Sierra Leone’s chinese whispers: The looming shadow of yore

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 June 2013

african minerals railway 2I know that years of political expediency have left us chasing the allure of a grand berth in the port of flagship nations.

And no doubt, the present government would like to be a fairytale and a quaint historical vignette in the search of that dream and the epiphany of Sierra Leone.

However, announcements of further incursion into our resource-laden country, (which is now like one of those all-you-can-eat restaurants) by so-called helpmates, who come with more baggage than the carousel at Lungi airport, often sound like the weary humour of a condemned man catching a first glimpse of the gallows.

As we fall for the illusion, these do-gooders with pungent odour that will ordinarily make you hold your nose and reach for a scented hankie, are turning up, claiming to be on a noble mission of delivering us from the yoke of economic dictatorship which is standing in the way of our glorious dream of an El-Dorado.

But in reality, all they are doing is screwing us up as much as they can, making the right noises about trade; holding us hostage in our own bedroom and taking advantage of our nation’s and the continent’s healthy economic forecasts and future.

Sadly, we can’t even feel comfortable in our own skin any more.

Looking at it, these foreigners coming to our shores are not even the ‘prettiest girl’ at the carnival dance. And the fact is that they are not even close to her. So if we want to eat a toad, why not as well go for one that’s got eggs.

I am aware that we are in a race against time to ensure that we are a country fit for purpose.

cholera in Sierra LeoneBut, we are unrecognisable from the country of pre-1980 OAU at least. In fact, were some of our founding fathers able to come on a visit now, I wonder if they’ll know what country they are in.

However, despite all our woes, it has been over a decade since we came back to our senses and at least six years, since we thought we were finally on a journey to a new beginning.

To me, a well-run state should after half-a-decade, be flowing with inspiration and good pace of change.

It should be evolving its own development plan and strategies for every reasonable contingency that will ensure its own growth on its own terms. Not a mere fag-end of foreign policies and dictates, especially after ten years of post-conflict.

So, the theatrical of the continued labour to overhaul our economy is sadly deficient and reveals huge and worrying gaps in our course of action.

It exposes the fact that we have been virtually taken over by foreign concerns, who not only dictate what happens, but who actively prevent the nation from making wise plans for our future.

When set alongside the promises that got us enthralled in the first place. And the worrying thing about this is not that as a result Sierra Leone has become reliant on handouts – that has been our story for a while now.

Ernest Bai Koroma,  Hu JintaoNo, the worrying thing is that now, our beloved country is being forced into becoming more and more dependent on desperate investors and nations whose antecedents are well documented and especially one, whose foray into Africa is becoming a source of global worry.

However, I do not sincerely believe because the Sierra Leone we used to know is currently lying like a road-kill waiting for the vultures, is enough good reason for us to start singing the ultimate redemption song that leaves us in slow agony.

I see what is happening to us right now as something akin to a man watching his ex-partner lap dancing for her new fella, in the front room they shared.

Our situation feels like a voyage back into the past (colonialism). The only difference this time around is that we have gone out of our way to invite the missionary-traders who are just too willing to help, with a whiff of condescension in their gait, as they answer us in their own time and making us sweat a bit in the process.

The end result is that our masters of drivel (government), still roll out the carpet in exchange for a crumb of immediate comfort and they are just too happy to do so. Unfortunately, some of us have the hump – simply because it is our future that is on display at the on-going car boot-sale.

Remember Gaddafi? It seems we never learnt the lesson that there are no free lunches.

Sincerely speaking, hearing the glee in the voices and assertions of people whose guesses coincide suspiciously with their predisposition, I cannot share the mistaken belief that allowing ourselves to become an outpost province of China; or that country’s equivalent of Britain’s Falklands, is the best way forward for our much-desired search for fast track development.

Neither do I believe that it is appropriate for our resources to be under the total domination of foreign concerns that have no other interests than lining their own pockets or easing their own pain.

What is wrong with us as Africans, nay Sierra Leoneans – that we go potty anytime we come in contact with a white skin?

Even when they talk bulls..t, we still believe they know best. We believe that our salvation is in their hands. We believe that they are the messiah sent from above.

Yet, the economic situation in the so-called developed world right now shows that the physicians cannot heal themselves. As a matter of fact, it is what is responsible for their newfound love for our beloved continent.

Anyway, as far as I am concerned, our best course of action for long-term survival is learning to dance in the rain, rather than waiting for the storm to pass while sheltering in the barns of aggressive predators.

We have to bite the bullet – no matter how unpalatable it is at the initial feeding.

Listening to a SLBC programme while in town recently, one panellist pointed out what exactly has attracted the Chinese and other invading armies of occupation, like flies to a rotten mango.

The answer: Rare and other precious mineral resources found in abundance within our shores and indeed the African continent.

Although the Chinese claim to be benevolent donors, investors and partner in progress; and although their clarion cry is that the aim of their foray into our undeveloped town-lots, is to help build our productive capacity by improving our infrastructure and boosting our manufacturing sector, there is absolutely no doubt that this is a waste of oxygen in the air of truth.

If our leaders can forget the banquets and stop being tantalised by the prospect of preferential loan deals; if they can refuse to be tempted by the shinning bags with choice currency signs and look beyond the handshake that is closer to the elbow, they will realise that a possible answer to the puzzle of Chinese affection is as clear as daylight.

The cheapest resources China could find are in Africa. They help to propel the new-found wealth of that nation. Africa also serves as a crucial market with great potentials for several sub-standard Chinese products that in turn oil the wheel of its economy.

Ditto the numerous labours that it exports to tackle its own socio-political problems at home, along with its ‘freebies’.

All that China wants is to ensure continued access to global markets which have been so fundamental to the success of its economic development so far. It does not really give a hoot to our own plight. So if a bit of ‘noodles’ can get us lapping, all the better.

While offering very little in return and with the terms of any assistance weighted heavily in its favour, China ensures that it has our leaders panting like hungry hounds at the ‘juicy’ options of cheap loans, infrastructural developments carried out by its half-baked experts and promises of more from where the drip is coming from.

It ensures that as a result, it is able to suck away our resources, while our leaders turn a blind eye or revel in the ‘friendship’ saloon.

Let’s look at it. Since 2007 how many factories, industries and businesses have been established in Sierra Leone by the Chinese or even the other so-called investors?

With all the roads being built, what dent has the Chinese and foreign involvement made on unemployment? How many of our ugly realities, including the huge numbers of those effectively reduced to begging, the debased and the debilitated, have been rehabilitated?

In this time of economic deprivation, apart from carting away resources for some of their vital industries on the cheap, or laughing all the way to the bank, what visible benefits, (apart from those of the officials negotiating the deals) have enhanced our export, or indeed our problems?

The actions of our leaders belie an attitude of mind to pump up the economy without the real structural reforms that could spark a true and lasting revival.

They instead, prefer to lob a hand grenade into a box of dynamite. But the current economic strategy, which is totally dependent on debt accumulation as a stimulus package, cannot continue endlessly to defy the forces of gravity indefinitely.

The dependence on foreigners till today – without a meaningful indigenous strategy has ensured that across the nation, a faint shadow is growing and gathering.

In time, it will thicken, darken and resolve itself into a chilly, relentless figure of servitude. It will choke our independence as weed chokes a garden.

Apart from what is already happening, one day our so-called investors will demand their pound of flesh in full and if something cannot go on forever, it will stop. Where then will that leave us?

Back in debt and/or mortgaged to the hilt. While going cap in hand to perceived helpers is a fantastic (but temporary) measure, and while these countries and ‘investors’ display incredible generous spirits in answering our cry for help, the fact is that it is demeaning, given our vast natural resources and potentials.

Generally, governments are overrated and usually do more bad than good. So before we are sold into slavery again, and for the sake of transparency, let’s know who benefits from this dogma-driven telescopic gaze across the world, for the beauties in the lilies.

Right now, especially at this time of economic deprivation in the rest of the world, Africa and indeed Sierra Leone, is a major pivot in the shifting balance of global economic transformation. Why are we then in servitude to those who need us more than we need them?

With our abundant resources, we should be developing policies that will harness our vast human capital, not blending socio-political and economic humour and cynicism with the macabre.

We should be holding the rest of the world by the balls to get what we want for what they want. Not the other way round.

Our paramount national objective should be to complete the economic modernisation task without ceding our national, political and foreign policy integrity.

And with corruption a key component of all these foreign invasion of Sierra Leone, it is not whether it is true or whether it happens or from whom it is coming, it is the fact most people think this is solely the reason for the insistence on the love affair with strangers that has long-term potential damage. Already, people think it has the ring of truth.

It was understandable in the first five years of this administration that it needed all the help it could get from any source. But we seem to have gone so far down the slope that some people are giving up hope of ever having a truly indigenous antidote against foreign and Chinese takeaways, parochialism, as well as modern-day captivity.

After generating a lot of post-election buzz, both in 2007 and last year, it is a pity that the government has failed till date to deliver a juggernaut.

We need to cherish our freedom at all costs. Unless of course making us the Chinese province of Sierra Leone, is the ultimate. Like the late afro-beat maestro, Fela would say, “Colo mentality”.

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