Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 November 2014 – This story was first published on 17 January 2013
Sierra Leone is in desperate need of cash – estimated at more than $1 billion to help rehabilitate its creaky drinking water supply system, electricity generating and distribution plants, drainage and waste management systems, and public housing.
In 2010, president Koroma was invited to London by former British prime minister Tony Blair to meet and rub the palms of potential investors. Many big promises were made, amid worsening global financial crisis and economic downturn.
President Koroma with the help of Tony Blair and some of his former ministerial colleagues, who had helped the president in 2007 to formulate his ‘Agenda for Change’, had also prioritised the country’s tourism, fishing, agriculture and mining sectors for immediate action and massive foreign investment.
But three years on, very little progress has been achieved in attracting the billions of dollars needed to be invested in developing the potential of key economic sectors, let alone the $1 billion required to rehabilitate vital public infrastructures.
When the former British prime minister – Tony Blair waved his magic wand in 2010 and proclaimed that president Koroma will win Sierra Leone’s 2012 presidential election, few believed him, whilst many accused him of meddling in the political affairs of the country.
With the exception of the Chinese sponsored iron ore mining company – African Minerals Ltd., and a handful of other foreign companies, such as London Mining and Addax, most foreign investors have been playing a ‘wait and see game’ with the Sierra Leone government, despite Tony Blair’s promises and proclamations.
In his own defence, Tony Blair is always quick to point out to his Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), which he said he has established to help African leaders and their governments through the hoops of post-colonial self-governance.
But that does not seem to cut ice with the likes of Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who has recently accused Tony Blair of exploiting the foibles and vulnerabilities of weak African leaders and their obscenely poor citizens.
This accusation leaves Tony Blair and his Africa Governance Initiative with a major image and credibility problem in Africa. But the former British Prime Minister is not giving up.
He seriously believes there is much at stake for the continent and the work he had started in Africa. In Sierra Leone and Rwanda – both former war-torn and failed states, Tony Blair has made his presence felt, by putting his own staff on the ground to help manage and direct the affairs of key ministries. But there is a problem.
Many Africans accuse him of foisting neo-colonialism on the continent. Yet there are those, including Sierra Leone’s former Finance and Economic Affairs minister – Dr. Samura Kamara, who point to the lack of human resource capacity and skills; and inability to plan, organise and manage the country’s public affairs.
The former Finance minister of president Koroma’s government is a big fan of Tony Blair. He proudly displayed a huge photographic portrait of the former British prime minister and his family on his office desk in Freetown.
The minister once told the BBC in a television interview in his office that; ‘the colonial masters must return to Sierra Leone to run the country” – a statement he may well live to regret, as he was recently sacked by president Koroma, after five years of presiding over a failed economic policy, whilst waiting for the colonial masters to return do his work.
But Tony Blair is still regarded as the man of the moment in Sierra Leone. As the popular saying goes in Freetown: ‘he run things’.
Blair arrived in the capital Freetown this week to a tumultuous welcome from president Koroma, who has recently been sworn into office for another five year term, after winning last year’s elections.
Some say that Tony Blair is in town to receive his payback for the huge support he gave to president Koroma, throughout his troubled first term in office.
Critics believe that the Koroma government was largely bankrolled by the mining companies, who had handed over millions of dollars to the president, in return for dodgy mining agreements that are not in the nation’s interest.
As far back as 2010 – two years prior to the country’s 2012 elections, Tony Blair had expressed strong and unprecedented support for, and confidence in president Koroma’s chances of winning the elections.
What Tony Blair actually said back then, was that, ‘the 2012 elections will be decided based on the performance of the government’ – a performance many described at best as lack lustre and at worse – very poor. The president refuses to publish the performance reports of his ministers.
But with an economy not growing as fast as was predicted and teetering on the edge of collapse, few foreign investors answered to Tony Blair’s call for massive foreign investments in the country, amid rising poverty and worsening living standards.
Did Tony Blair believe president Koroma, when he said in his New Year’s speech that “Sierra Leone is the second hottest economy in the world” , and did the president tell that to Tony Blair privately, during his stay at State House on Monday?
According to State House Communications Unit, “president Koroma on Monday, 14th January, 2013, assured the founder of the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) – former British Prime Minister – Mr. Tony Blair that his government will continue to create the enabling environment for investment, business, energy, and youth empowerment – with special emphasis on skills training.”
In what must have been a strange and surprised departure from the previously prioritised sectors – tourism, agriculture, mining, and fishing, the president is said to have told Tony Blair that his new priorities are education, health care delivery, as well as infrastructure.
But many would point out to president Koroma that he had in the last five years spent the lion’s share of the country’s revenue on education, health care delivery, as well as infrastructure – road construction, but with little impact on the state of the nation. So they cannot now be seen as new priorities for his government, but a continuation of his previous Agenda for Change.
President Koroma is said to have also acknowledged and thanked Tony Blair for the role being played by his ten AGI staff that have been assigned, and are working across various government departments, during the last three years. The president also spoke of the need to “strengthen the ongoing partnership with the AGI”.
Tony Blair in response poured praises on the president, for what he described as “the great change President Koroma has brought to the people of Sierra Leone”.
But, what many in the country and outside have recently found nauseating, is the continuous spin and propaganda, about the pace of economic growth in the country. And it seems Mr. Blair is not immune from catching the propaganda virus. He too is blowing the false trumpet.
He told reporters at State House during his meeting with the president that he had “watched Sierra Leone grow over the past few years and that his organization feels honoured to continue working with the government of President Koroma”.
But surely, Mr. Blair could not have managed to keep a straight face, when he said that; “Our goal is to see that the priorities of the people are well delivered”, could he?
After all, is it not the priority of the people of Sierra Leone: to end hunger and poverty, in a country that is still classed as one of the poorest in the world? So who is responsible for the misrepresentation of the people’s needs and priorities?
Mr. Blair also called on all Sierra Leoneans to embrace president Koroma’s “Agenda for Prosperity”, prompting a senior executive of the country’s main opposition SLPP to accuse Tony Blair of blatant political partisanship and naked abuse of state privilege.
Oil has been found in Sierra Leone, and Mr. Blair it seems, is here to stay.
I hope Mr Tony Blair took the opportunity to advice his dear friend not to pursue his third term ambition which supporters of the Government have been promoting through the slogan – AFTER U NAR U.
Is this the actual reason behind the current constitutional review? The present Constitution limits the tenure of the President to two consecutive terms of five years each and then it is goodbye, Mr President!
The praise at the turn of the century by some western leaders, including Tony Blair, for “renaissance” African leaders – Kagami, Musuveni, Campaore et al – for promoting good governance in their countries was misguided and premature as recent political events in Burkina Faso show.
During the tenure of Tony Blair, the British taxpayer and their military contributed a lot to end the ten-year civil war in Sierra Leone. Now the effort is to defeat the Ebola virus and not the barbarous rebels of yesteryears.
It will be a complete waste of resources for all the good work to unravel and Sierra Leone reverts to the status quo of the early nineties, A stitch in time (or a timely advice, Mr Blair) saves nine!