Sincere ignorance – The high cost and threat to peace in Sierra Leone

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 January 2020:

“Security Alert – U.S. Embassy (Freetown, Sierra Leone) (January 14, 2020). Location: Brookfields, Freetown.Event: Reports indicate there are currently violent confrontations between APC and SLPP supporters near APC headquarters in Brookfields. U.S. government personnel are advised to avoid the area today. Additionally, there is an increased amount of police in the area tasked with maintaining order. Expect the increased personnel and confrontations to congest traffic in central Freetown. Exercise extreme caution in the Brookfields area. Actions to Take: Avoid the area of Brookfields. Avoid crowds. Monitor local media for updates.”

The above was a statement issued by the U.S Embassy (sierraleonetelegraph.com 14/01/2020), following the violence that broke out between rival supporters of the SLPP and APC parties. It’s ironically sad that this is coming barely a week after the nation commemorated January 6th; a date that will forever leave an unenviable and indelible mark, not only on our history but our collective conscience.

Last week, we listened to litanies of eulogies, as victims and witnesses recalled their horrible experiences. As a mark of respect to the dead, Sierra Leoneans all over were united in the “NEVER AGAIN” pledge. Perhaps we should change that to “SIERRA LEONE WILL NEVER LEARN”; thanks to our two main political parties which are competing to prove that our country needs adult supervision. So we don’t even need to ask who started it all. The answer is always the same; accusations versus counter accusations, the kind you get in a kindergarten playground.

There is this notion that having failed to win the 2018 general elections, the APC is doing its best to make the country ungovernable under the SLPP. On the other hand, the APC maintains that the SLPP is on a mission of vengeance to politically decapitate (pardon the pun) the APC.

So, are we in danger of being trapped in the throes of “Sierra Leoneans outside looking from APC to SLPP, and from SLPP to APC, and from APC to SLPP again; but still finding it impossible to say which is which? (Photo above: Someone sitting at the back of the internal affairs minister – Lawrence Leama’s vehicle brandishing a gun at the scene of 14th January 2020 violence).

Some will see the current economic climate as a tinderbox, contributing as part of the backdrop to the level of intolerance that is becoming a regular feature in our society. That should not be a carte blanche for the festival of violence that occur on a regular basis.

No one is accusing Sierra Leone of inventing riots, violence or protests. These happen worldwide. But the regularity of violence between so called supporters of these two parties is fast becoming a past time for some, and an occupational hazard for others.

The high levels of unemployment could be a causal factor, but should not be seen as a substitute or answer to our problems.

The cost of violence in our country is not measured only by the severity of injuries, loss of lives or damage to property, just as the pursuit of truth does not permit violence on one’s opponent. The cost of these riots goes beyond the physical impacts it has on the gladiators.

Violence in our country affects every Komba, Minkailu, Kinnie, Sallay or Mariatu in Gbonkolenken, Potoru, Gbankaya or koindu. It costs huge loss of revenue when our country is labelled as unstable.

When a foreign government issues a travel advice against travelling to a particular country to its citizens, it wipes out millions of potential investments and tourist/visitor dollars from our national cash register. The latest US Embassy update on the situation in Brookfields, Freetown, is enough to generate a sense of instability in the country to foreign investors.

Sierra Leone played host to Idris Elba last year – all aimed at rebranding Sierra Leone, putting the country on the map and to attract foreign visitors and the like. Now you tell me about how you would be feeling today, if you were a foreign visitor or investor planning to come to Sierra Leone?

What would be the cost of that decision not to come or delay that investment; thanks to the level of violence in the country? You do the math. How do we expect to attract foreign visitors and investors when we cannot guarantee a peaceful and stable country?

Why do you think countries like the Gambia have a thriving tourist industry, when we have more expansive, more beautiful and unadulterated beaches? The irony is that while people like Idris Elba, the President and other Sierra Leoneans are busy promoting the country, these groups are busy providing the perfect excuse not to visit.

When countries give travel advice against unstable countries, they never go back to say that all is well, even after the dust would have settled. The image of instability will therefore continue to linger on the minds of tourists, visitors and investors. And for every passing day, that investment or dollar that should have been spent buying Soriba’s craft, or paying for the hotel taxi is lost.

Liberia and Sierra Leone are relatively equidistant from anywhere in the world. But why does it cost almost twice to freight goods and items to Sierra Leone than Liberia or Guinea? Why are the airline ticket fares for these neighbouring countries so different? Some may want to say that the country is in a high tax bracket. But that is not the reason or only reason.

During the war, Sierra Leone was rated as one of the countries with the highest travel risks, to live or invest in. The risk rating remains the same even though the guns fell silent two decades ago.

Countries are generally credit rated and risk assessed against the following: sovereign, currency, banking sector, political, economic and country risks. According to the Economic Intelligence Unit Credit rating agency (December 2017), Sierra Leone was rated as CCC for sovereign, banking, political and country; and B and CC for currency and economic risks respectively. That was in 2017. What would it be today? I won’t tell you because it looks like our country is not even worth risk rating. Please help me here with the research.

During this period, our sovereign risk at CCC was a representation of economic mismanagement, wide fiscal and current-account deficits, weak foreign-exchange reserves and high external debt at 42.5% of GDP. Our banking sector had a weak asset quality, with non-performing loans worth over 30% of total loans. Our two state-owned banks were in precarious financial positions that required forced restructuring exercises. Foreign exchange reserve was equivalent to barely 2 months of imports, and so the Central Bank could not defend against sharp currency fluctuations. Even when the government had a legislative majority, the popular resentment that was centred on corruption, repression, the lifting of consumer subsides and inadequate provision of basic amenities raised the bar on political risk. As a result of the Ebola crisis, the disruption of the iron ore production led to rising debts; leaving the country more reliant on donor support to finance our fiscal and current account deficits; and exposing the country to external financial shocks.

These are some of the risks associated with countries deemed as unstable. The few investors who venture to take such risks therefore insulate their businesses with premium insurance. That is one reason why ocean going vessels docking on our shores are heavily insured with high premiums against these risks.

High insurance means high costs; and who bears the brunt of those costs? You, me, Morlai, Sahr, Thomas, Saffa Korthor Sorie, Ngor Mannah, and everyone. Watch how the prices of goods are threatening our very existence these days. And then we wonder why “De grun dry”, “We wae dae suffer, Na we boku”, and “de game don big”?

No one is suggesting that this is the only reason for our apparent economic paralysis; it is one of the insidious factors always creeping up on us. Our country is still rated at war zone risk by many companies and countries. So how can we shed that when we still engage in acts of re-runs or test drives of the war?

As for those who feel that their tribal affiliations are the only requirements to qualify for violence, please tell the world when was the last time you saw Maada Bio’s brother, Samura Kamara’s cousin, Yumkella’s brother in law or Sam Sumanas’s son in your “geng” of rioters.

Some “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” (Orwell).

The next time you pick up a stone, a machete, a bottle or “rubberfak”, just ask for the family members or relatives of our political leaders to throw the first stone. That is when you realise how it feels to be a majority minority. If we are to shake hands with visitors and investors, we cannot do so with clenched fists.

Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.

7 Comments

  1. This is a well thought out article. Unfortunately, as compelling as the article is,it is not going to be seen, or read by those to whom I think it is primarily addressed and that is Sierra Leone’s loss. To reiterate, I will lay down my last dollar in stating that many among those rioting will never have the opportunity to see, or read this and many other great articles like it, written by this and several other Sierra Leonean authors. Why is that the case? Because many of those engaged in the street fighting, (the front line dupes) have little or no access to computing systems, or to the internet.

    While the article justly addresses the societal and economic costs of their gladiatorial pursuits in the streets. It must be pointed out that due to a lack of jobs, these young men’s willingness to be used as puns is likely for purposes of earning meager amounts for theirs and their families’ living situations.

    On the whole, as much as social media has done wonders with affording the country with greater access to information, it nevertheless remains that those who have benefited the most have been the well to do. The challenge then is, whether the government is aware of the technology chasm and the dangers lurking in the divide? What steps will the government take to address prevailing disparities and inequalities?

    Successfully overcoming this technology divide will involve affording all with equal access to the vital, life sustaining information of the country. This will go a long way towards lifting and/or addressing suspicions among the populace about government policies, (that as we know fosters transparency and accountability).

    Furthermore, greater technology information access will help in overcoming debilitating tribal and political differences, (more light, less heat) while at the same time leveraging technology’s powers to galvanize the population on matters of economic development.

    On the other hand, the people must not just be complacent takers, wanting government to do it all. When the people have a government that is prepared to work for them, they too must rise to the challenge. After all, government can take the people part of the way, but the people themselves must be ready and willing to strive towards building a successful and prosperous society. That’s my two cents for what it is worth.

  2. The article is informative on the merit of what’s occuring but the problem is not as complicated as it seems. The country as a whole needs to have that mindset that enough is enough, and the only way Sierra Leone can be prosperous as a country is to work together collectively with the intent.

    • And that collectivity with the intent should no doubt start with the government.If govt is responsible for the affairs of the state,then it should act like it.To say youths are busy doing bad stuff,it is because they are not being fully engaged.Because government does not know how to engage them.You will now see the reason why the whole of Africa is struggling to catch up with economic development because they lack the actual know-how. That know-how is just not the idea of adding one to one equals two.But how to be able to share those 2 among 3 people without each of those three folks feeling displeased.

      This is why countries especially SL is struggling. Our economic leaders do not know how to share 50 billion Leones among 7 million population.Now u see why youths are out there doing their own thing to make ends meet.If this 50 billion leones for eg had been utilized in agriculture,employment of these youths could have been carried out very easily. In the end,we will have food,water,electricity,jobs,good roads,healthy and educated population – you name them, will be available for all under good governance.

      But the lack of good governance from our African politicians today has forced people to run away from mama salone in search of greener pastures in foreign lands. We have so many greener pastures in SL..but because we don’t have leaders who can make those greener pastures available to us all,now we are here in another man’s land helping them grow their economy. And you look at Sierra Leone over 55yrs ago now and you still wonder why?.. You know, sometimes,when I put my commonsense to a serious thought, it makes me wonder why we even rushed to gain independence.

  3. It seems Sierra Leneans will never learn. Eleven hard years and civil war that drained the country to its lowest ebb with no political intention or programme, just bringing the country to the ground; and as yet no political agenda has come forth from the poltical world other than trying to cut heads off of other political parties.

    Please brothers and sisters sit down and think what the world is saying about you people knowing that peace is nothing good in the country but wreched egos of all the political parties who have nothing to do but destroy the small peace people are enjoying. I discussed this situation with some foreigners and their answers were just as if Sierra Leneans are still children who need to be controlled at nursery school.

    Please brothers and sisters try to learn to avoid problems. Sierra Leone is just a small country. Do you people want to divide it? LONG LIVE SIERRA LEONE AND LET GOD BLESS HER.

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more,Mr Mansaray.The only thing to add is that, although the majority are sincerely ignorant- those (the minority) that can read and understand beyond ‘chapter one’ are consciously stupid.

    The latter spends all their know-how/time, to cause maximum damage to Mama Salone by refusing to either sensitize the former or engage meaningfully to maintain gains made, even if they can’t add value to the same.

    Also, those causing problems, should not be looking for absent relatives/associates of politicians to realise that,they’re on their own- used and dumped. It does not help the country in any way, the vast majority of investors’ will be put off by insecurity.

    Arguably,these sorts challenges could partly be responsible for low foreign direct investment despite the Gov’t trying to promote the country as safe and attractive investment destination. We as country, have ‘engineering’ problems and unless we change the narrative positively, am afraid,cost will continue to rise, as for our fragile peace, its already threatened. I guess that speaks to the title of your piece.

  5. That’s my point. Why do these gangland jingo squad continue to do horrible things in-behalf of people who are busy having fun. This way of maintaining relevance (if that’s the case) is nothing other than insipidity at its highest level. Why can’t we see our MPs in parliament in fist fights, and where are the direct relatives of the political leaders during these crowing of stupidity ventures – tagged ‘nar me party so bra’.

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