From the Editor’s Keyboard

Can love be the new recipe for progress in Sierra Leone?

4 October 2008 at 00:44 | 761 views

Mohamed Bah, Guest Writer.

There are two gate ways to prosperity for Sierra Leone: A collosal bridge of Love for our country where every Sierra Leonean must use as a path way to building a thriving nation for our present and future generation. The other gate way is the element of human love among ourselves, where we developed the moral understanding that only through a sincere, communal and genuine love can we solve our problems together and raise our nations from the ruin of economic,political and social deprivation. After, crossing the gate: we learn from others that success is not a miracle-it can be duplicated and is achievable. Thus, the ”Botswana success story” should be the new economic and political realities for our emerging democracy.

The truth must be told that not too many Sierra Leoneans exemplifies the best of sacrificing for the good of others and for the progress of their country. Many have risen above the threshold of doing “no- harms” to their fellow citizens and country., but have contributed little to national development.

We may have a world class intellectuals or the ten point pages of how to reduce poverty or the millions of donor money from the west or the most eloquent President and bright minded ministers or diplomats, Sierra Leone would never emerge from its under developed world if we do not follow the doctrine of sacred love for our country and use our God-given instinct of love to guide us in our national effort to improve our future.

As I said in my welcome remarks to the Minister of Information, I.B.Kargbo, on March 1, 2008 in Atlanta:
”Parties,People and Presidents may come and go, but there will always be a great nation called Sierra Leone. If we do nothing and wait to see one party come and go,if we try to look at what makes us different and don’t celebrate our commonality of being a SIERRA LEONEAN first,if we sabotage good efforts and support only a party or people who speak like us,or come from the same district like us-then we are doom to fail and our history books would speak of a dark and ugly chapter about our generation.”

With all the struggles we face,Some are external factors but most of our problems are internally created. Let us face the fact, the presence of less human progress on our national front is due to the absence of Love which is the bedrock of all moral and human virtues. We can not develop or advance nationally if we dont love ourselves,believing in what we do and love the future of our children. Public service as Abraham Lincoln once said is “a noble profession”.We continue to ask the agonizing question on why we have the human and intellectual capital and blessed with vast natural and mineral resources but still we cannot build new bridges or roads, compete in the global market or teach our children with a first class education or even eradicate preventable diseases by ourselves?Love is the ultimate answer to many of our woes.

We have a poorly managed governmental systems partly because of lack of expertise,incompetence or lack of resources to perform respective functions. However, in the absence of these institutional problems, the disappearance of Love for country and the lack of allegiance or self-determination to develop our
nations for the sake of succeeding generation has been the missing “pillar” and the reason why we have fallen further and further behind the industrialized world for more than four decades since independence.

As a case study, I want to use the success story of Botswana as the new road map to solving our country’s problem. However,these prescriptions must be taken with the highest dose of collective love for the people of Sierra Leone. Success can be dupicated. If Botswana can achieved sustainable growth, others can do the same.
Botswana: An example of prudent economic policy and growth(Source:James Sackey, Rm. J11-137, World Bank, 1818 H Street NW, Washington DC 20433.)
The growth record
Botswana is one of a small group of countries in the contemporary era -virtually the only African country-that has sustained rapid economic growth over an extended period. Over the past three decades, Botswana’s real per capita income grew by more than 7 percent per annum, which is comparable to rates of growth achieved by countries like Korea and Thailand. Remarkably, this growth - facilitated by mineral wealth-led neither to isolated enclaves nor to profligate spending. Growth continued to be high as a result of structural change within the economy as the growth in the of mining and government sectors slackened.

Since independence in 1966, Botswana has been transformed from a near-subsistence economy into one of the wealthiest and fastest-growing countries in Africa. In 2006 the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was $11 billion, or $5,703.70 per person. (GDP is a measure of the value of all the goods and services a country produces.) The transformation of the economy resulted from the discovery of mineral resources, in particular huge deposits of the diamonds that account for about four-fifths of Botswana’s export earnings. Industry, primarily mining, produced 53 percent of GDP in 2006.

from the time of independence, Botswana recorded one of the highest economic growth rates in the world. The growth rate averaged over 9 percent per year from 1966 to 1999. The country’s revenues, largely from diamond mining, exceeded its expenditures. However, the dependence on diamond mining made the country vulnerable to global fluctuations in demand, and the government sought to diversify the economy.

Botswana’s record in human development is equally impressive, with one important exception-HIV infection. Major emphasis has been placed on providing basic education and primary health care throughout the country. Primary school enrollment has gone from 66,100 in 1966 to 319,000 in 1995, representing an average compounded growth rate of 5.4 percent per annum. Further, in recent decades, the gender balance has consistently involved greater than 50 percent female enrollment. Meanwhile, secondary school and university enrollment, from a much lower base, both grew at double digit growth rates.
In health care, virtually all urban residents and nearly 83 percent of rural residents are within 15 km of a primary care facility. There has been a dramatic fall in infant mortality-from 100 per 1000 live births in 1971 to 45 in 1991. Life expectancy (before accounting for the impact of HIV/AIDS) has risen from 50 years at independence in 1966 to the upper 60s in the early 1990s. The exception to the success story has been the spread of HIV/AIDS as roughly one quarter of the sexually active population is HIV positive.

Conclusions from Botswana’s experience:
Three points stand out.
First, Botswana’s record is indeed exceptional.
• The record of three decades of rapid economic growth has few parallels in modern economic history. What is also exceptional is the fact that the initiating source of the growth was mineral wealth, for even fewer countries have been able to transform mineral wealth into sustained economic growth.

• The growth of real incomes has been spread throughout the economy. Although relative income inequality has not been reduced, it has not worsened and, with real per capita GDP growth rates averaging nearly 8 percent over the past three decades, the poor are better off than before.

• Economic growth has been accompanied by significant progress in human development. The population is now reasonably well-educated and, with the exception of HIV infection rates, is healthy.

• Growth of formal sector employment has kept pace with real GDP growth and has outstripped the growth in the population. As a result, unemployment rates are relatively low by Sub-Saharan Africa standards, although youth unemployment has recently emerged as a serious problem and there continues to be shortage of skilled labor.
Second, the growth record is explained primarily by the economic policies which Botswana has pursued. In each of the major policy areas, growth-promoting policies have dominated...

• Minerals policy established mutually profitable arrangements with foreign investors, and participation in one of the few successful international marketing arrangements.

• Trade policy kept the economy open to competition from imports, and maintained access to markets for some important non-mineral exports.

• Money and banking policies, while not always optimal, generally provided stability to the macro economy and to the financial sector.

• Exchange rate policy accorded stability to the tradable sector and avoided the peril of an overvalued currency commonly encountered following mineral discoveries.

• Fiscal policy, on the whole, has been disciplined. To a large extent this is attributable to the institution of the national development plans, which has kept government expenditure from growing as fast as government revenues over the long term. The resultant accumulation of substantial government savings and foreign exchange reserves has provided an important cushion to enable the country to ride out the current downturns in the diamond market, while the careful management of those reserves has generated a significant return to the nation.

• Lab our market policies avoided both the extremes of an exorbitant real minimum wage and a bidding war for scarce talent. The government pursed a policy were wage and salary levels in the private and parastatal sectors should generally conform to those paid by the government to comparable grades of public employees.

• State-owned enterprises played an essential role in kick-starting the modern economy. Further, they did not become employers of first resort. Yet, with changing circumstances, and changing technologies, there is no fundamental justification for the dominant role of many. The objective of phasing out redundant institutions or transforming them into growth- promoting organizations remains one of the key policy challenges.

Third, there is no single explanation for Botswana’s remarkable policy performance:
• Botswana does not have one single silver (or diamond) bullet that explains its economic record. Rather, it was the whole range of policies which, working together, proved growth promoting.

• Minerals policy generated the rents which initiated the growth, but government’s long-term development planning was crucial in channeling funds into investments that promoted both growth and human development, and in maintaining a modicum of fiscal discipline.

• Given the fiscal discipline adopted, it was possible for the independent central bank to accumulate substantial foreign exchange reserves, and pursue a conservative monetary policy.

• This combination of fiscal and monetary discipline, in turn, made it possible for trade policy to keep the economy open, and exchange rate policy to encourage the emergence of non-traditional exports and import-competing production.

Not all the policies promoted human growth and development. The shortcomings of current labor market policies, the slow pace of reform of state-owned enterprises, and the large-size and unstable growth of Government are all serious. Furthermore, Botswana has to deal with poverty and youth unemployment, and the rapid increase in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS which may have a substantial implication for progress in developing its human capital and improving productivity.
However, Botswana’s ability to maintain one of the highest growth rates in the world and to transform itself from one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income of roughly US$80 in 1966 to a middle income country with a per capita of US$3600 in 1998 is truly remarkable.

I challenge our leader and government to follow the Botswana success story. If Botswana can do it,Sierra Leone will be the second example. First, let us start this journey by opening the gateway of love,national pride,love for country, duties to our fellow citizens and the generation yet unborn. Can love be the way forward to prosperity in Sierra Leone?.

*Mohamed Bah(photo)is the President of the Sierra Leone Community Association-Atlanta,GA-USA.