Sierra Leone: Hiring hyenas to protect our goats

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 September 2013

ADDAXThousands of people in one of Africa’s poorest countries are going hungry today, because of a biofuel “land grab” deal.

ActionAid accuses the Swiss company Addax Bioenergy of threatening livelihoods in rural communities in Sierra Leone, where it runs an extensive sugar-cane plantation.

The Addax project, set up in 2008 and partly funded by the British government department for international development – DFID, saw the company take a fifty year lease on 57,000 hectares of land in Makeni, northern province of Sierra Leone.

The company is due to begin exporting in 2014, and will produce 85 million litres of ethanol a year, for conversion in Europe into petrol – enough to meet 12 per cent of the UK’s ethanol consumption.

The question as to what percentage of Sierra Leone’s petrol consumption will be met by Addax, is not on the lips of the country’s politicians. But following visits to the Addax project and 100 interviews with local people, ActionAid claims that the company is harming the livelihoods of 13,000 people, across 60 villages.

99 percent of local people questioned, said that food production had declined in their communities, with 90 percent confirming that loss of farmland to the Addax project had been responsible.

More than three quarters of local people taking part in the survey, said that they have never seen the land lease agreement signed by the government with Addax.

85 percent of respondents said that they were not adequately informed about the pros and cons of the company’s investment in their land, the charity claimed.

salone poverty2Tim Rice, ActionAid’s biofuels policy adviser and author of the report, told the British Newspaper – The Independent: “It is deeply concerning that DfID, whose aim is to reduce poverty around the world, is funding a project in one of the poorest countries in Africa, which is pushing people off their land and into hunger.”(The Independent Newspaper-01/09/13).

Alas – wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. There goes our present, for the sake of their future.

So, where once there was splendour, there is only desolation; where once there was an area of outstanding beauty, there is only ruin and poverty. Where there was once hope, there, now resides despair.

But how does the light get into the dark recesses? Because there’s always a crack in everything; that’s how.

This report presents our nation with new questions that are not only economically important, but strategically essential in the quest for economic prosperity and the eradication of poverty.

And since you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence, several straightforward propositions spring to mind for posters to pin on the doors of State House or wherever the seat of power is:

• Is the government aware of the above report and the issues involved?

• Who signed the lease on behalf of the people or the nation and what are the terms?

• How do we justify giving a foreign concern such an expanse of land for such a lengthy period, when indigenes are denied such privileges even for projects that are more directly beneficial to the nation?

• Can we please understand why the livelihood of the people and indeed the nation – agriculture, etc, is sacrificed for a project that we are literally not benefiting much from?

• When our national interests clash with that of foreign concerns, on whose side is the government and why is it heinously impossible for our national will to surpass external interests?

• How come the emasculation of the people always takes prerogative over the coins we desperately seek, and the truth of our subjugation, an anathema to our leaders?

APC launches 2012 election manifestoThese questions stem from the fact that when the current APC-led administration embraced the agenda for change in 2007, I sincerely believed that we were starting to chart a brand new course in all facets of our existence, and the best of our yearnings was indeed about to arrive.

Today, amidst the ‘ruins’ of that national celebration and having been conned into embracing the ‘holy concept’, even supposedly sane men are beginning to forget critical thinking or to question and challenge the output of a policy that was whole heartedly welcomed and supported in the hope that it will restore national pride and everything will be ok as promised.

But instead, today we are stuffed; imprisoned by a longing that puts sentiments above realities.

Missing of course, is the leadership that is devoid of self-serving bilge and which realises not only the vision of a new country, but also the need for a popular and unifying consensus on our priorities, actions and future: politically, socially and even economically.

salone poverty1Today, whether we want to believe, accept it or not, Sierra Leone is a country suffering from serious problems- some of which will definitely come back to haunt us, long after the coterie of like-minded pals in power, whose chimes, rhyme; and whose ring, is as false as a cracked bell, have departed to their cosy mansions.

Clearly, alongside our economy that stagnates and splutters, the tangle of logical and historical non-sequiturs, which the government is justifying for this gradual but inexorable economic suppression to western interests, will have huge implications for our body politic, our sense of identity as a nation and might even remain caught in our throats like a fish bone.

Therefore, rather than continue to sprinkle sentimental stardust on the benefits of the activities of those who are taking advantage of our naivety and desperation, the government needs to appreciate that some of its faulty reasoning simply buttress the need for surgical political and economic assessment of some of the contracts that we have entered into.

Apart from the ActionAid report on the effects of the Addax ‘land grab’ project, the need for a review of some of our misdeeds has also been further strengthened, not only by the scandals in the case of Kenya and Guinea, which I dwelt on in a recent article, but also by the fact that our governance is enmeshed in arrogance-destroying judgements and howls of confusion, while poverty increases daily and joblessness becomes a societal pastime.

Yes, our desperate trolley-dash may be a sign of the flash, but it also chronicles a death foretold, with a cliff-edge looming in the distance as we continue to ignore the truth, that: he who does not look ahead, always remains behind.

For some inexplicable reasons the government has continued to put its faith in the misconceived idea that foreign is best and so, continues to reward their uselessness to our cause, with unfettered access to our resources and unlimited stay in our bed, while we toil the night away in the cold, for a drop of honey.

Surprisingly however, the same government which is quick enough to brag about its achievements at every opportunity suddenly becomes coy, when the underside of some of its deals and actions are exposed.

Maybe it’s because the sheer scale of the errors involved, dwarfs most of the benefits.

State HouseAnyway it is obvious that somewhere at the heart of most of these cavalier deals to which Sierra Leone is now tied, you’ll find someone or a few well placed people lining their very capricious pockets.

This of course is why everything is always shrouded in secrecy, and our politicians simply stay in their trenches to oil their intrigues, rather than take an axe to the root of the issue.

Sadly, if our leaders fail to heed wise counsel about the sort of contractual obligations that they enter into, adversity will end up being our teacher in this country. Because from all indications, all we appear to be doing at the moment is hiring hyenas to protect our goats.

Arguably, the deadlocked economy, barely touched by any nascent reforms, but which is enveloped by the influence of big businesses taking us for a ride, is a source of worry because of its future implications.

Similarly, the large conglomerates using their power to bully indigenes while our leaders are subject to bouts of hallucination, is worrisome.

But this shows that we should not be turning a blind eye to the stupid conceit of those who lead us, for fear of being labelled anti-government or such other claptrap.

I am aware that there would be the usual sniveling attempts by hyperventilating lieutenants to portray dissent on the tripe policy of long-term leases and contracts, as unpatriotic opposition ploy.

But with true public opinion entirely suppressed and often manipulated, others have got to talk, even if any call for caution and highlighting uncomfortable government actions, is often treated with nasty contempt as well as piffle and twaddle from the reflexes of a baby deprived of a toy.

By the way, instead of retailing largely fallacious stories about leadership and self-deluding claptrap that often add another stink to a very smelly situation, wouldn’t it have been wonderful if our own very fourth estate of the realm had not relinquished its role?

Should our press not be at the forefront of pointing the torchlight at the sorry symbols of the new Sierra Leone, rather than leaving this task to the outside media?

With no one to stick in a bit of balance here and there amid the glorification and admiration of foreign interests, there is an urgent need for attention to be paid to the plight of farmers in remote areas, whose lives have always been a struggle and who are trapped in poverty, while facing destitution.

Their hatred for what they are being put through is making it impossible, for the music of change to dislodge the dosage of fear and distrust in their hearts.

No one is saying that our leaders should not conflate their personal preferences with petulance, but they need to appreciate that someone or something has got to act as a check against their political errors and as a brake from unrestrained delusion that has negative impacts on our future prospects.

Put another way, those who believe that our society is not harmed by the activities of some of our investors, or that poverty does not exist the way it is painted; or who see public outcry against some policies and actions of those in power as neurological psychosis, must be suffering from the dead-man-walking syndrome known as Cotard delusion.

And this is also true of those who go into agreements out of intense desperation, without assessing the true long-term effects of such, suffer from a form of Nihilism- a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless.