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Breaking News – Sierra Leone will ‘play’ in World Cup 2014 in Brazil!

Breaking News – Sierra Leone will ‘play’ in World Cup 2014 in Brazil!

It was the 25 year old film star handsome ‘Westlife’- looking Steve Grudda who broke the ‘news’ to me about a month ago – his bushy  blonde hair head bobbing; his charming visage brightening  into a beaming boyish smile; his sincere eyes twinkling….  I raised my almost 60 years old body from the plastic chair I sat on…. raising my penned hand whooping delightfully  like a teenager –  as I echoed the news: Sierra Leone will ‘play’ in the World Cup at Brazil in 2014.  Steve and I smiled conspiratorially as we ‘discovered’ a probable marketing tactic for what was going on at the Felix Juice Factory in Newton, on the Freetown peninsular in Sierra Leone.  The national football team of Sierra Leone, ‘LEONE STARS’, will NOT be taking part in the World Cup in Brazil-2014; but, Steve  is optimistic that through the Felix Juice Factory, ‘Salone go play nar Brazil-2014  ma!!’: through the export to Brazil of Sierra Leone-grown and produced ‘cashew drink’.  Cashew drink is a favourite drink of Brazil.  And, Felix Juice factory in Freetown will be exporting concentrates of cashew drink to Brazil which will likely   be a marketable drink during World Cup-2014.

Cashew nuts to cashew drink in Felix Juice Factory

All along the  main business streets of Freetown women and children are ubiquitously  hawking roasted cashew nuts.  The cashew nuts come from cashew fruits.  The soft outer flesh of the cashew fruits is not liked much by Sierra Leoneans.  Today, it is largely left to rot, and thrown away as rubbish.  Now, the ‘cashew fruit  rubbish’ is what will be bought from local farmers and youth  by the Felix Juice Factory and made into concentrates to be exported – diluted and bottled in Brazil .   It is another big  step by the US-originated FIRST STEP  organization.

FIRST STEP’s unique ‘gospel and commercialism’ blend

FIRST STEP has been ‘sired’ by  World Hope International (WHI).  WHI is  a  U.S. based non-profit international development agency.  FIRST STEP can be said to be the ‘grandchild’ of  the Wesleyan Church in the United States – with the WHI being the ‘son’.    FIRST STEP is taking the first step in Sierra Leone in a unique experiment – blending the sublime teachings  of Jesus Christ with agriculture and commercialism; taking the  Christian church, symbolically, practically, beyond the pulpit, trudging away from a church edifice, and embracing the wider ‘capitalist world’.  .

When the World Hope International first came to Sierra Leone during the ‘rebel war’ years (1991 to 2001), they were mainly working on assembling and fixing artificial hands and legs on Sierra Leoneans whose hands and legs had been  hacked away with often blunt axes and cutlasses  by drug-induced schizophrenic-like  RUF/AFRC rebels.

“World Hope…” in ‘Salone Hope’

In 2011,  “World Hope….” (pause and reflect on their nomenclature….) reached an a lease agreement  with the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL)  for  55 acres of land in Newton.  It became the FIRST STEP’ Economic Free Zone – with the aim of attracting  investors  from around the world to establish factories that would process local produce and export them to the world    In that agreement  the GoSL grants tax concessions to lure investors.  49% of FIRST STEP is owned by private investors in the United States.    The root of FIRST STEP is the moral creed of  that Christianity inherent in the Wesleyan church – but, its commercial twists make it sexy. The first investor into FIRST STEP has been the Felix Juice Factory.

Felix Juice Factory stimulates ‘new fruit-diamonds’ for Salone

FIRST STEP owns 25% of the Felix Juice Factory.  The Italian manufacturers of the machinery of the Felix Juice Factory,  Tropical Food Machinery Incorporated, owns another 25%.  Africa Felix Juice Company owns another 25%. (The owner  of Felix Juice….is the main force behind the enterprise.  He is part Italian and part Swiss. He is married to a Sierra Leonean lady. He takes pride in referring to himself as a “brother-in-law to all Sierra Leoneans”).   The owners of the balance 25% wish to remain anonymous.

The group of companies that  comprise the  Felix Juice Factory have invested $2.6million into the business.  In 2010, the Dutch government had put in almost a million dollars into the company.  Another sexy move is the Dutch government’s experiment with ‘new AID’ to developing countries: supporting commercial enterprises that would lead to empowering of local people through sustainable enterprises.   At face value, this  is a noble stance of penitence by the descendants of  a nation whose wealth was partly given traction through  the heinous trade of African  human trafficking during the era of the Protracted Holocaust of the Atlantic Slave Trade .

FIRST STEP’s “Ethical Foreign Direct Investment”

The web page of  FIRST STEP touts its “purpose” as “to help bring ethical Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Sierra Leone”.  Pause there.  Too many Sierra Leoneans take for granted that  sheer finance  feat of the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma in attracting BILLIONS OF DOLLARS investments into the country over the past five years –  London Mining, African Minerals, Cruyff Gold, Sierra Rutile, Socfin agriculture enterprise, etc.  The biggest battle in attracting investments into….Africa!!!???  The perception of the West about investment in Africa is still jaundiced – with Africa still largely perceived as a land of unceasing coups and civil wars, of famines and starving people.  Only about 3% of global investments get to Africa – most of it to ‘Arab Africa’ and the republic of South Africa. Added to that image problem is the worry about poor infrastructure and systems generally in Africa – poor roads; lack of reliable energy supply,  poor information technology, not too qualified workforce, etc.  FIRST STEP exists to defuse these fears with actionable points.

FIRST STEP has established a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Sierra Leone. In this SEZ,   FIRST STEP  has started building scalable  factory facilities (which Felix Juice, its first client,  is using…).  They plan on having facilities that will mean round-the-clock  guaranteed electric power, water, and other utilities; so, the  foreign investor need not spend money on providing such basic needs for a business.  FIRST STEP is leasing space in the SEZ to businesses that wish to export value-added products from Sierra Leone. (An agreement was signed  last year between  FIRST STEP and Shamshi Private Ltd for the development of a steel manufacturing and semi–captive power plant valued $180 million in Sierra Leone).

Like with 99% of governments in Africa, the government  of Sierra Leone desperately need investors to come and invest here.  GoSL has a contract with FIRST STEP   that offers an array of special incentives for businesses that locate in the FIRST STEP’s SEZ.  They include:  import and export duty exemptions; three-year corporate tax holidays; expedited government services (including on-site customs, immigration and registration).

The government of Sierra Leone has also committed to an extensive dispute arbitration mechanism that allows FIRST STEP and foreign investors to use international arbitration forums to resolve disputes with the government of Sierra Leone. (Yes, there is also a Fast Track Commercial Court in Freetown where commercial disputes can easily  sail through  the normal Byzantine legality in a few months; or, even amicably resolved conflicts between parties without legal recourse).  Sierra Leone also has that advantage which helped China to attract investors and boost its economic fortunes a couple of decades ago – cheap labor.

The soulful and conscience genetic makeup of FIRST STEP

FIRST STEP, if it does live up to its billing, is not your normal capitalist venture out for a killing. FIRST STEP  is ‘genetically programmed’ with a ‘soul’, or, a ‘conscience’.   It should guide tenants, or, clients, to not only create jobs; but, to transfer skills to Sierra Leoneans.  It will insist on ‘environmentally-friendly’ products being processed.  It will insist on ‘fair wages’ for farmers whose products will be processed.

A chill went through my body, and tears of joy flowed down my cheeks, when the “Country Director” of FIRST STEP telephoned me after my interview with Ivory Coast-born Caucasian US citizen, Steve Grudda.  He is Negroid Sierra Leonean, Edward Conteh Jr.  I had met him….O, my….!!  The FIRST STEP story can be made immeasurably sexier with part of their current Country Director’s story.

FIRST STEP’s Country Director’s Tear-inducing Story

In 1999, after the cataclysmic invasion of Freetown by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and soldiers-turned-rebels, AFRC, I got the President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, Rev. Tom Barnett, to sponsor my then unregistered ‘company’, GREENLOVE, to  collect the stories and photographs  of  the freshly-cut war amputees at the Amputee Camp at Aberdeen in Freetown.  That initiative catalyzed the Lutheran church here to raise   $110,000 for an amputee programme.  In 2000, Rev. Barnett asked me to join the church as their Communications Officer – especially to supervise its amputee programme which  my initiative had helped to engender.  One of my emphasis in the Lutheran Church was for an educational programme for children who had been amputated (seven of these amputated children I ensured were put in expensive private primary schools in Freetown – Modern Elementary School and MurrayDeen primary school); and, amputees whose children are going to school.  Edward Conteh Jr.’s father, Edward Conteh Sr. was one of the amputees.  Edward  Conteh Jr., the current Country Director of FIRST STEP,  was one of three tertiary-level students who benefited from the Lutheran Church amputee programme.  .

Edward Conteh Jr.   is currently working toward obtaining a professional qualification (ACCA) from the U.K.’s Association of Certified Chartered Accountants, after earning his .Bachelor of Social Sciences specializing in Accounting and Finance from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone (2005).  Edward Conteh Jr.’s  story can help jazzed up and sexed up the FIRST STEP experiment.

The FIRST STEP story ought to be taken to every church on planet earth.  And prayed on. And chanted for.  This piece is my own first step in this evocative FIRST STEP story – where mango and pineapple are being processed by Felix Juice for export as concentrates –  that holds so much promise for Sierra Leone, indeed, for  all mankind.

Oswald Hanciles

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