1.11.2013

Nuanced Reporting Needed for Sierra Leone

Streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone
In the article “From war to democracy: Reframing Sierra Leone”, Seray Bangura, a Sierra Leonean contributor to the New Internationalist blog, argues that on the eve of the January 6th, 1999 massacre in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, the international community needs to reframe its views of the previously war-torn West African nation. Although Bangura makes several strong and true arguments, I would assert that despite all the progress made in the past decade, the picture is still not as rosy as some may paint it.

Every trip I take to Sierra Leone I notice improvements – some larger than others. The airport is receiving renovations from Sierra Leonean crews while a brand new airport and location have been approved by the Chinese. The long road from the capital, Freetown, to the second largest city, Bo, is now completely paved – making a once 6-8 hour ride now possible in under 4 hours. Health care for pregnant women and children under five has been made free, which has significantly improved the maternal and child mortality rates, which were once the world’s worst. Progress, indeed.

However, similar to other ‘Africa rising’stories, there must be more nuanced reporting. Although things have undeniably improved in Sierra Leone since the days when the RUF terrorized the streets, villages,and the capital, there is still much progress to be made.
Bangura explains:

To tackle the widespread corruption which has hindered further growth, state institutions like the army, police force, the judiciary, and Anti-Corruption Commission have been upgraded to operate as independent professional bodies.
This is true, but a bit too optimistic for my liking. The police are still as corrupt as ever.Mid-month when salaries are due, the entire town of Bo becomes swarmed with police pulling everyone over to be able to charge even the most minor of misdemeanors.Checkpoints are still bribing points, unless a white person is in the car that is.

And the governmentitself is still quite corrupt. It was not long ago when Al Jazeera ran an exposéon illegal timer mining right outside Freetown and involving some of President Koroma’smost inner circle.

Although Sierra Leone did have a ‘free’, ‘fair’, and ‘successful’ election in mid-November,there was no guarantee that it was going to be so. Before the election there was violence and intimidation. Even after the election, its credibility was challenged.The election still was not violence-free, but that seems go to unmentioned. In the days after the election, curfews were imposed in some of the larger towns, demonstrations claiming that there were malpractices and box-stuffing challenged the results, and there were even reports by some I know that gunshots were fired in Bo.

It seems as if many of the articles on Sierra Leone lately either paint a bleak or highly optimistic picture for the tiny nation’s future. Neither are true. Is the risk of Sierra Leone returning to civil war greatly reduced? Yes! Does Sierra Leone’s path towards development look increasingly brighter? Yes! Is Sierra Leone a model democracy for West Africa? No, at least not yet.

One cannot be too pessimistic or optimistic when reporting on Sierra Leone, and all countries in Africa for that matter. Each passing year things look better, but we must not fall victim to believing that the current situation is the ideal. However, at this rate, the future decades look all the more promising.  

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