Unemployment in Sierra Leone: Battleground for
the 2012 Elections?
Abdul R Thomas
Editor - The Sierra Leone Telegraph
8 February 2010
There has been a disconcerting
rise since 2007, in the number of young people out
of work in Sierra Leone. The global economic
downturn and a lack of vision and commitment, to
address the labour market needs of those completing
or dropping out of the university, college and
school system; have ensured that young people in
Sierra Leone remain trapped in the vicious cycle of
In January 2009, the
Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, in
partnership with the World Bank, the African
Development Bank and the International Finance
Cooperation, launched the Joint Economic
Assessment Strategy (JEAS) in Freetown.
The aim of the JEAS was to
put in place, an effective and co-ordinated
response to poverty reduction in the country.
Twelve months on, effective measures and
strategies aimed at tackling unemployment and
poverty remain as elusive as ever; with over 70%
of the country’s economically active population
out of work.
But even as the government
and its international partners met to discuss
the joint strategy, there was and still remains
uncertainty as to the exact number and
demographic makeup of the country’s army of
unemployed. The Acting Statistician General of
Sierra Leone disclosed that an estimated US$
441,000 is needed to carry out a comprehensive
labour force survey.
He said that: "the survey
is scheduled to start in the first quarter of
2010. This survey has been lacking in the
country for a very long time. We are just
waiting for the funds to go ahead."
While the government and
the international partners wait for the head
count to take place, there is an alarmingly high
and growing number of young Sierra Leoneans that
have never known or experienced the legitimate
world of work. This is worrying. The long and
painful rebel war was caused by unemployment and
young people not having a stake in society.
Ironically, there is a
plethora of new trendy initiatives in the
country, such as the Attitudinal Change
Programme, the Diaspora Project, and the
Expatriate National Investment Programme (DENI).
But there is a striking absence of any high
profile national labour market and job creation
Is this a reflection of the government’s
ideological dogma, or a lack of commitment to
tackling youth unemployment?
Since the coming to power
of the APC government of President Koroma in
2007, there has been a serious national debate
as to the root cause of Sierra Leone’s poor
economic and social performance, as reflected in
the Global Human Development Index.
There is an ideological
belief held by the top echelons of President
Koroma’s government that, it is the attitude of
the people that is responsible for the nation’s
poor performance, hence the introduction of the
Attitudinal Change Programme. But very few in
Sierra Leone agree with the government.
Most Sierra Leoneans view
the government’s Attitudinal Change Programme
with contempt if not derision. They regard the
government’s call for attitudinal change as
hypocritical, especially after the President’s
most recent admission to serious levels of
corruption at the top of his ministerial team.
Others believe that the attitudinal change
programme is predicated upon a simplistic
understanding of, and response to the economic
realities confronting the nation.
What is also certain
though, is that irrespective of party political
ideological differences, there is a general
consensus that, unemployment is the root cause
of poverty in Sierra Leone. Indeed, the main
thrust and policy objective of the Poverty
Reduction Strategy II - otherwise known as the
government’s Agenda for Change, is to grow the
economy and create employment opportunities.
In 2008 the government of
President Koroma estimated the total funding
required for the implementation of the Agenda
for Change at $30 Billion. This figure was
subsequently revised by the government to $19
Billion, and then to $3 Billion on the eve of
the Donor and Investors Conference held in
London last November.
estimated total cost of investment required for
the delivery of the Agenda for Change to be $19
billion, with 60% allocated for infrastructure
development, and very little cash for private
sector led employment creation schemes.
his recent visit to Sierra Leone, the World Bank
Group President - Robert
Zoellick mentioned that ‘overcoming poverty in
Sierra Leone will be important for consolidating
its peace, because conflict had inflicted a
heavy toll on infrastructure, basic services and
traditional job-generating sectors like
agriculture and fisheries.’
Zoellick said: “I appreciated
the opportunity to learn more about Sierra
on agriculture, feeder roads, youth employment
and energy provision as progress in these areas
will be important in overcoming poverty and
Leone’s agriculture sector employs 60% of people
living in the rural areas. It accounts for about
50 percent of the nation’s GDP. President
Koroma’s government aim of achieving food
self-sufficiency is yet to be matched by the
necessary level of investment to improve the
capacity and capability of farmers to increase
their farming acreage and yield.
The government has
imported a few tractors and small scale farming
machinery, which are being made available to
farmers on a lease basis through a commercial
bank. But there are rumours that access to the
farming machinery is limited to farmers with
farming has the potential to create employment
opportunities for the growing number of
long-term unemployed youths, but the capital
investment requirement is very high.
While the presence of
foreign investors in Sierra Leone’s farming
industry remains significantly low, the scope
for indigenous entrepreneurs to invest in
large-scale mechanised farming is being hampered
by the lack of finance.
Interest rate on
commercial banks lending is over 20%. With the
absence of a government backed business loan
guarantee scheme, Sierra Leone’s farmers are far
from realising their ambition of expanding their
acreage and employment capacity.
announcement to build a
Special Economic Zone
(SEZ) on a fifty acre site near Waterloo,
Freetown, that will attract and stimulate the
growth of agro-based processing and
manufacturing businesses, is encouraging.
But without a flourishing mechanised farming
sector, the viability of the Special Economic
Zone is questionable.
Similarly, the Sierra
Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI) in
collaboration with the International Institute
of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Unleash the
Power of Cassava in Africa (UPoCA), have
established five cassava processing centres in
Waterloo, Bo District, Njala Agricultural
Research Center, and Makeni.
Although these cassava
processing centres will help to boost the
country’s drive towards self-sufficiency and add
value to cassava, their capacity to create
significant employment opportunities will always
be limited by the country’s cassava growing
acreage and production yield.
The British government’s
Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) is providing
$1.6 million in support of this project.
According to the Director
General of the Sierra Leone Agricultural
Research Institute - Dr. Alfred Dixon: " cassava
production in Sierra Leone has maintained an
upward trend, climbing from 178, 200 metrics
tons in 1990 to over 1million metrics tons in
2007". But with increased investment in
mechanised cassava farming, both acreage and
yield can be expanded, thus increasing the
number of cassava processing plants and their
job creation capacities.
country’s mining sector directly employs or
provides means of livelihood for over 250,000
people - 15% of the nation’s work force living
in and around the mining conurbations. However,
the decline in mining export revenue experienced
in 2008-2009, has sent alarm bells to policy
makers to refocus government’s efforts towards a
much more diversified economy.
average daily wage less than $1, the mining
sector continues to attract a high number of
young unemployed people, especially in the
diamond fields where they hope to get rich
quick. But with the global economic downturn,
the diamond bubble has certainly burst – leaving
behind many broken dreams.
recent surge in investment deals by London
Mining Ltd., and African Minerals PLC, has
brought a resurgence of hope and some optimism,
as thousands of local jobs have been promised by
both companies. But production is not expected
to commence substantially before 2012, following
the construction of vital infrastructures.
the country’s fishing sector makes a 10 per cent
contribution - US$75 million to GDP - its full
potential with respect to job creation and
government revenue is also yet to be realized.
According to the Food and Agricultural
Organization (FAO), artisanal fishing currently
provides livelihood for 30,000 full-time and
200,000 part-time workers.
little doubt that with a coherent national
fishing strategy and a concerted programme of
private sector led investments, this potentially
lucrative sector can provide employment
opportunities for over 600,000 unemployed
According to the World Bank –
‘local fishing businesses are struggling with
stiff competition from industrial-scale trawlers
that fish illegally, depressing local fish
stocks, and from high fuel prices.’ Lack of
investment capital is also limiting the capacity
of local fishing boat owners to expand their
operations and create jobs.
Although the government
credits itself for having youth unemployment at
the top of its agenda, without a national
coherent youth employment strategy, the
government will continue to grope in the dark,
searching for excuses to placate the youth. But
with 2012 elections just eighteen months away,
the battle for the hearts and minds of young
people will determine the outcome of those
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