JANUARY 7, 2015 By John Baimba Sesay
The year 2014 was an extremely tumultuous one for Sierra Leone’s development roadmap. This is so due to the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease, and the unpleasant effects it brought. From the economic front, the effects of the virus – to our efforts towards post war reconstruction – could be felt. The closure of the common borders with the other affected nations seem to have rattled our trading activities given how mutually dependent we all are as affected nations. Prior to the Ebola outbreak, the country was making excellent progress as in agriculture, infrastructure, energy, gender-related issues, and ensuring a politically stable nation.
Whatever assessment one may wish to make regarding the governance period of President Ernest Bai Koroma must practically take into account the major components in the ‘Agenda for Change’ and the subsequent shift to the ‘Prosperity Roadmap’ for country growth. In the areas of infrastructural development, democratic governance, energy generation and distribution for national growth, ensuring agricultural productivity, and in a host of other sectors, President Koroma’s administration has had a landmark of successes. And as a result of the successes scored in the change agenda, thus leading to the current prosperity drive, the country is now well known for her thriving democracy, with a favourable investment climate and where corruption is being tackled at the highest level with committed political will and support.
A number of transformational reforms have been undertaken, including: starting a business, thus making it much easier; cross border trade with the introduction of the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA); attractive fiscal incentives, amongst others.
However, there still are a plethora of challenges. Added to those brought by the Ebola Virus Disease, there has also been the challenge of actually fully utilizing our resource rich potentials. The country is one with bounteous resource base with underexplored and underdeveloped potentials. In agri-business, for instance, most of the over four million hectares of cultivable land is undeveloped, with major prospect to grow agricultural products for both food and fuel supply. In tourism, the country is not only largely offering high-end ecotourism experiences, there is a significant demand for business hotel accommodation and amongst West Africa’s stunning and undeveloped beaches. In the tourism sector, challenges there are like scaling up national budgetary allocations and offering appropriate tax incentives to genuine investors, and creating the needed incentives for the internal market so as to patronize the industry, and inducing greater local private sector investment in the sector is paramount. Same untapped economic growth potentials could be found in our energy, fisheries, and infrastructure sectors.
But we shall rise as a people. For over a decade, Sierra Leone had one of, if not the worst civil conflicts in the sub-region, but this was halted due to the resolve of the people. Ebola has come with its own challenges but the will on our part as a people to rise to those challenges is as paramount as our quest to see an end to it. The country has continued working towards putting an end to the virus. Our next fight will be tackling the post-Ebola challenges. Our economy has in some ways been affected, families shattered, our development efforts put to a standstill, but with a resolved leadership on the part of Government and the President to fight on. It is time we viewed these national challenges collectively, devoid of party or regional attachments.
Our ability to move on and overcome the challenges that will be left behind by Ebola depends on how we come together as a people and as a nation. The President remains dedicated towards moving Sierra Leone to the apex of development. He is “committed to accelerating the eradication of hunger and malnutrition, with a strengthened focus on women and children from conception to two years of age, to prevent the irreversible effects of stunting…”, as well as making the country a middle-income one by 2035.
The collective will and support amongst Sierra Leoneans will ensure the successful drive to achieving this vision, which consequently should lead to a better Sierra Leone. A plausible vision! We have been worked up and distressed by an enemy – Ebola. But we shall not fall. We shall overcome with our resolve as a people and with the leadership of President Koroma.
Happy New Year!