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National Cleaning Day - No Palaver Required

By Abdul Suhood Komeh,
London, UK.

With all the noises going on about the legality, or illegality of the National Cleaning day in Sierra Leone last weekend, I ask these questions:

(1) The arguments aside, what has the country lost for having a cleaning day?
(2) Was anyone faced with a death penalty for failing to participate/comply?
Answers on postcards please. And via Sierra Leone’s post office only! - another distinct component in the crest of national decay.

My suspicion is, some members of the last government and some of their supporters are jealous. An issue as rudimentary as cleaning a country has shamed them. Ten years in power, it never once crossed their minds.
But again if Ebola failed to represent a watershed, how can health and sanitation be a priority?

The thing is, had they retained power, we will not be having this conversation - no Cleaning Day. In fact, we were more likely to have been treated to triumphalist parades, à la Paddle, that would have added more rubbish, tons of non-degradables, noise pollution etc., to the environment. And so dirty and rowdy is the country, you wouldn’t even noticed.

However, it must be stressed that the SLPP were the main opposition of the last ten years. They never made a serious case for cleaning the country. Or, articulated a concerted criticism of the then ‘government’ for neglecting a primary responsibility. Which in itself is a substantial share of the failure. They aided and abetted the abandonment of a national disgrace. And subsequently, exacerbated its scale, and increased the industry and cost of any future remedy.

In fact, when they were in power pre-2007, the country’s poor sanitary culture was just as fully-entrenched, and unaddressed and shameful. Making this current cleaning campaign not at all that radical a proposal but an SLPP corrective measure too, stolen from an era past.

To think that some people are unhappy that an obvious no-brainer of cleaning an environment they live in, had to be imposed, spells the degree to which clogged gutters and heaps of rubbish have been consciously and unconsciously, integrated to national living.

The truth is, whether the cleaning proposal was legal (or illegal) is a moot point. The country is filthy. An initiative needed to be taken. Even if only for symbolism. 

Let’s face it. A national cleaning day on its own is insufficient. But, a start; an acknowledgement of a crisis.

What the country needs is a carefully considered, planned, costed and fully-funded policy on sanitation.

Where such a system is in place, and up and running effectively, those who fail to keep their surroundings clean must face a sanction of some sort. That, is Government - the real thing.

In reverse, those who can demonstrate an adherence to the law, by maintaining reasonably hygienic standards, should be allowed to go about their businesses uninterrupted by a cleaning curfew.

At this point, the cleaning, and restrictions attached to it maybe unpopular in interpretation. But, nonetheless any anomalies can be forgiven without being seen as recklessly conciliatory or lowering expections on legality. Rather, as an exigent, necessary and timely intervention to restore a tiny semblance of order in the country.

Real change is dynamic, as they say. The onus therefore, is on the government to prove their seriousness by ensuring discrepancies are shaped to make them just, and address any underlying protests. Above all, to ensure a sustained effort is expended in making health and sanitation cultural.

Immeasurably significant is that majority of the country welcome the cleaning and gave it their full participation. That fundamental civic cooperation, nestles above every dissent - just or unjustified; it reinforces the view, that Sierra Leone is rotten to the core not because of the people, but its leaders in all three houses - State House, Parliament and the Courts - of the last 57 years. Who have not only been really poor, but lacked the will to improve the lived experiences of the people.

Get the leadership right, an insistence on a state that works with laws that are balanced, fair, and in the interest of all citizens, and every undesirable circumstances in all facets of day to day life in Sierra Leone will improve. Never mind a cleaning day.