I was filled with despair as I read Tony Blair’s thoughts, and comments regarding Africa, and Sierra Leone published on Friday 17 June 2011 under a photograph of an unrelated new factory representing an original private initiative. Firstly, where was he standing to be interrupted by the bustle, and colour of the widely spread markets of Freetown? And how many more times must reference be made, in isolation, to that delayed British element of the immense war effort that claimed so many Nigerian lives, and was an unforgettable UN effort both in aid and personnel in our country thanks to a strong Secretary General? (Photo: Winston Forde, author)
I am intrigued by the concept of a private ‘African Governance Initiative (AGI) in the 3 unusual countries selected. I believe the office in Sierra Leone comprises a small team of 6 or so, but wonder about their mandate, Terms of Reference, qualifications for the job in hand, and above all their accountability; what is their political status?
There is the matter of transparency, how much do people know about their role, and what happens if there is a change of government or even administration?
If the plan is to have more of these AGI Teams operating at the centre of several more selected governments across Africa, would this represent a new form of aid leading to political dependency, only this time under the control of an individual with himself a debatable record whilst in office?
Where is this leading, and when is it going to end? Is this a new ‘Democracy’ for Africa?
Tony Blair stated that one half of our needs in Sierra Leone is aid, and the other half is governance. I say no, there is a lot more to it than that. Success and progress in Sierra Leone must at least depend also on training for our public servants, our infrastructure, universal Education standards, proper living standards, and social services, accountability in public office, proper rewards, cultural sensitivities, and less discrimination both at home and overseas. He states repeatedly that Sierra Leone is a poor country, and yet admits we are resource rich.
My book,” The Story of Mining in Sierra Leone,” ISBN 978-1-4568-2829-5 is well worth a read to dispel the former view. He considers Britain’s aid as being not a piece of charity, but a very wise investment, but I disagree. Aid is, indeed, charity, but what Africa in general or Sierra Leone in particular needs is pukka investment in business, and industry that can be sustained from our natural resources subject to education providing local employable citizens, which benefit our people as well as entrepreneurs from overseas.
No mention was made of the looming Chinese element in the future of Africa, and Sierra Leone.
His final paragraph was especially frightening. As I understand it, the Foreign Secretary together with the SofS for Overseas Development do Aid whilst the SofS for Trade and Industry and the Royal roaming Ambassador pursue Trade, and investments. Do not confuse the two.
In that sense we have paw paw, bananas, plantains, pine apples, coconuts, avocado pear and so on other than mango, what we lack are the viable plantations, and commercial production leading to export to benign markets, supported by our copious rainfall, and rich growing soil. Much as mango juice may have come from Lebanon, this is an unfair exchange for our diamonds that have found their way there over the years with no fiscal return to our country. In any case, that was an ill-judged reference at a time of the opening of our first fruit juice factory that we rightly acclaim and celebrate as a people.
As part of a serious if meaningful debate as we move forwards into our second 50 years of Independence, let the people be told much more about the AGI, and all these masses of reports found lying on the shelf that are being prioritised. Does Government accept the cost effectiveness of paying for these services? Are we allowed to raise these issues as interested citizens?
By Sqn Ldr Winston Forde, UK