Street begging in Sierra Leone has increased, says Francis Sowa, while the central bank and the judiciary have neglected their legal responsibility to uphold social justice.
A picture keeps coming to my mind. It’s a picture of our Sierra Leonean compatriots who have resorted to surviving on the streets of Freetown, and other big towns and cities. In public view, they beg for survival, to anybody and everybody who comes their way.
Initially, in Sierra Leone, these were mainly persons with disabilities. Now the newcomers include able-bodied men and women. They are the poor and impoverished, the educated and the uneducated, the employed and the unemployed. They ask for money to complete their transport fare, to go to the hospital, to buy medical drugs for their children or relatives, to pay college and school fees, to buy food, and so on.
It is a unique spectacle to see people perform their ‘trade-begging’ around the Cotton Tree – the Law Courts Building which houses the Judiciary, and the Bank of Sierra Leone – in the central business district of Freetown.
The Constitution of Sierra Leone (Section 7, 1 [a] and [b]) reads that ‘The State shall within the context of the ideals and objectives for which provisions are made in this Constitution – a. harness all the natural resources of the nation to promote national prosperity and an efficient, dynamic and self-reliant economy; b. manage and control the national economy in such a manner as to secure the maximum welfare and freedom of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of opportunity’. Crucially, the judiciary has a legal responsibility to uphold this Constitution.
The state, in my view, has failed in this responsibility, with a lack of effort shown to secure the maximum welfare and freedom of every citizen on the basis of social justice. There is no equality of opportunity. There are cases in the legal courts that have continued unresolved for long periods, and people have had to use their own resources to achieve justice to the extent of losing their livelihoods and savings. Justice – there is none. Resources – have been lost. It is one route to resulting poverty.
The country’s central bank, the Bank of Sierra Leone, formulates and implements monetary policies with a stated to mission to ‘formulate and implement monetary and supervisory policies to foster a sound economic and financial environment’. The Bank of Sierra Leone Act, 2011 in Section 7 (2) (b) provides that it shall ‘act as banker, adviser and fiscal agent of the Government’. This is all I and other well-meaning Sierra Leoneans are asking for, and what seems so often denied.
I argue that these two institutions should see the beggars on their doorstep as representatives of the suffering masses of Sierra Leone. Don’t tell me their voices are not loud enough. For me, the question is: when will their voices be heard? Will the government ever listen to and act on their case? It is not a no-case submission, when these street beggars’ presence on the streets of Freetown and elsewhere is a clear mark of the poverty they continue to live in and be subjected to.
Indeed, the beggars are symptomatic of the situation many Sierra Leoneans find themselves in today, and we don’t need to wait for Statistics Sierra Leone to provide a figure to know this truth. But despite the poverty, the country is never as poor as some want others to believe. It is an issue of the ‘national cake’ that has not been distributed equally and fairly.
An earlier version of this post appeared in Sierra Express Media. Photo: Tim Mansel.