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Sierra Leone: From Blood Diamonds to a Market Economy

Forgiveness, freedom and accountability help to restore prosperity in Sierra Leone.

Credit: Jiri Flogel - Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Forgiveness, freedom and accountability help to restore prosperity in Sierra Leone.
  • Sierra Leone is rapidly climbing the economic ladder 12 years after the end of a devastating, decade-long civil war.
  • Sierra Leone is transforming itself from a donor-dependent economy to a market economy.
  • After the war ended, Sierra Leoneans forgave the rebels who tormented them to restore harmony across the country.
  • Sierra Leone changed to a peaceful, serene country, welcoming tourists and businesses from all parts of the world.
  • On the economic front, Sierra Leone has turned a new page. Iron – not diamonds – drives the new economy.
  • If Sierra Leone continues on its current path, soon the “Blood Diamond” image will be a distant memory.
  • The people are committed to rebuilding the country. Sierra Leone is steadily moving forward, to a market economy.

There is a sea of change happening in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, my home country. It has been 12 years since the end of the decade-long civil war that devastated the country’s infrastructure and image, Sierra Leone is rapidly climbing the economic ladder.

The country is transforming itself from a donor-dependent economy to a market economy.

On a six-week visit to Sierra Leone early this year, I could see the rapid changes everywhere. New networks of roads are replacing the once dusty potholed roads that crisscrossed the country.

A new building boom in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital sees once dilapidated buildings being replaced by modern structures that tower the city. As one travels around the country, one can see both imported and locally grown food everywhere.

Schools that stood empty during the 10-year mayhem – when terror reigned in the country – now have hundreds of children.

The healing salve of forgiveness

One may begin to wonder how this could be the same country that prompted Hollywood to produce the movie “Blood Diamond” – a film which depicted a chaotic lawless country where drugged child soldiers hacked the limbs off children and adults.

How could that place suddenly change to a peaceful, serene country where tourists and businessmen and women from all parts of the world are converging daily?

After the war ended in 2002, Sierra Leoneans decided not to have reprisals against the rebels who tormented them for years, but to allow them to live in peace and harmony.

After the disarmament, the rebels – many of them children drugged and forced to kill – simply returned home to be reintegrated into the society.

This forgiving attitude among Sierra Leoneans was the foundation to the present peace and tranquility that exists in Sierra Leone. Along with that forgiving attitude, after the Special Court for Sierra Leone indicted and jailed leaders of the rebellion (two of them died while incarcerated), politicians in the country remained committed to democracy.

A democracy in bloom

Since the end of the war, there have been three peaceful, transparent, consecutive general elections. These elections allowed once disfranchised, uneducated citizens of Sierra Leone to vote for the candidate of their choice without reprisals.

Press freedom has allowed newspapers and radio stations to freely criticize the government and hold government officers accountable. For the first time in the country’s history, there is an anti-corruption commission with a mandate to prosecute those who embezzle public funds and bring them to justice.

In fact, the present government, under the leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma, has allowed government ministers to be prosecuted for corruption, and a number of them have lost their jobs.

Building a new economy

On the economic front, Sierra Leone has turned a new page. Diamonds are no longer the driving force for the Sierra Leonean economy. The new mineral that is accelerating economic growth in Sierra Leone is iron ore.

Today, African Minerals, a Chinese conglomerate and London Mining, a British Company are providing millions of dollars to the government of Sierra Leone and employing thousands of Sierra Leoneans in their mining operations.

Apart from iron ore, bauxite, gold, diamonds, cacao, coffee and timber also fuel the economy, giving Sierra Leone the potential to become a wealthy nation. To attract businesses, the present government has removed the bottleneck at the country’s port, making it much easier to ship products to the country.

Moreover, there are now scores of banks in the country that allow investors to directly wire their funds from Sierra Leone to their overseas accounts.

The next generation

The challenge the country still faces is how to integrate its huge youth population into the main economy. To tackle youth unemployment, the government is planning to open a Youth Village outside Freetown.

The village will train young people in various trades and professions that will provide them the tools to get gainful employment. Many banks are also providing grants and soft loans to young entrepreneurs who want to start their own businesses.

If Sierra Leone continues on its current path, soon the “Blood Diamond” image will be a distant memory. From what I saw during my last visit to Sierra Leone, I am confident that Sierra Leone is moving in the right direction.

The people are committed to rebuilding the country. The atmosphere is peaceful. Sierra Leone is steadily moving forward, to a market economy.

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About Jacob Conteh

Jacob Conteh is a research and writing consultant. He grew up in a farm in central Sierra Leone, before immigrating to the United States in 1987.

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