A policeman in a riot helmet, carrying a wooden bat. With him, a man in a DayGlo vest talking on his cell phone, and another man, in a white T-shirt, walking a few paces behind.
Emblazoned across the back of the T-shirt: “Attitudinal and Behavioral Change Secretariat Enforcement Squad.” On closer inspection, Mr. DayGlo Vest had the same shirt. I suddenly had visions of Orwell.
The men walked unhurried along Jomo Kenyatta Road . Thanks to the traffic, we kept pace – I’d drive slowly ahead of them for a moment, then wait for them to catch up. As we performed this slow dance , I stared at them surreptitiously, wondering what they were up to.
A few meters on, I got my answer. A larger group of vested and T-shirted Enforcement Squad members, most armed with crude tools, clustered by the roadside. One reached up and began to tear off the locked shutter from a small makeshift kiosk, painted in the neon colors of Zain. The owner probably sold cell phone credit and simple provisions – candles, soft drinks, cigarettes – for a meager living. Until now.
When President Koroma introduced the concept of Attitudinal Change, everyone had a different idea of what he meant – and without fail, it involved a change in someone else’s attitude rather than your own. To the poor, it meant that wealthy elites should stop pursuing their own interests to the detriment of the masses. To the rich, it meant the poor should stop demanding handouts. To commercial drivers, it meant the police should stop harassing them. To all other drivers, it meant the commercial drivers should start driving more responsibly. To more than one of my friends, it meant that the staff of restaurants, bars, shops, banks, and offices of all sort should start serving customers with a smile, rather than treating them like an unwelcome disruption.
Attitudinal Change became a buzz word for everything – and, as far as I could tell, it struggled to move from the realm of rhetoric to the arena of actual change.
But now it seems the Freetown City Council had its own definition, and is ready to put it into action. Attitudinal Change Enforcement means clearing the sidewalks of small-scale vendors who are trying to make a living a few thousand leones at a time. Never mind that the City Council hasn’t yet managed to build a single new market to provide an alternative space for the displaced sellers.
At least the Enforcers have riot helmets and batons. We wouldn’t want any trouble.