Breaking from a Culture of Dependency


“Yes sir, you bobo dem day bra”, “Ay di mami u bobo dem day bad oh”
You don’t have to come to Sierra Leone for a year for you to be overwhelmed by hangers on and beggars at the airport. People want hand outs for doing very little or next to nothing. When I came back from NY a couple of weeks ago a guy approached me at the airport to assist me with my bags, to anyone who has come to Sierra Leone in the last couple years this is no surprise. I got in a conversation with the guy and he explained to me that baggage handlers at the airport were not paid and survived entirely off of the small tips they received from people coming in and out of Lungi. I asked him why he didn’t leave the job if he wasn’t being paid and he responded that there were no other jobs available for him….Jokingly I said “Pa Kabbah no bin don tell all man fo go na fam, wetin u day wait?” He smiled “ah mi sista, fam wok tranga”
I ended up giving him five dollars and going on my way.

That man at the airport is only one of thousands of young men in Sierra Leone who live from handouts. He may be a bit better off because he’s working in an institution but there are tons more who assist u when u reverse your car, watch your car for you when u park at paddies, the physically disabled in front of Crown Bakery, random beach boys who walk up to u and plainly admit that “den day bad”, and other able bodied sleepy eyed young men who desperately need a little something. I must confess that though I get tired of the begging I’ve joined the group of people who just give so I can be left in peace. But then the biggest mistake u can make is give money to boys in an area that you frequent. What then happens is that they expect u to lay it on them every time they see you for no reason other than the fact that u have done it before. So Rule Number One of the Begging Game is Never Give Once If You Don’t Intend to Give Again.

Related to the hanging on are those of us who fill our homes with close and distant family members who then become serious financial burdens. We come from tight knit families where cousins are brothers and aunties are mothers so no lines exist to mark the boundaries for where your family & primordial responsibilities end. But in a society where resources are limited and a 22year civil service veteran earns 450,000 Leones a month, can we really afford to take in our family’s family? How can anyone advance in this society heavily burdened by familial responsibilities? Is our strong sense of family drowning us in responsibility? In Sierra Leone we are so concerned about all our families that we usually provide for them at our own demise. I have always been one to romanticize the strong sense of family in Africa and what not but I now realize that when this sense of family turns into financial commitments that it actually prevents those who are relatively successful in our society from reaching their full potential.

The reality of it though is that not all ethnic groups experience this issue the same way. I’m sure krios or not as burden by taking in family members as other ethnic groups. It is almost damn there impossible to go to a krio household and find several other family units existing within the same roof. Ah but we contri, especially us di temne, we cannot empty our homes of hanger on family members. I am not saying we should not help family when and where do u draw the line? How many people is enough before you’ve reached the quota of family responsibilities?
I guess the moral of the story is that we may be stunting growth and preventing people from actually struggling on their own and fending for themselves. What value real value is there in always receiving handouts and begging. How can we as a nation ever develop if people never learn the importance of hard work? If you provide food and shelter to someone for free, you provide no incentives for them to go out and get those things for themselves. If you dash a young man 5000 leones every time you see him, he will always expect it. I am not saying we should lack compassion and let a person in need suffer, but we seriously need to assess how we can help people become more independent and dynamic instead of creating a nation of beggars and hanger ons.

****Bloggers Note: Is it hanger ons or hangers on??? As u see I used them interchangeably 🙂

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