I have just listened to the British Chancellor of the Exchequer deliver his latest annual Budget speech to Parliament, a ritual with which Mr Tony Blair is familiar. Chancellor Osborne spoke of creating the right infrastructure, enterprise, working people, training for young people, and enterprise zones in an effort to deliver growth in this ailing economy. It reminded me of my article in Sierra Express on 22 June 2011 entitled ‘Cry Our Beloved Country’. (Photo: Sqn Ldr Winston Forde)
It also made me think about Mr Blair’s latest performance at the recent CEO Conference in London. As far as I can gather he said hardly anything new, and skirted over the real problem we face in Africa as the frenzy over all of our natural wealth accelerates. No doubt, we would benefit from good governance, but the problem all our Leaders face is the lack of education, and training, and Blair says very little about that. As a recent ex British Prime Minister he must know that the Chinese embarked on a comprehensive period of education and training, and sent their young people to schools in Europe, and elsewhere in the World whilst training their work force at home. They are thus not only able to maintain their industrial output at home securing exports when Europe is faltering, but they can send armies of workers into those African countries targeted at this time thus depriving our people of any chance of employment even on menial, and unskilled jobs. Our Leaders with their new found governance are not able to stop that because they do not have their own people trained, and ready to do that work, nor is there suitable infrastructure readily available. In Sierra Leone, we could not employ Sierra Leoneans in any light industry flowing from our Iron Ore, so the Chinese merely extract and export, and we are not much the better for it. I can see that the same was bound to happen when Oil production starts in earnest when we shall be distant observers as our wealth was extracted and exported. This has been happening in other businesses whereby those like our Lebanese entrepreneurs have never seen Sierra Leoneans as partners in any of their enterprises, we are treated like the proverbial, and mainly ignored.
As one of Sierra Leone’s authors, it is painful to find that my books are not useable in my country as the reading of books is not part of the culture of our school children even when they can afford to buy the books. If Mr Blair really wants to help us, and claims he loves us because his father was once involved in education at Fourah Bay College, he should make Education, and training his watchwords. The invaluable training delivered by the International Military Advisory Training Team (IMATT) to our Forces, supported by the British Government and others proves beyond any doubt that our people are capable of being trained to the highest standard that would compare with any other country. There is, therefore, little doubt in my mind that what we need immediately is a genuine comprehensive programme similar to the Chinese model that would render our people fit for purpose. This will take time, so Blair’s short timescale for Africa’s emancipation is highly unrealistic. Good governance is not all that we need, and he must recognise that. Indeed, he should not be the one that speaks out for Africa, our Foreign Ministers, and Trade secretaries should be doing that, in an ideal World, so we have a long way to go to get rid of this new form of colonialism. For one who could have become the spokesman for Europe, as President, he should understand the point I am making.
We have rich natural resources still, we have hungry people, and ambitious people who need to be trained for the present task, and so far there is no sign of this major programme without which Africa will remain an observer, not even a full and informed one at that, as our wealth continues to be taken from us. I make bold to suggest that the best thing would be to call a halt to the frantic extraction which is doing us little good still anyway, and invest in the training, and education of our people. Who knows, this might even serve to bear down on corruption as ignorance of its real consequences is a factor to be removed. It was said recently about more advanced countries that Governments are stuck in the 20th century. They keep trying to solve 21st century problems with 20th century solutions. For the past few years, they have poured billions of dollars, euros and pounds down the drain trying to stimulate the economy and propping up dying and inefficient industries. At the same time, small businesses that have been creating most of the new jobs for years have been virtually ignored by governments. The countries that will succeed in the coming decade are the ones that will give small businesses the support and resources they need to expand and that also encourage and support graduates to create their own jobs. For an increasing number of workers, the era of the traditional job and all the stability that came with it is over. We need to accept that, adjust to it, and move on. Africa needs to train her people so we can develop our own small businesses and provide jobs out of our natural resources for ourselves rather than invite outsiders to come in and help themselves, with little control or return to us, for their own benefit, and enrichment.
Let us, therefore plan for a double-L situation, and become Literate and Learned. We had a thriving Technical Institute once in Freetown, but I am suggesting a much wider training programme including an Adult Literacy campaign that school children could treat as a challenge. Once people start learning, and can see the benefits, the whole national effort would assume its own momentum. The advantage would be that with all this enterprise flowing into the country, there will be work to do by such an enlightened, and trained work force so when the Chinese Ambassador offers to build us a new Town Hall or Market, he would know that there was a local work force ready to undertake that work; indeed there should be a standard Clause in any Contract or Agreement then that any work that local people and Managers can do, must be done by Sierra Leoneans. We cannot continue to ignore this unavoidable development if we are not to enshrine a double-U calamity of being Untrained and Useless.
So, no, I did not regard this speech as a POWERFUL CASE FOR AFRICA but a smoke screen in favour of our continued exploiters. Why is it that Blair only speaks to overseas audiences in the Uk? He must speak to local audiences, and engage with the people he wishes to serve; that way he will understand more fully our needs, and the people would better appreciate his motives. The jury seems to still be out on that!
by Sqn Ldr Winston Forde