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A serious case of “Rub Kondo Fat” – Part 3

A serious case of “Rub Kondo Fat” – Part 3

Should the people of Sierra Leone Rejoice unreservedly, or be a bit worried?  Part Three (final part):  As our political parties prepare to engage in another set of Democratic elections on 17th November 2012, not only the UN Security Council, but also every Sierra Leonean both at home, and across our expansive Diaspora must be praying for a peaceful, and fair competition.  We have shown in the last two outcomes secured in much more difficult, and uncertain times that we are quite capable of providing an electoral model that the rest of the world could emulate.  Clearly, this is normally a time to examine  the performance of the current government, both their declared aspirations, and achievements, and to weigh these against the promises of the opposition parties wishing to replace them in office.  Whereas a head of steam has grown over the political credentials of the main players, there is yet to emerge a powerful debate about the big picture on the fortunes of the country.  I find it particularly regrettable that after fifty years, on the one hand the external image in the international arena seems to be in the hands of external agents such as the Patron of the AGI, whereas the Electorate at home is mainly uninformed about the matters of enterprise and investment that those agents talk about, and above all, the proletariat remain essentially uneducated in many ways.  So when the former said recently that “Africa as a whole is on the move with exciting prospects for Africans, and an exciting opportunity for us” this is like a double edged sword.  (Photo: author, Squadron Leader Winston Forde RAF Ret’d)

It is the case that the British government has continued to provide large scale aid and advice, with former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair continuing to work closely with the Sierra Leone government, and to speak out for investment in Sierra Leone.   At President Koroma’s request, Blair created a nine person board to advise the government on foreign investment.  On the one hand, the UK continues to be the largest donor to Sierra Leone, giving more money per person than to any other nation, and on the other the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) became a registered UK charity in 2009 after creating a unique ‘hands-on’ approach to development and poverty eradication during the previous eighteen months.  The Charity Commission approved the application from this relatively new organisation, which was underpinned by the belief that good governance, and sustainable development in  Africa are key to poverty eradication in the long term.  The idea was that the AGI would work in partnership with the governments of Rwanda, and Sierra Leone to reduce poverty and develop new opportunities for growth, and they considered it a privilege to work with leaders as talented and as committed to their people as President Koroma and President Kagame who represent a new generation of leaders in Africa with a commitment to building a new future for their people.   You will recall from the data in Part One that the people of Sierra Leone had the good fortune of electing to office in 2007 a capable if enlightened Leader with a vision that embraced certain key aspirations.  So, it is significant that an AGI Board comprising nine people was created to advise the government on foreign investment alone, and it would be most appropriate for a timely report to be submitted to our people at this time, to help us assess their effectiveness, and cost effectiveness as we go to the polls.  This is all the more essential against the regular external claims made by the AGI as to their remarkable achievements bringing so much good to our people.  Our earlier examination of the true meaning of governance poses the question as to who actually is responsible for these perceived developments, and investments that are bringing so much benefit to Sierra Leoneans.   Indeed, could there be an  element of the usual spin for which he was renowned in his previous capacity to which our people may not be fully accustomed?

In February 2012, Mr Blair entered into personal correspondence with Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary to the British Government.  The former prime minister had wanted the AGI to become eligible for cash from the Department for International Development (DfiD).  In two separate applications last year, AGI had asked to become a contractor for DfiD and also applied for a grant from a £40 million fund to fight poverty, but both were turned down.  It was reported that Mr Blair entered into personal correspondence with Andrew Mitchell,  before the bids were submitted.  He described AGI’s work as “a major part of a successful future for Africa” and repeatedly stated that he would like the chance to discuss his work “in person”.  “I would welcome discussion with you on broader political developments in Africa, and the ways in which AGI can support the UK’s development agenda both in our current countries and, in the future, elsewhere,” Mr Blair thanked Mr Mitchell for the “support” he “always” receives from officials on his visits to Africa. In a handwritten section he added: “We are really excited by our capacity building work. I think it is a major part of a successful future for Africa.”  The letters were obtained by The Sunday Telegraph under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act.  Of note, Mr Blair’s office is adamant that his commercial activities, such as per Tony Blair Associates, are not in conflict with his charitable work, and that he does no business in countries where AGI operates.  The precise details of the applications made by Mr Blair’s charities were not disclosed.  It is also of interest that AGI applied last year to become part of DfiD’s tendering process to carry out “public sector governance” work — helping to improve governments in 28 countries across Asia and Africa.  Last year DfiD spent £787 million on “government and civil society” schemes and its budget will rise in total to £11 billion by 2015, having escaped the Government’s austerity drive.  In a separate bid — which was also unsuccessful — the charity sought a grant from the British Government’s Global Poverty Action Fund, which distributes £40 million a year to organisations proposing to help reduce poverty in dozens of countries, including the four states where AGI is active.  The correspondence obtained from Dfid shows that as a result of separate discussions, Elizabeth Carriere, the head of DfiD’s Rwanda and Burundi office, agreed to attend meetings with AGI’s backers, including Lord Sainsbury, a prominent Labour donor who was a minister under Mr Blair.  A DfiD spokesperson said: “In 2011, the African Governance Initiative applied to DfiD for a Global Poverty Action Fund grant and to become eligible to compete for contracts on public sector governance.  “Both applications were conducted on an open and competitive basis. Neither application was successful.”

So we are faced with a British charity that trumpets its thrust on Governance in 4 countries in Africa that has repeatedly failed to secure the confidence, or relevant contracts from the British government.  The question for our Electorate, therefore, appears to be “Does this operate against the true interest of Sierra Leone as far as DfiD’s work is concerned?”  And, more importantly, which other influences has AGI been able to bring to bare on the various contracts that have been signed recently by our Government that have proved so beneficial for our people?  As Sierra Leoneans, we should not be afraid, or in any way be prevented from asking such pertinent questions to obtain that transparency we all crave in the public domain.  How could we make a choice at the Ballot Box if we know so little about such detail?

In my view, the other factor that could frustrate such judgement is the continuing low level of Education of our people, both in our schools, and in the realm of adult literacy.  I am at a loss that the same enthusiasm expressed at the 1996 Labour Party for “education, education, education” does not feature prominently, as one would expect, in the advice being pushed by the AGI.  If father’s experience at Fourah Bay college left such an indelible impression, how could the precarious state of education in his adopted country have escaped our benefactor to such an extent?   If, as he says, his practice is to advise governments of whatever experience to pick three policy objectives, and stick to them, then education must surely be one of those three in the case of Sierra Leone.  Governance could not possibly prove practicable in a country where the majority could not participate in whatever investments were secured especially in the extractive industries.   Our people will neither get the best deals, nor will they ever become involved or properly included in management and jobs to follow.   It may be an opportunity for investors, but hardly tantamount to exciting prospects for Sierra Leoneans.  Our schools are physically challenged, the policy on Education is in need of serious review as experts question the sense of introducing the new 6-3-4-4 system, which may not work, proffering a strong case for a 6-3-2-2-4 system instead, following the recent disastrous examination results in West Africa, teacher training needs to be advanced, and teachers paid both well, and regularly. Above all, technical training with vocational development is an urgent need.  Why is not much noise being made about this grave, and urgent deficiency by those who persist in telling the world that Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in it?  If we don’t talk about such nation building urgent issues in our year of elections, when are we going to have that debate?

It is ironical that one of Africa’s emerging stalwarts in the areas of governance, and investment by Africans for Africans,  Tony Elumelu who obtained his tertiary education at Universities in his home country of Nigeria would have started that academic journey at Fourah Bay College in days of yore.   Yes, Freetown has been deemed to be the Athens of West Africa for those tangible reasons,  and it is incumbent on all of us to restore those standards.  From such excellent historical beginnings Sierra Leone should, by now, be able to boast of multiple excellent institutions where the many professors, and holders of PhD’s in the Diaspora would be vying to return to further their academic careers in the interests of the education of our people.   It is frightening that even in Western countries where such issues are constantly being discussed, and examined, the education of their people poses problems even today; how much worse for us if we are not even talking about such grave matters?  So, when the Tony Elumelu Foundation, which is dedicated to the promotion and celebration of excellence in business leadership and entrepreneurship across Africa seeks through its African Markets Internship Programme (AMIP) to place students from Africa’s to business schools and top-tier business schools in Europe and the United States in highly structured programs at African companies in cities like Accra, Lagos, and Nairobi then Freetown appears to be wanting.  Similarly, The Mo Ibrahim Foundation was launched in October 2006 to promote good governance in Africa with the support of, among others, Nelson Mandela, Alpha Konaré, Bill Clinton, and yes Tony Blair.  On 22nd October 2007, the Foundation announced the winner of the world’s biggest prize, the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, to be awarded to a former African executive Head of State or Government who has demonstrated exemplary leadership.  Unprecedented in its scale and scope, the Mo Ibrahim Prize consist of US$ 5 million over 10 years, and US$ 200, 000 annually for life thereafter.  A further US$ 200,000 per year for good causes espoused by the winner may be granted by the Foundation during the first ten years.  The first winner of the Mo Ibrahim Prize,  Joaquin Chissano former President of Mozambique, was selected by a Prize Committee chaired  by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  The prize was won by Botswana’s former President Festus Mogae in 2008 followed by two embarrassing years when no Leader was deemed worthy of such recognition for good governance.  However, President Pedro Veronia Pires of Cape Verde Islands was declared winner in 2011, and it is hoped that Leaders of Africa, including our own President, will continue to march forwards demonstrating good governance that would one day qualify them for this generous and prestigious recognition.  In the words of Tony Elumelu, “Now it is time for Africans and African businesses to rise to the challenge.  Nobody is going to develop Africa except us.”

In this election year, so far, a lot of political exchanges have occurred as between participating politicians in the normal run of campaigning.  By the same token it is inevitable that characters of the AGI would come under similar scrutiny from their close relationships.   In an article in the Times on March 18 2006, Matthew Parris wrote – “I believe Tony Blair is an out-and-out rascal, terminally untrustworthy and close to being unhinged. I said from the start that there was something wrong in his head, and each passing year convinces me more strongly that this man is a pathological confidence-trickster. To the extent that he even believes what he says, he is delusional. To the extent that he does not, he is an actor whose first invention — himself — has been his only interesting role.”  This is opinion, but one coming from those who know our benefactor better than us that should not be lightly dismissed.  Of interest also, we were told that Blair waged an extraordinary two-year battle to keep secret a lucrative deal with a multinational oil giant which has extensive interests in Iraq.  The former Prime Minister tried to keep the public in the dark over his dealings with South Korean oil firm UI Energy Corporation.  Mr Blair – who has made at least £20million since leaving Downing Street in June 2007 – also went to great efforts to keep hidden a £1million deal advising the ruling royal family in Iraq’s neighbour Kuwait.  In an unprecedented move, he persuaded the committee which vets the jobs of former ministers to keep details of both deals from the public for 20 months, claiming it was commercially sensitive. The deals emerged when the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments finally lost patience with Mr Blair and decided to ignore his objections, and publish the details.  So, with our oil now actively coming under investment activities, and with an earlier interest declared in our Tourist Industry couched as if this was an original idea rather than recognising that we had a thriving Tourism Industry that faltered for good reasons, and needs to be revived as before but using much better infrastructure, and trained local staff with appropriate Laws to make it successful, it would be absolutely remiss of Sierra Leoneans not to include such matters in our preparation for the elections.

In the earlier comprehensive definition I provided of Governance, you would recall that paramount chiefs are part of the greater governance of Sierra Leone, which is why it was unacceptable that the chief involved in the Timbergate film sounded as if he owned the trees on his patch, and could do as he liked against national policy on forests.  In the same way, an honorary Chief without a chiefdom and people should be seen within context when considering our governance.  I would go one stage further to suggest it is not good practice to appoint honorary holders of positions that are normally part of governance.  By all means grant honorary Degrees or national awards, but good governance is trivialised by appointing people to honorary positions of authority as exercised by serious players within governance.  Any expert in this field ought to resist such action, which can only serve as a distraction.

The only conclusion I can offer from this comprehensive examination in three parts is that we were right to recognise the visionary qualities of our President, and are grateful that other Governments have recognised his positive leadership and have supported him in his work.  Africa has taken some amazing steps to provide, and encourage good governance across the continent, and  Sierra Leone must strive to be part of that forward march.  However, as we recover from a decade of conflict, the challenges are real, and there is an urgent need to educate our people, and prepare them to enrich their lives in a meaningful way by becoming managers, skilled employees and entrepreneurs in charge of our own destiny in a new vibrant, and industrial Sierra Leone.  Those of us old enough to remember Jamil and the lady in white would share some anxiety that those lessons about charitable support of government learnt then must prevail, and no amount of rubbing of kondo fat on our President  should be allowed to detract us from our precious prospects.  So I say, let us rejoice with caution, and worry about the speed and weaknesses in our investment spring.

By Squadron Leader Winston Forde RAF Ret’d

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