Why is Sierra Leone’s development formula not working?

Alimamy Turay: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 August 2018:

Sierra Leone is the roundest country in the world – as discovered by the Argentinian Mathematician, Gonzalo Ciruelos. This small and compact country is endowed with abundant natural resources, a relatively large fertile land for agricultural activities, and an aspiring population of about 6.5 million people.

The geometric design and the available wealth of resources make Sierra Leone the envy of planners and strategists in the world. And if governed with a common interest towards development, Sierra Leone could have become the ‘Dubai’ of Africa today.

After gaining independence in 1961, Sierra Leone had no alternative system of governance, but to implement  a system that was akin to that of their British colonial masters – the two-party system, dominated by proponents of capitalist and socialist dogma.

This led to the dawn of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), which today tends to emulate the conservative principles of capitalism that were inherited from the colonialists.

Inevitably, the subsequent formation of the All Peoples Congress (APC) party was to take a workers’ (socialist) view in their political make-up.

This situation is a direct resemblance to the British system of governance, where the Conservative party would like to be seen as the party that champions privatisation (Capitalists), whilst the Labour party preferring more resource allocation to the public sector (Socialists). And, the Conservative party and the Labour party have dominated politics in Britain, just as the SLPP and APC have dominated politics in Sierra Leone.

Why is the Sierra Leone formula not working?

In Sierra Leone, the two-party political model is also polarised by the great north-south divide, with a liberal north dominated by Temnes and a conservative south dominated by Mendes.

Furthermore, the two-party demarcation between north (APC) and south (SLPP) is emboldened by the fact that these two tribes (Temnes and Mendes) account for almost two-thirds (67%) of the population – 36% Temnes and 31% Mendes.

Other political parties have evolved with ambitious alternatives in an attempt to break the deadlock in the political duopoly between the SLPP and  APC parties. However, these little offshoots in the country’s political landscape will soon fizzle out, and reblend into either of the two main parties.

And since these two main parties never seem to collude in their development plans, or adhere to strategic national interests, the resultant effect is a heavily unbalanced and stagnating economy.

This lopsided loading of the economy is overtly demonstrated in the extreme parts of the north-east. Ironically, some parts of this region, where the country’s diamonds come from, even the presence of a basic hospital is non-existent.

The persistent and profound down slide of revenue from the north-east to south-west is a clear evidence of corruption in a country where this practice encompasses all political parties, civil societies, various institutions, and the lot.

Incidentally, this erosion of wealth does not benefit the south-west much either. The western region, where the capital – Freetown – is situated, can hardly boast of continuous access to essential utilities like electricity and pipe-borne water.

So, where is the country’s wealth being siphoned?

This state of affairs has led to an 11-year civil war (1991 – 2002) that took the lives of over 50,000 civilians and a ruthless destruction of private properties and essential infrastructure.

About two decades after the end of the  civil war, Sierra Leone is still placed in the category of a ‘fragile’ state by the International Growth Centre (IGC). This commission, established in 2017, which main objective is “to guide policy to address state fragility” asserted that Sierra Leone is distinctively identifiable with the characteristics of fragility, “including lack of basic security, inadequate government capacity, the absence of a properly functioning private sector, and the presence of divided societies”.

In effect, Sierra Leone is still a hot-spot with a high propensity to revert into anarchy and chaos; if certain policies that are ‘demanded’ by the people are not transparently and fairly pursued.  That ‘supply’ policies induced by domestic and international actors (IMF, World Bank and other donors) may not be relevant to the people; at least in the short-term. “Simple steps that bring jobs and security matter more than, for instance, setting new national targets to tackling inequality and climate change. When it comes to priorities, isn’t it vital that countries are able to set these themselves”?

At the moment, Sierra Leone is just like a round boat (hemispherical ball) steaming on a spirally plotted course, wasting much needed energy, as a result of the prominent list that has been created by an unequal ballast prior to departure.

Until this imbalance is addressed, Sierra Leone would be a poor-performing vessel, along the way to its destination – a journey that would be characterised with hunger, mutiny and chaos, as implied by the fragility report.

So, what can Sierra Leone do in order to escape from this fragility trap?

Sierra Leone can start afresh in its transformation by designing a development framework that is geared towards a fair and equitable distribution of wealth within the country. This ‘foundation’ should be strong enough to accommodate the diversity and cultural values of the whole nation; and at the same time, create links that will serve as integration channels for the various tribes or regions.

Sierra Leone being a ‘circular’ object in its geometric form, the task of achieving the above objective comes somehow simpler – at least in theory.

Suppose, Sierra Leone is divided into 10 districts instead of the current 16. This can be achieved by constructing four express (or toll) roads: two running in ‘parallel’ from north to south, and the other two running in ‘parallel’ from west to east.

The positioning of these two parallels should be such that the country is divided into nine ‘equal’ districts – north, south, west, east, north-west, north-east, south-west, south-east and central. The islands including: Sherbro, Bunce, Banana, York, and Turtle island, will make up the 10th district. In the long-term, these islands can be enlarged to assume the size of mainland districts.

This blueprint, which can also be perceived as a trademark for Sierra Leoneans, should not be seen as a partisan project but as a national pride – a brand that all sections of the society can identify with.

The pyramids are synonymous with Egyptians; the metro (underground transport network) is synonymous with Londoners; and the modern two-toll-road-parallel is synonymous with Sierra Leoneans …

Now, the foundation of economic development, social cohesion and good governance is set in a nutshell; ready to gather momentum.

All Sierra Leoneans would have to do now is putting the pieces on the chess board.

1- Food production should be initially viewed as a government undertaking until the food production entities are strong enough (profitable) before they are sold (or leased) to the private sector. Therefore, the government can construct, own and manage 10 state farms or ranches: of rice, cassava, yam, potato, wheat, cow, sheep, goat, pig and chicken; in each of the ten districts. That is 100 agricultural farms across the country – each with an area of 1 square kilometre. These farms must be fenced and guarded to enforce property rights.

2- Being a relatively small country, in terms of land and population size, Sierra Leone will correspondingly require a small armed force to defend it from external aggression. Sovereignty. Therefore, a battalion of 1000 personnel (including army, navy and air force) per district may be sufficient to do this job. This gives a total of 10,000 armed personnel across the country. And if need be, especially in times of critical crisis, reservists can be deployed to complement this total.

3- The health of a nation is a fundamental issue for the government if a country is to achieve sustainable development. Therefore, it is a core priority for the government to provide and maintain at least one hospital per district. This should be complimented by one herbal centre in each district.

4- On education, the government should aim at building and maintaining 10 primary schools, 10 secondary schools (with boarding facilities) and 1 university for each district. Viewed across country this will translate to 100 primary schools, 100 secondary schools and 10 universities.

5- Entertainment is always a great source of revenue generation – especially in this age where sports personalities (footballers) or musicians can earn infinite wealth that is non-comparable to presidents, top diplomats and chief executive officers (CEOs) of multi national corporations. There should be a long-term goal to provide one athletics stadium per district that will have the capacity to host various events including, football matches, music festivals, beauty contests, and public rallies.

6- In governance, each district should be divided into 10 chiefdoms or constituencies – giving a maximum of 100 representatives in parliament. And the party, or coalition, with the highest members of parliament will form a government.

This system will encourage various parties with different ideologies to flourish, thereby creating weaker governments as recommended by the fragility report: “The solutions to fragility … will be largely domestic. That may be slow and tough, but its likely to be more lasting. Hometown solutions and locally negotiated coalitions, business, and civil society” are the ‘bridges’ that will ensure an escape from the fragility trap.

The chess pieces are infinite, and putting them across the board is an everlasting process.

It sounds like the base ten people …Or, one can call it decimal democracy. A system of governance that seeks to equilibrate resources in a country’s development strides.


  1. This is exactly how Sierra Leone should look like. Yet, political greeds, corruptions, nepotism and family affairs have riddled the country to fall down. Whatever is left in the country will need a man or a woman ready to take risks and eliminate all types of self interests for the country be taken seriously. Thanks to his excellency our president who has this vision and is trying to put it in place for the benefit of the whole country. May God bless (him) our President.

  2. A very good piece and great ideas. But how is this workable when selfishness engulfs everything there is in our country? Tribal factors for me are the most important reasons why we are in this mess. We are a very small state which should be proud of standing alongside any Western economy, but we are so divided that the growth we crave will hardly come by.

    I applaud the writer who will gain my vote any day. However, It would be a difficult task to eliminate all the structures and landmarks that were created years ago, just to accommodate this system or vision. They cannot be dismantled in a flash, and there’ll be huge fights.

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