So this looks like just the country that is recovering from Ebola, mudslides that killed thousands, a 12 year civil war and is in the bottom few of any measure, financial or quality of life, of any country?
Hope In A Small African Country
War, famine, corruption, decease and natural disasters. These are likely the first words that come to mind when most African countries are mentioned. Admit it! Especially so, if you mention that it is a West African country you happen to be talking about.
Of course, to some extent, those negative connotations are still true but to a much lesser extent than they were. The rate of positive change is improving.
I have just returned from Sierra Leone, a small West African country (population about 6.7 million only), which is normally in the lowest 10-15 countries of GDP per capita and life expectancy (horrifically still in the 40 years range). You name the measure and they will be near the bottom/worst/poorest.
I have now been 3 times and this time I come back with cautious hope. Why?
Above Dr Amara
<< Left Mr Nabieu CRC Director
< Center Dr Stevens
First of all let us put this in context:
- Just a year ago the capital, Freetown, suffered several mudslides, killing over 1500, and wiping out an unknown number of homes as mud and water swept down the hills and valleys through the city. Those there, say the rain was of Biblical proportions and never seen before.
- Ebola : way worse and just 3 years back. Thousands died at the time and the collapse of the tiny economy and the fragile global connections, killed many more as jobs, wages disappeared and poverty worsened (if that was possible).
- Even worse still was the brutal regional civil war that killed several hundreds of thousands that lasted 12 years and only subsided in 2000-2. It created child soldiers and a whole generation that largely missed out on any education or schooling
- Prior to that of course was the typical tough exit from colonization, experienced by every African country in the 1950’s/60’s/70’s leaving the country with few Administrators, Leaders, Doctors, Teachers and so forth (and we wonder why they are so poor today?).
Road building, rock breaking.
See more photographs here and read more about the Building of a School in a remote part of Sierra Leone here
So what did I see that gives hope?
The human spirit fights for survival, improvement and recovery. I met these 3 young men who epitomize this. Firstly one , Mr ‘Nabs’ Nabieu, now runs an organization that ensures 600 orphans have homes. He grew up during the war, was recruited as a child soldier and grew up an orphan himself.
Next, Dr Stevens, again grew up during the war, he had to be abandoned by his mother and helped an aunt trade on the streets. By a stroke of good fortune he got taken in by the same Child Rescue Centre (funded by good people from Virginia), and he then grew up in the second city of Bo. He is now one of a raft of new Doctors in the main Connaught Hospital in Freetown (where he has an incredibly tough and wrenching job especially for this late twenties young man). Dr Amara at Mercy Hospital in Bo is the only Doctor in the hospital in the city which has just 2 hospitals. He graduated during the Ebola crisis and he told me of the sheer terror for health workers at that time.
When I first went to Sierra Leone, there were 56 Doctors in the country. Now there are just over 200. This despite the fact several were lost during the Ebola Crisis. I have such admiration for these Doctors who do so much with so little and risk their own lives, for limited reward. I once asked Dr Stevens what his biggest daily challenge was. He said “every day seeing patients die for the lack of even the simplest of medicine”.
One sees ingenuity all the time in Africa but it saps time, energy and resources. When I have been to Sierra Leone and Freetown especially, in the past, daily life seemed to revolve around power cuts. Now, there is a floating power station in the harbor. It is Turkish and however paid for it gives the economy a chance.
Fishing on the Freetown Peninsula. Can fishing and agriculture be developed?
Mudslides that killed many in 2017. Caused by excessive rain and, it seems, the removal of trees .
This was dress up Friday! Schools are crowded thanks to removed Fees for some.
Better leaders, be they political or the influential Muslim or Christian leaders who played vital roles during Ebola, have helped and this year, the new President Maada Bio, seems to have created excitement seen only when President Obama took office!.
These leaders have tried to improve revenue and tax collection, by having Toll Booths on the only main road to Bo, reducing corruption and trying to ensure industry (ie the diamond business) pays its share. Whilst I was there the Airport Manager was fired apparently due to financial improprieties, for example.
Recognizing that education is ultimately the key for the next generation; the new administration has in late 2018, somehow , enabled Fee free primary education for all. And they seemed to be enforcing it with the help of excited teachers, coping with the sudden increase in pupils.
A very high rate ofRoad Traffic Accidents are tragedies as well as a challenge to the health services and economy.
Anything and everything grows!
An increasingly capable, and educated workforce may now be on the horizon.
Challenges, though, lie ahead :
- Like much of Africa, Sierra Leone must avoid neo-colonization. Having escaped the grasps of Britain, or France, or Belgium, or Portugal, African countries have to avoid becoming beholden to Chinese investment and the debt burdens it imposes and recognize that China has clear goals of their own
- Health care will suck out too much of the economy, if development is to progress. Clearly the containment or elimination of Malaria is vital. Every doctor or nurse I met says broadly that up to 60% of admissions are related to Malaria. Road Traffic Accidents are a curse of poor countries including Sierra Leone too
- The Economy: the business community has to figure out where and how to add value to the raw materials in the country. Sierra Leone, like much of Africa is fertile and can produce 2 or more crops each year. Yet they must, refine, can, extract or whatever, so that these products can feed local people and also potentially be exported. Same goes for the raw materials extracted from the earth, e.g. diamonds. Also its human capital and the increasingly numerous body of young men and women, who are going to be better educated too, need to be employed
- How to make tourism contribute positively. There is a beautiful coastline, parks, scenery, history – all the basics.
So instead of ‘war, famine, corruption, decease, natural disasters’ being those first thoughts, it is entirely possible that ‘appropriate investment, well managed, healthier, beautiful and competitive’ might just become the observations of the hopeful in the near future.