Africa and the world will commemorate with Sierra Leone, even amid COVID-19, as it clocks 60 on 27 April 2021. Among these countries is Nigeria, which has over 200-year mutually beneficial relationship with the country, even before its independence from Britain. Sixty hearty cheers to a “land that we love”, a phrase culled from the country’s national anthem
By Abubakar Hashim /Sierra Leone
As Sierra Leone marks its 60th Independence anniversary on 27th April this year, the doors to foreign investments, even in the midst of COVID-19, are beginning to open, after its ugly past.
The tiny West African country is a survivor of many catastrophes; it has survived a bloody civil war that commenced 30 years ago and lasted 11 years and officially declared over by then late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah; an Ebola epidemic, a Mudslide disaster and now a worldwide COVID -19 pandemic. In these catastrophes, the country came out strong and resilient. Surviving these traumas is the best anniversary gift for the country at 60!
Measures to Stem COVID-19
Even before COVID-19 first struck in March last year, the government of President Julius Maada Bio had reactivated the Ebola structures and rolled out a two track mitigating measures against COVID-19: A Health Response Sector Program (HRSP) was set up, tagged National COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre (NACOVERC), at the national level and District Health Response Centre, (DICOVERC) at all 16 districts levels, headed by Retired Brigadier Kellie Conteh, with district coordinators. The HRSP has produced beneficial results, with minimal infection and death rates in the region.
Mass vaccination has commenced.The country, so far, has received 138,000 doses of WHO -led COVAX- COVID vaccine, and China’s 200,000 Sino – Pharm COVID vaccines totally 338,000. President Bio, along with Vice President Jalloh and top government functionaries, including members of the opposition parties, took the vaccine jabs, on 15 March at State House. The 338,000 total doses of vaccines will serve only 2% of the country’s population of about 7 million. More doses of vaccines are expected in the coming weeks.
The other track approach is the government’s economic programme called Quick Action Economic Reform Programme QAERP. It is being implemented by the Ministry of Finance, with key economic players like the Bank of Sierra Leone, National Revenue Authority and other sectoral players, national and international.
The HRSP and QAERP programmes have, today, resulted in low level and relative stability in daily COVID-19 infection, early recovery and minimal death rates. It has also ensured relative stability in the availability of goods and services in the country.
Recently, there were policy discussions with the IMF review team in Freetown on the state of the economy. There was a general consensus on the need to continue supporting the economy in the context of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic while charting a way forward for a return to the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) program, a fund that provides financial assistance to countries with protracted balance of payment deficits. There was also a consensus to stimulate measures to support macroeconomic stability, fiscal and debt sustainability, stronger governance and improved social outcomes.
Though the ECF has been on hold by the IMF, the Sierra Leone authorities, through President Bio’s economic Management team, led by a critically-, minded finance Minister, J.J. Saffa, the Central Bank Governor, Prof Kelfala Kallon and others, have requested a disbursement under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) of 17% of quota (SDR 35.26 million) which has been approved on March 15, 2020. The country also received debt relief under the catastrophe containment and Response Trust (CCRT) and is participating in the Debt Services Suspension Initiative (DSSI)
The requested RCF disbursement will provide temporary relief and avert a much deeper economic shock, while the economic management team is working to reorient the program supported by the ECF by mid-2021.
Despite the IMF recent report of debt strains, resulting in fiscal gaps delay in Sierra Leone’s ECF program with the IMF, thereby creating a challenging debt landscape, the country is, however, assessed by the IMF as “sustainable on a forward-looking basis, predicated on sustained and significant fiscal adjustment, as well as continued reliance on highly concessional external financing, mainly grants, while limiting recourse to expensive domestic debts. Meaning, maintaining debt sustainability, through steadfast commitment to fiscal adjustment plans, including, but not limited to, promoting effective expenditure prioritization, strengthening public sector reforms and re-doubling domestic revenue mobilization by NRA.
The Debt Sustainability Analysis DSA, reflects the “effects of COVID-19 shock on growth, exports and revenues, as well as measures to counter the health and socio economic effects of the pandemic, putting the country on a threshold of high risk of debt distress
At 60, in the midst of COVID, the economy, though on recovery after years of maladministration by past governments, is on the right trajectory of growth and development. The country is on a determined stride to kick start the economic parameters, thereby attracting huge foreign investments into the country. Already a Chinese company, KINGHO Mining, has commenced operations in the Northern District of Tonkolili.
Many core investors have indicated interests in the country’s viable mining, agricultural and telecommunications sectors. Oil prospecting is ongoing, with a possibility of commercial oil discovery in the near future.
At 60, there is an apparent political and religious tolerance in the country, resulting in inter-religious marriages among Sierra Leoneans. Muslims are married to Christians, with couples smiling their ways to Mosques and Churches, almost simultaneously, with no hitches. Wedding bells ring in Churches, followed by Muslim version in Mosques. This religious harmony in the country compelled the country’s late President, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, to once remark that “…the religious tolerance in Sierra Leone is a viable exportable commodity to other African countries prone to religious crises, resulting in turbulence and anarchy.”
At 60, the country has two major dominant political parties, the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) and the main opposition party, All Peoples Congress (APC), led by former President Ernest Bai Koroma. The two parties have been inter changing political batons since independence in 1960. Other new entrants in the political landscape like the National Grand Coalition (NGC) led by former United Nations Industrial DevelopmentOrganization (UNIDO) DG, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, are currently whipping up waves in the political fray.
Relations with Nigeria, Africa and the World.
At 60, Sierra Leone’s relationship with Nigeria spans before independence 60 years ago, to over 200 years and is, today, waxing stronger. The first crop of Nigerian intellectuals in the Nigerian civil services and academia, were produced by Fourah Bay College in Freetown, that was founded in 1827 by the Catholic Missionary Society (CMS). The College has produced the best brains in Africa and beyond. Prominent Nigerian personalities like late Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, first President of Nigeria, Dr. Christopher Kolade, Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to the UK, DrAperAku, former Governor of Benue State, Prof Tam David West, former Petroleum Minister, late Chief AdekunleAjasin, former Governor of Ondo State , late Bishop Ajayi Crowther, first Black African Bishop and many more.
Bishop Ajayi Crowder was the maternal grandfather of Herbert Machaulay, a frontline Nigerian Nationalist, who fought for Nigerian Independence in 1960. Ajayi Crowder’s daughter, Abigail, was Herbert Machaulay’s mother. Ajayi Crowther was among the first crop of eminent Nigerians educated at Fourah Bay College, which was then affiliated to the prestigious Durham University in the UK.Nigerians who were educated at Fourah Bay College, opened up a strong and virile relationship between the countries, resulting in intermarriages and similarities in names and cultures.
At the bilateral levels, nothing so spectacular between the two countries than Nigeria’s pivotal role to end the 11-year-old war in Sierra Leone, long before the arrival of the UN and Britain, that, today, are erroneously acclaimed of ending the war in Sierra Leone.
The two countries also have strings of bilateral agreements, most prominent is the Technical Aid Corps (TAC), initiated by the Babangida Administration in the 80’s, whereby Nigerian professionals offer training facilities to Sierra Leone and other African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.
The country’s relations with other countries in Africa and the world, is based on mutual reciprocity and respect. It has a special relation with Britain, its Colonial mater and China, its new economic power house, that is dominant in virtually all infrastructural activities. There are also new entrants, like Turkey, that has now full diplomatic presence in Freetown and Istanbul.
The country had greatly benefitted over the years from ECOWAS, AU and UN interventions in the arears of peace, security and good governance, especially support to electoral process, also technical supports to health, education and other critical policy areas. Quite recently, the country’s Finance Minister, J.J. Saffa, confirmed the country’s financial commitments tointernational organizations, including ECOWAS, at the recently held 1st ECOWAS Parliamentary session in Freetown on March 23rd, 2021.