Monday, December 24, 2007

Addressing Poverty in Sierra Leone




Over the decade, Sierra Leone has consistently earned the distinction of either being at the bottom of the human development index or being very close to it. In simple terms our country is regarded as the worst place to live in the world.
There are a lot of places on earth today that are far more dangerous and unstable than Sierra Leone; Somalia,Democratic republic of Congo, the Gaza strip in Palestine, Darfur in Sudan, Chechnya, to name but a few. There are also other countries with worse economic indicators. Take Zimbabwe for instance, where inflation is at runaway rates or Guinea Bissau, a country that seems to have no clue at modern governance.
So why is Sierra Leone, which is now relatively stable and has had democratic governance, however fragile it may be, for the better part of a decade considered to be the poorest country in the world?This question was posed by a friend at a recent Christmas party I attended (see details at http://www.segbwema.blogspot.com/). I will attempt here to answer his question and invite members of this forum to contribute on the subject.
The human development index looks at the overall economic picture and social forces that impact the quality of life in a nation. Using simple words it looks at the availability of everything in a country that would ensure that human beings live as best as they can.
A major problem with Sierra leone is lack of even the basic infrastructure necessary for development. Most of the roads in Sierra Leone are in terrible shape. A lot of the country is simply inaccessible to vehicular traffic. Movement of both humans and agricultural produce is therefore severely restricted. In many areas, agricultural products which are mostly perishable, are left to rot, while other areas go without. Sometimes the cost of moving foodstuff is so high that it would not make any business sense to do so.
Lack of electricity, which thankfully is currently being addressed, is another major problem in Sierra leone. Living in the 21st century without electrical power is simply unimaginable to people in the more developed parts of the world. No madern economy, regardless of the good intentions of its leaders, can develop without electricity. Electricity is the backbone of all manufacturing and service industries. No serious manufacturer should have to deal with the headache of providing their own electricity. Electricity powers factories, computers and computer networks, lights up cinemas and clubs, banks and so on. Lack of this vital resource is simply intolerable.
A healthy population is a sound population. Lack of access to basic healthcare can be singled out to be the major reason why Sierra leone is always at the bottom of human development indices. The few hospitals that we have lack almost everything. From medicines to dressing, nurses to doctors, simple labs to X-rays, everything is grossly inadequate.High infant mortality and maternal deaths, which are are now preventable in this day and age, characterise Sierra Leone
Sierra Leoneans are poorly paid for the work that they do. The take home pay of most Sierra Leoneans can barely ensure their survival for a week, let alone a month. Teaching, the noblest profession, on earth is a joke in Sierra leone. Most landlord will not rent out to you, if you inform them that you are a teacher when looking for a place to rent. Other government workers are also in the same soup. Over the years these low wages have become the main impetus for the rampant corruption that has plagued the country like a malignant cancer that just won't go away. As long as workers are unable to feed themselves, corruption will never be minimized. This is an unfortunate but plain truth. The thing about corruption is that regardless of the reason it is done, it is always wrong and quickly moves from an act of necessity to a way of life.


Sierra leone, with all its diamond, bauxite, rutile, gold, and human resources should be a model for development in Africa and does not deserve to even be among the ranks of poor countries. But until we seriously start to put aside our differences and tackle our country's problems headon, we will continue to linger in the poor ranks.

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