In a recent post on social media, one group of Sierra Leoneans who had scheduled a meeting for dialogue on social issues were criticized for inviting cabinet ministers and other unelected officials. Some of the ministers invited were widely viewed as vicious politicians who care nothing about social issues. But the organizers justified their decision to invite the ministers and other unelected politicians, along with elected officials, on grounds that they are all “stakeholders.” Mama Salone begs to differ with this view.
First and foremost, what does the word “stakeholder” mean? Our preferred definition of this word in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says, “one who is involved in or affected by a course of action.” The key word here is “affected.” The same dictionary defines “affected” as “influenced or touched by external factors.” In other words, stakeholders are persons who are affected or have something to lose by actions taken by those who bear the duty to help them.
To put this in perspective in the context of Sierra Leone, let us look at the deplorable condition of girls’ education and the high illiteracy rate among women in Sierra Leone.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), primary school attendance rate for girls in Sierra Leone is 92.5%, however, once girls enter secondary school, the rate of retention falls drastically to 33.2% (UNICEF, 2013). As a result, the literacy rate among women in Sierra Leone is currently a deplorable 37%, which means that the majority (63%) of women in Sierra Leone is in the darkness of illiteracy.
Some of the major factors leading to the high illiteracy rate among women in Sierra Leone
To begin with, the Sierra Leone government has no serious commitment to education; it does not depend on educated women for leadership. Most women who are in token leadership positions, such as appointed ministers and ambassadors have not earned beyond secondary education. However, such women serve political purposes as directed by the men who rule the political parties. This is one of the reasons most of these women have had no positive impact on women; they are self-serving, patronizing and very comfortable being the “tough” women in the political parties.
The other factor is that the Sierra Leone Constitution (1991) does not give Sierra Leoneans a human right to education. Even though education is internationally recognized as a fundamental human right, as prescribed in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This right is also articulated in numerous international and regional conventions and commitments. As a signer to most of these conventions, Sierra Leone has the responsibility to domesticate these conventions, which means incorporate this right into the domestic laws of the nation.
Sierra Leone enacted a couple of legislations that could satisfy this domestication responsibility, the Education Act of 2004 and the Child Rights Act of 2007. However, these laws are not being purposely enforced to “give every citizen the right to basic education” as stipulated in the Education Act (2004). The education law defines basic education as “six years of primary education and three years of junior secondary education.” These nine years of education should be guaranteed to all, including girls.
In regards to the actors and those affected by their actions, constituting the stakeholders, the President, as the CEO of the country, is the chief stakeholder who bears the ultimate duty to ensure girls’ and women’s fundamental right to education. Therefore, the gross violation of this right falls squarely on the shoulders of the president and his regime.
The diagram below illustrates the relationship between stakeholders in a system that functions properly. In this scheme, the Members of Parliament (MPs) have their positions at stake when they fail in their duty to their constituents to legislate laws in favor of educating their children. Local government officials also have their elected offices at stake when they fail to ensure the laws are enforced and services are delivered. Civil society, at the community level, parents, schools, and students have a lot more at stake because the failure of these actors leaves them in the darkness of illiteracy and social decay.
The relationship between all stakeholders should be fluid and multidirectional. This means that they all must be held accountable for their duties to educate girls and answerable to one another. However, as illustrated in the diagram, appointed ministers only have a relationship with the president, therefore are only answerable to him. He appoints them to implement his agenda, whether it is an agenda for prosperity or agenda for spoilspoility, as locals call it, ministers hold sticks to beat down the path and threaten the people, in pursuit of the president’s agenda.
With this one track mind of ministers, and the fact that most of them are not qualified for the ministries they are appointed to run, and with no mandate from the people, Sierra Leone cabinet ministers are not stakeholders, rather, they are stick-holders.
They would stop at nothing to beat down the people in furtherance of their self-interest while working to please their supreme master. This is why ministers usually respond very arrogantly and defensively to stakeholders’ complaints that are directed at them about their actions or inactions that are causing deplorable conditions that affect the people.
For these reasons, it is useless for civil society to try to engage Sierra Leone cabinet ministers in any meaningful discussion about issues that affect them. In short, they do not give a hoot! Ministers are always in a defensive mode. They should all be titled “Defense Ministers,” because every time civil society complains about their unjust actions, ministers become very vocally defensive, and never shed any meaningful light on the issues affecting the people.
Sierra Leone ministers are, therefore, STICKHOLDERS against the people; they are not STAKEHOLDERS for the people who are affected by their actions. Ministers only have at stake their appointed positions, which is in complete control of the president, who never sacks a minister for bad action or ineptitude.