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Ato-Brown: Sierra Leone’s democracy on test

Ato-Brown: Sierra Leone’s democracy on test

As Sierra Leone resiliently works to rebound from the Ebola scourge the next couple of years will be defining moments for the small West African country, says World Bank Sierra Leone Country Manager Francis Ato-Brown.

According to the Country Manager, in the next three years (2015-2018) Sierra Leone will conduct national census, amend the 1991 Constitution and go into general elections.

“Sierra Leone’s democracy is being tested and is going to be tested even more as we approach the elections,” he says while giving the keynote address at the formal opening ceremony of Radio Democracy new studio building at New England Ville on Tuesday 7th July 2015.

The country’s democracy is already being tested with the constitutional matter involving the sacking of the country’s Vice President (Alhaji Chief Samuel Sam Sumana) and the appointment of a replacement (Victor Bockarie Foh)- which is now being decided by the Supreme Court.

The next general elections will be solely and independently managed by Sierra Leoneans without the help of international players.

Ato-Brown says the last general elections brought an era of promise wrapped in the government’s Agenda for Prosperity and Sierra Leone was the fastest growing economy in the world with growth forecast of 19%-20%- the highest in the world. He says 2013 was supposed to be the defining moment for the country, but then in 2014 two big shocks reversed all the gains that have been made.

In May 25th 2014 Ebola struck, “an epidemic of unimaginable proportion, scope and scale that we cannot even begin to talk about yet”.

“We should not lose sight of the fact that it’s one epidemic which has virtually dismantled the high GDP of the country in one year. But it also sends the signal that this is why we need to go back into the bowels of our spirit and show how resilient we are as Sierra Leoneans. You survived the war, you can survive this as well,” he says.

He points out that when you move round the country you see people are getting back to work and want to wish Ebola away so they can get back to normal life.

“I think people are breaking some of the rules because they really want to get back to work,” he notes.

The second shock, according to Ato-Brown, is the economic blow of losing high value investments like the mining companies (African Minerals and London Mining) shutting down, “and now we hear Addax Bioenergy also shutting down for six months”.

“So we have to work faster, smarter and harder; we need to get everybody on board in this recovery of business, but first of all we need to get Ebola away. We should not for one day think that Ebola is gone until it is gone, gone, gone,” he appeals.

Sierra Leone is still not out of the woods yet, continues Ato-Brown. He says the country is still poor with about 50% of the population below the poverty line.

“That’s why people say Sierra Leone is one of the dangerous places to have a child. It should not be that. Sierra Leoneans are lovely people, they care about children and family,” he observes.

However, he says one thing that has worked for the country is the post-war peace dividend.

“The peace that Sierra Leoneans have embraced; the democratic culture and the institutions that started with the late President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and are now being consolidated by President Ernest Bai Koroma is what has provided the foundation.

“And I remember Pa Berewa in the funeral of the late Pa Kabbah saying that if Pa Kabbah was not a democrat he would have become President. That’s very profound and it shows that Sierra Leoneans have embraced democracy. I believe democracy is with us,” says Ato-Brown.

Looking into the future, the World Bank Country Manager believes 2015 to 2018 is going to be very, very critical because of economic transition.

“Mining will come and when they come it’s a bonus, but we need to go back to agriculture, commerce and fisheries and kick start the economy all over again,” says Ato-Brown. “And we all- I mean all the players- have to resolve that this transition is easy on the people of Sierra Leone.”

Meanwhile, Ato-Brown congratulates Radio Democracy on the station’s 18th birthday and the formal opening of their new studio building and encourages them to continue to be bold, fair and professional.

He reveals that he listens to Radio Democracy every morning and that through the radio he has come to know the movers and shakers in the society.

“But beyond that, Radio Democracy also taught me that there’s no big story or small story. Whatever affects the people is important,” he says, describing the radio’s journalists as very measured, very fair, and can be even aggressive when somebody’s rights are being abused and the person is not there to defend him/herself.

“You (Radio Democracy staff) should never forget the reason of your existence. You’ve done well so far, but the people will expect much more from you especially in these defining years of the country,” he admonishes.

“There will be stiff competition from other radio stations, and so we challenge you to be even better than you’ve been and to be fair and balanced than you’ve ever been.”

Station Manager Asmaa James describes Ato-Brown as a longtime friend of Radio Democracy, ‘providing moral support and linkages for the radio to succeed’.

“Worthy of note is his effort to reconnect Radio Democracy with Africell who took over the sound proofing of our studio, and have agreed to host our repeater transmitters as we begin to journey for an extended coverage nationwide,” says Asmaa in appreciation.

“Through his connections, we will also be receiving computers and transmitters to boost our media production efforts. Thank you Mr. Ato Brown for all the support and trust in Radio Democracy and to the staff and Management of Africell for a job well done.”

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

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