Sierra Leone – Unspoken Positives

Eight weeks ago, I was in the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown for 3weeks. My mission was two-fold – perform a reconnaissance for my masters thesis and to put finishing touches to my organisation: African Community Internship Placement Programme [ACIPP-West Africa].

In June 2011, I was in Freetown for 10-days to begin the paper work for ACIPP West Africa. During those 10-days, I had the typical eyes of the external agent. I saw the negatives in a country that experienced 11-years of  one most brutal civil wars in West Africa. During those ten days, I heard lots of loud noises (public transport is a hassle), scooters and motor bikes everywhere. The horn was the most popular thing…drivers and riders just blasted them all day!

I saw many unemployed young people on the streets and the streets were full of vendors – taking over most of the streets in the central business district. I saw young females under 15years prostituting. On the street around the state house is a den for prostitutes from 7pm onwards. That was in June, 2011.

In February 2012 when I returned, I saw more than problems. I saw opportunities – those are stories that have not been told, have remained with a few and shared among a few.

Right from the Lungi Airport, I saw change on my return. Pot-holes in the road were being fixed; more than 50km of road were being constructed to open the capital Freetown. Electricity was more consistent; I saw less people carrying water which could mean that piped water is also more consistent.

I have seen a  lot more banks springing up – not only local banks but international ones as well – Zenith Bank, ECOBANK International (which is one of the oldest having bought over a local bank-ProCredit Bank), Guaranty Trust Bank, etc. You will find Sierra Leone online yellow pages here: http://www.leonedirect.com.

Not only have there been an increase in banks and other financial institutions but their average health has increased. The Central Bank of Sierra Leone (http://bankofsierraleone-centralbank.org/) and other financial partners have enjoyed positive growth since the enactment of the Sierra Leone Bank Act 2000. (http://www.mbendi.com/indy/fsrv/bank/af/sl/p0005.htm)

Between June 2011 and February 2012, I witnessed huge change in the telecommunications sector – Your BlackBerry will work now in Sierra Leone for 50USD a month. I have not tried that service yet but I have certainly seen a lot of BlackBerrys and other smartphones in use – more than during my first visit.

I felt an increased buoyancy in the people – especially young women and men.The feeling you get when you know you are coming to the end of the tunnel. Plus, 2012 is an election year and in Africa, that is a whole year  of a special kind of Christmas. Politicians and government spend lots of money – which is good for the individual people but harmful to the economy as a whole as the increased spending increases inflation. Billboard

However, these are the successes that are not reported. As with all African governments (and I say this with great reservation) they are not able to sell their good works to their peoples and across their boarders and to specific and specialised audiences. Indeed, Sierra Leone has done great under President Ernest Bai Koroma. His office maintains a website that is more up to date than the national site (http://www.ernestkoroma.org/). And may I add that the government website is “out of order”? I have searched to make sure that I was right on this one but this is the link and the accompanying message that comes with it:  http://www.statehouse.gov.sl/ – Database Error: Unable to connect to the database:Could not connect to MySQL.

That notwithstanding, Mr. Koroma has worked hard to turn the country around. The coming elections in November will be decided by how many more people have had access to (consistent and clean) water, health, food, jobs/employment, roads, etc. Human Rights, Corruption and other higher democratic indices will be on the second if not third tier of the criterion ladder. Of course, peace – in its totality, will form part of the decision process of who wins the elections. Based on the above, my questions while in Freetown 8weeks ago returned the same answer – ‘ACP’. Also, I found a piece by the European Times on Mr. Koroma as interesting read: http://www.european-times.com/sector/government/president-dr-ernest-bai-koroma

FreetownIn this third leg travel to Sierra Leone, I have again a two prong agenda:

1. Collect data for my Masters thesis on youth participation in local governance in the Freetown and Bo area. I expect to speak and work with 100 young people and 2-4 youth organisations over a 6week period.

It is my hope that I will find interesting outcomes that I can use for a phd. I hope to also find ways that I can contribute to integrating youth (especially young females) into local governance and use that field as a growing field for practitioners, administrators and actors that Sierra Leone can take advantage off in another decade or 2.

2. My second mission is to build on the good gains my employer ACIPP West Africa [http://www.acippwestafrica.org/] has achieved over the last 8weeks. We have a going interest with the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRC-SL), the national federation of farmers and some selected grassroots not-for-profits based in Freetown. ACIPP West Africa has successfully registered with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce as a not-for-profit.

While in Freetown, I will be hiring at least one person as the focal person in Sierra Leone as we move to set up a Monrovia [Liberia] programme by September.

Cotton Tree

Famous Cotton Tree

But I am especially excited because I see myself in love with a country I have only heard and read off. I decided to check it out in June 2011, and I now have a house and business interests there. I am excited about being part of the success story of Sierra Leone, telling the stories that the conventional media will not tell. Investing in things conventional businesses would not invest in and believing in the good that is in people that many do not see or would not like to see.

I believe in a new Sierra Leone! The Real Giant of West Africa!

PS: I will try to keep you all up to speed on how I progress in Sierra Leone (I only see one way – UP!)

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