Ebola – “Sierra Leone government was too slow to act” says founder of London Mining Plc

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 August 2014

chris brown3It is far too soon to begin to count the economic cost of the devastation being wreaked upon Sierra Leone by Ebola, which is expected to run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

And no one knows for sure, how long it will take for this former war torn country to recover from this crisis, that has taken the lives of more than 250 people.

But one thing is certain. The impact of Ebola on the country’s tourism sector and economic fabric, is already being felt by investors, who are worried about the longterm effect on their business, as the human costs too, are being counted.

Christopher Brown is co-founder of the Marampa iron ore mining company – London Mining Plc. He is also the owner of The Place Tourist Resort in Tokeh, Freetown. He has more than nine years experience of doing business in Sierra Leone.

Commenting on the Ebola crisis, Chris told the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph – Mr. Abdul Rashid Thomas that; ”Even if the Ebola virus was stamped out tomorrow, it will take some time for visitors to be sufficiently confident of returning to Sierra Leone. The country is going to pay a heavy price for not reacting to this crisis more speedily.”

This is the first in a series of interviews conducted by the Sierra Leone Telegraph with Chris Brown, looking at the Ebola crisis, the country’s economy, corruption in high places, president Koroma’s Agenda for Prosperity, and other key issues:

Mr. Brown, based on your assessment of what you’ve seen of the Ebola crisis and its impact on Sierra Leone society in general and the health systems in particular, as a strategist yourself, what would you recommend for government and the international partners respectively?

Abdul, I believe the Government, World Health Organisation and NGO’s have now recognised how serious the Ebola virus outbreak is, and have taken appropriate steps to manage it the best they can, by involving community and spiritual leaders, an extensive education programme, remote quarantine facilities, health checks at the airport, and army roadblocks preventing movement of people.

I only wish these steps had been taken several months ago, instead of just recently, as every day this virus spreads has been critical.

I have already made very clear my negative views on the current Minister of Health and Sanitation, Ms Miatta Kargbo.

Looking at the virus as a strategist, I have plotted the number of cases and number of deaths for each country (please see below). And I find three patterns very strange, if you ignore Nigeria.

1.The spread of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone and Liberia is much faster than in Guinea. Why?

2. The Ebola virus did appear to be under control in Guinea in early-to-mid July, but is on the increase again. Why?

3.The rate of deaths to suspected and proven cases is much higher in Guinea (74%) than Sierra Leone (42%) and Liberia (54%). Why?

I am not a virologist, and I don’t have a proper explanation why the results differ. But as a strategist, I would be looking much more closely at Guinea and whether people are still eating contaminated fruit bats and bush meat.

Also, whether people are still conducting their traditional funeral practices, and whether they are still continuing to spread the disease into neighbouring countries.

I also wonder, if you might be able to pinpoint the problem more effectively, if the information was released on a district by district level by the World Health Organisation, rather than at a country level.  

The virus is a highly infectious disease, and is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids. But thankfully it is not a contagious disease, and is not airborne or carried by insects.

Control the people and you will control the disease. And this is my analysis of the spread of Ebola and the death toll in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, since it was first reported:

                            Guinea                              Sierra Leone                 Liberia

Date                 Case       Deaths                  Cases    Deaths          Cases   Deaths

22/03/2014         49           29                                                                                                             

24/03/2014         86           59                                                          

25/03/2014         86           60                                                          

27/03/2014         103         66                                                          

28/03/2014         112         70                                                                                                          30/03/2014                                                                                           8              2

31/03/2014         122         80                                                          

01/04/2014         127         73                                                                8              2

02/04/2014                                                                                            8              5                          05/04/2014         143         86                                                                20           7

06/04/2014                                                                                        

07/04/2014         151         95                                                          

08/04/2014                                                                                        

09/04/2014         158         101                                                        

10/04/2014                                                                                            25           12

11/04/2014                                                                                            26           13

14/04/2014         168         108                                                        

15/04/2014                                                   12           2                             

16/04/2014         197         122                                                              27           13

17/04/2014         203         129

20/04/2014         208         136                                                      

21/04/2014                                                                                               34             6                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        23/04/2014         218         141                                                                                                            26/04/2014         224         143                                                                                                         

01/05/2014         226         149                                                        

02/05/2014                                                                                                13           11

03/05/2014         231         155                                                                                                     

05/05/2014         235         157                                                                                                      

07/05/2014         236         158                                                                                                      

10/05/2014         233         157                                                                                                 

12/05/2014         248         171                                                                12             11                                                         

23/05/2014         258         174                                                                                                 

27/05/2014         281         186                                                        

28/05/2014         291         193               16           5                             

29/05/2014                                             50           6                                                                        

01/06/2014         328         208                79           6                                                                        

03/06/2014         344         215                                                        

05/06/2014         351         226                81           6                             

06/06/2014                                              89           7                                                                          

16/06/2014         388         264                                                           33           24

17/06/2014                                             136         58                          

18/06/2014         390         267                                                        

19/06/2014                                                                                         41           25

20/06/2014         390         270               158         62                        51            34                            

30/06/2014         413         303                239         99                       107          65                            

02/07/2014         412         305                252         101                     115         75                              

06/07/2014         408         307                305         127                     131         84

08/07/2014         409         309                337         142                     142         88

12/07/2014         406         304                386         194                    172         105

14/07/2014         411         310                397         197                    174         106

17/07/2014         410         310                442         206                     196         116

20/07/2014         415         314                454         219                     224         127

23/07/2014         427         319                525         224                     249         129

27/07/2014         460         339                533         233                     329         156                           

30/07/2014         472         346                574         233                     391         227

01/08/2014         485         358                646         273                     468         255

                                                                                               

Chris Brown1Mr. Brown, there is a view that the longer the Ebola crisis continues, the greater the impact on the country’s economy.

As an investor in Sierra Leone, what impact do you see this having on tourism and inward investments?

In the 1980’s, around 85,000 tourists used to visit Sierra Leone each year to stay, predominantly to stay on the world class beaches at the African Resort in Tokeh for a dose of winter sun and to indulge themselves in French cuisine (nearly 70% of the visitors were from France).

The war, decimated the number of visitors to 3,000 tourists per year. And since the war, recovered to about 7,000 tourists per year. It has been an uphill battle to attract tourists to Sierra Leone, due to the image of it as a war torn country, especially in Europe.

Rather frustratingly, The Place at Tokeh was just starting to develop new tourism markets in Ghana and Nigeria, when our business was struck down by fear of the Ebola Virus crisis.

Arik Air, Asky Air and British Airways have all now suspended flights into Sierra Leone and Liberia, and I suspect it is only a matter of time before Air France, Brussels Airways and Kenya Airways all suspend their flights as well.

As a result, The Place at Tokeh has decided to go in survival mode and focus on the Freetown market. But it is going to be very tough for us, and we need all the local support we can get.

The Place at Tokeh is remote. We have implemented new health measures to prevent the virus, and we believe it will be safe for Freetonians to get away from it all, and to have a holiday at home instead of abroad this year.

I predict that all the hotels in Freetown and surrounding areas are going to be really hard hit by the downturn in visitor numbers.

But despite this natural disaster, if the Ebola virus can be stamped out quickly, then ironically, I think it may help Sierra Leone get over its war torn image.

However, the amount of hysteria in the US and UK press about the Ebola virus reaching their shores cannot be underestimated.

Even if the Ebola virus was stamped out tomorrow, it will take some time for visitors to be sufficiently confident of returning to Sierra Leone.

The country is going to pay a heavy price for not reacting to this crisis more speedily.   

In our next edition, we ask Chris Brown about his assessment of President Koroma’s $6 billion Agenda for Prosperity, which the government says is their blueprint for taking the country into the middle-income group of African countries by 2025.

Editor’s Note: About Christopher R. Brown

Mr. Brown was the Managing Director of London Mining Plc from 2005, when the company was formed by both himself and Graeme Hossie, with a mission to develop mines for the global steel industry.

Since 2005 London Mining Plc has been focussing on the delivery and expansion of its Marampa mines in Sierra Leone.

Chris Brown served as an Equity Analyst of Evolution Securities Ltd., Research Division. Prior to which, he served for three and a half years as a Resources Analyst within the Corporate Sales Department of UK-based institutional stockbrokers, Williams de Broë Plc, where he was instrumental in helping to make the company one of the most successful corporate finance houses for mining finance in London, from 2003 to 2004.

He has over 15 years’ experience in the resources industry, including 11 years as a natural resources analyst for seven different firms in Australia, Ireland and Great Britain, and four years as a geologist in Australia.

Mr. Brown served as a Director of London Mining Plc from April 14, 2005 to February 9, 2009. He served as a Non-Executive Director of Australia-based NiCu Metals since 2004.

He has a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in geology and a Masters of Business Administration, both from the University of Western Australia.

History of London Mining 

In 2005 Chris Brown and Graeme Hossie acquired Greenland Isua licence and raised £1m in initial capital at a $6m post money valuation; they identified Marampa, Sierra Leone and Brazil opportunities and commenced negotiations.

In 2006, they acquired Marampa licence after substantial due diligence, development and scoping work; negotiated purchase option for Brazilian family owned mine; raised additional $4m to support development opportunities from institutional and private investors, with a market cap of $25-$75m.

In 2007, London Mining Plc raised $120m funds through $60 equity and $60 bond issue; purchase a Brazilian operating mine for $65m plus deferred compensation of $24m ; issued IPO on Oslo Axess with further $60m funding raised – with a $300m Market Cap.

In 2008, they established Saudi Arabian joint venture to develop Wadi Sawawin 5-20mtpa mine and pelletizer project ; completed the Brazil sinter feed plant on time and under budget, giving tenfold increase in production capacity in less than 12 months; sold Brazilian business – yielding $660m profit after 15 months of ownership and a 1200% return on their investment; and they repaid all company debt and returned £220m to their equity holders.

In 2009, Chris Brown retired from London mining Plc and Graeme Hossie was appointed CEO, as the company continued to develop and expand its iron ore production at Marampa in sierra Leone.

4 Comments

  1. True. Sierra Leone is in a mess and God knows where we are headed. As rightfully stated by Noorudin Kaikai, if there is one thing that the government can do now, it is to provide abundant quantity of protective gears for, as well as substantial form of compensation to, the health care workers who are on the frontline of the fight.

    To continue to waste time on measures that should have been implemented a long time ago, when the endemic was in its infancy stage, would mean the government is not only misusing resources, but neglecting its utmost duty of protecting the people of Sierra Leone and ensuring our right to live.

    That would tantamount to failure.

  2. Mr. Brown is very courageous to call the government out and to criticize the Minister of Health and Sanitation for her indifference in dealing with this Ebola crisis.

    It is surprising that no one is calling him unpatriotic, as this has become a rallying cry of the supporters and praise singers of this unholy alliance we call a government.

    No one at this time can possibly predict the heavy toll this Ebola virus will take on our country in the future. But we have already started seeing the immediate hardship and deprivation this outbreak has wrecked in places such as Kailahun and Kenema.

    Folks in these areas are already experiencing shortages of food and a hike in prices of basic commodities. They live in perpetual fear of death and they are told they cannot freely associate with their relatives and neighbors.

    We can only guess the psychological impact this is having on the children, who are the most vulnerable.

    But what the government needs to do now is to invest all the whopping donations being made by the various organizations and individuals toward the fight to eradicate this disease.

    It is incumbent upon the government to provide the necessary support and protective wear needed by the frontline health workers who are dying needlessly, simply because they are ill-equipped to deal with this deadly virus.

    Time for talk is over.

    This government should do whatever is humanely possible to ensure that Doctors, Nurses and frontline workers are protected and compensated handsomely for sacrificing their lives so others may live.

  3. I agree Ebola could have been controlled much earlier on. When the first case of Ebola happened in Sierra Leone, the country was awash with Ebola jokes.

    People took it very lightly indeed because there were no sensitisation programs to help them understand the disease; and that the spread could be devastating for human lives, business and the economy and the country’s image.

    Even the health minister was far too busy throwing insults at ebola victims, rather than trying to save their precious lives. This is criminal and she must be held to account.

    Well done to all the selfless health personnel in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria who are putting their lives at risk to help combat this disease. Dr. Khan has already paid the ultimate price.

    Medecins Sans Frontieres has been extremely useful and played a pivotal role in providing logistics and health personnel to help our people in Sierra Leone and the other affected countries.

    Well done to WHO for declaring it a global emergency and for putting things in place to help stop this disease in its tracks.

    It is clear that money is paramount in fighting this disease. WHO has given funding, some diasporan groups have donated money, but I will also be donating whatever little I have towards this Ebola fight.

    God bless Sierra Leone.

    • Chris is spot on about the procrastination of the Government. There was compelling need for the Government to have acted quickly, when news emerged about the virus wreaking havoc in neighbouring Guinea, before it crossed over to Liberia.

      After all, though this is its (Ebola virus) first appearance in West Africa, other parts of the continent have experienced the disease, and with the widespread use of information technology the Government should have sought advice and help quickly, bearing in mind the porosity of the borders.

      But in fact, the Government refused to close any border crossing points, even the Class A Category ones, which are manned by security personnel.

      The lapses and negligence of the Government has landed Sierra Leoneans in this sorry and horrible mess! A veritable comedy of errors if not for the terrible consequences

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