Friday, January 4, 2013

Sierra Leone Political Updates: Fighting Povery

Sierra Leone Iron Ore
There were some encouraging economic growth numbers coming out of Sierra Leone last year that got lost in the muddle of all the electoral excitement. In the middle of the election euphoria some government officials were even bragging that the Sierra Leone economy was expected to grow at over 35%. Though one can argue that it is not hard to obtain such growth levels when the economy has been operating at very low levels for extended periods, such growth figures by any standard are very impressive and the people of Sierra Leone should at least be looking up to a better future, all things remaining the same.

Now that the economy is growing; the old mines functioning once again, iron ore mining resuming full steam, and it loudly being rumored that petroleum deposits have been discovered, it is now the time for the leaders of the country to translate this growth into meaningful changes in the life of the common people in the country; the youth, the old, the vulnerable children and the average Joe
They Need Salvation

One of my favorite quotations on economic growth comes from a UNDP Human Development Report of 1995. The quote is in the form of a simple question:
"What is the meaning of growth if it is not translated into the lives of people?"

Those of us who have not yet hopped on the Sierra Leone rebranding bandwagon have been given many names. Some commentators say that there are positive things happening in the country, but we are loath to say them, because we want to always be critical of the current government. We accept such criticisms and take them in stride, but we are also very conscious that Sierra Leone is a country with enormous potential in terms of land, capital and human resources. If the completion of roads that were in the pipeline and the current sporadic electricity supply are what is progress, then we believe that the country could do much more, much much more and now that election is over the praise singing button should be put on pause, at least for now.

Though those who feel that continuous praise singing is the way of getting leaders to work have a right to feel that way,  I believe that this incessant praise of our leaders is symptomatic of all the ills that plague Africa. We are thankful to those leaders that make meaningful efforts to achieve social and economic progress, but by the same token our elected leaders should not fail to realize that that is what they were elected to do! Good leaders are not doing their citizens a favor, good leaders are carrying out their functions effectively. We remember good leaders just as we remember great teachers. No student who went to Grammar School will ever forget A. J. Lasite, nor will those who go to Wesley Segbwema forget Mr. Jusu Lahai. These were strict disciplinarians whose students may not have even liked them when in school, but who they remember later in life as those that contributed most to laying the foundations of their intellectual and personal development. So is it leaders. That is why we remember some leaders and pray daily to God to accord us the privilege of forgetting the names of some.

President Koroma has five more years to preside over Sierra Leone and thankfully his stated agenda is one of prosperity. But what is prosperity? By all indications a prosperous country is only judged through its people. The small country of Equatorial Guinea has one of the highest national income figures in Africa, the President has magnificent palaces in every major area of the country, there are beautiful buildings all over. To the platonic eye Equatorial Guinea is a prosperous country, but not so fast! Almost all the wealth in the country is in the hands of friends, cronies and chums of that country's president, while the rest of the population continue to wallow in deep poverty. The Western world is only now beginning to put some pressure on him because of the insane excessive display of wealth of some members of his family. So though it may appear on paper as if Equatorial Guinea was a prosperous country, the reality is starkly different.

In November, hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans came out, dancing in the streets for Ernest Koroma and Maada Bio. Though some of these people may have wanted either man to win for some personal gain, 
every one of the people in both camps had one thing in common, they all want a society in which they will be able to afford the means to feed and support their families and send their children to school. They all want an improvement in their living standards, they all want to escape the shackles of grinding poverty.

The greatest legacy a leader can leave behind is not the number of personal houses he builds or the size of his foreign currency account, but the fondness with which people remember his rule. Bill Clinton and George Bush both had eight years as presidents of America. Today most Democratic politicians pray for Clinton to join them on campaign tours for political office while Republican politicians consider Bush as a bogey man,  afraid to even mention his name in public, lest they be associated with him.

Late President Siaka Steven could have been corrupted by absolute power in the later years of his rule, but at least there are many things you can point to in Freetown that were part of his legacy; the stadium, the banks, Aberdeen Bridge, Mammy Yoko, Bintumani, etc. Joseph Saidu Momoh had Seven years as president and did not even construct a toilet for people to defecate in in Freetown.

President Koroma has been given  five more years to solidly his legacy. Is his legacy going to only be the completion of roads and the talk of free health is currently chaotic combined with the multiplication of poverty, tribalism and regionalism, or is it going to be the institution of steps to reduce the scorching poverty in Sierra Leone and the achievement of unity and reduction of regionalism and tribalism.

The next five years in Sierra Leone should be focused on a fight to eliminate poverty in Sierra Leone. President Koroma should revisit his first year attempt of setting performance benchmarks for his officials and getting rid of those who are not up to par. There should be a laser focus on studying the potential of Bumbuna or future petroleum resources for the reintroduction of an efficient light rail system in the country to facilitate the movement of both commodities and labour in the country. Freetown is currently overpopulated mostly because the paucity of meaningful rural development programs and rural jobs. Relocating the headquarters of some ministries to provincial towns may mitigate this terrible rural urban migration.

For those Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora who want to go back and build our towns and villages, there should be an import policy in place to waive customs duties on the first $15000.00 of building materials we import into Sierra Leone, as members of the Sierra Leone diaspora can play a significant role in national rebuilding if provided a conducive environment. Diaspora people can provide construction jobs for people in Sierra Leone, stimulating the economy.

President Koroma should redouble his effort to fight corruption. But undoubtedly, the best war against corruption is reducing the incentive to be corrupt. When the the real income of people grows, with real income being defined as what a person is able to buy with his income, the marginal propensity for corruption diminishes, as the incentive to engage in corruption decreases. If a man's job is his only source of income and the income from that job is insufficient for him to provide for his family, he has to do something and frequently it may be something illegal. I am not in anyway condoning corruption, but any policy that is not based on reality is doomed to fail. Sitting here in the diaspora making thousands of dollars a month,  it is easy to preach against corruption, but when your income can not even enable you to satisfy the first step of the ladder of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, that is provide you food, clothing and shelter,  one becomes less philosophical and more realistic, as survival trumps morality.
Salone Nar We All Yone

As I write there are those who will say, "there are those who will say there he goes again" But as Dr Oloh famously sings, "Sierra Leone nar we all yone, una leh we help wesef for Barto Sierra Leone"

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