The German Development Minister’s Visit to Sierra Leone, Another Side of the Story

The most expensive words in the lives of the average Germans are: “I love you”, “please help me”, and “I’m sorry”, and they expect them to reciprocate in all their relationships since they believe that the best relationship is the one that reciprocates. But only “please help me” is being intermittently heard by the Germans in their relationship with the the Sierra Leonean  administration.  The cheapest one: “I’m sorry”, was never expressed, at least not to the knowledge of the general public, after the German diplomat, Michael von der Schulenburg, who served as representative of UN Secretary General to Sierra Leone, was unwarrantedly expelled by the Sierra Leonean government.  Schulenburg’s expulsion amid media criticism might be oneday forgiven but can be hardly  forgotten by the Germans.

The recent visit of the German Development minister, Dirk Niebel, to the West African States of Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Mali was viewed by the Sierra Leone government as sign of admiration of their system of governance. But publications in the main German news outlets about that visit are in sharp contrast to President Koroma’s expectations.

It must be noted that this is not the first time a German high level delegation has visited post war Sierra Leone, as the former German President Horst Köhler, made his first foreign visit out of the EU region, to Sierra Leone in the year 2004 along with 90 member delegates including diplomats, humanitarian workers, civil servants, private business people and journalists.

A recent publication in one of the leading German daily’s and fast-selling magazine “Tagesspiegel” captioned: Granatwerfer für die Polizei orExplosives for the Police Force”, tells a volume.

Critique Echo immediately analyzed the onsite reports on Dirk Niebel’s discussion with President Koroma and his ministers carefully translating it into English for the benefit of the Sierra Leonean readers.  We are again translating and publishing the following publication culled from the “Tagesspiegel” for the benefit of Sierra Leonean readers:

Entwicklungsminister Dirk Niebel (FDP) hat seine Mütze wieder eingepackt. Er ist am Montag zum 18. Mal in seiner Amtszeit nach Afrika aufgebrochen

Entwicklungsminister Niebel besucht in Sierra Leone einen Präsidenten, der um jeden Preis wiedergewählt werden will“.

Translation: Development Minister Dirk Niebel (FDP) has packed his caps again.  That Monday was his 18th time visit to Africa during his tenure.

The Development Minister Niebel visited the president of Sierra Leone who wants to be re-elected at any cost.

Vor zehn Jahren hätte kein Minister nach Sierra Leone reisen wollen. Damals endete ein elf Jahre währender Bürgerkrieg. Die vom früheren liberianischen Präsidenten Charles Taylor unterstützten RUF-Milizen hinterließen 50.000 Tote – heute hat das westafrikanische Land 5,5 Millionen Einwohner. Am Montag ist Entwicklungsminister Dirk Niebel (FDP) zu seiner nunmehr 18. Afrikareise nach Freetown aufgebrochen. An diesem Dienstag trifft er den Präsidenten Sierra Leones, Ernest Bai Koroma, der im November wieder gewählt werden will – und zwar um jeden Preis.

Niebel hat schon vor seiner Abreise erklären lassen, dass eine „freie, transparente und friedliche“ Wahl „für die weitere Konsolidierung der Demokratie von großer Bedeutung ist“.

Translation: Ten years ago, no minister wanted to travel to Sierra Leone. But the eleven-year perpetual civil war is ended.  The former Liberian President Charles Taylor supported RUF militias left 50,000 people dead -the West African country is left today with 5.5 million inhabitants.  The Development Minister Dirk Niebel’s travel to Freetown this month is now his 18th time broke into Africa. He met the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, who wants to be reelected again in November – and at any price.

Before his departure, Niebel explained that a "free, transparent and peaceful" election " is of great importance for the further consolidation of peace and democracy."

„Dass Niebels Appelle allerdings gehört werden, ist eher unwahrscheinlich. Lansana Gberie, Politikwissenschaftler aus Sierra Leone, der ein Standardwerk über den mörderischen Bürgerkrieg in seiner Heimat geschrieben hat, sagte dem Tagesspiegel mit Blick auf die Wahl: „Ich versuche optimistisch zu sein.“ Aber er ist es nicht. Denn die Wiederwahlchancen Koromas sind schlecht, er ist ziemlich unbeliebt. Koroma hat aber nicht vor, von der Macht zu lassen. Im Januar ließ der Präsident für eine paramilitärische Polizeieinheit (OSD Operational Services Division) schwere Waffen beschaffen, darunter auch Granatwerfer, berichtet Gberie. Im Gegensatz zur noch immer 10 000 Soldaten starken Armee, die traditionell eher auf der Seite der Opposition ist, steht die OSD loyal hinter Koroma. Im März berichtete Michael von der Schulenburg vor dem Sicherheitsrat der Vereinten Nationen, dass Koroma auch schwere Maschinengewehre für die OSD hatte beschaffen lassen. „Angesichts der geringen Kriminalitätsrate im Land, stellt sich die Frage, wofür“, sagte er in New Yor“.

Translation: However it’s rather unlikely that Niebel’s appeals are heard.  Lansana Gberie, a political scientist from Sierra Leone, who wrote a standard work on the bloody civil war in his homeland, told the Tagesspiegel his view of the election:  "I try to be optimistic." But he is not. Because Koroma's re-election chances are bad, he's not very popular anymore.  But Koroma has no plan to get out of power.  In January, the President arranged heavy weapons for a paramilitary police unit (OSD- Operational Services Division) including mortars, reported Gberie.  Unlike the still 10 000 soldiers strong army, which is traditionally on the side of the opposition, the OSD remains loyal to Koroma.  In March, Michael von der Schulenburg reported to the Security Council of the United Nations that Koroma had procured heavy machine guns for the OSD. "Given the low crime rate in the country, the question arises, why?" he said in New York.

„Michael von der Schulenburg ist bis Februar Chef der UN-Mission in Sierra Leone gewesen. Er hätte Niebel einiges zu erzählen gehabt. Doch vor Niebels Reise gab es keinen Kontakt zu… – Foto: Eskinder Debebe/UN

Einen Monat vorher war der Deutsche Schulenburg als Chef der UN-Mission in Sierra Leone auf ausdrücklichen Wunsch des Präsidenten entlassen worden. Im Mai bestellte UN-Generalsekretär Ban Ki Moon den Dänen Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen als Schulenburgs Nachfolger. Ban nutzte diese Gelegenheit jedoch, um die Arbeit Schulenburgs ausdrücklich zu loben. Schulenburg hatte seinen Posten 2008 angetreten. Im Anschluss an den Einsatz der UN-Friedenstruppe, die zuvor dabei geholfen hatte, den Bürgerkrieg zu beenden und den Übergang zu sichern, hatte Schulenburg es geschafft, 17 UN-Büros organisatorisch so zusammenzubinden, dass sie im Land offenbar als Einheit wahrgenommen werden. Außerdem pflegte Schulenburg Kontakte zu allen politischen Parteien. Genau das hat ihm Koroma offensichtlich übel genommen. Der Präsident warf Schulenburg vor, er habe sich auf die Seite eines Oppositionskandidaten gestellt. Toyberg-Frandzen hat bis November jedenfalls nicht viel Zeit, sich in die politischen, ethnischen und wirtschaftlichen Untiefen Sierra Leones einzuarbeiten“.

Translation: till February this year Michael von der Schulenburg has been chief of the UN mission in Sierra Leone. He would have had enough to tell Niebel.  But there was no contact before Niebel's journey…

A month earlier, the German Schulenburg was released as head of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone at the express request of the President. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, appointed Dane Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen in May, as Schulenburg's successor.  Ban however took the opportunity to explicitly commend the work of Schulenburg.  Schulenburg had taken up his post in 2008 following the deployment of the UN peacekeeping force that had previously helped end the civil war.  Schulenburg had managed to bind together 17 UN agencies in the country as an organizational structure apparently perceived as a unit, to ensure success of the transition. Schulenburg also had contacts with all political parties.  That is what Koroma has obviously taken odd.  The president accuses Schulenburg of taken stand on the side of an opposition candidate.  Not until November, Toyberg-Frandzen  will not have enough time to get acquainted with the political, ethnic and economic shoals of Sierra Leone.

Niebel will sich Projekte zur Förderung der Privatwirtschaft in der Nähe der Hauptstadt anschauen, bevor er nach Burkina Faso weiterreist. Was er nicht zu sehen bekommt, sind eine große Eisenmine im Norden des Landes und die Vorbereitungen für die Ölförderung vor der Küste Sierra Leones. Koroma hat die Lizenz für die Eisenmine an Vasile Timis vergeben, der sich selbst Frank nennt und Chef der Firma African Minerals ist. Der rumänische Geschäftsmann hat 1992 mit einem Lastwagen in Australien eine Spedition gegründet. Inzwischen gehört er zu den reichsten Männern der Welt. Mit seiner Firma African Petrolium ist es ihm auch gelungen, Lizenzen für die Ölförderung zu bekommen. Seine guten Beziehungen zur Regierung Koroma waren dabei nicht schädlich. Lansana Gberie erwartet jedoch nicht, dass die bitterarme Bevölkerung Sierra Leones von diesen Geschäften profitieren wird“.

Translation: Niebel went to see projects to promote private sector development in the vicinity of the capital, before flying to Burkina Faso. What he did not have time to see are a large iron mine in the north of the country and preparation for oil exploration off the coast of Sierra Leone. Koroma has awarded the license for the iron mining to Vasile Timis, who calls himself Frank and head of African Minerals. The Romanian businessman has founded in 1992 a trucking company with a truck in Australia. Meanwhile, he is one of the richest men in the world today. With his company, African Petroleum, he has also managed to get licenses for oil production. His good relations with the Koroma government were not harmful to him. Lansana Gberie does not expect that the desperately poor people of Sierra Leone will benefit from these transactions.

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Othman Sheriff
About Othman Sheriff 348 Articles
Born and raised in Kenema district, eastern Sierra Leone, Othman Sheriff began practicing journalism during his school days as a youthhood hobby. After studying mass-media and communication, Sheriff is now the Editor in Chief and CEO of Critique Echo Newspaper. While tirelessly using journalism as a tool to place his country’s socioeconomic and political landscape under a magnifying glass, Sheriff is deeply involved in community development projects. Over the years, Sheriff has formulated and implemented billions of Leones worth of development projects with funds from Europe and USA. He is chiefly focused on community infrastructural development and economic resuscitation projects, fostering interethnic, interreligious and sociocultural cohesion among the young population in Kenema district. He is a member of many international peacebuilding initiatives including the United Religious Initiative (URI), International Association of Educators for World Peace (IAEWP), Intercultural Leaders Network and Youth Solidary Fund program of the United Nations Alliance of Civilization (UNAOC)

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