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Sierra Leone: Lifting of sanctions clears the way for full economic take-off

By  | 6 October 2010 at 04:49 | 1048 views

A very significant event happened recently in New York and that was the lifting of an arms embargo and other sanctions imposed on Sierra Leone in 1998 at the height of that country’s brutal civil war. A war largely financed and nurtured by Western multinationals and shady characters in Eastern Europe.

Many analysts in and out of Sierra Leone are however amazed that the sanctions are only being lifted this year after the end of the war eight years ago in 2002. Most Sierra Leoneans we talked to thought (wrongly) that the sanctions had been lifted long ago, since 2002.

Military experts and scholars like Niels Hahn of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) argue that initiatives like the so-called embargo had never been effective in stopping actors in conflict zones like arms dealers and diamond smugglers (the main financiers of the war in Sierra Leone). They (sanctions) also did little to stop the fighting until peace talks in Lome, Togo, in 1999, ended hostilities.

Rebel forces in both Sierra Leone and Liberia continued to receive arms and ammuntions from Europe and South Africa as late as 2001. The then Sierra Leone government under Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, for its part, was receiving arms through an intricate network of arms dealers in Europe and North America including the mercenary outfit Sandline International contracted by multinationals in some of the same Western governments that imposed the sanctions in the first place; a paradox that leads to the conclusion that the sanctions were only imposed by the West to drive out the competition (China, Russia, Ukraine, etc) in the the scramble for Sierra Leone’s mineral wealth.

There were also arms dealers in some West African countries including Nigeria and Burkina Faso doing brisk business with both government and rebel forces in Sierra Leone despite the sanctions but this trade was comparatively minimal, limited to small arms.

The sanctions, including the arms embargo, had however been effective in curtailing the flow of goods and services. Shekou Touray, Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations said they (sanctions), affected economic recovery, trade, investment, and tourism in the country. Most investors tend to keep away from countries with arms embargoes and economic sanctions except those given the green light and militarily protected by UN troops and "military advisers" from powerful Western governments. As Hahn pointed out, "Western governments do what they want", around the world including the violation of sanctions and they usually get away with it.

Other consequences of the 1998 sanctions from which Sierra Leone is trying to recover were that the country quickly became unattractive to major international airlines and shipping conglomerates because of the high cost of insurance occasioned by the sanctions which created an image of a very insecure and dangerous place to do business. The current Sierra Leone government therefore believes that the lifting of sanctions will bring down the cost of air tickets and freights and will multiply the number of business people and tourists visiting Sierra Leone.

Very few airplanes currently land at Sierra Leone’s only international airport, the Lungi airport, just across the ocean from the capital. The main carrier plying this route from Europe is the controversial BMI based in London. BMI is accused of flying old and malfunctioning planes (PV has requested an interview with BMI management on which they are still dragging their feet).

In a related development, Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma recently met with billionaire businessman George Soros in New York during which the two discussed trade and investment.

According to a report from the Sierra Leone mission in New York, Soros said his efforts in Sierra Leone were geared towards the "empowerment of the poor" and that he will soon launch what he called the "Sierra Leone Project" which he said will include investment in agriculture and fisheries. President Koroma was in New York for the annual UN General Assembly, an opportunity used by many heads of State from poor countries to connect or network with prominent business personalities and policy makers from rich and powerful countries.

In his address ( to the UN, President Koroma (photo) listed some of the achievements of his government over the last three years while his ministers and and diplomats frenetically lobbied for the final nail on the the sanctions coffin and for more aid for Sierra Leone behind the scenes.

One of the president’s diplomats, Bockarie Stevens, Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the United States and Canada, last Tuesday signed, at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, what was called a Financing Agreement "amending and restating" the Development Grant Agreement of the Bumbuna Hydroelectric Environmental and Social Management Project in the amount of SDR 14,600,000 which is equivalent to 21 Million United States Dollars. Signing on behalf of the World Bank was Sergiy Kulyck, Country Programme Director fro Sierra Leone, Africa Region.

The Bumbuna Hydroelectric Dam, located in the north of the country, is Sierra Leone’s largest hydroelectric project to date. When fully operational, the dam is expected to provide electricity for the capital and some other parts of the country. President Koroma says one of his government’s objectives is to provide affordable electricity for all Sierra Leoneans.