Zainab Tunkara Clarkson
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 November 2015
With the recent Global Entrepreneurship Index showing Sierra Leone to be almost at the bottom of the table, there is need now to start paying serious attention to this problem.
But it must be done as part of a concerted and co-ordinated post-Ebola recovery programme. (Photo: Zainab T Clarkson).
Reading the Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI) for 2015, one cannot but observe the fact that Sierra Leone comes a disturbing and worrying 128th out of the 132 countries surveyed.
Apart from the fact that we are close to the bottom of the table, it is also frightening to see that Sierra Leone slipped five places down, from last year’s ranking when we were 123rd.
Sierra Leone stands below the likes of Uganda (123), Benin (124), Burkina Faso (126), Madagascar (127), and Mauritania (129); with Malawi (130), Burundi (131) and Chad (132).
According to the Washington based Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute who produced the report, Sierra Leone scores 14.6 compared to the best score of 86.2 by the top-ranking country – the United States, followed by Canada, Australia, Denmark and Sweden.
With entrepreneurship widely accepted as the engine of economic growth, employment creation, prosperity and global competitiveness, Sierra Leone must do more to develop this sector, if it is to have any chance of coming out of its current economic predicament.
The report also says that Sierra Leone scores 14.2 in entrepreneurial attitude; 21 in entrepreneurial abilities and only 10 in entrepreneurial aspirations.
More worrying is the fact that this is not the first of such reports, showing that Sierra Leone is doing badly, when it comes to job creation and entrepreneurship.
The World Bank’s global ‘Doing Business Report 2016, which measures regulatory, quality and efficiency in doing business, ranks Sierra Leone at 180 among 189 economies.
Yet with all of the challenges faced by local entrepreneurs in the country, one would expect small businesses to be lobbying the government and policymakers for support. But sadly, the voice of small business is hardly heard.
For a weak economy, such as Sierra Leone, strengthening the institutional foundations for entrepreneurial activity, as well as gradually developing the human capital and physical infrastructure is compulsory, if we are to improve living standards.
What is also needed is a combination of strong anti-competitive policies and stronger supply-chain linkages to promote a more open economy.
Part of our problem is that we are still suffering from the after-effects of Ebola. But now that the scourge has been eliminated, it is time to step up economic growth through local entrepreneurship promotion and development.
The Small business sector could play an important role in creating the millions of jobs Sierra Leone needs.
But the sector is in desperate need of financial support, a strong local leadership and a strategy that promotes innovation, competitiveness and growth.
Entrepreneurship development in Sierra Leone can create large-scale employment opportunities, and promote balanced regional economic development.
It can also reduce the concentration of economic power, stimulate wealth creation and distribution, leading to improvement in living standards and facilitate overall development.
At the start of 2014, Sierra Leone’s Gross Domestic Product was growing at a high rate of 14%, one of the highest in Africa. But today, GDP has fallen to about 4%, though partly the result of the Ebola crisis.
We need an economic blueprint to get markets open, restore transportation links, get farmers’ cooperatives functioning again, as well as trans-national trading becoming functional once again.
As they say, even in ruins there is supposed to be architecture. So we need to build from the ashes of Ebola and strive for a healthier, more prosperous and more developed Sierra Leone, rather than return to business as usual.
About the author:
Zainab Tunkara Clarkson is an International Development Consultant and a Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) Country Ambassador for Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone is a low income nation. Most of its inhabitants live below the poverty line, yet these resilient people forge ahead, earning their day to day living out of petty trading.
The streets and the very few market places across the city and towns around the country are always full of petty traders and peddlers going round all day till late. Small businesses are also in full activities; business is the main livelihood of the grass-root masses. There are potential entrepreneurs in this sector.
A lot of these traders have good business ideas and innate vocation for doing business, but generally lack the organizational know-how and proper management skills to keep it sustainable. Another handicap they can face is access to capital. There is little access to loans.
Sierra Leonean Diasporas can play a very important role in terms of providing finances for the small and middle sized businesses. They can provide the capital needed, organizational know-how and management of the business. This means both Diasporas and their local counterparts can work in business partnership.
But the Diasporas face serious challenges doing business with their local counterparts’ back home, such as widespread dishonesty and rampant embezzlement habits of most people in the country, which will darken the clouds of this possibility. It will trigger a feeling of distrust between both parties. A number of Sierra Leoneans out there have gone through this bitter experience and are very careful about it now.
However, if we are to lift our nation from the dust in which it languishes today, both the Diasporas and local counterparts need to establish a relationship of trust and consideration for each other, so as to work together in an atmosphere of common understanding.
To be honest, no foreigner will invest in a country where providing a square meal a day is a serious challenge for its masses, except for big businesses which of course contribute very little to the social wellbeing of the people.
If Sierra Leone is to build a strong local commerce in a diversified economy, investors of whatever level must be ensured of protection and a stable and transparent rule of law put in place.
Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora are key players to drive the country to progress and prosperity. We need to build a strong local commerce to improve the lives of the locals, as a show glass to attract foreign investors.
Entrepreneurship will rise after Ebola because a significant proportion of working age people live on subsistence activity. What they should not count on is help from the Government of Sierra Leone.
In the run up to the next election, if president Koroma does not succeed in changing the constitution with the help of the Supreme Court, the APC led government will be preoccupied with how they can enrich themselves enough to sustain themselves while in opposition.
Therefore, small businesses are likely to face more challenges in the next two years, and their concerns are likely to be ignored by those in power.
It is amazing how many so called analysts including this one, tends to blame our current economic woes on the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic, to the total exclusion of negative and potent factors that predated the epidemic.
Our low ranking in global Entrepreneurship is due to the Ebola epidemic; our inability to conform to IMF debt ceiling and performance indicators is due to Ebola (courtesy of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development); the fall in education standards is due to Ebola. And the list goes on.
To many, the extent to which the epidemic ravaged the country and impacted the economy within one year, is an outward manifestation of the underlying ailments the economy was suffering for many years prior to the outbreak of the epidemic – poor health infrastructure; near zero industrial/manufacturing output and institutional paralysis to name only few.
The sooner we stop using the Ebola epidemic as the ’cause celebre’ for all the woes the country is now experiencing, the greater the chances are for us to better understand where we have come from and where we are heading after Ebola.