Sierra Leone is still a fragile state

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 August 2018:

Some people are so pessimistic they make grumbling into an art. I had a friend a long time ago who was a perpetual grumbler. For him everything was doom and gloom. He finally got a visa to travel to the USA with his family and we, the long suffering friends thought we had seen the end of the grumbling. Not until I asked him over the phone: Old J, bo how the USA?

His answer indicated the old man was still in him: “Bo dis country, so so waite man!”. I burst out laughing and exclaimed to him: “Bo na den country. Waitin you expect?”

This brings me to our politics. Those in parties which were striving to remove APC from power fought on the platform of APC’s alleged corruption and mismanagement of the economy, preaching a doomsday scenario if APC were allowed to stay in power.

Everyone and his dog in the top hierarchy of the opposition promised a swift turnaround with countless manifesto promises.

Fast forward to the situation today. Many people are now complaining that the new government may be spending an inordinate amount of time sniffing out “reds under the bed” and blaming them for everything under the sun. Fair game probably, but an expectant populace also expects them to move forward with implementing their policies.

We now know after the GTT report that Commissions of  Inquiry are in the offing. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) seems to be on overdrive; and many former government functionaries have been the guests of the CID.

Some new government functionaries, it would seem would want to sing this incessant refrain and blame every little blip on the past government. Thankfully, there are a few who, though mindful of past problems have just decided to move on with their work.

I would like to single out a few. I was very impressed with Dr Alpha Wurie – the Health Minister’s interview on Radio Democracy recently. He had truly mastered his brief and was moving forward with implementing the new government’s policies for his Ministry. He was very aware of the difficulties but was still gracious enough to laud some of the work his predecessor had done.

He was making the best use of the staff that he met, tweaking the organisation a bit to respond to current needs and coming up with very practical solutions in addressing problems, never being overly optimistic but giving realistic timeframes and owning up to challenges to be encountered.

One could also sense the same pragmatism and an endeavour to address the myriad problems posed by the ambitious education programme. Undeterred by what had happened before, Ministers Timbo and Gbakima also seem to be adopting a can-do attitude. They might as well, with the government committed to spending some 21% of the budget on education.

The Energy Minister’s can-do attitude in concluding a quick and profitable response to the emergency energy situation is also commendable, and there seems to be a commitment to continue along a defined roadmap.

These Ministers remind me of a story I heard in Ukraine while I worked there of a young man who was so bent on marrying the love of his life, that he would not be deterred by the protestations of his friends who described the woman as a harlot.

In a bid to discourage the young man, one even took him to the top of a hill and showed him a village in the valley. Pointing to the village he said: “You see that village over there?”, he asked. “Yes”, the young man answered. “Well, your fiancé has slept with all the young men there”, he said.

The prospective bridegroom looked at the village long and hard and turning to his friend, he remarked: “That village is not really that big”. Needless to say, his friend gave up.

Whilst these are some examples of decision makers moving ahead positively even with a lame horse nation, there are some who are still behaving as if they regret buying the government horse that APC was selling.

This brings me to the issue of the ‘State Fragility’ report by the International Growth Center (IGC) issued out recently. Paradoxically, the government, though claiming the kitty is empty seems to be loathed to accept we are still a fragile state.

But what is state fragility? The Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development established under the auspices of the International Growth Centre (IGC) in March 2017 to guide policy to address state fragility explains thus about fragility:

“A great many of these countries are what are often called ‘fragile states’. They are blighted by conflict and corruption.  Their governments lack the  legitimacy  and  capacity  to  deliver  the  jobs,  public  services,  and  opportunities  their  people  need.  The  latest  estimates  suggest  that  by  2030,  half  of  the  world’s  poor  will  live  in  countries  that  are  fragile.”

The report  sets  out  the  characteristics  of  fragility,  including  the  lack  of  basic  security, inadequate  government  capacity,  the  absence  of  a  properly  functioning  private  sector, and  the  presence of  divided  societies.

It lists four signs of positive change that could support moves to reduce and even end fragility:

  1. Greater freedom of the press.
  2. Slowly but increasingly greater knowledge by citizens of their rights and obligations.
  3. Progress in reducing the binding constraints to private sector development in the form of transportation, electricity, and energy.
  4. The holding of general elections regularly.

Being in the private sector, I am particularly interested in the binding constraints to private sector development. This issue has got even more urgent as it is getting increasingly obvious that with the current state of our economy we can go to great lengths plugging holes, but if we basically do not spur investments in key sectors, produce and export, we will be running to stay in the same place.

The fragility report captures the plight of the private sector well, when it states:

“The evolution of the private sector during the last 10 years has therefore followed the same path as the period before the conflict – an ever-changing landscapes of personalities who rise, exert temporary influence in the royal court, make their fortunes and disappear……..the lesson here is the undiversified nature of the economy, combined with the dominance of the informal state where decisions are made, leave the country vulnerable to severe shocks even in the realm of the private sector. This is the private sector’s most direct link with fragility and instability.”

The report continues; “Notwithstanding some elements of apparent resilience, the country is therefore still fragile and vulnerable to the forces that led to the collapse of the State and civil war 15 years ago. Political interference in the functioning of institutions continues to stultify growth, undermine capacity and weaken effectiveness, rendering the Government incapable of resistance to the slightest of shocks………characterised by a closed economic order, the Government continues to exercise inordinate influence over mining, commercial agriculture, infrastructure development, and industry in pursuit of corrupt and rent-seeking aims.”

These observations are in line with a previous study on Administrative barriers to investing in Sierra Leone in which two issues were cited:

1. Informality as a severe constraint on growth

2. Lack of access to information –  a constraint on growth and investment. Eighty percent of the actual GDP is produced by the informal sector, which is high even by African standards.

Fortunately, this does not seem to be lost on the government’s new Finance Team; and certainly dialogue is needed with the private sector on these issues. Problems can be solved (sic) if it is realised that the problems do exist and concerted actions are taken by all stakeholders to address them.

For those who take umbrage to Sierra Leone being called a fragile state, Herbert Macleod, one of the authors of the fragility report advised thus in a social media posting I read recently:

“There are those who argue that fragility is an afro-pessimistic construct that denigrates African countries. They go further to say that it discourages foreign investments from state labelled as fragile. So I ask, what about the 20 odd countries outside Africa that display elements of fragility? Also, what then is the explanation for Ethiopia, displaying several characteristics of fragility, being among the top ten destinations in Africa for FDIs over the last ten years?”

Thank you Herbert, for assuring us there is a lifeline.

On the general issue of state fragility, a report worth citing is the second security sector review (SSR) 2013-2022 report which was launched a few years ago by President Koroma at the behest of the ONS.

I recall citing this in an article in this column titled “Sierra Leone’s security: The enemy is within”. It stated several issues leading to state fragility which included

  • Weak capacity in security sector institutions
  • Indiscipline, lawlessness and youth violence
  • Uncontrolled immigration
  • Organised criminal activities
  • Terrorism
  • Bad governance
  • Weak monitoring and implementation of Government policies
  • Weak political will
  • Pervasive poverty and illiteracy
  • Unemployment
  • Environmental degradation and pollution

The report recommended that “Government should ensure that all political appointments reflect the ethnic diversity of the country”. It also said that “Government must adopt an electoral system that guarantees the representation of minority interests in Parliament. These statements are as true yesterday as they are today.

Events with the setting up of the commissions of inquiry and all the happenings on the investigative front however, indicate the government may be moving from a situation of caveat emptor to caveat venditor.

Caveat emptor, a Latin phrase for “let the buyer beware” essentially proclaims that the buyer must perform their due diligence when purchasing an item or service. The Government may have decided to move however to the principle of  ‘Caveat venditor”, Latin for ‘seller beware’, inferring that APC should pay for selling them a “bad product”.

Whatever the case, let the myriad investigations ongoing or pending be left to the relevant bodies set up for those purposes. Meanwhile it behoves the government to be as optimistic as Joshua and Caleb and get on with the act of governing for which it was elected.

“The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Numbers 13:32-33.

“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.  If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” Numbers 14, 7-9.

The above are two conflicting reports on the exploration visit of spies sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan-the first from 10 of the spies who painted a doom and gloom scenario and the second optimistic one from Joshua and Caleb.

Caveat emptor, Sierra Leone is still a fragile state.

Ponder my thoughts.

2 Comments

  1. CORRUPTION must be tackled vehemently to minimise its menace to the lowest level in the country. The amount of corruption discovered in our governance system the last ten years is beyond reasonable proportion.

    Therefore, it urges the need to bring to book all suspects of corrupt practices in government offices as the anti corruption commissioner is now pursuing.

    I really do not think the ACC is going into overdrive as the author opined, by addressing the recommendations of the GTT report. It is just the needed momentum, hitting the iron when It’s hot. No procrastination. The sooner these cases are dealt with the better.

    Kudos to the Anti Corruption Commission!

  2. Must be tackled vehemently to minimise its menace to the lowest level in the country. The amount of corruption discovered in our governance system the last ten years is beyond reasonable proportion.

    Therefore, it urges the need to bring to book all suspects of corrupt practices in government offices as the anti corruption commissioner is pursuing the cases.

    I really do not think the ACC is going into overdrive as the author opined, for addressing the recommendations of the GTT report. It is just the needed momentum, hitting the iron when It’s hot. No procrastination. The sooner these cases are dealt with the better.

    Kudos to the Anti Corruption Commission!

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