Posts Tagged ‘People in Sierra Leone’

DW: Mr Piebalgs , you say that poverty in the world could be abolished during our lifetime. Why are you so optimistic?

original_Andris-Piebalgs-13Andris Piebalgs (EU’s commissioner for development): Around the world, we have six billion people who live in prosperity, and one billion people who are poor. Just by redistributing income, we could reach those at the lowest end. The affected countries themselves must make a political contribution, but we must deliver on our promises; namely, to provide 0.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product as development aid.”

Oh boy me! What is the solution to end poverty?

Piebalgs would say: Aid, aid and more aid… and yadi yadi yah.

I disagree, 125 percent in fact. No offense to folks in the development world, but I think bilateral aid has rendered state systems in the world extremely weak, lazy, and massively corrupt. Even if this was an unintended consequence of aid, donor countries are absolutely making use of it to their benefits.

African authors as well as North American economists have written about it and have proved that donating money to governments in developing countries does not help anyone but the donors themselves. Dambisa Moyo in her book “Dead Aid” shows how aid kills small business initiatives.

Dambisa’s analogy is a small-time entrepreneur whose mosquito net business collapsed because he couldn’t compete with the free flow of nets from aid agencies – so did Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in their book “Why Nations Fail”.

Why Nations Fail” analyzes how extractive governments have been able to form absolute control of the flow of resources thereby eliminating all forms of competition for power. Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe is a good example for creating an extremely extractive political system. And there are many of them out there in the African continent.

Now, when you keep pumping money into an extractive institution, what happens? We all know the answer, it’s quite visible in almost all states in Africa.

Back to Piebalgs statement, I agree that the EU can do more to eradicate poverty but just not through development aid. In fact, it will fail again and again.

G8 LeadersMy solution would be to cut out the corrupt middle men; i.e. The extractive political institutions. The EU can set up direct incentive programs for people with excellent ideas. These ideas could mean a whole lot for communities in developing countries. It can encourage individuals to be more creative and think deeply for solutions to problems in their societies. This is extremely healthy for growth and without it a nation is doomed to fail.

The EU needs to open up and make its offices around the world accessible to the man on the street. That is for people like Yeabu that has to wake up everyday at 6:00am and runs to the wharf to buy fish and brings them to sell at the fish market. When she fails to do so for the day, her family will starve for that day. Yeabu has to know that she can go to the office of the EU on the nicer side of town and to speak to someone who will encourage her to come up with ideas for a business or service and that the EU will support her to make that happen.

Secondly, I think the EU has to cut down direct spending on governments significantly if it plans to help meaningfully. Governments need to fend for themselves. I am not saying it because it is easier to say, but because it hard to do and I Believe if a government struggles very hard to get its money, it will fight very hard to put it into better use. As people say in Sierra Leone, “spend no check, I got it FOC” (Free of Charge). With less FOC money, Government institutions will be more robust in collecting revenues for their states.

Thirdly, the EU has to create a level playing ground for European and African farmers.

Here is an analogy: Seku, the Ivorian cocoa former, does not even know the end product of his produce. He sells a 50 kilogram bag of cocoa to Fritz, his German retailer, for extremely cheap. Fritz imports the cocoa on behalf of his multi-million dollar firm that is making 20 times the profit that Seku could dream of. Profits to Germany.

The heavily subsidized German farmer Heinrich sells his produce to a German firm for a standard price fixed up by a government committee. Heinrich is protected by Germany and the EU, whereas Seku isn’t.

The price of cocoa beans is fixed by Fritz and his rich firm and if Seku refuses to sell to him for cheap, he threatens he will go to John in Cameroon who is dying to sell his produce. By the way, I have not even mentioned the other middlemen, the Lebanese and Syrian cocoa buyers that as well sell to the likes of Fritz through ripping-off of poor farmers and the corrupt institutions that makes the whole export business cumbersome for Seku. What the EU does is that it sets the standard for the quality of cocoa beans rather than the living standard of Seku.

Because Seku is extremely poor and rely heavily on Fritz to live, he will sell his produce as cheaply as Fritz wants. More profits to Germany.

Hence the EU has to make the same regulations equal for both European and African farmers: i.e Fritz should only be allowed to import cocoa beans from Seku if his standard of living equals to that of Heinrich. Easy to say and easy to do.

Fourthly, if the EU genuinely wants to eradicate poverty, it should then lower the barrier for students coming from developing nations to study in Europe. It’s true that the number of Africans studying in Europe has increased in the last few years. This is because African economies have made huge strides in the last decade and more Africans can now afford to live and study in Europe. But this number is not enough yet to spark a trickle-down effect. If this trend continues it will take decades for changes to be made. To provide a quick fix to poverty, more Africans need to travel and see how things get done successfully in other places.

Everyday I see my fellow Sierra Leoneans out in the global north representing the nation at conferences and forums. While I celebrate that my country is slowly getting re-exposed to the world, the other side of my brain ponders on how this makes it even more complicated for these folks that have been able to leave the country for these important but very short trips. It’s evident that these folks learn from their exposure but what they take home is often not what Sierra Leone needs.

They see the glamour of the north and tend to copy it but what they fail to understand is how the north was able to get there. Europe went through a lot of periods from the black death to the neolithic revolution, the medieval period and finally industrialization and globalization. African colonies didn’t but this isn’t about history. It is about the fact that Europe has learned from these and this what shapes the lifestyle of the average European.

For example, if the bus pulls up at the station in London or Berlin on a busy Monday morning everyone will instinctively form a queue, whereas in Freetown or Accra people will scramble and fight to get in first. When a new design of t-shirts is trending in the German market, the average German earner would first consider how much damage buying that t-shirt would cost to his income, considering also rent, electricity and heating bills, taxes, medical insurance and savings. In Sierra Leone, the average earner would buy that t-shirt irrespective of his debts and dues. Yes, how you look and dress is highly prioritized in most developing countries as opposed to rich nations.

My point is that these folks see European lifestyle and tend to copy it, but fail to consider European thought-process. In other to fully understand how things get successfully done in Europe, it takes more than a three-day climate change conference in Warsaw. If there is one thing I have learned in my three years of studying and working in Germany it is how to be efficient in what I do. By efficiency I mean how to do things better through eliminating all forms of failure.

The EU needs to promote more educational programs for students from developing countries, eliminate language barriers and set a lower bar. It also needs to promote more long-term exchange programs especially for experts from developing nations to learn from their European counterparts.

IMG_1739Finally, the EU needs to go beyond figures and statistic trajectories. Setting the barrier that every nations Gross Domestic Product, which politicians always call the GDP and sometimes do not even understand what it means, should not be below whatever percentage does not solve the problem. Sierra Leone’s GDP projected from 3.2 percent in 2009 to 6 percent in 2012 but the reality on the ground is quite the opposite of the stats. A bag of rice in 2009 cost SLL 90,000 ($30) and in 2012 it cost SLL 120,000 ($40).

So Mr. Piebalgs, the UK has reached its threshold of providing 0.7 percent of GDP in aid but that does not make the lives of poor people in Sierra Leone better. The EU simply needs to rethink its development programs that can somehow meet the intended purposes. It owes the world that much considering the damage Europe inflicted on the rest of the world.

My Two cents: 


Sierra Leone’s macro economy is doing well, but at the micro level it’s another story. Listen to my report on DW’s Africalink show.

By: Abu-Bakarr Jalloh

In 1994, almost two decades ago, I found a kid who had made away with one of my rental bicycles. My friends and I dragged him to the police station to get him to return the bike. At around 8pm local time at the central police station in Bo, Southern Sierra Leone, the police asked me to report a statement against the alleged thief. Before I began my narration, the officer told me to buy his candle, pen and paper. I tried to walk to a nearby shop to get him the items but he said no. “Put the money on the table,” he pointed to the table. “I will buy it later myself”. I paid a bribe.

Last week, I inquired about renewing my passport in Germany. I called at the embassy in Berlin and spoke to a young Sierra Leonean on the phone. “Use the account number on our website that ends with 3”, he instructed. ‘Wire 35 Euros to it and come to Berlin with a receipt”.

Splendid. That’s all he said. I had read on the “website”, which by the way is a blog, that the embassy does not issue passports. Excuse me? What do I do? I have three options. Option one is incur the embassy’s cost of making the passport for me in Freetown. The second option is to fly home myself and get a new passport or final option, get someone in Freetown to do it for me. That means, a DHL fee of about 100 Euros would have to be paid to get the booklet here. Also, splendid.

The question remains; why must I pay another 35 Euros to the embassy? I read that my new passport would have to be approved by my country’s diplomatic mission in my country of residence or the mission responsible thereof. On the SL embassy site, I also read that to approve all documents, the applicant must pay a fee of 30 Euros. But I was told to wire 35 Euros. Below the approval fee, I read another fee of 5 Euros for registration forms. What? Is the form a booklet or a mere piece of paper? Super splendid.

The question now in my mind is how is this different from a cop two decades ago that asked me to buy his candle, pen and paper?

For a system as corrupt as ours in the midst of political turmoil and a decade-long unrest that ravaged the economy, I reasoned with a lone cop trying to make ends meet. I believed the country was lagging behind the world’s development pace and no single individual could differentiate between good and bad governance; not even a cop.

I understand that our system then was not capable of making the officer a responsible cop. I would even reason with him now if he would ask me to buy his paper because our economy is still not strong enough to make our men and women in uniforms better officers.

But for the following reasons, I will not agree with Sierra Leone’s diplomatic mission to Germany to pay 5 Euros for a piece of paper:

Firstly, as a matter of principle, I refuse to see reasons why the embassy would require its citizens to buy forms. This is an archaic and outrageous form of revenue collection and one of the indirect reasons why we attained the status of a failed state.

Secondly, let’s do the math. How much does a paper packet cost? In Germany, it’s between 4 and 10 Euros depending on the quality of the paper. Let’s assume they are using a 60g paper. How many papers do they need for a form? I take it that the government in SL pays the person writing the instructions on the paper not by the revenue collected from selling the forms. This is just too outrageous.

Thirdly, for the fact that it is a diplomatic mission representing a country in a foreign land, that is the more reason why its system of operation should be transparent and corrupt free.

Finally, if SL has one of the fastest growing economies in the world today, is extracting unnecessary fees from its nationals the best way to maintain that development?

I am ready to negotiate a 50 percent tax of my income or even pay it without questioning. If I can pay that same amount of tax to my current country of residence, heck I am willing to give the money to my beloved country. But I refuse to pay 5 Euros bribe to the embassy of SL in Germany.

By Khadija Mansaray

We have a very beautiful country, fertile soil, abundant rain, rich minerals, natural harbor and more. Our population is about five million yet with all this we are one of the poorest countries in the world.

Why is Sierra Leone poor amid all the riches it has been blessed with? The answer: The people. We are unpatriotic, dishonest and hate each other. The fundamental values, or lack of them, ensure that the country remains poor. Some may say this is a harsh conclusion but the evidence speaks for itself.

Good governance is anathema to us. We continuously elect bad governments and ensure they stay in power for too long. We cry for law and order but detest discipline and make enemies of those who enforce it. We frustrate good people. We fight them, accuse them, humiliate them and if possible physically harm them. The Sierra Leonean sense of right and wrong is completely twisted. We steal from our bosses and think it is ok because they have more than we do, they are wicked and evil if they decide to discipline us.

A woman finds her husband cheating and she is unreasonable not to have expected it. The Sierra Leonean way of life is to rip the other off. Honesty and integrity are seen as weaknesses and not virtues. From the top to the bottom to cheat and lie is normal. In the markets we fiddle the meat scales, we dent the measuring cups, we add other substances to Gari and palm oil. We lie and cheat at every opportunity and all of this is acceptable business practice.

In management they talk about win-win situations but the Sierra Leonean only knows win-loss. We are always out to get one up on the other. Using and hurting people to get ahead is OK and sometimes even applauded. We completely abuse goodwill and shamelessly say ‘nar wey you fool’.

Exploiting people in vulnerable situations is also OK. We have no respect for poor people and treat our domestic servants in the most appalling manner. We feel we have the right to verbally abuse poor people just because we have given them some food and shelter. We do a small good deed and follow it with numerous acts of cruelty and wickedness and expect to be loved for it. What we do to poorer relatives living with us and the so called ‘men pekin’ – ward – is disgraceful. We turn them into slaves for our children. We deny them the opportunities that would make them progress. We verbally, physically and even sexually abuse them and we scream ingratitude when they walk away.

We waste our energies on the silliest prejudices ever. Every group of Sierra Leonean thinks they are better than the other and that only they should progress. We make it a mission to hinder the progress of others. In institutions – academic or otherwise – we seek to further the interest of our own only. We believe that good things should only come to certain people and woe betides someone we look down on rise to a certain status or position. We scoff and laugh and fervently pray that they fall from grace so we can justify our prejudices. We have not yet learned that a humble beginning is no crime and that the people we should admire are the ones who achieve in spite of poverty. We are hung up on status and do the most disgraceful things to achieve it.

We are callous and heartless. We never really cared about the war and the sufferings of people until it came to our doorstep. Yes we were quite happy to keep partying in Freetown until our homes were burnt down too. Until we realized that our sons could be abducted too, our daughters could be raped and our husbands killed and that being elite was not going to save us. We all pretend that rebels did all the evil things in the war. But we know the homes of the privileged were swept clean by their neighbors, friends and family who moved in when the rebels left. How many of us lucky to have our homes untouched then proceeded to buy goods we knew were obviously stolen. The ‘item’ became commonplace in Freetown. The streets were flooded with stolen goods and it was OK. We were buying looted goods like they were going out of fashion.

In the aftermath of the war security became an issue and checkpoints sprang up all over the place. Now we had power over everyone. Now was time to humiliate our wealthy and snobbish neighbors. Get them down their cars and make them walk, search them in the most humiliating manner and let them know they were at our mercy. How many people did we point as rebels or collaborators because of personal vendettas, grudges or just plain envy? Those of us fortunate to escape to Guinea or Gambia, on our return we embarked on the most vicious witch-hunt ever. Everyone one left behind was a collaborator and must pay for it. To hang the collaborator became our mission. We give the impression that rebels committed all rapes but how many of our “respectable” men abused the women who came to seek shelter in their homes. How many displaced men abused their fellows displaced who were more vulnerable?

The Sierra Leonean is hungry for power. And it is a power to suppress and oppress the other especially the vulnerable. We are happiest when we oppress others. The teacher with the cane taking out his frustrations on a pupil, the manager with the promotion that beautiful girl wants, the lecturer with the marks yet another beautiful girl wants, the officer who allocates market space, the government minister with the lucrative contracts, even the school prefect. The list is endless and it’s all about power and exploitation. We’ve perfected gossip and turned it into a national pastime.

A person decides they’ve had enough of being overweight and opts for a healthy life style and lose weight. They become fit and slim and we say they have HIV/AIDS. I have never seen a people who rejoice at others’ misfortunes like we do. A woman is widowed and we smirk. A man abandons his wife and kids and we jump for joy. A family loses their home and we’re happy and laugh because now they shall suffer like us. We openly make fun of disabled people.

We rejoice when people suffer loss or misfortune and cannot bear to see others happy and successful. We can’t help ourselves; instead we have to bring them down. Our tendency to bury our head in the sand would be hilarious if it weren’t so serious. All of our leaders are good it’s the people around them who mess things up. Our husbands are not uncontrollable perverts it’s the women out there desperate to get them. Our uncle can afford that swanky car despite his meager salary because his boss made a generous payout last Christmas. Our beautiful 21-year-old daughter is not dating that short and balding 56-year-old for his money. It’s the devil in the bush who takes the Downs Syndrome child away.

The state of denial makes it easier for us to turn a blind eye to everything. Then we come to the diaspora. You think we would learn something instead we take our wickedness to another level. The blatant exploitation and lack of regard for others becomes even worse. You would have thought the loss of status and the cleaning and care jobs would have taught us to appreciate people. But no! You would think the discipline we are forced to practice in our jobs and day-to-day activities would become ingrained. Again no! The speed with which we revert to type when among our own is phenomenal. We turn up late at parties, hardly give presents, talk down to people helping behind the bar, leave the toilets in a mess, steal what we can and go home. We really are a bunch of savages. We are among the world’s greatest litterbugs.

The annual Fourah Bay-Foulah Town Outing in UK attracts the best and worst of our society. Whilst it brings us all together we leave the beaches in such a state it’s a wonder they don’t ban us. We litter with impunity failing to realize that is likely to be one of our own black brother or sister cleaning the beach the next day. How would we feel if we turned up at our cleaning jobs and met that same kind of filth? Yet we go on about how filthy other races are. Our regard for the institution of marriage is a joke. We teach our daughters chastity at 13 and encourage them to be home-breakers when they turn 20. And now we have Facebook, a brand new platform to show how ugly we can get.

While other communities use it more positively we do our usual thing. We bully and abuse. But we have two good things. We are warm and hospitable to foreigners. We welcome them and make them feel at home. The Sierra Leonean will open his heart and home to anyone. We also have a very high religious tolerance. The Sierra Leonean will kill you for your property, your wife or your money but never ever for your religion. Although that itself begs the question, do we really care about God?

Every Sierra Leonean reading this knows we need to embrace the good and let go of the bad. But the question is: are we ready to change??!!