Sierra Leone On The Road To A Middle-Income Country

•President Ernest Bai Koroma

•President Ernest Bai Koroma

In the present global economic recession and security challenges, exacerbated by recent calamities in Europe, Americas and the Asian-Tiger nations, Sierra Leone, a small West African country, has recorded remarkable strides in stable democratic transition, economic progress and peaceful co-existence of its religious and ethnic divides.

The country, once referred to as the “Athens of West Africa”, is gradually regaining its past glory. There is presently an emerging infrastructural up-lift of the entire road network across the country. The energy situation has improved relatively well in the capital city of Freetown, with the provincial towns dotted with solar-powered lights, though the rural homes are yet to be connected to the national grid.

The Agricultural sector, which is the mainstay of the economy, currently employs two-thirds of the people, provides 46 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, GDP, and earns the country a quarter of its export earnings. There is a relative local food self-sufficiency, though with a setback of how to commercialise the processing, to supply huge quantities to the market.

The Mining sector is what is currently driving the economic machine of the country. The Iron Ore sector is the current economic growth-spinner, providing thousands of jobs for youths and a major revenue source for the government. The major problem in this sector, is how to add value to the raw products, to transform them into semi- and finished products – like iron rods – to boost local industrial development.

When he first came to power in 2007, President Ernest Bai Koroma, then relatively young and emerging from the business world, was saddled with an enormous task of building up a nation, which was then on its knees, yearning for survival. The capital city of Freetown, which was then suffering from power cuts, was mockingly referred to as the darkest city in the world. More so, close to 80 per cent of government revenues went to administrative overheads and salaries. Corruption was rampant and donors doled out and dictated government inflows and outflows. In short, donors called the shots. “We give you and we dictate the tune,” was the then highly-held slogan.

This above scenario has now relatively changed, with government undertaking some major projects with its own resources, or in partnership with donors. Construction and rehabilitation of roads and bridges across the country is in progress. The current rehabilitation of the 36 streets in the capital city of Freetown is government-funded.  So are the major ones in the provincial headquarter towns.

On his re-election last year, President Koroma brought into his cabinet youths mainly within the 30s and 40s age bracket. He created the Ministry for Youth Affairs and separated the Energy ministry from that of Water Resources. This is a bid to further tackle the lingering youth unemployment  problems, plaguing not only Sierra Leone but the entire world. The new Energy Ministry was created to continue addressing the nation’s electricity menace he inherited since 2007.

To be at par with modern times, Koroma recently launched the Constitutional Review Commission to address certain pitfalls of the 1991 Constitution. The major political parties have six representatives each in the Commission, with three each from the other political parties. The civil society groups, parliamentarians, journalists, and market traders are also represented.

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The country is billed to hold its next elections in 2017/2018, and the main opposition party, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, SLPP, recently held its national convention in the second city of Bo, with a new executive in place.

The country has a long, historical relationship with Nigeria, spanning over 200 years. Nigeria played a supreme role in ending the decade-old civil war. Currently, Nigeria provides financial and technical support to a myriad of government services and engagements. For instance, Nigeria doled out 24 brand new Hilux pick-up vans and $1 million to the National Elections Commission, NEC, for last year’s elections. Nigeria also provided vehicles to the judiciary, sponsored personnel at the National Revenue Authority,NR A, for overseas training and provides technical aid services to the educational, health and allied institutions. The current Nigeria High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Eyo Asuquo, has been instrumental in strengthening the cordial relationship between the two countries, through a public- private sector-led economic diplomacy programme.

The brotherly ties between the two countries started on a stronger footing in 1989, during the Presidency of Ibrahim Babangida, when Ambassador Umaru Wurie was Sierra Leone’s High Commissioner to Nigeria. Wurie started the joint commission between the two countries and pioneered the setting up of a medical school in Sierra Leone, headed by a Nigerian, the late Professor Ige Grillo. Ambassador Wurie was also instrumental, during that period, in Nigeria supplying arms and ammunition to Sierra Leone, with no payments incurred by the Sierra Leonean government.

Nigeria ended the war through the overwhelming support of the Abacha administration when Ambassador Joe Blell was the country’s High Commissioner to Nigeria in the 90’s. After the Nigeria-led forces liberated the capital city of Freetown, Ambassador Blell, courtesy of the Nigerian government, shipped in humanitarian items to Sierra Leone as gifts from his hosts.

This bilateral relationship has grown stronger and more virile over the years, and it is further cemented with the recently  re-invigorated chamber of commerce and the joint Commission of the two countries.

Sierra Leone is a topographically-beautiful country, endowed with rich resources. Oil exploration is expected to commence in the near future. Banks are springing up, industries are also being established. Upgrading of infrastructural utilities is on-going. In the not-too-distant future, the country’s economic development will match other middle-income countries in the world.

—Abubakar Hashim

...Culled from TheNEWS Magazine

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