The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 2 July 2013
On the very week that president Obama landed in Africa, president Koroma decided he would visit his Chinese friends. There is nothing more bizarre than to see a president regarded as one of the best leaders in Africa by president Obama himself just a few months ago, taking leave of absence from the continent, at a time Obama is visiting neighbouring African countries.
How does one decide to leave home when a close friend is visiting is beyond comprehension. Yes Africa is full of paradox, but when the president of the most powerful nation comes visiting those he call friends, he is not expected to discriminate.
So what has gone wrong with the Obama – Koroma love affair?
Is it that Obama has realised that president Koroma is a fair-weather friend who rather more comfortable with the Chinese?
Is president Koroma not the progressive leader Obama thought he is, or has Koroma decided that he had enough of the empty back slapping by the Americans?
Last week he was in West Africa visiting the president of Senegal – a leader for whom president Obama can hardly disguise his genuine respect and admiration. But Obama has once again for the third time, refused to visit Sierra Leone.
President Koroma on the other hand has decided to head to China to rub shoulders with the Chinese premier, making way for Obama as he enters the continent for meaningful discussions about Africa’s future and America’s role in the continent.
In a speech made in South Africa yesterday Sunday at the University of Cape Town, president Obama warned African leaders to be wary of foreign countries and their promise of massive financial investments.
Whilst the American president did not mention any country in particular, it is obvious that the aggressive peddling of Chinese investment and political influence in Africa is turning the heads of leaders like president Koroma to look further east, rather than west.
But without electricity, Africa will continue to be stuck in the dark ages, and president Obama knows this. He is fully conscious of the power of electricity in the fight against poverty in Africa.
Obama also knows that with universal access to reliable electricity, men and women out of work in Africa can establish and successfully run their own small businesses, industry and commerce will flourish; hospitals, schools, towns and villages will come alive.
And after five years of being accused of neglecting Africa, Obama pulled a rabbit out of the hat yesterday in South Africa, as he pledged a whopping $7 billion in aid to provide electricity to Sub-Saharan Africa.
It is understood that the $7 billion electricity fund – now aptly referred to as ‘Power Africa’, will benefit Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania – but not Sierra Leone – one of the poorest countries in the continent.
Since 2007 president Koroma has spent over $400 million on a hydro-electricity project in the north of the country, with a potential capacity to produce over 80 Megawatts of electricity.
Sierra Leone needs at least 200 Megawatts of electricity to power its homes, hospitals, government offices and small businesses.
The Joules Corporation of America has shown an interest in investing over $500 million in developing Sierra Leone’s Bumbuna Hydro-electricity dam.
But the government of president Koroma has been accused by critics of duplicity, because of his parallel negotiations with the Chinese to take control of Bumbuna. The Americans are less than impressed.
Speaking in South Africa yesterday, president Obama said ‘the U.S. wants to help Africa, but without interfering like colonial powers did in the past’, an accusation many in Africa are now throwing at the Chinese.
Warning Africans to be wary of exploitation by other countries – including the U.S., Obama also announced what appears a major foreign policy shift.
He said: “I’m calling for America to up our game when it comes to Africa.”
“We want to unleash the power of entrepreneurship and markets to create opportunity here in Africa.”
“When we look at what other countries are doing in Africa, I think our only advice is to make sure it’s a good deal for Africa.”
“If somebody says they want to come build something here, are they hiring African workers? If somebody says that they want to help you develop your natural resources, how much of the money is staying in Africa? … Don’t just assume that folks come here and they’re automatically benefiting Africans. And that includes the United States. Ask questions in terms of what we do”, Obama cautioned.
Assuring the people of the continent, Obama said: “You will always find the extended hand of a friend in the United States of America.”
But across the China Seas, president Koroma does not see the hand of a friend in the United States of America. He is very busy extolling the virtues of Chinese foreign policy and their overseas investment drive.
Is president Koroma the new Chinese ambassador to Africa, many are now beginning to ask.
Addressing his Chinese friends last week at the Great Hall of The People in Beijing, China – hosted by President Xi Jinping, president Koroma was very generous in his admiration of China’s global supremacy.
This was also echoed when he spoke at Tsinghua University on the subject of ‘Trends in International Security’.
President Koroma told Chinese students and government officials: “We are here because we believe China is the biggest driver of our changing world.”
“From issues relating to trade, investments, security and possibilities of prosperity for most of the world’s people, China moves many of the actions and responses of most of the nations of the world.”
Speaking about the exploitation of Africans by colonialists, president Koroma said: “We need to deal with this attitude of dominance and exploitation wrought onto our emerging world from an era that has run its course.”
“The world has changed; China has risen; Africa is rising; critical masses of populations everywhere are now very aware of their rights and the possibilities of a better life; and they are activating these possibilities with zeal never before experienced in the history of the world.”
If president Obama is hoping that African leaders will now rally behind his leadership to explore new ways of dealing with Africa’s problems, then president Koroma’s visit to China is an indication of the new political reality that faces African leaders.
Just months ago in Washington, Obama described Koroma as one of Africa’s finest leaders. The American president has been in Africa for over a week and not once has the president mentioned Sierra Leone as a priority.
What is certain though is that by refusing to visit Sierra Leone during his current two weeks stay in Africa and president Koroma taking leave of absence to visit his friends across the China Sea, those American dollars will remain in Uncle Sam’s pockets.
Few months ago, senior ministers of the Koroma government and the president were invited to Washington to discuss Sierra Leone’s bid for America’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funds.
But since his return from the US, president Koroma is said to be unhappy about the outcome of the meeting with the MCC. He was expecting a cheque for millions of dollars.
It is understood that the lack of preparation and planning on the part of the president and his team ahead of the meeting in Washington, was responsible for what has been described as ‘a poor and unprofessional performance by the team’, and the reluctance of the US government to release the multi-million dollar funding.
But there are those in Sierra Leone who would argue that Sierra Leone – US relationship has never been that brilliant. Previous governments at State House in Freetown have always had strong ties with countries America may regard at worse as ‘unfriendly’ and at best ‘predatory’.
President Koroma’s current romantic affair with the Chinese can only exacerbate America’s suspicion of State House, to the detriment of the poor people of Sierra Leone.