Understanding and Fighting Corruption in Sierra Leone: A Metaphorical Linguistic Approach

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This essay is about a way to understand and fight corruption in Sierra Leone. It argues that the legal approach, which has been predominant in the fight against corruption in the country, has not been effective. After examining the linguistic metaphors that permeate the entire Sierra Leonean society, it is suggested that the first aspects to reconcile in any concern over corruption must be against those myths and metaphors that blind and govern so much of our thinking. This means that the fight against corruption must begin with the youth and carried all the way to the adults, and by re-instilling traditional ethical practices.

Perhaps the following simple folk stories will serve to illustrate the state of corruption in Sierra Leone:

A Man Dies and Goes to Hell

A man dies and goes to hell. There he finds that there is a different hell for each country and decides he'll pick the least painful to spend his eternity. He goes to the German hell and asks: "What do they do here?" He is told that "first they put you in an electric chair for an hour. Then they lay you on a bed of nails for another hour. Then the German devil comes in and whips you for the rest of the day." The man does not like the sound of that at all so he moves on. He checks out the United States hell as well as the Russian hell and many more. He discovers that they are all similar to the German hell. Then he comes to the Sierra Leonean hell and finds that there is a long line of people waiting to get in. Amazed, he asks: "What do they do here?" He is told that "first they put you in an electric chair for an hour, then they lay you on a bed of nails for another hour. The Sierra Leonean devil comes in and whips you for the rest of the day." "But that is exactly the same as all the other hells, why are there so many people waiting to get in?" asks the man. "Because there is never any electricity, so the electric chair does not work. The nails were paid for but never supplied, so the bed is comfortable to sleep on. And the Sierra Leonean devil used to be a civil servant, so he comes in, signs his time sheet, and goes back home for private business" (author unknown).

The Little Boy and President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah

A little boy wanted to know what it was like to have Le10,000. His mother told him to pray to God for it. He prayed for two weeks, but nothing turned up. Then he decided perhaps he should write God a letter requesting the Le10,000. When the post office employee received the letter addressed to God, he opened it and decided to send it to President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. The President was so impressed, touched and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy Le200. He thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy. The little boy was delighted with the Le200 and sat down to write a thank-you letter, which read as follows: "Dear God, thank you very much for sending me the money. I noticed that you had to send it through the government. As usual, those thieves deducted Le9,800 for tax" (author unknown).

That corruption in Sierra Leone has become rampant and the fight against it in that country, like in other countries around the world, hinges upon the legal approach is hardly a matter of dispute. A principal argument of the legal approach is that it will deter would be perpetrators of corruption. But what is the evidence for this? Although proponents of the legal approach such as Sierra Leone's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) have offered convincing arguments for their position, there does not appear to be any decrease in corrupt practices. It seems, then, that the fear of legal consequences fails to act as a powerful deterrent of corruption. Why? There appear to be two main reasons. The first reason is that most corruption is rarely premeditated. In cases where corruption is premeditated, the offenders obviously do not expect to get caught or punished. …


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