Sierra Leone has lost an intellectual and great son of the soil – Herbert M’cleod

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 May 2022:

It is with deep sadness that the Sierra Leone Telegraph reports the death of one of its editorial contributors – the unassuming, highly intellectual, and patriotic Herbert M’cleod, who passed away in hospital in America last week. Announcing his death, this is what the International Growth Centre (IGC) said:

We are deeply sad to announce the passing of IGC Sierra Leone and Liberia Country Director Herbert M’cleod on 19 May 2022. Herbert played a leading role in developing the International Growth Centre (IGC) programme in Sierra Leone, and later our combined programme in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and served as an IGC advisor on state fragility and natural resource management.

In his home country, Sierra Leone, he was regarded as one of the leading economic experts. His advice and wisdom were hugely valued and trusted – and the esteem transcended party politics. Having served as a senior advisor to the Vice President in the SLPP government led by President Kabbah, he was appointed in 2007 as a senior advisor to the new APC President Koroma.

Herbert’s international career spanned over 50 years of development work across Africa for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and more recently for the IGC. He held UN positions in Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone. He worked as a UN adviser on mining agreements in Guinea and the Republic of the Congo, and was at the forefront of efforts to protect human rights and secure broad economic benefits from the operations of extractive industries.

From 2005, when he began advising the Government of Sierra Leone, a key focus of his work was on the challenges of the post-conflict transition for economic development. This developed further while Herbert led the IGC Sierra Leone programme, as his insights and pathbreaking work highlighted the continuing, fundamental challenges of fragility – and he called for a cross-cutting national effort to overcome them.

His focus on economic development never flagged, as he called on small countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea to push aggressively to link domestic supply chains to international markets through stronger regional collaboration, notably in the Mano Riven Union, and through the new African Continental Free Trade Area.

The International Finance Corporation also called on his support in promoting private sector development through the Africa Project Development Facility and the Foreign Investment Advisory Services.

Herbert will be remembered with great fondness for his intellectual and moral rigour, his enthusiasm for economic policy reform, and his kindness to his colleagues. We will all miss him dearly.

We would like to extend our condolences to Herbert’s family, his many friends, and colleagues.

Tribute from IGC Director Paul Collier

I and my wife have both known Herbert for around 30 years: he has been both a colleague and a friend. As I checked back on the stream of emails that he had sent me, it was striking that as the frustrations of his hopes for Africa’s poorest countries mounted, instead of becoming jaded or cynical, he became evermore energised and astute.

His premature death is a serious loss not only for the IGC, but most especially for Sierra Leone. Over long and painful years, he had come to understand the acute stresses trapping his country, how change had to come from within the society, how difficult it was to begin that transition, and how independent academic knowledge from people who could be trusted could sometimes help to catalyse change. From that deep understanding, his role at the IGC was invaluable: he was able to recognise the family resemblance of the challenges facing many of the world’s poorest countries.

His life, and his dedication, can – and needs to – inspire the coming generation of African economists.

(Photo below: Herbert is second from left)

This is what Professor Rachel Glennerster – a long-time friend, mentor and former IGC colleague of Herbert said:

Sierra Leone, the African continent, and the world have lost a great man. I have lost a friend, mentor, sounding board, and inspiration. As I prepare for my upcoming trip to Sierra Leone, I am finding it hard to register that I won’t be seeing Herbert. We won’t sit for hours under a deep green canopy in one of the unpretentious but peaceful spots in Freetown he loved so much. I won’t get to talk to him about the latest economic research or hear his ideas about how to make the Sierra Leonean government work better for its people. I won’t see his face suddenly crinkle into his infectious laugh or watch him guide with infinite patience a young official or researcher away from a crazily unworkable idea and towards something more realistic but still important, without once giving them a sense that he did not value their ideas.

I have met many inspiring public servants in my life but none of them delivered in the environment Herbert faced. He gave up a well-deserved and well-compensated retirement in New York for a life back in post-war Sierra Leone with its power, water, and health disruptions. More importantly, he returned to take on some of the hardest policy questions there are. With nothing other than his deep integrity, reputation, and sharp mind, he took on well-funded mining interests who sought to fool, coerce, or if necessary, bribe their way to favourable deals with the Sierra Leonean government.

If lobby groups or agencies within government were making claims, he thought were unsupported by the data, he called them out, backing his point with the best evidence and data he could get. But he never did so publicly. He was trusted by Presidents of the two main rival parties in Sierra Leone because they knew he would talk truth to power but only in the service of the country and never to blast his own horn. He would make his case but if he lost the argument, he would not seek to undermine the government by leaking information, he would simply continue to advocate for what was right.

As a Krio (a descendent of freed slaves) he had no independent power base, no political threat, only his integrity, and his evidence. He was the consummate advisor.

One night over dinner, Herbert told a group of us the story of how close Sierra Leone had come to reigniting the decade long civil war. The party in power, the SLPP looked as though they were going to win the second free election post-war and return to power. But the electoral commission had overturned some results they considered fraudulent, which ended up tipping the election in favour of the opposition APC.

In Kenya, at the same time, a very similar dispute over an election, and the role of the election commission played out but with devastating consequences. For several days, Sierra Leone held its breath to see if the standoff would be settled peacefully as acts of violence started erupting around the country.

Unbeknown to any at the time, Herbert had spent this time shuttling backwards and forwards between the presidential candidates seeking a peaceful resolution. He had persuaded the SLPP that their place in history was as the peacemakers who had helped bring about the end of the civil war and another five years in power was not worth destroying that legacy. He, and others, prevailed and a return to violence was averted. This was exactly how Herbert worked, behind the scenes, with nothing but his logic, persuasion, and the reputation for integrity, and always in the service of a better, more just, and peaceful world.

The many, many people who directly benefited from Herbert’s wisdom and mentorship will miss him deeply, but many millions more who never heard his name owe him a debt of gratitude.

Professor Rachel Glennerster, was Lead Academic in the IGC Sierra Leone programme until 2017, when she was appointed Chief Economist at the UK Department for International Development (now FCDO).

Rest in peace Herbert. The Sierra Leone Telegraph and its readers will miss you greatly. You are a true son of the soil.

 

 

3 Comments

  1. I was very sorry to hear of the death of Herbert Mcleod. I taught him at Fourah Bay College, and he did very well. May his soul rest in peace.

  2. May the soul of this great son of the soil of Sierra Leone Mr Herbert Mcleod rest in external peace .

  3. Wow, Sierra Leone and the continent of Africa have indeed lost a great son of the soil. It’s inspiring and mesmerizing in reading the accomplishments, roles, and activism that defines Mr. M’cleod. He was indeed a patriot and a towering figure in the context of our national politics. Rest in peace sir, great patriot.

Tell us what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.