Address at the Prize Giving ceremony of the 164th Anniversary celebration of the SL Grammar School Friday 27 March 2009
St Matthew’s gospel chap 7, v 24 – 29 recounts the parable of the house built on a rock and compares it with the house built on sand. The more solid foundation withstood floods, winds, and rain, while the house on the weak and shaky / shifting foundation was washed away.
The moral is that as we build our lives and careers we must ensure that the foundation on which we are building is solid, not weak, and not shifting or vulnerable to the shocks of everyday life.
A related lesson is that we must be prepared to make that extra effort to dig deep to ensure we find the rock on which to build the foundation.
Today I will examine how and why we must dig deep to seek the rock on which to build the foundations for our lives, our careers, our country and our economy.
The universal relevance of the parable is evident. It applies to all fields of human endeavour; the economy, love relationships, corporate structures etc whatever we are erecting that will serve us into the future, must be based on a solid foundation.
As a consultant with the government, the major thrust of my work has focused on essentially building (or rebuilding) the foundations of Sierra Leone’s public institutions, and setting the basis for designing appropriate policies. Addressing the challenges of public policy and the arrangements for its formulation are important, but constitute only a part of the many ingredients that make a solid foundation for a modern economy of a country, that should occupy a respectable place in the community of nations in the 21st century.
Another critical ingredient is social capital. Here am referring to that factor that encourages cooperation and facilitates mutual support for the benefit of the whole, in a society. Like public institutions and policy, this should also be erected on a solid foundation.
Everyone in the society contributes to social capital; and its nature, size and value are all influenced by the social contract with the state, existing in that society.
Social contract gives us civil rights and obligations; and when we realize that there are shortcomings in this contract we use elections for selecting others that would help us renegotiate its terms. Shortcomings in social contract manifest themselves by the dilution of such rights, or when the state fails to give us the minimum we expect – law and order, equal opportunities, basic social services, the possibilities to expand and enjoy the products of our hard work.
Less than a decade ago this country was embroiled in civil war. That was the most obvious evidence of the breakdown of the social contract and the paucity of our social capital. In short the state and the economy had not been built on a foundation that is rock-solid, and it was almost washed away.
We are now in the process of rebuilding the foundation for a new society. BUT, are we searching for the foundation that is rock solid this time around? Or have we found it?
When we observe what happened after the recent inter-secondary schools sports, the excesses of initiation rights to join clubs, skirmishes here and there with the youth at the centre, we should be worried that we have not yet found the rock on which to build the foundation for a country that will not be washed away by the slightest onslaught.
We should be asking ourselves as government officials, religious leaders, parents, teachers and students; how do we collectively and individually search for and find the foundation that is rock-solid for our revived nation?
For society is composed of individuals; and the individuals collectively form the social contract and the related social capital.
I will not be so presumptious as to suggest that I have the answer; but what has become obvious to me is that we must start with the children at the schools. Schools must be the appropriate locations for building solid foundations. But not only the foundation for the individual’s life and career but also for the revival of our country.
The cosy small societies we had in my childhood, where everybody knew everyone else, have evolved into complex and densely populated concentrations, composed of diverse groups where social stability can only be maintained and barely so, by the forces of law and order.
In the contemporary world, the challenges confronted by Schools to teach more than academic knowledge, to provide the young with the solid foundation they need for life, are now greater than ever. Inappropriate peer pressure, the internet, TV, Video and Films compete with schools and render the task more onerous. Particularly as more and more parents spend over twelve hours of the day trying to earn the daily bread.
So what do we do?
This is not to leave the task to the teachers, and adopt a business as usual approach. We must recognize the additional responsibilities thrust on them, and provide them with the necessary moral and other support necessary for success.
Responsibility must be shared. The school, the young people, the parents, Government, and the society at large must operate in unison. I recognize the work of civil society but doubt that this joint approach exists in a systematic and structured way now, but if it does then obviously the modalities in place are ineffective, and we need to go back to the drawing board. It would have been encouraging for all the parties to come together after each of the events I mentioned earlier, took place, to diagnose the problem and seek general solutions.
For the Grammar School, we in the Old Boys Union will be sending out that message, both in words and in action.
Let me now turn to the graduating students. You have built a foundation for yourselves, but your work has just begun. As you move on to bigger things, you will be the ones who will have to rebuild Sierra Leone’s social contract.
As you go forth into the wider society to play your full role as a member, you should also have been prepared to be part of that social contract, enjoying the civil rights, and accepting the responsibility to adhere to the rules, while acknowledging the obligations for punishment when those liberties are violated.
Unfortunately, the situation that you the youth of today find yourselves, places a greater burden on you to begin early, the search for that rock on which to build your foundation. Support from the school and parents alone can no longer suffice. You have to begin to make choices very early on in your lives. The choice between studying the hard way to get good results or seek other means of getting through; the choice between joining the in-crowd that displays little respect for social norms, or being part of the socially conscious group that volunteers to help the less fortunate in our society. Whatever choice you make will lead you to build either a solid foundation for yourself, or one that is shifting like sand.
Remember the task ahead for you is greater than it was for us. Not only do you have to look out for yourselves but you must also look out to enhance the social capital that will enable you to enjoy the results of your hard work and enterprise. I wish we did more of that in our time.
Running away from the country permanently is not a solution. Believe me I know. Many of my friends who had sworn they would never return are now rushing back to live the rest of their lives at home. After all there is no place like home. Do not make the mistake of assuming that those left behind alone will mend the country for you. So my friends now return and complain about everything. Sometimes I wonder quietly, if we had all remained here would we have let the country slide so much? Do not misunderstand me, I am not minimizing the contributions of those who remained behind and had the solid foundation for erecting a durable edifice. But their voices were not enough to arrest the slide. I personally have very high admiration for people like the Principal of the school – someone whose name could not be pronounced correctly by a foreigner but a pronounciation I dare not repeat here – who against all odds steadfastly remained and fought to maintain standards when all around him were going down.
So my friends go abroad to get the exposure but come back to rebuild the country.
In my days at the Grammar School, we received the basic elements for a foundation that is solid enough for us to build careers; but equally important what we received was a foundation on which to build the rest of our lives; whatever walk of life we find ourselves we could survive, and do so very well.
Digging deep to find a solid foundation recognizes that we all have different talents – some are academics, some are business oriented, some are artists etc but in all cases the foundation must be strong and solid as a rock if we are to succeed in life.
And so my fellow young Regentonians; those leaving this year, those getting ready to leave, next year and those just entering this great institution, I will spell out for you the signs that you have a foundation built on rock upon which to build your lives and careers.
- sense of responsibility
- acknowledging the civil rights of others
- respect for women
- respecting law and order
- hard work and determination
- capacity to distinguish between right and wrong, and the courage to denounce boldly what is wrong.
- Finally, patriotism and pride in your country.
As you go forward into the world, remember you have an obligation to yourself and to your society to dig deep and seek the rock on which to build your foundation and that of our beloved country.
I thank you all for listening.