Sierra Leone 50yr Development Plan to Middle-Income Status by 2035

Street in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Evident Construction/Infrastructure Improvement. June/2012
In 2011, Sierra Leone celebrated 50 years of independence. This same year, Sierra Leone was ranked 180 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index compiled by the UN Development Programme – a pretty dismal ranking, especially given the vast wealth of natural resources the country is endowed with.

So this year, the government of Sierra Leone decided to create a 50 year development plan that includes both short and long-term goals and benchmarks which would set the tiny nation on track to reach middle income status by the year 2035.

The Sierra Leone Conference on Development and Transformation was held last December which called together experts on development around the continent and around the world (including Paul Collier!), as well as consulted civil society, government, and third-parties.

Additionally, 200 focus groups were conducted in all provinces of Sierra Leone, which allowed average Sierra Leoneans from all walks of life to come and voice where they hope Sierra Leone will head in the next half century. In addition to focus groups, Sierra Leoneans were also able to call into radio stations used to hold forums with the public.

The conference’s main objective was to create a development plan and establish benchmarks to measure the progress of the plan. When the conference concluded, a 2 volume publication was released (volume 1volume 2) which summarized the proceedings, discussions, and conclusions of the conference.

Thankfully for you, I’ve read the volumes so you don’t have to (not that you were tempted). Here is a summary of the key points:

Keys to Development
In my opinion, the way the conference was conducted was a success. It not only pulled in members of the government, but also international development experts and representatives from all marginalized groups in Sierra Leone such as women, farmers, youth, and the disabled to voice their concerns for the nation’s path for the next 50 years.

The main objective laid out in this development plan is that Sierra Leone will reach middle-income status by the year 2035 and increase GDP to $55 billion dollars by that same year. To give you an idea where the country currently stands, its GDP was only $2 billion in 2011 and is projected to be 3 billion this year.
Poverty Indicators for 2035 and Current Status

In order to achieve this, all members of the conference agreed that it cannot be achieved by the government alone. Civil society has the most power in determining the progress that the country will make over the next half century.

In order to really progress and achieve the benchmarks set forth in this development plan, Sierra Leoneans need to have “unity in their diversity” and foster a greater sense of nationhood, because nationalism, not ethnicity, will drive development.

This doesn’t mean the government has no role in the development plan; however, civil society needs to realize their influence on the government and its successes and failures. They need to begin to hold politicians accountable for following this development plan.

The rest of the development plan discussed the various sectors of Sierra Leone that need to be improved and strengthened in order to have sustained development.

The members of the conference and focus groups all agreed that state of the art hospitals need to be built in all districts of the country so that access to reliable healthcare is no longer a luxury.

In 2010, the Sierra Leonean government created a new law which allowed all pregnant/lactating women and children under 5 to receive free health care. This was seen as significant progress, but from my experience in the health sector in Sierra Leone, there are many faults in its implementation.
The development plan stated that within the next 50 years there will be health insurance for all
Sierra Leoneans and that also all areas of women’s health will be properly funded by the government.
Health Indicators for 2035 and Current Status

Some goals set by this development plan is to increase life expectancy at birth from the upper 40s (2011) to the lower to mid-70s (2035) as well as significantly decrease maternal and infant mortality and increase the number of physicians practicing in the nation.

Without a healthy civil society, there is no hope for development because despite the nation’s oil, diamonds, and metals, its human capital is its most valuable resource.

The conference and focus groups decided that there needs to be a “comprehensive review and change” of the current education system. This change will included increased literacy rates and decreased political influence in university administrations (a very large problem right now).  

The conference also agreed that adult education needs to be emphasized in the coming decades. Furthermore, there needs to be a stronger promotion of science and technology as well as vocational training that will be needed for the development plan to succeed.

Women were invited to express their opinion at the conference where they stated that they want the creation of a women’s commission in government. They also want a minimum quota for women, youth, and disable in all elected government positions (30% was suggested). They also demanded that greater emphasis be put upon training women to be equally qualified and competitive in skilled jobs such as mining.

Natural Resource Management
The future of the management of the country’s land and natural resources was given a very large emphasis during this conference; presumably because much of the development will come from the exploitation of natural resources such as minerals, oil, timber, and fish.

It was agreed that two challenges Sierra Leone will face in achieving its development goals is changing the previous, ineffective development strategies of the past that actually led to decreased standards of living and war. The other challenge will be to insure that a natural resource boom does not lead to corruption, mismanagement of resource revenues, and cause a heavy dependence on the sale of natural resources.

It was decided that in the short-term, a large emphasis will be put on natural resource exploitation so that the country will have the means by which to begin making changes in the other development sectors.

However, in the medium to long-term, the country needs to diversify its means of economic growth so that it is less of a victim to the inevitable cyclical nature of the natural resource markets.

It was agreed that within the next 12-18 months there would be a moratorium on all new large-scale mining licenses so that the government can create a detailed geological survey of the country’s resources and take inventory of them.

A Transformation and Development Fund will be establish where 80% of the revenue from minerals and oil will be allocated to be put towards investments in education, infrastructure, and health.
Furthermore, 20% of corporate social responsibility funds from natural resources will be put towards vocational training for youth, who constitute as a large portion of the nation’s unemployed.

Unfortunately, however, the conference said that the TDF would be created within 6 months – it has now been 8 months since the conference and yet the Transformation and Development Fund has yet to be created. (As Sierra Leoneans would say in Krio: “Small small!”, which basically means, “Hey, we’re trying! Progress takes time!”).

However, the conference agreed that for natural resources to be successful in leading to increased development in Sierra Leone, mining rights need to be incorporated into the parent laws of the country and not separate as they are now. This will prevent mining companies from operating outside of the parent laws and finding loopholes.

Land Issues
Lastly, it was agreed that the issue of land use and land tenure needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. Speakers said that the “socialist approach to agriculture” has failed to bring development, so they will now revert to pre-independence farming strategies that will put greater emphasis on the production of cash crops.

It was recognized, however, that they do not want to merely rely on production and shipment of their raw materials and agriculture. Instead, the conference agreed that in the next half century the government will work on making it so that the country has the capacity, infrastructure, tools, and man-power to process the produced raw materials into finished products for export.

Lastly, an unexpected demand was that the government set up community farms in each chiefdom for civil society to use.

Possible or Unrealistic?
Given my experience with Sierra Leonean politics and the nation’s history, I’m skeptical that all of the goals set forth in this development proposal will be achieved. The goal to increase GDP to $55 billion seems a bit lofty and unrealistic given their current state of development and the lack of infrastructure.

However, I have witnessed great progress over the last couple years. Roads are being built, infrastructure is being fixed, and access to affordable health care is slowly improving.

Development won’t be achieved merely by the government, but I think the will of Sierra Leoneans both at home and in the diaspora is strong enough to reach some, if not many, of these goals.
Typical Road in Sierra Leone

Even though many view the Chinese as quasi neo-imperialist, I think that their involvement and role in Sierra Leone’s development is actually quite vital. In the past 4 years the Chinese have build cross-country roads, high-end hotels, modern health clinics, and have plans to build a new airport.

Although Sierra Leone needs to be somewhat careful with its relationship with China, I think there is great potential. China offers Sierra Leone an assured buyer for its natural resources. China also undertakes many development projects, which provides Sierra Leone with a helping hand in achieving its development goals.

I want to remain optimistic for Sierra Leone and think that it will achieve much of what they set forth in this proposal. I would love to travel back in 50 years and be astounded at the improvements made. But I realize none of these goals can be achieved without an effective, development-oriented government with limited corruption, and for this, it is up to average Sierra Leoneans to hold their government accountable.

Luckily, however, I think Sierra Leoneans are up for this. They are ready for change, development, and to set an example for the rest of the continent that transformation is possible. 


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