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Random Thoughts: 45 years of Sierra Leone-China friendship

By  | 1 August 2016 at 00:04 | 2048 views

The Chinese embassy in Freetown and the Sierra Leone government, represented by no less a person as Vice President Victor Foh (who was at one time in Beijing as our Ambassador) recently jointly celebrated 45 years of friendship and cooperation in Freetown.

There is a reason for the close ties between the Chinese government, the current APC government and past APC governments. The following are some of the reasons for the edification of those who do not know:

1. When the APC founding father Dr. Siaka Probyn Stevens founded the APC just before independence in 1960, the country’s elites in the SLPP, who were then in power, viewed the APC as sub-literate trouble-makers and thugs (they still do more than 50 years later) just as Chairman Mao and his followers were viewed by China’s elites around 1939.

2. So when the APC came to power in 1968 Stevens and his friends considered China a natural ally as opposed to the former colonial power (Britain) which did not like them (Stevens and co.). The British government and the Queen loved the SLPP which was founded by Chiefs (traditional elites or aristocrats just like the British rulers).

3.The Brits loved the former SLPP leaders of post-independence Sierra Leone, the two Margais, (Milton and Albert) both of whom the Queen knighted. The Queen barely tolerated Stevens and never visited Sierra Leone again after her first visit in 1961 when Sir Milton Margai was in power. Even today, a British government (whether Conservative or Labour) will not be very close to the APC government but the Brits were very very close to Ahmed Tejan Kabbah’s SLPP government until the latter became friends with Gadaffi of Libya and British donor money started disappearing in Freetown pockets at alarming rates. Then they dropped him (Kabbah) like a very hot pot of rice.

4. China and North Korea under Kim Il Sung came to the aid of the APC under Stevens when Western governments started turning their backs on him after he nationalized the national diamond mining company then under the control of the Brits and the iron ore mines at Lunsar (Oh, yes, the late Pop Shek, as he was fondly known, was a no-nonsense nationalist with a trade unionist background). But he paid a heavy price for that: direct western investment and aid dramatically dropped and international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank forced him into a devaluation of the national currency, the Leone, which completely shattered the economy and led to many social upheavals, attempted coups and finally a brutal civil war. A successful military coup in 1992 removed the APC regime and paved the way for a return to power of the blue-eyed boys of the Brits, the SLPP. The SLPP, not surprisingly, brought back a lot of British companies to regain control of the country’s minerals. American business activity is limited in Sierra Leone but gigantic in neighbouring Liberia due to historical reasons. The French are back in full force in neighbouring Guinea since the death of the socialist president Ahmed Sekou Toure many years ago.

3. China, the former Soviet Union, North Korea (under Kim Il Sung), Bulgaria and other former communist countries had provided far more scholarships to Sierra Leoneans than Britain, the USA and other Western countries. Indeed most of the country’s senior doctors, engineers and technicians were trained in those former communist countries and China. That happened simply because the West did not like Stevens and other socialist-oriented leaders in Africa although Stevens was more of a pragmatist than a socialist.

The West seems comfortable with the current APC leader, Ernest Koroma who belongs to the new generation of APC leaders with vast experience in business and less stringent on ideology just like some of China’s policy-makers today.

4. China is a genuine friend to Sierra Leone because she has always responded positively when a Sierra Leone government asks for help. It helped Sierra Leone immensely even under Kabba’s SLPP (the SLPP does not have very close links with China’s communist party). On the other hand, the British and the Americans have not always responded positively to cries for help from an APC government in Sierra Leone. When war broke out in Sierra Leone in 1991 Britain and the USA did nothing to help General Momoh’s APC government until he was toppled. And then they recognized the NPRC military junta that toppled him!

China on the other hand helped Momoh with arms and ammunition. Momoh was actually toppled because he sent most of the military hardware donated by China and other countries in Eastern Europe to the war front leaving hardly anything in Freetown to protect him. A very serious mistake.

5. China may be making money in Sierra Leone, which is not a crime, but the help it is lavishing on that country cannot be matched by any Western government or financial institution. I can’t even begin to imagine what would have happened to Sierra Leone without China’s help.

Bravo to Sierra Leone-China friendship, the kind of friendship that beats a mere business relationship.