You can’t build a peaceful nation on empty stomachs and human misery

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 December 2021:

It is an open secret that the price of goods and especially food stuff worldwide, has skyrocketed in the past two years. Many see these changes as not only coincidental but exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. With the Pandemic have come job losses, changes in work patterns, restriction of global movements; all resulting in the downturn of world economies.

But unlike the major economies which have fall back and near failsafe economic plans, countries like Sierra Leone catch the cold when these economies sneeze.  The impact can be bitingly felt across board. It is the season of good will and plenty. It is time for giving and receiving, for blessed is the hand that giveth….and the one that taketh. But unlike seasons gone by, many Sierra Leoneans are yet to get into the festive spirit. The “gron dry syndrome” continues untamed.

There is no doubt that President Bio and his administration will get the flack, rightly or wrongly and for obvious reasons. But if we are to widen our focus on the backdrop of our current economic, may be, just maybe, we might get a feel for the big conversation.

It can sometimes be misleading to gauge a country’s welfare from a measurement of its income (Gross Domestic Products). GDP represents a measure of the size and health of a country’s economy over a period. But if this definition is anything to go by, then our GDP is “gross” (pardon the pun).

We may have a limited growth in GDP, which is effectively offset by our population growth. This could make it difficult for our GDP to keep up. It means that our population outgrows our production at this rate. That’s my assumption; never liked maths or statistics at school. If you add the rate of inflation against the backdrop of an ever devaluing Leone; you tend to get the picture.  Added to that is the problem of supply chains. Interestingly, we generally tend to measure our GDP by the circulation of money in our economy. Just ask the Bank Governor Kallon, you might be lucky and get a lecture.

As if you needed further proof, a recent report stated that “Sierra Leone is among twelve African countries that have exceeded the 45% debt-to-GDP ratio set by the IMF low middle income countries”. It means that we consume more than we produce, and that tells us that our GDP is not sustainable. This could be partly because our GDP is not grounded on sustainable resources or economy. Any wonder why our economy is on life support, intubated by our perennial begging bowl?

A case in point is when the World Bank said that it was “regrettably unable to provide further technical assistance nor disburse any further funds under IDA Grant No. D584-SL to support the mid-term population census.”.  President Bio soldiered on, even though World Bank was effectively saying that the exercise was not value for money.

You wonder what would have become of our economy and country, if the World Bank, the IMF, The EU, NGOs and all our benefactors had been this diligent and vigilant with all those grants, projects and sometimes life denying loans they funnelled through successive governments. If only they had followed the money all those decades ago.

Sierra Leone is notoriously renowned for being a “richly poor” country. By virtue of our resources, we are rich. Reality tells me we are poor. So, what resources do we have today that could guarantee our sustainability? Some of us grew up in Kono, believing that “diamonds are forever”. You just need to visit Yengema, Tongo Field and others to prove the fallacy of that notion. Some are now counting timber with false optimism. They see cutting our trees as value to our GDP, forgetting the loss to our wealth in terms of natural resources. But those who make the bucks care less about posterity, while the astronomical high cost and poor standard of living respectively continues to numb the lives of the ordinary people.

Our staple food is rice, the most nutritive and most widespread staple.  As proof, the average man would say “Ar nor eat natin from way door clean, pass braid”. Good food like rice is the basis of happiness. It means that any diet intake that does not include rice does not count as one.  But as a nation, how much rice do we produce to feed ourselves?  By virtue of its value as our staple food, it stands to reason that the most important and obvious service that is required is an extended and enlarged production of rice.

The bulk of our foreign exchange earnings sinks into the importation of our staple food. How do we expect to be fed, when our staple food is produced elsewhere? How do we expect to determine, monitor and have control on the price of something we have nothing to do with its production? You can’t sit under shade if you don’t plant a tree.

The same can be said of other local foodstuffs. It will be a mammoth task to identify the causes but let’s try. For starters, we do not recognise farming as an essential enterprise in our community. Even in schools, we see and treat agriculture as secondary and one for the intelligent. We treat it like a Cinderella enterprise and not worthwhile. But in the Western world, farmers are among the richest private enterprises. In 2020, the average US farm household had $ 1,714, 559 in wealth. Don’t tell me about mechanised farming; we got to start somewhere.

So where did we go wrong?

Until the late 80s, we had systems and infrastructure to support production in our country. We had Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLPMB), Sierra Leone Oil Refinery, Sierra Fisheries, and even Diamond Corporation of West Africa (DICOWAF). With SLPMB, we did not only ensure fair pricing but also provided a ready made market for the local produce of our farmers. We processed our marine produce and refined our crude oil.

In those days, limited we had some say, no matter how in the pricing and distribution of these products, and most of us lived happily ever after. Farming paid in those days, with coffee, cacao, palm oil, and even livestock aplenty. Even the late S.I Koroma and many other politicians had large swathes of plantations. Sadly, we sold all our national heirlooms or systematically dismantled these foundations of our economy for pittance and selfish gains respectively.

There is no question that the civil war led to the biggest internal migration to our cities in our history. With many people chasing fewer or non-existing jobs, we now have a large percentage of people, and especially our youth on the employment dumpster. And no, walking around with two pairs of sandals all day is not business or employment as we know it. We need to go back to basics and the drawing board and make farming pay. Let’s make it attractive again and give incentives to keep farmers farming.

President Bio launched the Sierra Leone Rice Chain Project in Torma Bum in June this year; stressing that “food security is probably the most critical pillar in achieving the government’s human capital development priorities for the country”. People tend to see the price of goods as the main difference between APC and SLPP rule.  Rightly or wrongly, President Bio and his administration get the blame, irrespective of world economic factors. They see his economic policies and other inherent factors as contributory.

So, how do we expect to control the price of foodstuffs that are produced and supplied by external agencies? How can we guarantee our national security, if we cannot guarantee our food security? Does that leave us at the mercy of these external forces? Does it mean that our major importers have the luxury of starving our country to death, should they decide not to export to us? Do such potential threats pose risks to our foreign policies, whereby they can use our dependence on them for leverage to twist our arms? Are we independent, when we are dependent on others for our basic food supplies? Let us guarantee our national security with security, but we can not do so when consumers outnumber the producers.

The government can make farming pay, rewarding and be more attractive by diverting more incentives to farmers. “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds” (Thomas Jefferson).

If I were the President of Sierra Leone, I will make it a requirement for all parliamentarians to own a farm, and that all constituency meetings must take place on those farms. Trust. They won’t have to do the heavy lifting, but just to send a message. God Bless Farmers.

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

5 Comments

  1. I will suggest that Mr. Abdulai Mansaray should open a YouTube channel because this positive message should be heard in our local language, based on the fact that most of our citizens are uneducated and have no access to the internet.

  2. Mr Kanyyako much as one appreciate your point of view, that political debates hardly take place in other countries, that the views expressed on this forum or any forum regarding our country’s lack of development, or the the reasons why our country is not developed, that we Sierra Leoneans are too consumed in debating. What a load of hogwash! In your view that might explain the reason why we are still considered poll after poll out of 190 or more countries, we always find ourselves with the acronym as one of the least develop nations on the face of this planet,. I want you to spare a thought about the political debates between the socalled progressive in the American left and the far right of the Republican establishment, that has in previous decades brought shutdowns of previous Americans administration starting with the Clinton white House right up to the Obama administration.

    When Bio came to power and embarked on his ethnic cleansing exircise, many professionals Sierra Leoneans have to pack up and return to either Europe or the United States. So who is fooling who? Or who do you blame for lack of progress in Sierra Leone? This idea of see no evil and hear no evil is what gets us where we are today. We need to name and shame the elected public officials that have fallen far short of what is expected of them. This government or any other government has to be reminded, is the people of Sierra Leone that gave up their rights and liberties and entrusted it with them. We have every right to point out the rights and wrong of any government that have helped under develop our country. Is your civil duty to do so. We don’t care about what is happening in other countries, because, whatever is going on in those countries will not affect our families. Maybe with two exception liberia and the Republic of Guinea.

    Yes we need to debate about the political, social and economic, issues affecting our country. Our families are living in this country. Bio’s policies affects every family in Sierra Leone. Now you can be his supporter or opponent, but when things are not working in the country, is unfortunately one size fits all. You can’t escape it. That is why we want him to succeed. So any contribution of how he goes about achieving that is welcome. Some may expressed themselves in a different ways but the core message here we want a better Sierra Leone for all of us. Open debate and free speech is what is called democracy. And when people can’t express themselves freely or are forced to be quiet, there is always the tendency to restore to violence to make their points. And we have been through that, we don’t want that for our country. Open debate is the only safty valve that will prevent such outcomes.

  3. Mr Mansaray touched on all the prevailing factors that has hampered economic growth in Sierra Leone for the last few decades. Now when we factor in corruption and a lack of willingness to confront it head on we get a clear sense of why we are where we are. On the current trajectory under this one directionless Bio government, the prognosis of any future economic developments, is way out of reach for our country. As a consequence of Bio’s actions, or the lack of it, any transformational agenda for our country, has to be a holistic approach, in reforming our political, structural, economic environmental, and the commitment on the part of those that are elected to represent us, do the jobs of what they are expected do transparently with a huge dose of accountability .

    Under the Stevens government, and as struggling citizens of the state, the IMF and other international financial institutions used to proscribed the antidotes policies needed for tackling the economic woes facing our country. Just like Bio, the Stevens government used to tell us to “THIGTEN OUR BELT”. Four decades later, our country with all its human and natural resources, in a world that is technologically advanced beyond human comprehension, our country is still lacking the basic structures for economics growth.Seems to me only the ordinary citizens are asked to make the necessary sacrifices for economics growth, never the political classes.

    A country with a weak industrial base, and cannot produce anything, and rely heavily on international financial institutions to meet its budgetary needs, and export of raw materials,for us to see the necessary changes we all want to see, as a country we will need to invest heavily on education and basic infrastructure, like roads, hospitals, tourist attractions, which come to think of it Sierra Leone has many places, both historically, especially our country’s role in the transatlantic slave trade,a calling card for would be African Americans that wants to findout about their roots,and generally adopt policies that makes our country more attractive to foreign direct investment. That is the respect of the rule of law, free speech,free press, property ownership, and tackling corruption.

  4. Greetings to all Sierra Leoneans and most specially to Mr Abdulai Mansaray for his well explained article. “Gron dry” is not the answer but what can we do to get the “gron soak”? We all have to put hands on deck to get it soaked. Leave those little gathering of political discussions we now constantly engaging ourselves into, which has no impact on our country’s development but rather creating wider division among ourselves. Peoples of developed countries around the world are hardly seen talking constantly about politics. So get out there to the lands/ fields and engage in farming and talk little about politics. We so depending on the government to spoon feed us day and night.

    The misery of some of our living conditions solely lies on our laziness and waiting on government to improve our living conditions. Please make some effort to help Sierra Leone become food sufficient country by getting our hands dirty on the lands and fields, planting at least a vegetable. Please stop this “gron dry” political point scoring express and instead use the express “D GRON FOR SOAK MA”.

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