Even though foreign analysts say that the African pie (that is how our resources are now being defined) is too big for anyone to fret about, reading updates of developments in Guinea and Kenya regarding foreign involvement in the exploitation of their natural resources, became a sobering reminder that no matter how lofty and sublime our desperation for development is, the transformation of the alliance profiles of Sierra Leone with its partners, is very crucial for the future, for our children and our grandchildren.
As our nation’s economic fortunes rise and our leaders are charmed by superpowers and investors with money to burn, it is essential that a country of transparency and nationalistic sentiments, built on our own stony stilts, rather than personal, political and religious benefits; or the feeble straws of global friendship, rises up from the ashes of the ruins of the old Sierra Leone that we used to know.
What is missing right now, are the fundamentals. Real patriots would therefore do well to start focussing their efforts on this in the hope that one day; their voices would be heard even if it is only for the nuisance value.
Things can change and even those who rule with the utmost belief that their idea is the best and who ignore the real plight of the people in the management of the affairs of the nation, can be made to sway from their egoistic posturing and listen to those things they do not necessarily want to hear; whether they are from their worst enemies or unknown nonentities. As long as it is in the overall interests of Sierra Leone.
Our leaders are operating in silos simply because they are conscious of the fact that those born after 1980 are unaware of the great country that has now gone to the dogs.
But the exhausting and expensive form of coronary-inducing torture that now abides in the country, especially in regards to the cost of living, transportation and even commerce, brings back nostalgic memory of a once rich, joyous and beauty that was the Sierra Leone landscape; but which now, contrasts with the poverty and melancholy of the teeming masses who scratch out a living from the slums and ‘Belgiums’ that dot our towns and cities.
Driven by outdated political and ethnic views which need to be sacrificed on the altar of the new nation of our collective dream, our leaders all appear to be more concerned with the impression and dictates of the rest of the world than the interests of the people who trooped out to elect them and the universal opinion coming from their grumblings.
Despite the nation being plagued by endemic poverty, wide inequalities, poor human capital, inadequate infrastructure as well as the idealistic illusion, that this current government brought light, roads etc, the tirades of our politicians which are designed to give the semblance of dynamism, reveal them as bordering on the despicable; which all adds up to a dystopian dream of a vast, characterless society and a befuddled leadership.
Our politicians need to realise that we can no longer afford to be the world’s doormat; ready to dance to the pied piper’s tune in exchange for pittance. We cannot play the harlot under the cloak of being a beautiful bride.
We are one of the richest countries in the world in terms of resources but presently languishing comfortably at the bottom of the league. Yet the impression we create, helps to perpetuate and reinforce the notion that we are incapable of tackling our problems ourselves.
But pointers are that the importance of ensuring that we cannot be held to ransom by investors of any shade and character, trumps all other considerations. Sincerely, we desperately need to look after our very own resources and citizens and care less about what the world thinks of us.
This brings me to the two recent international reports I spoke about earlier, which are of significance to Sierra Leone and its leaders, especially when we talk of the management of our natural resources and foreign involvement.
The first states that the Kenyan government has revoked all prospecting and mining licences granted during the first five months of this year after complaints about the issuing process and is now to determine their nature and the benefits of each case to the country so as to guarantee that Kenya gains from its mineral potential.
The government also wants to make sure that such deals are more transparent and is introducing new legislation in the sector under which royalties from gross sales would rise 100% from the current level.
That’s from Kenya.
Now from our next door neighbour, Guinea, comes developments on a worldwide report, which started gaining momentum last year and captioned: The corruption deal of the century: How Guinea lost billions of pounds in mining licensing.
It reveals that the government is fighting to get back billions of pounds of mining rights lost in a murky transaction. According to the story which took a different turn in April this year, the government was investigating the possible payment of bribes to win "lucrative mining rights"
The government of President Condé is now said to be in the process of reviewing the country's mining contracts in an attempt to get a better deal for the people.
Instructively, listen to the Guinean President – who is being advised by Tony Blair (him again) and George Soros on how to curb corruption, build the country’s economy, and enact a “national transformation” –
‘We have failed to address the needs of the people,” says Mr. Condé, who blames such criminality on government failures to tackle social inequalities. “Islamic organisations have been more present than government. They are there every day with people, providing the network and welfare assistance.” Mass unemployment among young people is a further threat to the country’s stability. Mr. Condé says it is this young population that offers Guinea’s best hope of retaining democracy, as they are “more intellectual than those in the past and they have the benefit of new technology,” he says. “Dictatorships and other forms of bad governance have been sustained through a lack of knowledge and information. That becomes difficult to maintain in today’s more open and connected world. The youth aspire to be like the rest of the world, and this offers them the best chance.” Now, there are several sub-plots to the story but they are not the focus of this piece and will be dealt with later.
However, it is how to stave-off the corruption that goes hand-in-hand with African minerals that is of interest; and several reports indicate that there has not been any single mineral resources’ foreign investment that has been transparent or that is in the overall interest of the host country. (That’s not me speaking)
Which begs the question: Whither Sierra Leone mining deals? How transparent are they? What are the true details and the benefits derivable by the country? In terms of what has gone out of the belly of our nation, how much better off are we from the investments that we thought we would be getting when we sold our heritage cheaply?
Since the inception of the administration and rumours of 99years lease surfaced, it has become imperative to revisit the issue, especially in the light of the two reports above and for the government to clear the fog surrounding our resources, in the spirit of transparency.
Because the undisguised contempt as well as the affronted tones and incredible lines of government’s submissions on any criticisms or attempt to get the true details of some of the contracts in the sector, convey the insufferable moral superiority of our political elites who believe that once they are in power, they are the know-all and be-all and no one should question their actions.
But who says they have got it right? Who says we cannot review whatever we’ve signed if it is not in the best interest of Sierra Leone in the long run? What stops us from admitting our mistakes and going back to the drawing board whether our so-called investors like it or not?
According to a World Bank report, poverty reduction in the continent, Sierra Leone inclusive, is being held back by income inequality and a reliance on mineral and mining exports. It goes on to say that more transparency is needed in how natural resources are managed.
Although economic growth is forecast for our dear nation and others in the region, experience shows that this is not always converted into human prosperity because of "mismanagement, a lack of transparency and corruption".
Someone who should know, states unequivocally that "We're talking about whether the huge contracts and revenues to dozens and dozens of countries are transparent. Not only are they opaque but are they corrupt – and whether the citizens get to know and benefit from the trillions of dollars," (Revenue Watch president Daniel Kaufmann)
The group is calling for full public disclosure of contracts signed between governments and extracting companies, and greater transparency on revenues. I tend to concur.
Are the citizens of dear Sierra Leone going to be able to have an insight into the contents of the deals in the mining sector, question the rationale behind them and demand a review where necessary?
We’ve been inundated with the tremendous economic growth and achievements of the government. So, obviously the nation’s future appears to be bright, but do growth figures reflect an improving quality of life?
So do we not get to have an idea of what is happening to our commonwealth?
As oil-rich sheiks, dodgy tycoons as well as cunning capitalists continue to swim all over the land, capturing brilliantly in the process, the hearts and minds of our political leaders who are busy worshipping money, singing hymns and praises of adoration to the financial flashers with the magic wand, my worry is that it is the hangover of our dependence on exploiters of our underground wealth, that will surely cost future generations dear.
We have a false impression of economic buoyancy but this is just because of the high mineral prices in the international market and not as a result of real economic growth occasioned by deliberate government policies and an enduring framework that will withstand any shock.
Going by the frenetic pace of the first few years of the government when international assistance was flowing like a burst Bumbuna, the inability to have a safety valve for the global economic meltdown and even the food crisis of 2008, exposed the foolishness of reliance on foreign assistance as a sustainable path to our development. It stalled the initial effort and has since held us back.
Outside the cartoon view that is being presented right now, what you’ll discover is that we have an agricultural sector which used to be the mainstay of our nation, now lying prostrate as we continue to engage in primary production.
As for the manufacturing sector with a lot of potential, contributing virtually nothing to the economy, it is extremely disheartening that as majority of the people continue to struggle, the government has not seen it as a priority to channel its main policy thrust towards using mother-nature’s windfall in boosting this sector, for the greatest social and economic benefit of the entire society.
We need to be thinking of industries and not just roads, buildings and grandiose projects alone. And if we are going foreign, let them be industries we would appreciate, from those who see partnership as of long-term mutual benefits to both parties.
Indian companies for example, are known to do risk assessments in a more systematic manner before putting their money where their mouth is. Their closeness to our experience means that they are better prospects to draw near.
On the other hand, the Chinese who appear to be sharing our bed come with their own people, leaving the locals in the lurch and while maintaining a strong presence, never seem to set up anything substantial. Yet they go away with better than expected benefits to them.
And, as the government continues with its determination to prioritise infrastructure, we should appreciate the fact that much as they are a ready succour, willing to provide the milk of life, the Chinese just jump upon any work and do it fast with their razzmatazz disguising their underlying intentions.
In learning the lessons of other lands, the government needs to start focusing on the major sectors of the economy with the requisite potential for real growth and ensure that even if it goes a-begging, it comes up with relevant policies that will drive growth and encourage a strong and buoyant private sector through financial reforms that will remove present constraints.
From investigations, it is far easier for any Tom, Dick and Harry whose complexion is white to get easy access to our ministers and have their way to investments paved with gold than for a Mr. Indigene to even get to see some of those in the corridors of power. AND THAT IS AN ABSOLUTE and PROVEN FACT.
The increasing rate of crime, the desperation and the general rot in our society are grim emblems of the despair that lack of gainful employment creates when we fail to harness our resources and link the prospect of regeneration and transformation needs to potential wealth and job creation sectors like tourism.
Take any in-road into our famous Lumley Beach and it hurts to realise that despite years of promises and the potentials of the sector, the only result so far is chaos and a further collapse of standards in this economically vibrant area. Yet we want a new airport for visitors to seek orthopedic treatment after driving down to the beach.
The spin machinery of government might be in overdrive right now, but it is instructive for the government to appreciate that a whole generation of young people who despair at the rate at which the wealth of the nation is going to a corrupt elite and their cohorts, are beginning to be more conscious of the goings-on around them.
Helped by access to information technology and social media, they are able to have an insight into the true picture of things even if they are powerless at the moment to do anything to prevent their being kicked in the teeth by foreigners and indigenous masters of the manor.
Truth is that our economic growth overall has slowed and is likely to be moderate for a while; but by biting the bullet of internal social development more and focusing domestically on areas that will improve general welfare, the government can capture a greater share of available growth and deliver greater prosperity for the generality of Sierra Leoneans.
Fair enough, those in power might be of the erroneous impression that embracing formidable global actors in the economic system is the way forward, but it should never forget that most of these countries are now very wary of helping to carry the load of other nations while their own people cry out for the sustenance of the high standards of living that they are accustomed to.
The only reason for the type of bilateral co-operation we tend to enter into these days is to ensure that our partners grow fat while we remain lean but with smoother skin that deflects from the realities of our ailments and which often reduces the effectiveness of our economic impact.
So as they watch a bunch of corrupt fellow citizens prosper at their expense while their own standard of living remain at best, static, overseas aid and costly foreign interference in what they will see as the catastrophic destruction of their society will not be enough to placate the anger of the coming generation as they thirst for true and widespread socio-economic and political transformation of Sierra Leone.
Mark my words.