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Bio's Investors Conference: An Old Story

Now that the clattering has settled a bit, can I just venture to remind the hyper-patriots, and devoted members of the Maada Bio fans’ club, that Thursday’s (6/6/19) was not the first investment meeting to be held in the U.K. for Sierra Leone?

The Ernest Koroma administration had investment conferences in the U.K. too. Yet, eleven years later, at the top of our heads, there is minimal to show for their taking place.

And like we have pictures now of Bio, rubbing shoulders with the great and the good of the world, inspecting guards of honour abroad - perhaps the most pointless of diplomatic protocol and promoter of power fetish - we saw plenty with Koroma at such settings too. So what’s the big deal?

Oh, at Obama’s peak as leader of the free world, he actually invited Koroma to Washington. Arranged for him to be sat next to him in the presence of other African leaders - far more symbolic, the biggest deal there is in international politics. Period. But did that translated to much? Possibly not.

Only in our political discourse can triumphalism breakout without a victory. Chest-thumping without a thing delivered. It baffles and disappoints in equal measure, that for some of our compatriots, empty rhetoric at home is gold. Abroad, pomp and pageantry, ceremony alone, suffices. Not real, substantive evidence of progress.

The reality is, Sierra Leone is just a small country, with minuscule of an economy. Our capital Freetown, is (still!) powered by a boat, owned by a Turkish company. Meaning the boat could just sail off to Istanbul, and we are kaput. The current president inherited that arrangement from the last showman we had, 15 months ago and continued with it. The idea that on his endless overseas trips (about 35 in one year), extending any welcome to him, is detached from the fact that he represents a country - Sierra Leone, or somehow that honour is an acknowledgement of economic genius in him, or on any other African leader for that matter, is just ludicrous. And petty. And delusional.

Like most people, I wish Sierra Leone well, totally. But this new crew have done nothing or little, that is radically new to warrant euphoric summersaults. Except of course if people’s interest in the country is just about polishing their partisan hats. In that case, they can do so too - ‘democracy’.

My point is this. If every big government proposal is announced with optimum fanfare. Only to be followed by a search for investors in that idea. How can that country or people who run it, be taken seriously? I think it is far smarter for a government to source funds, before proposing any new cities. Especially when they cannot even run the one they already inhabit. Just a few months ago. The then foreign minister was on the BBC advertising for investors in agriculture. He told Hassan Arouni that they plan to reduce the import of rice, the national staple by 50% within four years. Total nonsense, of course. And he knows it. So I will just leave it at that for you to chew on, Bright Buttons.

The investment conference has delivered nothing. Might not yield much. Guests were there because they were invited. Their number does not constitute victory. Judgement on success can only be reached if, and when an investment is directly linked to that conference. Something that never happens on a whim, regardless of how appropriately opulent the venue was, or how scrumptious the snacks were. The bottom line remains the same: Sierra Leone needs smart leadership, with new and realistic ideas, far removed from gesture politics like costly trips to costly investor conferences in predatory London. Even worst, post-Brexit London.

Right now, there is a thunderous current of scathing denunciations of the variant forms of the neoliberal economic model in every serious society in the world, including the USA and Britain. And backed by sound, intellectually progressive arguments too. Depressingly, it appears, in Sierra Leone, judging by some compatriots‘ enthusiasm for the conference, before and after, we haven’t even joined neoliberalism yet. That is despite the OCTEA calamity; the searing scandal of the Africa Minerals episode - possibly a company cobbled together as a result of one of Koroma’s, wait for it: investor conferences!

Begging for investors, holding conferences to entice them is not always a good idea. Pre and post-Ebola experience ought to have warned us; it’s flagging our leaders’ limitations - past and present; it empowers exploiters and predator capitalists. Conferences, such as the just concluded, are so obviously desperate, they shorten our government’s hand in negotiations. Meaning minimal taxation - race to the bottom.

By popular demand: one day, wan fine day, Oona go Lan.