The masked burden of COVID-19

The impact of the pandemic in Sierra Leone runs much deeper than what its morbidity suggests

If we consider just the numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths, Sierra Leone has fared well. So far, the country has recorded just over 6,200 cases and about 120 deaths. It has been suggested that the relatively young population, the recent experience with Ebola, and a swift response to the pandemic, including the declaration in March last year of a 12-month state of emergency, may have helped slow the spread of the virus. One concern with such figures is that COVID-19 in Africa is “underdiagnosed and underreported”, and that mortality may be “hidden” due to limited testing and death recording capacities. A corollary of this is the impact of pandemic measures on livelihoods, food security, health, and disaster preparedness—which, too, remains concealed from public scrutiny. There is, hence, a need for a more holistic look at the situation, to consider how COVID-19, like other health emergencies before, has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities in Sierra Leone.

It is is well established that disasters are rarely the result of a single event. They are instead produced by an accumulation of hazards, risks, and vulnerabilities in a population. Sierra Leone is extremely prone to natural disasters, including floods and landslides in the rainy season and droughts and wildfires in the dry season. These disasters are usually complicated by chronic issues like uncontrolled urbanisation, poverty, poor sanitation, a fragile health system, and other infrastructural weaknesses. In this already precarious scenario, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the risks for communities. Therefore, it is necessary for Sierra Leone’s COVID-response strategy to be part of a wider disaster-risk framework that takes into account existing needs and vulnerabilities, rather than drawing away attention from them.

COVID-19 has significantly disrupted people’s livelihoods and increased the risks associated with poverty. According to the World Bank, Sierra Leone’s economy contracted by 2.2 per cent in 2020, and 81 per cent of micro, small, and medium enterprises experienced a decrease in their profits due to the pandemic. This is partly a result of restrictions that the government has imposed to curb the spread of infection, including short-term lockdowns, curfews, and limits on the opening hours of restaurants and bars. With only limited state support, these restrictions have led to job losses and a reduction in the incomes of many people. The International Growth Centre estimates that 57 per cent of households in Sierra Leone have experienced a decline in income due to COVID-19.

The restrictions on movement and the temporary closure of markets have, in particular, affected rural communities and farming households. Small-scale farmers are not able to sell their products at normal levels, while day labourers and workers in the agricultural supply chain struggle to find employment. The resulting losses in income are naturally compounding food insecurity, which is already a serious issue. According to a 2020 World Food Programme report, more than 5 million Sierra Leoneans lack adequate nutrition.

Restrictions and lockdowns in other parts of the world have also impacted many Sierra Leonean families that rely on remittances sent from abroad. While exact figures are not available, Sierra Leone’s migrant workers often work in sectors most affected by the pandemic, such as construction and hospitality, and this has affected their ability to send money home.

This is just one example of how the local impacts of a disaster are shaped by global and structural drivers. COVID-19 is an international health emergency, but rather than acknowledging how different countries are interconnected in the risks and vulnerabilities they face, many governments are turning inwards and adopting more protectionist measures in their response to the virus. This is illustrated by the hoarding of vaccines by higher-income countries, as well as the cuts that some have made to their foreign aid spending.

The UK, for instance, has reduced its overseas aid budget in 2021 to 0.5 per cent of national income, down from 0.7 per cent. This translates to an estimated decrease in overall aid spending of £3.5 billion. The UK’s bilateral aid to Sierra Leone was £80 million in 2019–20, but this will be reduced significantly in 2021, according to the Center for Global Development. Inevitably, this will lead to significant cuts to programmes that provide essential services, such as water, sanitation, and access to healthcare to marginalised communities. With roughly half of public infrastructure and investment projects in Sierra Leone funded by foreign aid grants, such cuts have already led to the closure of some projects.

Together, these challenges show how COVID-19 is exacerbating economic insecurity in Sierra Leone. Given that approximately 60 per cent of people live below the national poverty line, recovery from such setbacks will not be easy. The socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19, as recent research shows, will aggravate other serious problems, including food insecurity.

Health needs
While the recent experience of Ebola provided a framework for countries in West Africa to respond to the emerging risk of COVID-19, the pandemic has diverted attention from other health vulnerabilities.

The most significant challenge for communities is access to healthcare, especially outside of major cities. While in 2010 the government of Sierra Leone introduced free healthcare for some groups, including children under 5, costs remain prohibitive for many families. There is a lack of trained clinicians, diagnostic services, basic medical equipment, and drugs in Sierra Leone, all of which contribute to adverse health outcomes. According to a 2019 report published in the African Journal of Primary Healthcare & Family Medicine, there are just 1.4 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 population in Sierra Leone, equating to a qualified workforce of under 1,000 to serve a population of 7.8 million.

There are also apprehensions from some medical professionals that the focus on COVID-19 might hinder measures to fight endemic diseases like malaria, one of the leading causes of death in Sierra Leone. It is worth noting that in 2014 twice as many people died of malaria than in the Ebola outbreak. Improving maternal and birth outcomes must also remain a high priority in Sierra Leone. According to UNICEF, maternal mortality rates, as well as those for newborns and children under five in Sierra Leone are amongst the highest in the world.In addition to these chronic problems, the pandemic has resulted in fewer people seeking medical help across Africa, which may also lead to poorer health outcomes overall.

Disaster risk framework
While COVID-19 is a serious public health threat, it is important to acknowledge that some responses to the pandemic have heightened existing vulnerabilities in many communities. This is not unique to Sierra Leone — a recent report by Oxfam outlined the inordinate impact that COVID-19 has had on marginalised communities across the world.

Countries with underlying social and structural inequalities have limited capacity to respond to complex health emergencies such as COVID-19. It is also crucial to recognise that crises that consume a disproportionate share of resources and attention, like the ongoing pandemic, can aggravate existing insecurities, set back development gains, and make communities more susceptible to other types of disasters. Public health emergencies may increase poverty and inequality, divert investment from other social programmes (including education and health), and increase the risk of food insecurity.

It is therefore clear that public health emergencies are complex disaster-risk drivers, and should be integral to disaster-risk frameworks and planning for lower-income countries. This means not planning just for the direct effects of public health emergencies — which are more clearly identified in the existing frameworks for disaster risk reduction — but to also mitigate the risk of policy responses having unintended adverse impacts.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction aims to “prevent new and reduce existing disaster risk through the implementation of integrated and inclusive economic, structural, legal, social, health, cultural, educational, environmental, technological, political and institutional measures that prevent and reduce hazard exposure and vulnerability to disaster, increase preparedness for response and recovery, and thus strengthen resilience”. This framework recognises that while a country’s leadership must be at the helm of such efforts, local governments, NGOs, and the private sector must also share responsibility.

How could Sierra Leone move towards adopting this approach? It is heartening to note that the nation has already begun to move in this direction in recent years. Following the 2014–16 Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone took significant steps to enhance future epidemic preparedness, including participating in the West African Regional Disease Surveillance Systems Enhancement (REDISSE) programme, which coordinates access to resources, such as laboratory facilitates, personal protective equipment, medication, and vaccines. In 2019, Sierra Leone launched the National Action Plan for Health Security which seeks to improve healthcare access and also build resilience for future disease outbreaks and public health hazards. And crucially, in November 2020, the National Disaster Management Agency came into being, with the objective of being the nodal organisation for strategic coordination and management of “disasters and similar emergencies throughout Sierra Leone and to develop the capacity of communities to respond effectively to disasters and emergencies”. 

While these initiatives are certainly in the right direction, it is possible that there is still a tendency among disaster managers in Sierra Leone to look at disaster events in isolation—through the lens of immediate relief, often at the expense of recovery and resilience—rather than as part of a complex system (see related feature: The unintended consequence). This can be counterproductive. There is, hence, a pressing need for agencies such as Sierra Leone’s National COVID Emergency Response Centre (NACOVERC) and the NDMA to consider the indirect impacts of COVID-19. Mitigating such foundational issues are critical for building resilience in a disaster community. This will require the national agencies to enhance their coordination with external stakeholders—such as the World Bank Group’s COVID-19 response and other aid agencies—to include assessments for the less-visible vulnerabilities in communities, and fashion focussed interventions to reduce their impacts.


Jamie Matthews, PhD, specialises in disaster communication. He is the co-editor of Media and Disaster Communities (Palgrave).

NOTE: This article was first published on 6 August 2021 on, which works to strengthen disaster communication in Sierra Leone.

Cover graphic: Felix Rhodes

Tanzanian poll is likely to usher in a new era of authoritarianism. Here’s why

President John Magufuli has closed down all the reliable means to evaluate allegations of foul play. Getty Images

Dan Paget, University of Aberdeen

Tanzanians voted in their general election on October 28 in a poll that pitted popular opposition chief Tundu Lissu against incumbent John Magufuli. As the votes are counted, Dan Paget explains why incumbent John Magufuli is likely to be declared the winner, and what his second term will mean for democracy in the East African nation.

How do you rate the independence or fairness of the Tanzania election commission now and in the past?

We should wait until all the results have come out before passing judgement. However, provisionally, I no longer have faith in Tanzania’s National Electoral Commission or the validity of the election results. The validity of elections should be something that is determined by independent bodies and rigorous procedures. However, I am afraid that guesswork and judgement are the only means at our disposal to assess the validity of these elections, because other avenues to verify it have been blocked in advance.

It is never easy to know when to give credence to allegations of election manipulation. Such accusations can always be made in bad faith. If the election commission were independent, and governed by a cross-party board, one might trust them to arbitrate these allegations. Instead the constitution gives the president the authority to appoint the heads of the commission. The opposition has been calling for the commission to be reformed for years.

In the absence of an independent electoral commission, and independent courts, normally one would turn to independent observer missions. They routinely deploy large teams which observe the conduct of the election and assess irregularities, but these missions have been kept away. So have many of the most respected domestic election observers, such as the Legal and Human Rights Centre. The conclusions of the few observation missions present will be important. So will be the judgements of Tanzania Election Watch, which is assaying the conduct of the election remotely. I recommend their preliminary report.

Altogether, the reliable means to evaluate allegations of foul play have been all but closed down. Given all that, it is hard to know what to do except to give prima facie credence to the widespread allegations of election fraud made by the opposition and many analysts.

Their claims acquire weight from the stream of videos and photographs shared via social media. These largely unverified reports appear to show the manipulation of the electoral register, ghost polling stations, pre-filled ballots, pre-printed ballots, ballot-stuffing, polling agents disqualified or barred access to polling stations, and a variety of other irregularities.

What puts it over the top is the scale and character of the victory for the ruling party – Chama cha Mapinduzi – that has been reported so far. Results are still coming in, and final judgement should be suspended until we have a complete picture. Nonetheless, the ruling party’s victories have been declared in places you would least expect them to win, and at a scale which is hard to believe.

The popularity of the opposition and the ruling party alike is difficult to discern, especially given the absence of opinion polls. This makes the size of rallies one of the few indicators of party popularity left available to us. The rally is a treacherous indicator of party popularity. Nonetheless, as I have argued elsewhere, we can draw a tentative, negative conclusion: opposition support has not collapsed. It is not negligible. If it had, we would not have seen large opposition rallies so consistently. This inference is consistent with the opposition’s wide organisational base.

Nonetheless, so far, officials have declared the defeat of the opposition’s most admired leaders in their greatest strongholds. Household names like Zitto Kabwe, Freeman Mbowe, Joseph Mbilinyi, Halima Mdee, John Heche and Esther Bulaya have all lost their seats. These defeats, moreover, are by astounding margins. Altogether, it is hard to see why the National Electoral Commission and the wider infrastructure which oversees elections in Tanzania should be given the benefit of the doubt.

The police made regular arrests of opposition candidates and broke up heir rallies. To what extent were the police – and by extension the government – a factor in the eventual outcomes?

The police have certainly been a forceful presence in this campaign. The video evidence of them firing teargas, breaking up meetings, arresting opposition candidates and committing acts of brutality are available on social media for all to see.

On the instructions of state officials, first the leading opposition candidate for the presidency of Tanzania, Tundu Lissu, and then the leading opposition candidate for the presidency of Zanzibar, Seif Hamad, were temporarily barred from campaigning.

It must all have had an effect on the election outcome.

Alongside the police has been the army. They have been deployed to oversee the election in parts of the country, and there are multiple albeit mostly unverified reports of brutality and murder at their hands.

But their actions need to be interpreted in the wider authoritarian context. Tanzania has always been an authoritarian state. The old authoritarian architecture was never removed after the reintroduction of multiparty elections in 1992. But there has been a sea-change since 2015 when Magufuli came to power. Things that were permitted in 2014 are not permitted today. The media are censored. Political parties are oppressed. Politicians and civic activists are harassed, in court and out of it. Rallies were banned for four years. There has been a spate of violence by anonymous actors, which context suggested but did not confirm were connected to the state. That context is key. The trajectory of party politics in Tanzania has been shaped by it. It is crucial to everything.

Based on what you know so far, was the 2020 election a step forward or backward in Tanzania’s path to fully free and fair elections?

So far, it seems that this election will usher in a new era of authoritarianism. Any resemblance that Tanzania has borne to a liberal democracy seems to be slipping away. Not only is the apparent scale of election manipulation unprecedented. The authoritarian landslide which seems to be in the making will be presented by the regime as a vindication of its extreme authoritarian project over the last five years.

My speculative opinion is that President Magufuli and his ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi will use the super-majority that they seem about to award themselves to enact their authoritarian developmental vision. They will institute a deeper and further-reaching authoritarian agenda. This might include lifting presidential term limits, but it is also likely to include the institution of further measures that consolidate the party’s authoritarian transformation of Tanzania.

Dan Paget, Lecturer in Politics, University of Aberdeen

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Where Brexit will leave the UK’s human rights diplomacy

Sean Molloy, Connal Mallory, New Castle University

Boris Johnson, as foreign secretary, attends the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2018. Magali Girardin/EPA

The UK has played a leading role within the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC) since its creation in 2006 as the main international body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. But when the UK seeks re-election in October 2020 – a requirement for membership of the council – it’s likely to have departed from the European Union and its powers of human rights diplomacy will be on an uncertain new footing.

In recent years, Britain’s human rights diplomacy at the HRC has operated in two channels. On the one hand, the UK has been able to influence human rights directly by its own efforts, acting in its capacity as a sovereign state and through British diplomats. On the other hand, the UK has exercised influence indirectly through its membership of the EU collective process. In theory, this permits the UK to prioritise certain rights on its own, while also influencing a much broader range of human rights through the EU bloc. But by leaving the EU, it will be left to go solo.

This raises questions about which rights the UK will prioritise and which rights will be sidelined diplomatically without the ability to rely on the EU to push them.

Our recent research with our colleague Rhona Smith examined the possible consequences of Brexit on the UK’s human rights diplomacy. We looked at the UK’s engagement as an EU member state between 2006 and 2018, by examining participation in what are called “interactive dialogues”, where UN-appointed experts are questioned in relation to a designated theme or country.

We found that the UK is less active and considerably more selective than the EU in its participation in these dialogues.

UK priorities

We found that in some cases, the UK and the EU are very similar in their involvement in interactive dialogues. For instance, both the UK and the EU are regular participants in discussions with special mandate holders for such countries as the Central Africa Republic, Eritrea and Iran.

When looking at themes, the UK tends to participate in dialogues on civil and political rights for certain, specified groups. So of the 12 dialogues on violence against women across the 38 session of the HRC that we studied, the UK participated in nine, and five out of a total of seven dialogues on discrimination against women. The UK also has a high participation rate of over 80% with dialogues relating to terrorism and freedom of expression and association, among others.


But there are some countries and thematic human rights issues on which the UK’s participation is either non-existent or falls far below participation rates of the EU. We found four countries – the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cuba, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Burundi – where British participation in country dialogues was minimal.

There are also a large number of themes with which the UK rarely engages, including dialogues with groups such as indigenous peoples, the rights of migrants, the sale and exploitation of children and people of African descent.

As the graph below shows, the UK rarely participates in discussions on social, economic and cultural rights, such as the right to health, education and housing. This can be contrasted with the EU where participation rates rarely fell below 90% across the 38 sessions of the council.

An opportunity

Should the UK continue to focus on a narrow subset of rights and countries after Brexit, it’s unlikely to be able to contribute to the shape and development of aspects of the international human rights project outside of these areas. Not only will this diminish the UK’s place as a leading promoter and advocate on human rights, it also offers less liberal and progressive countries the opportunity to push back.

One way the UK could prevent a backslide in its status as a human rights leader would be to continue to align with the EU. Despite the fallout from the EU referendum, the UK and EU still agree more than they disagree in respect to international human rights law.

Another route would be for the UK to use Brexit as an opportunity to expand its human rights diplomacy beyond its current list of priorities, which include modern slavery, freedom or religion or belief and freedom of expression. It could also treat Brexit as a chance to invest more in human rights diplomacy. A conscious political decision to be more proactive across all engagement at the UN would not only ensure Britain’s ongoing influence as a human rights champion, but also retain its stature as a global power while its reputation transitions as it leaves the EU.

If attention isn’t paid to both the UK’s role in global diplomacy and human rights issues after Brexit, the consequences for both could be profound.

Credit: The Conversation

Sierra Leone: My humble words for the Sierra Leone Peoples Party

Dear brother SLPP

It is over a year since the family gave you responsibility to take care of the household in the hope that the wheels of development will take another positive turn for everyone in the family and I am optimistic you are working hard to make that possible.

It is also my hope that everyone will support you in fighting corruption, be tolerant to others with different views and political affiliations and put the family first in our differing views about the development in the family.

President Julius Maada Bio: Sierra Leoneans want answers to the high standard of living

Unfortunately, developing trends are indicating an unstable progress in the family’s drive for sustainable development, cohesion and peace. Our story has always been a challenging one and is still being the same sad story with little to cheer about, but I believe we could change the narrative to that of better affordable public health care, standard educational institutions, enabling market and job opportunities, effective accountability and transparency of all public institutions, and adherence to the democratic tenets, among others.

I could sense your frustration in your determination to make things work, but I also assume, as it has often been the case with brother APC, some of the men and women you rely on to row the boat seems preoccupied with party politics and time-wasting propaganda instead of focusing on governance. We have you now at the helm of the family and it is my hope that you break the vicious cycle of politics that has made us one of the poorest families.

The broken system has caused an atmosphere of endemic corruption, violations, and the blatant disregard of the rule of law. Today, our young aren’t proud about the family because of the failure of the leaders to own to their responsibility – too much corruption in the public service sector.

Brother SLPP, you need everyone onboard to make your dream a reality. Today people are crying and blaming you for the high cost of living and I do believe you are also not please about the development and might have summoned meetings of few friends of yours to explain the reason for the hardship ‘Gron dry’ problem.

I also believe you would want to wake up in the morning and see everyone in the family happy, such were the expectations of your predecessor; but the dreams are farfetched from the reality because of the endemic hurdles caused by political interference in the public service sector. I could understand your frustration, especially having always to go public to clarify sensitive statements by your children. I also could understand why they have so much energy; but they need to slow down and be accountable when making public statements.

Your promise has always been to do the right thing for the family and I still hope you will do right, now that you are responsible for the food and how it is shared in the house. You have the power to direct the processes of governance, protect and uphold democratic principles, protect the family and ensure peaceful coexistence. Yet the songs are still sad and the children and women are crying.

But I am optimistic the story will be better if all of us see beyond political party lines, tribe, and region and work toward the single goal of making the family a better place. You could break the cycle by being the big brother of every one by engaging the various stakeholders from all walks of life, regions and tribes, for the common goal of working together for better healthcare, standard education, and jobs opportunities.

I am not the only one who believes you could do it. Everyone in the family believes in you and voted you into office for a better Sierra Leone.

Yours Sincerely

 Alpha B. Kamara

Entrepreneurship funds in Africa: distinguishing the good from the bad

Access to finance is consistently listed as the biggest obstacle for start-ups Africa. Wikimedia Commons/The Wot-If? Trust

Aubrey Hruby Senior Fellow, Africa Center, Georgetown University

Disclosure statement Aubrey Hruby does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Entrepreneurs have a pivotal role to play in Africa’s unemployment crisis. Today over a third of the continent’s young workforce (those aged 15-35) are unemployed. Another third are in vulnerable employment. By 2035, Africa will contribute more people to the workforce each year than the rest of the world combined. By 2050 it will be home to 1.25 billion people working aged.

To absorb these new entrants, Africa needs to create over 18 million new jobs each year. Governments need to put in place policies that drive economic growth and competitiveness. These in turn, will enable the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is important because they currently play a significant role in low-income countries, representing nearly 80% of jobs. They are also responsible for 90% of new ones created each year.

The challenge for countries is how to support the growth of SMEs. Various African governments have experimented with ways to help address the US$140 billion funding gap for startups and SMEs. For example, one approach has been to set up entrepreneurship funds.

Based on my experience of watching their performance over the past 18 years, I would issue some words of caution. Some entrepreneurship support models work better than others. And how they are set up – particularly the governance structures put in place to manage them – is key to their success, or failure.

Funding gap

Access to financing is consistently listed as the biggest obstacle to business for SME’s in African countries. They often face double digit interest rates from local banks. And venture capital penetration is still extremely low. Top end 2018 estimates put it at about $725 million for the whole continent.

To tackle the problem, African countries continue to start new entrepreneurship funds. In July 2017 Ghana launched the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan. The aim is to provide integrated national support for start-ups and small businesses.

Almost a year later, Rwanda secured a $30 million loan from the African Development Bank for the establishment of the Rwandan Innovation Fund. This will focus on investments in tech-enabled SMEs.

As new funds are started, African countries must look to the successes and failures of both global and regional funds to replicate best practices and avoid common pitfalls. African governments should explore replicating models similar to Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and the USAID backed enterprise funds. Both include robust investment selection criteria for funds.

In doing so, African government-backed entrepreneurship funds would operate as fund-of-funds – where a fund invests in another private equity or venture fund rather than directly in businesses themselves – as do many development finance institutions globally such as the UK’s CDC or FMO of the Netherlands.

The what and the how

The fund of funds structure creates an arm’s length relationship between the government agency that houses the entrepreneurship fund and the businesses that eventually receive investment. In between, sits a professional fund manager that earns the majority of its income from making good investments, growing companies and exiting them after a period of five to seven years. In this way, there are natural disincentives for corruption and market-based selection criteria for the entrepreneurs who receive investment.

How the fund managers are selected also matters. To ensure true investment independence from the government, fund managers and board members must be chosen in a transparent and competitive process. And once selected, representatives of the government entrepreneurship fund agency can sit on the investment committee for oversight purposes but should respect the fund managers’ independent decision-making.

There are examples of funds being set up without the necessary independent, accountable fund managers. One is the YouWin program in Nigeria. Created in 2016, it was set up to help youth entrepreneurs grow businesses. But senior civil servants handed out awards to friends and relatives.

Government supported fund managers through the FoF model can also catalyse additional investment. By operating in markets and sectors often ignored by traditional private equity funds, Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and enterprise funds have mobilized additional capital for investment-starved companies. African government-backed entrepreneurship funds could do the same by participating in blended finance deals with development finance institutions, social-impact investment funds, local banks and other market players to back growing firms.

Measuring success

While not actively managing the funds’ portfolio investments, governments have a key role to play in guiding the funds priorities. Priorities may vary by country and given Africa’s growing rates of unemployment, funds should prioritise job creation by evaluating investment on key performance indicators. These would include the number of jobs created per dollar invested, indirect jobs created per dollar invested, and average salary of job. In addition to job creation, governments can direct funds to focus on specific sectors either in need of increased capital or high-growth areas in local economies.

Beyond establishing investment criteria, government-backed funds should prioritise rigorous measurement of investment results and long-term data tracking to inform future investment decisions. The UK British Bank regional growth fund found the cost per job created varied considerably by project from £4,000 to over £200,000. It concluded that a better allocation of funds could have led to thousands more jobs created for the same resources.

Data driven investments can not only lead to a better results, but further curtail issues around potential mismanagement of funds.

Tackling Africa’s job creation challenge requires innovative thinking and initiatives that support private sector-led growth. Looking to the model of Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and enterprise funds, African governments can spur local ecosystems and drive new private capital to regions today seen as unfriendly or too risky to outside investors.

Properly structured investments today could yield much larger dividends tomorrow.

Credit: The Conversation

Between the FCC Mayor, national cohesion and political party interest

By Alusine Sesay

Mayor of the Freetown City Council, Madam Yvonne Aki-Sawyer

Over the week, the Mayor of the Freetown City Council, Madam Yvonne Aki-Sawyer, has come under severe criticism from her main opposition All People’s Party (APC) comrades. Her crime for facing such criticism is that she travelled with President Julius Maada Bio to Canada. President Bio traveled to Canada to grace the TED 2019 conference and subsequently delivered a speech on leadership and several other issues. As a visionary leader and one who believes in national cohesion and nation building, the mayor had no option but to make use of such an opportunity that would serve not only her personal self, but the entire Freetonians. This writer would however not cast blame on those APC die-hards for raining attacks on their comrade for the simple fact that such is not a novelty in Sierra Leone, where people value political party interest more than the statehood.

Dr.Kandeh Yumkella of the National Grand Coalition (NGC) was hundred percent correct to have described the APC and SLPP as Alusine and Alhassan-identical twins with the same characteristics. They would always cry foul while in opposition but would behave otherwise immediately they get political power.  While in opposition, the SLPP opposed everything under the sun, including the goodwill extended by former President Ernest Bai Koroma to members of their party, who might have been personal friends to him before he became president. Therefore, it would not be a surprise for the APC to cry down their comrade who might be of the notion that the country should be first in all her agenda. It has always been like that and it would continue until thy kingdom come when thy will be done.

When Dr.Bubuake Jabbie took the Sierra Leone Peoples Party to court on constitutional matter, supporters of the party branded him that he had been bribed by the APC to disrupt the SLPP and deter its chances of winning elections. Also, Dr.Bernadette Lahai was called all sorts of names and was even petitioned by 26 SLPP Members of Parliament because she was accused of undermining the party in parliament, where she served as minority leader. The said decision was endorsed by the National Executive Council (NEC) of the SLPP for her possible replacement as minority leader in parliament. She was only saved by a court injunction which restrained the party from conducting any election that would have led to her possible replacement.

While addressing party members in Kenema, Dr.Lahai’s possible replacement, Hon.Emma Kowa had this to say: “We have agreed as MPs that Dr. Lahai will no longer represent us in parliament and therefore my appointment should not be a surprise to her. You have other SLPP MPs who are as well qualified to take up such responsibility but as God could have it, I am now the Minority Leader because Bernadette failed us and she is a traitor.”  The only crime committed by Dr.Bernadette Lahai was that she was romancing with the ruling APC party leadership to move the country’s agenda forward. Late Tom Nyuma was forced to join the APC simply because he was branded, vilified and no longer embraced by his SLPP family.

When President Bio was elected in 2018, he promised to ensure national cohesion for nation building. And the relationship between him and the FCC Mayor has been very much cordial, although he has a lot to do because the divide along political, regional and tribal lines has been deepened. His cozy relationship with the FCC mayor is not sufficient to bring the nation together. During his swearing-in ceremony at the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel in Freetown, he promised to be president for all Sierra Leoneans, but much has not been done in that direction. In almost all his public addresses, he keeps on citing the failings of the past APC regime of Ernest Bai Koroma, instead of focusing on his successes and the way forward in pushing the development of the country further. Perhaps he is oblivious of the fact that such has become a cliché and the people would not continue to feed on that. In fact, emphasizing the failure of the past regime signals some deficiency in his ability to get things done. It is like the son blaming his own inability on the failure of his father. That sounds funny eh!

 In Achebe’s ‘Thing Fall Apart, Okonkwo constantly lives in the state of fear and ends up committing a crime that takes him to the evil forest. He always wants society to see him distinct from his father, Unoka, who Achebe described as Efulefu-lazy man without title. Therefore, President Bio should not be the Okonkwo type. He should not bank on the failure of the past regime to justify his inability to bring the nation together.

While the APC has taken offence of the demeanor of their comrade –Mayor Aki-Sawyerr for liaising with the president to move the agenda of the city forward, one thing that should be clear to them is that the mayor cannot afford to work in isolation with the central government. Politics apart, she would only succeed if she has and enjoys the blessings of the central government, of which President Bio is the head. When Bode Gibson was not in the good books of former President Ernest Bai Koroma, he never enjoyed his work as mayor because he was constantly undermined by the central government. This writer believes that Aki-Sawyerr would be conscious of the fact that only the APC could afford her the opportunity to serve as mayor in Freetown and that she must remain grateful for that. I am of the firm conviction that working with the central government does not in any way constitute to betrayal of the status quo. She must work with the central government in order to achieve her desire of transforming the city. Take what you have to get what you want!

Evidently, some parts of the country could not move forward in terms of development because certain elected personalities, especially from the then opposition SLPP refused to work with the Ernest Bai Koroma government in the name of party politics. The Kenema District Council was a typical example. They refused to work with the previous government and rendered their district one of the most dilapidated. When one is elected to a position of trust, ones focus should be the interest of the country and not the political party he or she hails from. Although it is vital to maintain the interest of the political party, but that should not be above the nationhood.

Finally, we should not allow party politics to derail the growth and development of the country. Rather, we should maintain our political party interest by delivering on promise. The APC should allow Aki-Sawyerr to Play the Game and achieve her desire of transforming the city that we all should be proud of.

Sierra Leone’s challenges in fighting corruption

By Alpha Bedoh Kamara

Despite efforts being made to control and stop corruption in the public sector Sierra Leone continues to lose billions of Leones every year through nefarious channels that drain monies meant for public sector investment.

A girl crosses a makeshift bridge at a community tap: WHO

According to the Auditor General’s Report of 2015, ‘over  22.2 billion Leones in revenues is still unaccounted for by various Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as a result of discrepancies in what was recorded in the National Revenue Authority (NRA) cash book, statements in transit accounts and what actually reflected in the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account (CRFA)’.

The report by the Auditor General is just one of many that paint the same picture,but changes nothing in the attitude of public sector officials.

In 1991,the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), headed by the late Foday Sabana Sankoh,cited corruption as the reason for the revolution to free the people from wanton poverty, caused by public officials and their cronies, yet the RUF committed the worst atrocities in the country, destabilized public infrastructures and left behind a nation riddled with trauma.

With the return to peace and stability and democratic rule politicians build their campaign messages around ‘fighting corruption’ and use the issue as magic wands in political rallies to get votes and indeed the people always fall for the bait, hoping their most feared enemy will indeed be tackled and put under control; unfortunately, the expectations are always futile.

Corruption in public sector offices, such as people having to bribe public officials to get access to public services, is endemic and has destabilized public sector engagement with the public. Sierra Leones are no longer confident to demand for their right to public services without considering ‘who to meet and who to bribe’ for a service to be provided on time. People have to bribe to ensure a broken public water tap is reinstalled; people bribe to get the Free Healthcare for their children; Sierra Leoneans bribed to get a national passport; even with electricity supply, communities that refused to bribe remain in the dark for months until they see someone with a bribe; and the trend goes on, the police,teachers, lecturers and nurses, etc.

According to The World Bank Enterprise Survey 2017, a total of 46.1 percent of bribery incidence (percent of firms experiencing at least one bribe payment request)were cited, compared to 23.7 in Sub-Saharan Africa. Also, percent of firms expected to give gifts to public officials “to get things done” is 46.0 compared to 27.4 in Sub-Saharan Africa. The survey includes business owners and top managers in 152 firms who were interviewed from July 2017 through September 2017.

However,despite the ugly picture the Government of Sierra Leone could still address the issue by tackling the underlying factors that influences corrupt practices. And one such factor is providing the political will for independent monitoring bodies to operate in the manner that they are created for proper and effective oversight of the public and private sectors.

Using national commissions and public institutions aimed at serving the public as platforms for employment of political supporters not only betrays the goals and objectives of the institutions, but create distrust in the wider public. The practice is a vicious cycle that continues to deny Sierra Leoneans the opportunity to live better lives because year in and year out these groups of selected political operatives only answer to their political masters and not the people.

President Julius Maada Bio and the SLPP Government now have the task of addressing the ills that continue to corruptly plague the economy but if, like the previous governments dance to the same old tunes and leave the masses in the hands criminals; they too will fail the people.

Pronouncing objectives, passing policies and reaching out to the people is not enough but ensuring implementation of the objectives and policies so that every Sierra Leonean could be able to tap into the public sector service, without bribing,to better him/herself.

Now that the  Auditor General’s Report is made public, what else is in the offing for Sierra Leoneans? Will there be pragmatic and unbiased reform in the public sector or Sierra Leoneans will again be left in the rain?