With its 50th independence anniversary coming in April 2011, Sierra Leone has strong reasons to celebrate. The ability to keep the peace, which was finally re-established in 2002 after more than a decade of civil war, has been crowned by a peaceful transfer of power through the ballot box as well as by the return of electricity to Freetown. That is not to say that the jubilee will pass without its challenges, not least of which will be the maintenance of governance reform as the extraction of new-found mineral resources begins.
Sierra Leone’s transition from a war-ravaged country to a bastion of development will be slow: it was only in September that the UN removed the last of its sanctions imposed during the civil war. The governance outlook was dealt a blow in May when the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) chief, Abdul Tejan Cole, quit his post. Under his leadership, the ACC had won both praise and opprobrium after initiating high-profile investigations of government appointees, including former health minister Sheku Tejan Koroma, minister of state Leonard Balogun Koroma and the Road Transport Authority executive director, Sarah Finda Bendu.
All three lost their posts and Tejan Koroma was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in March 2010. While some accused Tejan Cole of an unwillingness to go after the friends of President Ernest Bai Koroma, others expressed criticism of the government’s inadequate support for the ACC chief. In July, Koroma appointed Joseph Kamara, a former deputy prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, as Tejan Cole’s replacement.
Kamara opened his term by naming and shaming ministers who failed to declare their assets as required by law. Among those cited were lands minister Dennis Sandi, fisheries minister Joseph Koroma and minister of state George Komba Kono, as well as three deputy ministers. All were given a week to declare their assets or else face a fine and/or imprisonment.
When the All People’s Congress came to power in September 2007, it promised to hold cabinet ministers to high standards through stringent performance reviews. Some observers expect the president to improve his electoral chances by handing some ministerial appointments to the People’s Movement for Democratic Change, the country’s third party and a rival of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party in the south. The economy should benefit from a continued expansion of mineral extraction over the next 12 months.
Diamond exports have begun to rise but still remain well below the pre-financial crisis highs of 2007. In 2010, London-listed African Minerals doubled the reserves estimate at its Tonkolili iron- ore project to 10.5bn tonnes, placing it among the largest in the world. It has said it will begin production in 2011, but construction and other infrastructure problems could cause delays.
Anadarko’s September 2009 discovery of oil offshore promises to change the dynamics of the local economy. These developments should bring improved government revenues and economic growth, which the IMF expects to pick up from 3.2% in 2009 to 4.5% in 2010 and 5.2% in 2011. Assuming international commodity prices stay strong, investor interest should not slacken.
In addition to mining and oil, the government is focused on the potential offered by new agriculture projects. In late 2010 the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency was in talks with investors interested in setting up sugar-cane and palm-oil plantations, adding to the existing project by Addax Biofuels aimed at taking advantage of new European regulations on required ethanol levels in EU petrol.