated,” he said.

Marah has also recently developed a government self-assessment toolkit on financial management for member countries. He is also a public sector expert in change management, strategic thinking, local government administration, as well as legislative development.

He is responsible for operationalising the Commonwealth Heads of Government Mandate on public expenditure management through the provision of advisory services, training and policy development.

Before joining the Commonwealth Secretariat, Marah worked as a Budget Analyst at the State Senate of New York and as a Graduate Fellow at the Centre for International Development in New York.

Whilst working out of Sierra Leone, Kaifala Marah has not forgotten his root, as he has made tremendous contribution towards the socio-economic development in Sierra Leone.

He single-handedly sponsored the rehabilitation of the Kabala-Koinadugu road in 2009 – which was abandoned since the 1960s – in collaboration with the youths and local authorities.

In Sierra Leone, he worked as Deputy Town Clerk in the Koidu/New Sembehun Town Council. But what many people will recall about this remarkable and unassuming young man, especially those in Kono District is the leadership he demonstrated as National President of the Kono Students Union (KONSU) during the civil conflict.

Marah then led a relief campaign for thousands of displaced persons at Ngo town, Masingbi, Ndogboe, and surrounding villages – a unique experience that still lingers in the minds of many of his contemporaries.

Unleashing Transformation through the Power of Ideas

Dr. Kaifala Marah

Public Lecture delivered at the Fourah Bay College Campus on the invitation of the Mass Communication Students Association (MACOSA), 21 April 2010

From nothing we can become something, and from nowhere we can go somewhere… go to places that we may initially think impossible…we can make a difference through the power of ideas.

Opening

Mr Chairman, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Head of Department of Mass Communication, President and members of the Mass Communication Students Association (MACOSA); President and members of the Fourah Bay College Students Union; representatives of the civil society, the print and electronic media; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen – good morning.

Let me in the first place express my sincere thanks and gratitude to the MACOSA and the Department of Mass Communication of Fourah Bay College, for inviting me to share my humble thoughts on matters touching on nation-building. There couldn’t have been a better time for such an occasion especially as the 49th Independence Day of the country is around the corner on 27 April.  I have chosen by a deliberate design to mark this session as my own way of celebrating that epic event. But I also respect as well as endorse the pomp and pageantry of the nation’s planned celebrations – we must reflect and celebrate at the same time!

Let me, however, hasten to state that I am delivering this public lecture as a citizen of Sierra Leone, not as an official of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and therefore, views expressed here will be entirely mine and not those of the inter-governmental body. Let me also mention that the purpose of this discourse is to stimulate further debate and national reflection on our development heritage and it is not meant to take a swipe at any institutions, groups or individuals. Call it a reflection of a son of a nation.

Whilst in the Caribbean last year, precisely in Trinidad and Tobago, I was in the office of the manager of the Hilton Hotel when I saw a great inscription on the wall that I would like to share with you: If you have a penny and I have a penny and we share our pennies, you will still have a penny and I will still have a penny; but if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange our ideas, you will have two ideas and I will have two ideas. So, ladies and gentlemen, this morning presents an opportunity for the sharing of ideas as the engine of growth and transformation “ I am wishing to learn as much as you would from me “ it is my humble hope that we will learn from each other this morning.

Overview

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I will conduct this morning’s discourse in the following manner: first, I will define what I do mean by the Power of Ideas as a vehicle of transformation. Second, I will discuss its application against the backdrop that our failure to apply the power of ideas has partly led us in becoming strangers to our own time and destiny. I will discuss generational thinking and our development and cultural legacy as they impinge on the prospect of our development. I will also make an attempt to review the choices that are open to us to close the identified gaps. I will engage students on personal development drawing on my own experiences; and finally, I will draw conclusions and open the floor for questions and comments.

What is an idea and how powerful can it be? “

An idea is a resource applied to bring about change; it also is a holistic strategy employed by individuals, institutions and wider communities to bring about transformation or to achieve a sense of renewal and success. Ideas go beyond strategic planning processes, and budgeting and economics, and venture into territories that push the boundaries of tradition and conventions. Ideas call for a restless application of the mindset and commitment to defined programmes and yearn for excellence. But ideas can only work and be powerful if applied in a disciplined environment. You will be surprised to learn that sometimes, if not most of the times, ideas can be superior to natural resources if applied, nurtured and integrated within the culture of a people backed by discipline and commitment. I will urge all of you to please peruse the country profile of Singapore to believe that the power of ideas and its people, not natural resources are the drivers of development. Even in an environment blessed with natural resources, such as ours, it has been acknowledged that transformation is not necessarily defined by natural endowment. For example, in his 2008 State of the Nation Address, the President of the Republic of Botswana, Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama said, Our national anthem rightly affirms that our land is a gift from God  but our nation’s progress did not fall from heaven it is the product of human efforts to achieve common goals.

Further, in the absence of natural resources, Singapore invested in developing its human resource and has continued to unleash development through innovation. For example, the country does not produce oil but it refines and handles the transhipment of oil in the whole region. Yet there are nations that produce oil but without refineries – which is a missed opportunity. However, in the case of Botswana, a diamond cutting industry was established because the country produces diamonds  this is a leveraged opportunity. In other words the country made use of its comparative advantage. Both the Singapore refinery and the Botswana diamond cutting industry are a clear demonstration of the power of ideas!

What about Sierra Leone?

In 1827, ladies and gentlemen we were lucky to have had the first institution of higher learning in West Africa “ Fourah Bay College; but has the situation improved? We had the first Civil Service College in West Africa; today it is dead and gone. But the junior and middle level public service officials in Ghana continue to receive learning from the Ghana Civil Service College.  In Singapore, the Civil Service College has been transformed into a world-class centre of excellence that provides services to such institutions as the Commonwealth Secretariat, the World Bank, the IMF, and many other similar organisations across the world. Singapore now exports education whilst Sierra Leone is busy accessing learning through such institutions as the University of Ghana (Legon). Our Sierra Leone Producing Marketing Board (SLPMB) is dead and buried, but a similar board in Botswana is up and running. Just in case you didn’t know: Freetown is the first municipality in the whole of Africa  but has lagged behind dozens of cities in Africa. Similarly, it was Sierra Leone that produced the first indigene to serve on the legislative council in colonial Africa in the person of John Ezzidio, well before the protectorate was declared in 1896. And you would be amazed that in early 1800s the rest of British West Africa was administered from Freetown for more than five years  yes, Freetown served as the federal capital for The Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria. Enough with Freetown!

Ladies and gentlemen, there are numerous examples of what sincere ideas can do. At independence in 1966, Botswana had less than 5 secondary schools; today with a population of about 2 million it has about three hundred secondary schools. And in recognition of the power of education through which ideas are born, Botswana has embarked on establishing the Botswana International University of Science and Technology due to start operating in March 2011. This is because it wants to become a leading centre of learning in the world. Our population is about 6 million almost three times that of Botswana perhaps the question we should be grappling with is – how many secondary schools have we got and why is it that more than 50 percent of Sierra Leoneans cannot read and write even though we were given a head start in education?

Do the trends in other economies tell any story about us, or at least help us to reflect on what went wrong, and most importantly, to review our heritage, our values and approach to development, so as to be able to place our fingers on the nub of transformation? What would be our collective response if the spirits of our great compatriots such as Sengbe Pieh or Bai Bureh who shaped our proud history were to ask: What went wrong to the land that we fought for so hard?

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I will now take you through some situational analysis on the power of ideas.

Our Development Culture and Heritage

Most of the time and for reasons of love for our country, we always lay claim to a rich cultural heritage. This being granted, let me go further to propound that one should never claim to knowing one’s history until one is able to subject it to critical analysis, because it is through such critical thinking process that one is able to understand his or her development heritage. So what are our heritage and our cultural approach to development? I leave you to find your answers, but I wish to share mine with you. In doing so, Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to take you all on a journey I call, a journey of reflection, and would ask that you follow the trail of my thinking:

If you hail from a country that had the first higher institution of learning in your sub region, and it happened to host students from other parts of the world; its influence grew and it was such that it came to be known as the Athens of West Africa; you certainly would expect that the application of positive intellect to solving society’s problems would be the norm, and that your society would thrive even without natural resources as in the case of Japan or Singapore. But what if your country is abundantly rich in resources and is being blessed with institutions even before independence; wouldn’t your society be ahead of such countries as Japan and Singapore? That would have been the ideal scenario, right?

But what if your country is resource-rich in addition to being blessed with early institutions but ironically you are poor, and in the most insulting of manners, your country is mostly rated at the bottom of the human development index among countries of the world -currently third at the bottom – tell me: how would you celebrate and what would you celebrate? To ask further, let me put it as simply as this: if you are smart and rich in resources how would you explain poverty? The truth is either you are not really as smart as you may think of yourself, or that you are brilliantly good at failing yourself – in this case, you really are a brilliantly poor nation!

This is what I think, ladies and gentlemen – and you don’t have to agree with me on this:  the poverty we are experiencing today as a nation is not a curse but an outcome of the collective thinking capacity of past generations passed down to us. Poverty in the first degree lives in our minds as a legacy and as our heritage “ and that of the second degree lives with us we think it and live it. In short, we suffer from poverty of the mind and is reflected in the way we manage our lives. Poverty of the mind is our legacy, your legacy, my legacy and the legacy of all those Sierra Leoneans living abroad.  The truth is, until recently – in the past few years – we have not been very smart in our approach to development-thinking; we have not been able to employ our positive intellects to translate our God-given resources for the good of the nation. As one generation failed the other, so did the succeeding ones to posterity…. and the loop goes on and on. This is not complacency; it cannot be excused as a case of illiteracy alone, and cannot be overlooked as a complete imprint of the civil conflict. Indeed, it can be suggested that the ancestry of the civil conflict was the poor application of our collective thinking capacity as a nation.

We have indeed inherited a dilemma. This generation must not be blamed but there are strong signs of continuity. And this is no period for apportioning blames, but a period of collaboration, of synergy and of love. The answer to this dilemma is not one that calls for dogmatism, nor could it be of orthodoxy; but it requires a new approach to the way we think, the way we dream and the manner in which we define our national goals; so too should we redefine the application of our collective intellect and review the deployment of our collective productive capacity.  Without these, and in the absence of challenging ourselves by leveraging our recent gains in infrastructure development  such as energy and roads, we will continue to consolidate our culture of denial, nurture our moderate growth levels and pass on to succeeding generations a poverty level they will accept as their destiny. We are not a poor people, but let us not pretend that we are rich either. We need an overhaul in the way we think. Sometimes, I cannot help but to bow my head in shame thinking that our begging bowl continues to deepen in dimensions. Isn’t it an insult to be rich but then remain a poor beggar because one has not been able to effectively tap into one’s own resources? End of the journey.

Generational thinking

In bringing you back from the journey of reflection, I should say to you that this generation, our generation, should approach national development differently and draw a line between yesterday and today. Let me share my thoughts with you on generational thinking:  Mother Nature dictates that it is the role of each generation to lay a strong foundation for the development of the succeeding generation, and it also is the role of a succeeding one to do the same for posterity. Now, where generations continue to fail succeeding ones, there comes a time when a conscious generation should be able to draw a line and carve its own destiny. In doing so, it must disregard the failing values of its predecessors and define a new one for its self. And so, I am being forced to challenge this audience: if there is anyone here this morning who thinks that the past generations of this country succeeded in laying a solid development foundation for posterity, let them say so, and I will apologise. If anyone is of the view that for nearly fifty years of our history, this nation has not succeeded in failing its self, let that person speak out, I will apologise. If it is excusable in your thinking for generations to have failed succeeding ones within a period of nearly 50 years, or 600 months, put another way for 2600 weeks, and in 18,250 days, let that person say so, and again, I will tender an apology (pause).

So, you see….this is a woeful failure on the part of a nation that warrants that this new generation should adopt new thinking, new behaviour and must disregard the template that has been used by failing generations. On this note, I will subscribe to as well as commend the ongoing campaign by the Government for attitudinal change, and to go further by calling for the development of a disciplined workforce.

Recognising ongoing gains

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it is fair that credit is given where and when it is due. In this regard, I would like to recognise and pay tribute to recent gains we have recorded in the past few years in the form of institutional and democratic reforms: the introduction of new democratic and development institutions, ongoing public sector and financial reforms, infrastructure development – roads and energy, new enabling legislations for the enhancement of private sector participation and that of the civil society, and now the health sector – a policy of the current Government which seeks to provide free health care service to under fives, pregnant women and lactating mothers; and many more. Let me recognise these and many other initiatives as the line being drawn by this generation in the pursuit of a new path.

Development is a Choice not an Accident

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, let me at this juncture draw your attention to an opinion that I have developed from all of my travels within the Commonwealth…. and I will ask that you take note, and may be, challenge me on this. Development is a deliberate choice and does not come by accident. In the pursuit of growth, economic wellbeing and the quest for progress, every entity or nation is constantly faced with the challenge of making a choice among three options, or choosing a path of life for the realisation of dreams and a vision. These three path ways are: (1) freedom to fail; (2) the choice to be conventional; and (3) the choice to succeed.

1. Freedom to fail is a sub-conscious situation through which institutions and nations fail themselves. It’s about being complacent, always doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons without realising that one is being wronged by oneself.  In this scenario, one fails to give account, or review performance or even challenge oneself, such that the result will be failure and underperformance, weaker institutions and lesser chance to succeed. The test to apply to ensure that you haven’t chosen to be free to fail, is by asking such simple questions as: are we doing what we are supposed to be doing to bring about change and to improve society? Are we challenging ourselves, or do we always wish for the better but not really implementing what we have set out to achieve?

2. The choice to be conventional is a behaviour whereby people keep doing things the same way over a very long period without realising they are being left behind, and also not knowing they are becoming obsolete. For example, teaching the same module to a class for several years to a point that students begin to refer to their notes as a legacy. Or like an athlete running on a treadmill for the sake of exercise only without going places  a scenario I call the treadmill paradox. Also, not doing anything to address a particular problem over a very long period, such that it becomes a norm in society is a convention trap to look out for.  Being conventional does not provide assurances for correctness. For example, how many outlets are there in Freetown for the provision of postal services or do people have to converge on the one and only central post office building for all postal related services?

3. The choice to succeed is an approach in which people or institutions restlessly look out for new ideas, new ways of doing things and challenging themselves to deliver beyond and above what they have been achieving. In short, it is a constant employment of the power of ideas to the problems of society. Year in and year out, people go for new ideas. The acid test being applied: are there other ways of doing our thing? Or put another way, is underdevelopment our destiny, if not, why can’t we chart our own destiny by going beyond traditional thinking and beliefs? In short, the only barrier to success is how we think and respond to the challenges we face. We win when we challenge ourselves, win when we adopt new ideas and win when we choose to win, and choose to change our circumstances. We win when wean ourselves away from conventional thinking and from the freedom of not being challenged.

The question I would ask each of us here this morning is that, which of these three choices apply to your personal circumstances, your institution and your wider community? May I share with you the parable of the race cars?

Discipline and Mindset

As we approach 50 years of our independence, I wish to invite you ladies and gentlemen to review the significance of discipline and hard work, which are integral and inseparable tenets of development. Where a nation is not able to nurture these values, growth and development will be horizontal not vertical. For economies that have made it to the top, they have been able to do so through the idea that discipline and hard work must prevail. For example, in a single speech alone the President of Botswana made mention of the word discipline five times in his State of the Nation Address in November 2009. There is no doubt that a nation that lends itself to discipline has a higher chance of success, and in the case of Botswana it has been ingrained in its culture such that prior to independence chiefdom meetings were held in their Kgotlas at about 4.am. The reason is simple: that is the time of the day at which no one can advance an excuse for not attending a community meeting.

I am in this regard tempted to ask whether we have been able to internalise discipline in our work culture: do we respect time, do we arrive in our offices on time, and do we stay in our offices or unceremoniously take an early day off when the English Premiership is at its height, for example, when Manchester United meets with Chelsea? How do we treat public assets, for example government vehicles, etc?  If people are our assets, then discipline must prevail, ethics and integrity nurtured and transparency enshrined to ensure that we work very hard, because manna stopped falling long ago in biblical times.

Adopt a Culture of Renewal

I have observed that there are opportunities for the establishment of think tanks and research institutions to be able to support reforms across sectors.  The Universities must take the lead and not wait for the Government.  What if Fourah Bay College should launch a transformation fund through a dedicated Website targeting the alumni, would that bring about transformation?  To be able to renew development pursuit and recommit our collective energies we should be able to introduce a culture of renewal, a sense of transformation, and an appetite for change. In this regard we should be able to review institutional performance, adopt a culture of self assessment and institutional reviews. Agencies should be required to report on performance with timelines, and the civil society play a meaningful role as stakeholders in the process.

Governments do not and will not have to champion all of these reforms. The private sector including agency leaders should also lead by example. Government must not be everything or do everything. Sometimes, it should be the role of individuals to introduce ideas for the consideration of government. I recognise and commend recent efforts demonstrated in the Vision 2025 and the “Agenda for Change” programmes; what is required at this moment is taking forward the well documented plans to fruition. And we must do so with new thinking.

Ladies and gentlemen, our destiny is in our own hands. What we do today is what we will harvest in the future. In short, the destiny of a nation is the return on the collective investment made by its people few years back. A nation writes its own destiny, designs its own path and lives with the consequences.  The failure of institutions to recognise and uphold an efficient procurement regime, for example, is a destiny chosen that manifests itself in corruption and poor public goods and services. The failure to effectively implement public expenditure is a destiny manifested in the citizens’ dissatisfaction; and the failure to take a long term view of the economy is a destiny manifested in low growth, inflation and poor macro-economic performance.  In short, a national destiny is the sum total of a peoples approach to development  it has never been different and so shall it continue to be with every economy. The choice is ours!

Final Word to Students

a. Self motivation – If I should ask all of you here this morning to tell me what individually motivates you to be in school, or what you wish to become say, ten to fifteen years on, we certainly would hear about a number of interesting professions. Therefore, it is that desire which drives you, for example, to becoming a world-class journalist that is your motivation – the driving force that dominates your thoughts. The ambition of becoming what you want to be is what defines your personality.  But there is a caveat to motivation I would like you to note. Every dream under the sun continues to be mere thoughts if they are not put into action. I think the challenge we face as individuals in turning our dreams into reality, is how aggressive we choose to be, how many mountains we are willing to climb and how many institutional hurdles we are willing to defeat. Let me say this to you, that in the quest of turning your dreams into reality, you must be able to take on as many challenges as possible. You will find it difficult to achieve your objectives if you choose to settle for less, and become complacent and wish for a miracle. Point is, miracles come with a cost called, hard work!

As a human being you have what it takes to achieve a set of objectives  it all depends on how much you are willing to commit yourself and the mileage you are prepared to walk. You can become affluent; a renowned professor, a recognised economist, a great engineer, etc if you tell yourself: this is possible, and back that thought with actions. Your sun will never rise, nor will your stars shine, until you commit and dedicate yourself to hard work. Work like your lifetime earnings will be paid within the month, commit yourself like a monk and be a little aggressive like a bull. This way, would you then be able to achieve your dreams, would you then be able to arrive at your destination. The equation of life is balanced by no great an element than commitment, divided by little sleep, subtracted by challenges, multiplied by perseverance and focus  the answer is celebrated success. In short, keeping one’s eye on the prize is the ultimate requirement of success and, nothing else.

No achievement has been lubricated by magic, nor has success been made possible by mere wishes. The truth is, life is an ongoing competitive wheel that runs a full circuit adorn with challenges. It has never been otherwise you and I cannot change that fact  it stays on.

Each time I discuss development in this kind of setting, I always am tempted to remind students of two things to watch out for at the workplace – the choice of becoming either of two personalities: a professional processing plant or a change maker. A professional processing plant is someone in a position of trust that does things according to the text book; the person thinks in a straight line as he sees things through a tunnel, and has one-dimensional mind…if he is an accountant, all he cares about is preparing financial statements and crunching numbers without being bordered by the big issues affecting the institution. The same can be said of every profession.

A change maker on the other hand is a person imbued with a restless spirit to deliver results, influence his environment and getting things done in the interest of the wider society. This is because life and change are inseparable; either you initiate change or change will influence you. If you fail to go to change, change will come to you and you will have no control over the kind of change you will get, and it will influence you and change the course of events. So go for change  I mean a positive change!

George Price, the father of independent Belize in the Caribbean once admonished his compatriots that, education alone is not enough, and that the quest to propel one’s country and the requirement to employ one’s intellect to the benefit of society is the ultimate purpose of education. Is this what we have been doing….has education been of great benefit to us as a people or has there been a missing link…a missing link that explains our pursuit of individualism and personal aggrandisement even if it meant killing our society and eroding the prospects for a better tomorrow? I leave you all to find answers…I have got mine.

b. Master your environment – Recruit mentors and role models. As students, the initial first step to achieving your dreams is to understand your environment, and then master the art of managing it. Let us note that the lifestyle and values of individuals are mainly influenced by the environment in which they find themselves; for example, and for the sake of argument only, a child born today in Sierra Leone has got limited opportunities to becoming a high flyer in life compared to a child born in Malaysia. In this regard, you should in the first place be able to recruit Mentors. Everyone requires a mentor; mine were Mr FD Konomanyi, Mr Philip Sorboeh, Mr AJP Lebbie  all of Kono District; and Senator Neil Breslin of New York State Senate. These people helped shape my future: I drew inspiration from Konomanyi’s focus and style of work; heeded Lebbie’s incessant advice on career choice, and absorbed Sorboeh’s counsel when I was both a youth leader and national student union President of KONSU. I learnt the art of fairness, the gift of giving without measure from Senator Breslin.

But let me underscore that I learnt a lot more from my father more than I ever did from any institution of learning. My greatest mentor was my father (May his soul rest in peace), an illiterate man who worked as a security guard with the then National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC) in Kono and later became Section Chief in Koinadugu District.  He told me one day: Baba, I have given you riches and built you a house. In my innocence, I asked him, Nfa, where is the house and what about the riches “ is it money? The sage smiled and looked into my eyes and held my hands, and said: by sending you to school, I have built you a house in your head and with education, you can become anything, do better than your forebears. My father told me stories of the ambition of the eagle and the courage of the lion and the wisdom of my forefathers, and emphasised that if you put all your might in education and keep your head down, there will be no measure to your success.

If you do not have a mentor, a coach and a role model, please seek them out  there are many good people in this society who will be willing to help out. Talk to people about career choice and seek counsel whenever you require one. Make friends; expand your network and reach out to people. Insularity is not the answer, it has never been the cool choice, rather, reaching out has always been the preferred alternative the one that has worked for multitudes. You can do the same, you can break grounds, and you can work wonders. I want you to believe that from nothing we can become something, and from nowhere we can go somewhere… go to places that we may initially think impossible…we can make a difference through the power of ideas.

c.  Grow above societal ills – Master your environment by growing above its ills and by consolidating the positives. In other words, you should be able to understand your society, grow above its weaknesses and integrate the good things it offers. I am not professing perfection here, neither do I seek that you practice one, I am merely saying that, it is good to grow in the positive of attitudes, and perhaps be a moderate. For after all, whilst no one can outgrow society, sometimes, one can certainly stand up to its ills and challenge its collective views. Without the possibility of growth and the opportunity to challenge the weaknesses of society, I am afraid, we will have to throw inspiration to the wind and invite orthodoxy to reign. I encourage you to create student think tanks that focus on addressing issues relating to career development, opportunity creation, etc.

d. Two key lessons to note – I will advise that you hone the attribute of facing challenges because managing your environment is mostly about passing through hurdles. Note these two key lessons about mastering one’s environment: first, those who fail to face challenges or refuse to be challenged will invariably find themselves as loose change jingling in the pocket of those who cultivate the courage of facing challenges. And, second, when you find yourself in a comfortable situation where everything is going for you unchallenged, it is a wakeup call that you are losing your relevance, and to say the least, becoming complacent. Challenge is part of life and life itself is a journey of challenges, there has been no alternative  not before, not now and not ever! If you do not take on challenges, you will either become a real nobody or a fake somebody in society.

e.  Life as a mirror-game  – Ladies and gentlemen, let me remind all of us this morning of the widely accepted saying that to which much is given much is expected. As students you may hold the view that society owes you a responsibility to create an environment that allows you to unleash your potential. That being granted let us also take the view that life is a mirror-game: as you look forward to one segment of society so too are other constituencies looking up to you for support, for good examples and as role models, etc. Do you appreciate the fact that you are among the few in society being able to receive higher education? These being the case, it is also time to internalise that as you look up to society so also is society looking up to you. The mirror-game of life is such that little boys and girls in your respective communities see you as role models  – and without realising it, you are at this moment influencing the future of younger lives, shaping behaviour and leaving an indelible imprint on their minds and on their lives. This is because you are champions of society, the flag bearers of the nation, and the constituency that guarantees the outlook of the future, the brush that will paint the colours of our tomorrow, and the most significant variable that can determine whether we will get out of our traditional debt burden and weak economic condition. Think about it!

f. The University is a yard stick - I heard somewhere in Guyana in the Caribbean, that if one wishes to figure out how robustly a country would perform in the future, the ideal place to visit is the university and engage an average of ten students on career choice and their views of society, and what they would consider the most important variable in their individual lives. Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I do not intend to pose any of those questions here this morning, but I have chosen to settle for the following: are you a regular volunteer for providing any social service, are you challenged by the ills of society or saw nothing wrong in them, is your thinking self-centred or does your mind regularly review the larger society? Think and judge justly.

Conclusion – In concluding Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I am obliged to posit that we have this morning reviewed what the power of ideas can do, we have reviewed that ideas are resources that go beyond natural resources and that our heritage is an opportunity of reference to learn and unlearn. We have examined the three pathways of life, and how to avoid being professional processing plants and the need to becoming change makers for the sake of posterity. Now in bringing about change for the sake of our society, I wish to propound that while we may have inherited the past, the present is the only opportunity we may have to shape the future, and we must do so without being afraid to introduce new thinking, and taking on the armours of challenge and the resilience to deliver for the good of society.

The transformation of personalities and institutions is undeniably made possible through the power of ideas. Current 21st Century initiatives and inventions, etc. are the very foundations on which the giants of development stand, and ideas have remained the resource that shape our personalities and define our institutions. The 21st Century challenges require that we think new, adopt new stream of ideas and search for what it takes to be efficient, effective as well as progressive in whatever we do.

Let me at this point lionise Sierra Leone that by virtue of its name, a lion lives in each of us. I say so to reaffirm that our name as a country was not an accident, but a great design from above predicting that one day, perhaps very soon our development-roaring will reverberate across the world. What we need is not to fall back but to push forward with the power of ideas.

I thank you all for listening to me, good morning.

Dr. Kaifala Marah is Adviser – Public Expenditure Management in the Governance and Institutional Development Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London. He is responsible for operationalising the Commonwealth Heads of Government Mandate on transforming public expenditure management systems in developing member countries through the provision of policy and advisory services, and strengthening the capacity of public finance institutions across the Commonwealth.

By Sorie Sudan Sesay, Information Attache, Sierra Leone High Commission, UK/NI

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