Our “Elsewhere” Country
I start with a quote from an earlier article of mine: “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.” (Photo: Squadron Leader Winston Forde RAF Ret’d, author)
As I read a brilliant piece in The INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY by Mark Leftly on Sunday 30th September 2012 entitled ‘Diet tycoon tries to fatten Sierra Leone’ I feared not much has changed. We still have to look elsewhere to be told about the major fiscal issues in our country. The article tells us that our President has turned to ex-Weightwatchers’ boss for economic recovery, Steve Crosser. He in turn has come up with a crazy Sierra Leone sovereign wealth fund proposal that would provide Sierra Leone with access to the capital markets. Of immediate importance, we are told that the Hackney-born tycoon has fought a verbally unrestrained battle with Sable Mining, which is chaired by former England cricketer Phil Edmonds, over the land rights to Bangla Hills, an impoverished area close to our border with Liberia.
This area populated by some 50,000 people is rich only in a type of antelope, the Jentink’s duiker, and an estimated 3.5 million tonnes of iron ore. Cosser is recognised as the lease-holder having agreed a 72-year deal with 23 families who own the land, and he intends to use his profits to help transform Bangla through his Star Mining venture. And, to show his goodwill for his awarded wealth he sent 1000 bags of rice to Bangla’s population on Friday with a further 9,000 to follow over the next fortnight. Is this really how we manage our national resources?
The phrase that comes to mind is “Is he having a laugh?” When you think that Sierra Leone produced enough rice to feed our people, and export once, and is beginning to increase our post-war rice yields, it seems that Cosser has a fantastic deal.
So, as we approach the Elections, I still believe the least our government should do is provide details of the many deals they have signed that represent the changes that have pitchforked Sierra Leone from being the ‘poorest country in the world’ to being amongst the top 5 or so developing countries, overnight. It is an admirable achievement, which curiously is shrouded in so much secrecy. What are our plans for a basic entrepreneurial requirement such as a Stock Exchange, or local diamond cutting businesses or industries allied to our production of iron ore? Indeed, is it true that African Minerals are in financial trouble, which would be a body blow to our trumpeted mining successes? We should not have to look elsewhere for such fundamental information, especially during our Election year.
Instead of a body of local business and financial analysts regularly writing in local newspapers, all we get from our journalists is a continuing barrage of personal attacks, and navel gazing about the past. And even when we get the essential information elsewhere, there is never a response by our overseas Commissioners, certainly not from the London High Commission, so we never can tell what is true, and what is not. There is nothing wrong with government seeking assistance from overseas, but we do not have to rely on sources elsewhere to tell us what is going on in our own country?
By Squadron Leader Winston Forde RAF Ret’d
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