Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 01 April 2023:
It is no secret that with the world economies taking a battering in recent years, the 2008 financial crisis, the first in the 21st century, a severe worldwide financial crisis was the worst since the great depression .
Many nations have since recalibrated their financial organizations, not only to prevent a repeat of such a financial catastrophe, but to mitigate and provide systems that would act as shock absorbers, should a similar crisis occur.
In the past few weeks, the Silicon Valley Bank, a state chartered commercial bank in Santa Clara collapsed spectacularly, but First Citizens Bancshares acquired it, with the backing of US regulators. This reminds of how the 2008 financial crisis unfolded, when financial services, banks, and mortgage lending institutions collapsed spectacularly.
Like a pack of cards, Wall Street giants that were deeply entrenched in the housing market with unregulated predatory practices of pure greed saw the likes of Bear Stearns and the Lehman Brothers even put several national central banks at risk. The rest is history, as it took only one major bank to collapse and set a rippling effect with catastrophic consequences. This time, governments and financial institutions acted fast enough to avoid a repeat of 2008.
Just when you thought that the Coronavirus pandemic had wreaked enough, two landlords were at each other’s throats in the Russia Ukraine war. The impact of this war is well documented, as the cost of living continues to threaten air traffic worldwide.
It is no surprise that strikes and protests have become a favourite pastime across the world. Sierra Leone has not escaped the clutches of this financial demise. There is a saying that every lizard crawls on its belly, but you can never tell which one is suffering from stomachache.
We all witnessed NGOs, Western Government and the International Community falling over themselves to resuscitate Sierra Leone after the decade long civil war. The emergence of new mining companies like African Minerals, London Mining, Koidu Holdings and the ever present but elusive Sierra Rutile Company gave many of us hope that Sierra Leone was back to the good old times.
Sadly, natural catastrophes like the mudslide and the Ebola Virus stopped our country dead in its tracks. The rest is history, as the building blocks of our recovery chipped away, brick by brick. Fast forward to present day Sierra Leone where the average discussion around every dinner table, every keh keh ride, every poda poda ride and even chat up lines are dominated by the hardship and ever-increasing price rise in the country.
Interestingly, a lot of Sierra Leoneans believe that our country has a monopoly over this financial phenomenon, and that the living crisis and the increasing cost of living is only taking place in Sierra Leone. Thanks to the divisive nature of our politics, many would swear blind that only Sierra Leone is feeling the pinch.
After spending two months of utopian bliss in Sierra Leone, I returned to the UK to find a four-pint milk cartoon has risen from £1.45 to £1.85. We are not alone. It was £1.09 in 2022. In the 60s, 70s and early 80s, the economy of Sierra Leone was a source of envy from our neighbours as we basked in the name “sweet salone”, much to the chagrin of our kindred in Guinea under the late Ahmed Sekou Toure.
Ironically, Sekou Toure told his countrymen to endure the pepper then, so that they would savour the sugar in the future. How prophetic has that advice turned out to be today, as we look across and suck our teeth next door. We still had our resources, ranging from agriculture, mining, tertiary, tourism, manufacturing, aviation etc.
Today’s financial institutions and systems owe their origin from the time honoured barter system, the exchange of goods as currency. Although battering still occurs a lot in the modern-day business world, typically in the form of trading space, services and supplies, unlike the old system which was predominantly determined by need, today’s version is fuelled by pure greed.
Sierra Leone had a lot to offer to the outside world, and it was no coincidence that our GDP was in a healthier state. One does not need to be an Einstein to know that things have changed beyond recognition.
Despite our riches in mineral wealth, successive governments have proved our inability to manage those resources to their maximum potential for the good of all. No prizes for guessing why our country now has one of the biggest begging bowls south of the Sahara and north of the Limpopo, as much of our economy now rests on the good will of others.
We have slowly but insidiously transformed from a breadbasket of West African economies to a basket case. It is hard to admit but our economy is bordering on the case of a liability to world events. Each time the world sneezes, we catch the cold tenfold.
In the absence of much to offer, are we surprised at our current state of affairs?
However, all hope should not be lost, if only, and only if we invest in our human capital. We may lose our natural resources but our human capital is permanent. We just need to fully invest heavily in it. Times have changed and many modern and developed economies have changed with the times.
The advent of the internet and the corresponding advances in technology have led to the information superhighway. We need to join the internet, which is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.
The internet means: Easy access to resources and technology creates new opportunities to do jobs that customers want done. We have to remember that we don’t use the internet, we live it. Thanks to the internet, many economies using this technology to its full potential have led to the emergence of E-Commerce, gig economies and many more.
Many are becoming self-employed and less and less dependent on government employment. Governments cannot employ everyone, and Public Private Partnerships is one of the ways forward. We should be able to sit in a shed or in the comfort of the kitchen and operate a multi-million dollar/Leone business.
While other countries have perfected the art of E-commerce, has Sierra Leone taken any advantage of doing so?
This article is in no way meant to suggest that Sierra Leoneans have not caught on to the idea of E-Commerce. The crux of this article is a humble attempt to highlight, demonstrate, and emphasize the role of two big giants EDSA and NATCOM; if our country is to stand any chance of moving into the 21st century.
The value of electricity in any community cannot be overemphasized. If we are to be honest, the electricity situation in Freetown and other cities has improved year on year since the days of “ the darkest city in Africa”.
In those days, you relied on the pilot to know that you had arrived at Lungi International Airport at night. That does not mean that today’s electricity supply is acceptable. There were frequent blackouts that lasted relatively shorter times during my recent trip to Sierra Leone.
Funnily, I never heard the spontaneous chorus of “Light Don Cam” that used to accompany the return of electricity. Either this was commonplace, or they knew the outage would not last long. In most cases, it didn’t. However, if our economy is to return to a life of vibrancy, there is no doubt that the full provision of electricity is vital.
Electricity by any standards should be the oxygen and life blood of not only our communities but our economy. No one needs a reminder of what electricity can do for business. Our new electricity supplier EDSA now largely operates a “pay as you go” tariff system. This means that you consume what you pay for. Not only should this ensure a robust system of revenue collection but also ensure that the supply of electricity should be a matter of continuity. Money na hand, back na gron.
So why is EDSA struggling to provide electricity with a “pay as you go system”?
Many blame it on electricity theft. That does not mean that EDSA is free from blame here. Why do people steal electricity? Has EDSA made the tariff affordable? Is EDSA giving value for money? Is EDSA a reliable and dependable supplier? Do customers get what they pay for at all times?
Others say that the tariff is too high and unaffordable for many Sierra Leoneans. Does that justify the theft? Should EDSA consider affordable prices and tariffs to ensure a critical mass of consumers? But again, how can EDSA move to improve the lives of people, when the right to order and distribute meters are auctioned to third parties ?
With EDSA as the main supplier of electricity in the country, one would expect that the responsibility to order, distribute, connect and supply meters should be solely in the hands of EDSA. But is that the case?
When you contract that responsibility to a third party with no affiliation to energy, the resulting outcome will be a high cost of meters. This is just an example of many administrative and bureaucratic factors that contribute to the high cost of electricity. This means that the tariff would not be affordable for the average small business owner. Now you see the incentive to go rogue.
This is not to justify the act of theft of electricity but to highlight the domino effects of bad administrative policies. The effects of inconsistent or poor electricity supply is obvious and that is where the role of NATCOM cannot be overlooked. NATCOM presides over everything and anything to do with our national communications.
The advent of the internet means that every aspect of our lives now revolves and are consumed by technology. Our children need the internet to keep abreast with advances in education. Children no longer need to worry about Pedro Da Cintra, who discovered Sierra Leone. They don’t need to memorize about Bai Bureh or Madam Yoko. They can just google it. Better still, they can talk to SIRI.
Those days of memorizing mathematical tables or converting dollars to leones are gone. Just google it. So, how do we expect our children to do well and join the international community when they cannot afford the high cost of data? How do we expect them to do well when they are always met with “Dae system dae don”?
Since NATCOM is the High Priest of the international gateway, it becomes imperative for it to ensure that such a highway is free from gridlock, is affordable and available to all. Call it utopian but if other third world countries can, why shouldn’t we?
In order for our country or any country to be economically viable, we should be able to provide two things: products or services. Even as individuals, if one doesn’t have a product or service to offer, one could be a liability. (Author: Abdulai Mansaray).
If president Bio’s Free Quality Education is to achieve its intended and full potential, EDSA and NATCOM should be part of that conversation. If we are to exploit the full benefits and potential of our tourist industry, EDSA and NATCOM should be at the table.
If we are to rip the benefits of the gig economy, conduct business without the need to travel from Kono to Freetown, from Nigeria to Senegal, Guinea to Morocco, and in effect worldwide.
It’s about blockchain and not conveyor belts to join the world community. To join in the industrial revolution, you need to open a factory. In the internet revolution, you need a laptop. If you think that there is life without Facebook and the internet, please send me the link. Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.