Since becoming the chief tenant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, Donald Trump has successfully made countless remarks, which at best have been annoying and controversial in equal measure. He has also had his fair share of gaffs, inaccurate accounts of events and many other hell raising situations. But when he described the African continent as a “Sh…Hole”, a collective “suck teeth” reverberated across the globe. But as ironies go, the same Donald Trump is reportedly sending a delegation to Sierra Leone, for the inauguration of the newly elected President Julius M. Bio. How quaint.
As if to add to the irony, President Bio was widely lambasted about his sojourn in the USA during the campaign festival. One of the allegations levied against him was that, he will never be allowed to re-enter the USA again. By implication, he was persona non grata. This allegation was a favourite of the opposition party, who opined that his presidency would be a huge loss to the country; because he would not be allowed at JKF Airport. Phew; as if visiting America was a constitutional pre-requisite. Of course we have the UN and IMF headquarters in the USA; but hey give him a break.
Interestingly, Moses has not gone to the mountain, but it looks like the mountain can’t wait to come to Moses. Honestly, Donald Trump was one of the last presidents you would have expected to extend such a gesture to African countries, let alone little Salone. But with Donald Trump, strange things have happened, and it is his penchant to surprise, his knack for unpredictability, and the difficulty to second guess him that seem to make his presidency vibrant and interesting. Our Excellency was a guest of our colonial masters a few weeks ago; a meeting for countries of the Commonwealth; where the wealth is not even common. But he is soon to play host to a delegation from Donald Trump. No big deal I know. But we may attempt to scratch the surface here a bit. Chinua Achebe always believed that a toad does not run in daylight for nothing.
Some political analysts have been quick to see this as a flexing of geopolitical muscles between the world power brokers; the Chinese and the Yanks. There is no doubt that while America, Britain and France have been bogged down with the New World Order in the Middle East; from Afghanistan, to Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria, China has quietly but efficiently immersing itself into the entrails of the African continent for the past decade or more. While the West was caught in the Arab Spring conundrum, the Chinese have been establishing economic ties across the continent. It is an open secret that the APC government largely was bankrolled by the Chinese investments. We all saw the roads, the mining sector, building projects and many more being gulped by them.
But the Chinese involvement has been received with mixed views by Sierra Leoneans. The developments or signs of it are there for all to see. What are painfully glaring are the hazard warnings that seem to be attached to these developments; the debts and the burden of repayments that the populace have been yoked with. Unlike the West, Chinese involvement in Africa had not been flavoured with moral perfection as a condition. They have long realised that any country that demands moral perfection in its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security. And that attitude is one of the reasons why the Chinese have effortlessly dined and wined with most African dictators.
Many sierra Leoneans struggle to appreciate fully, the benefits of some of these developments. Some see them as ill thought, over budgeted, not cost effective and sometimes downright irresponsible. Take the toll road for example. Most toll roads around the world do one of the two; shorten journeys or reduce congestion. The toll road in Sierra Leone successfully does NONE of the above. In fact, toll roads should be an alternative route that people have a choice to use. In Sierra Leone, our toll road is more of a cul de sac money trap. I used the toll road (not by choice) 3 times recently and my journey was never shortened, nor decongested. If anything it caused more congestion. What would we have given if this was constructed between Magburaka and Mile 91? That would have been a better use of the debt. Now we have the proposed Mamamah Airport to deal with; hmmmmm.
There have been reports of other projects including the building a series of APC party offices by the Chinese. Many Sierra Leoneans do not only see some of these projects as white elephants, but also as extensions of the megalomania and self-aggrandisement of the APC party. Foreign investments are expected among others, to generate significant employment for the local economy; as per local content policy. With the exception of the initial phase of the African Mineral Limited, the employment factor of the Chinese investments has been seen as relatively negligible. Saddled with potential debts from these agreements and contracts with the Chinese, many find it a struggle to acknowledge the impact of their involvement. Some have gone as far as accusing the Chinese of in sourcing employment for their over populated country; because most of their “expatriates” are just hustlers like you and me.
Nevertheless, we cannot underestimate the level of investments by the Chinese in our country. But will that be one of the reasons why the Chinese appeared jittery during the campaign festival? They were physically and visibly engaged in the campaign trails of some APC stalwarts. Were they merely protecting their interests? But that again was another reason why some Sierra Leoneans felt that our country had been mortgaged; because it is not common to see foreign nationals actively involved in the domestic politics of their landlords. At best, they are diplomatic about it, and tend to appear to support all sides at any given time. During the last election cycle, their support for the APC party was blatantly overt.
With such a backdrop, do many see Trump’s plan to send a delegation to the inauguration, as a tacit support for Bio’s government in preference to EBK’s. Usually, western governments rely on their country representatives to attend such occasions. There is no doubt about the political mileage this will engender for President Bio. Such a gesture of approval and recognition from the “most powerful man” on the planet is bound to add some spice and feather to Maada; especially coming from Donald Trump. Recently, Trump played host to President Buhari of Nigeria; the largest economy in Africa. Is this part of the wind of change that some have been clamouring for?
Are we therefore seeing the setting of the stage for some proxy power play here; between the Chinese and the West? If so, does Bio have a big decision to make? I know that there are some people who would want Bio to tear the rule book and all those Chinese contracts. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. At best, the President might want to re-visit those agreements and contracts; especially those that were reportedly hurriedly signed on the eve of the elections by the APC government. The president might want to gauge their value for money. Interestingly, Sierra Leone is one of the few countries that I have seen a project being paid for, even before it is completed and delivered; and they call it the toll road. More like toil road.
If these contracts are found wanting, will Bio renegotiate or ask for some small change? Will he abandon the whole works and begin a new path? Will he choose new partners in his development drive? If Bio was to change the horse mid-stream, where would that leave the Chinese? Is Sierra Leone about to become a prop for the new Chino-American trade war? Will President Bio lean towards the West or stick with the silk trade? But as we know, foreign policies are windows of opportunity; but they open and close quickly. Foreign policies tend to follow Machiavelli. They are about costs and benefits; not theology. If I were to make that decision, I know which I will choose? Do you?
Since Trump wants to “make America Great again”, Will Bio make Sweet Salone , Sweet Again?. Don’t answer that.