Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Will Africa Ever Be Able To Replicate Successful Economies?

Are there signs of economic growth in Africa? Are the green shoots of growth visible? Should African leaders and policy makers be applauded for finally realizing that Africa has lagged behind for too long and that this status is no longer tenable, that it is no longer acceptable to the millions of Africans who have to survive on a dollar a day? Some reports indicate that African economies have turned the corner and are moving to faster and steadier economic growth whilst other reports indicate that the pace of growth is extremely slow and that, in some instances, there is stagnation and stagflation.

A 2007 World Bank Africa Development document stated that “something decidedly new is on the horizon in Africa, something that began in the mid-1990s.” There are some signs of change occurring, of that there is no doubt.

Any signs of growth must be put into perspective. What is clear is that perhaps, finally Africans, tired of being last in every human and development index are beginning to take some positive actions to reverse this trend. Will this be converted into tangible movements of investment growth, foreign direct investment, rise in productivity, increase in real GDP, reduction in poverty, investment in infrastructure, technology, education and health and real steps to tackle corruption?

Will Africa replicate the economic successes of India, Ireland, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan? Economic growth in some parts of South Asia has more than doubled the world’s average. Growth rates for 2008 are projected to be above 5% for China, Japan and India. These countries faced economic challenges forty to fifty years ago, but they now enjoy sustainable long-term economic growth. How were other countries in similar predicaments able to overcome economic stagnation? Which policies are conducive to creating and sustaining long-term economic growth?

In much of Africa, very little economic growth has occurred over the past fifty years. Some countries are even poorer today than they were thirty years ago. Sub-Sahara Africa has had the lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for decades. Gross domestic product is the total of all goods and services produced by a country in year. GDP gives us the ‘big picture’ and is the first systematic way of measuring economic performance.

According to J. Bradford Delong, University of California, Berkeley, “The twentieth century has been the century of increasing wealth in the industrialized economies: in material and standards of living,” but for the majority of Africans, it has been an era of negative growth, wars, and lower standards of living.

The UN established eight Millennium Development Goals in 2002 for the world to meet by 2015. The UN GOALS are:  

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

In September 2007, a BBC article entitled ‘Why Can’t Africa Tackle its Poverty’ asserted that “halfway to the UN poverty goals deadline an interim report concluded that many developing countries are unlikely to meet any of the poverty-busting goals, nor the benchmarks on education, health, and women's empowerment”, that “Africa is likely to be left behind unless further investment and aid is given.” 

Some have argued that the UN goals are unreasonable targets for Africa. Another BBC article asks “Why is Africa falling so far behind in the fight against poverty, is there the will in the West to help?” Aid and development funds can improve Africa’s economic activity, but aid is not a panacea for Africa’s growth, and not every problem can be solved by aid. For instance, aid cannot solve the problems associated with corrupt governments, and, in fact, can exacerbate the problem without adequate controls.

In October 2007, a confidential Presidential audit in Sierra Leone revealed that there is widespread corruption in the country. Aid must be directed and administered properly. Some African countries are adopting market reforms and increasing trade with the West in order to boost their economy. In 2003, Madagascar, Uganda, Ghana and Burkina Faso recorded average growth of more than 5%.

Other countries, for example, Sierra Leone which had weak performance and crumbling infrastructure before the war experienced negative growth, mainly as a result of corruption and the disruption caused by the 10 year civil war. Much has been written recently about the Irish miracle. How was Ireland, a country with 4.1 million people (July 2007), able to transform to an economic success story? In the 1970s and 1980s Ireland was regarded as a poor country. In 1982 unemployment levels were around 18%, but in 2006, Ireland’s unemployment rate is 4.3%. Ireland is seen as an economic miracle. There were external and internal factors that played a part in the transformation.

It is evident that Ireland is a major beneficiary of being part of the European Union, having access to markets in Europe and having attracted Foreign Direct Investment. However Ireland had to take other steps to transform the economy. Ireland embarked on a series of policy reforms, such as pro-market reforms, and a tripartite act between employers, government and trade unions which helped to produce much needed reforms. In addition, Government became more transparent and able to better monitor public funds. Ireland invested in education, which is a major factor to a highly skilled labor force. Ireland invested in infrastructure: good airports and telecommunications systems. It is expected that the Irish economy will grow by 5.4% in 2007, more than double the average in Europe.

Japan and Hong Kong have negligible natural resources. Japan is rugged and mountainous, and Hong Kong is mountainous with steep slopes. These two countries are examples to the idea that the existence and abundance of natural resources does not guarantee economic success. Whilst it is evident that natural resources have an effect on wealth, for example the Middle East with its enormous deposits of oil, some resources nations: for example, Nigeria, are ‘poor.’ Africa is endowed with natural resources yet poverty abounds, and performance has been dismal.

GDP per capita is GDP divided by the population. It measures the ability of the average person to buy goods and services. Fifty years ago, Japan and Hong Kong were relatively poor. In 1960 GDP per capita income for the two countries was $5,000 and $3,750 respectively. Today, they are two of the world’s dynamic economies with GDP of $33,100 and $37,300 respectively. They adopted market reforms, encouraged Foreign Direct Investment, invested in health and education for their citizens, and invested in infrastructure, physical assets and telecommunications. 

Singapore, with a population of 4.5 million (July 2007), became a British colony in 1867. Sierra Leone became a British colony in 1808. Whilst Singapore is very developed and business operates in a corrupt-free environment, Sierra Leone, with a population 6.1 million, (July 2007 est.) endowed with substantial mineral, fishery and agricultural resources, is extremely poor, and corruption is endemic in the society.

Singapore did not experience the instability and devastation of civil war, and even though Singapore suffered some economic set backs between 2001 and 2003, the country was able to invest in medical technology, information technology and stable prices to enable them to have a GDP per capita income of $31,400 compared to Sierra Leone’s GDP per capita income of $900.

There are a number of other countries that have experienced positive growth over the past two decades, including South Korea that achieved growth within a relatively modest period. In South Korea’s case, growth was achieved within thirty-five years. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, for four decades, South Korea’s GDP per capitia was “comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa. In 2004, South Korea joined the trillion dollar club of economies.” China is one the world’s fastest growing economies. China’s real GDP has been growing steadily at a rate of 6.5% over the past twenty years. China has been moving slowly in implementing reforms to transform its economy from a centrally planned system to one that is more market-driven. Chinese workers are more productive today mainly due to investment in human capital and technology.  

India’s economy has been expanding significantly over the last decade. Investment in infrastructure, education and technology as well as reduction in controls on foreign trade resulted in strong growth rate of 10% over the past decade. 

Columbia has a flourishing floriculture business, is a major exporter of flowers, and is the second largest exporter of flowers in the world. The economy has been growing steadily and despite the fact that the country faces other challenges, GDP per capita is $8,600 (2006 est.) up from $1,610 in 1975. 

Kenya is one of the few countries in Africa with a rapidly growing floral industry, estimated in 2002, to be worth approximately $110 million to the Kenyan economy. 25% of flowers imported to Europe are from Kenya. Other African countries can develop this industry, however, The Flower industry is capital-intensive, and would require investment from international companies.

The Bahamas, with a population of only 305,000 (July 2007est.) has a very successful tourist industry, and has the highest GDP per capita in the Caribbean. Tourism accounts for approximately 60% of the economy. The Bahamas is one of the most popular destinations for Americans, due to its proximity to the United States. 

African Path

Kenya: Country 'Can't Host Four Mobile Phone Firms

image During the last eight years, wireless communication has been considered the fastest growing segment of telecommunications.

Despite the rapid growth experts now reckon that the country's economy is unable to support more than three operators.

Celtel Kenya CEO, Mr David Murray, says the Government can license as many GSM operators as they can, "but the economic reality is that if you look around the world, countries bigger and wealthier than Kenya cannot support four operators."

Apart from Celtel Kenya and Safaricom, Econet Wireless and France Telecoms, who have just acquired the controlling stake in Telkom Kenya, are all expected to rollout mobile phone operations in the country.

Murray says mobile phone operation is a capital intense business and unless the country can amortise her costs against its revenue streams it will not be viable.

"It is highly questionable, if you look at the experience in South East Asia, Malaysia, Hong Kong. When I was in Malaysia they had seven operators, today they have three, because its the economics that determine the survival," says Murray.

Kenya with a population of 34 million has much lower average revenue per user (ARPU) than countries in the West. The ARPU in the country is below $10 per month.

"Look at France with about 60 million people; they three mobile phone companies; United Kingdom with a population of 60 million has four operators, Spain has three; Italy has three also and the third one is not doing very well," says Murray.

However, Murray reckons that survival will be determined by creativity on the marketing front, product development and network reliability.

This one of the reason why the parent company, Celtel International has been on the forefront in harmonising their networks across the continent.

One Network is the first-ever borderless mobile network in the world. This allows customers to move freely across geographic borders without roaming call surcharges and without having to pay to receive incoming calls.

The One Network service is automatically activated upon crossing the geographic border into another of the three countries, with no prior registration required or sign-up fee charged.

"From three countries (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) to six and now 12 countries in Africa," said Murray.

The service now covers Burkina Faso, Chad, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan. The others are the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Gabon.

The service is now available in all Celtel operations in Africa except in Zambia, Sierra Leone and newly acquired Ghana operation.

"The extension of this technological break-through now offers the possibility for nearly half of Africa's population to make calls at local rates across 12 countries throughout the continent," said Murray.

Innovation at its best

It means the world's first borderless mobile phone network covers an area more than twice the size of the European Union.

One Network truly showcases African innovation at its best and confirms Celtel as the fastest growing brand in the fastest-growing mobile telephone market in the world. In a region historically dependent on freedom of movement across borders, we are now offering a communications solution that fits the needs of our customers, breaking down barriers and making life better for businesses, families and individuals.

The inclusion of Sudan is strategic and will boost traffic across the border. "We are going to get a lot of United Nations traffic to and from Sudan and obviously the advantage of One Network is that it's a lot more economical than traditional roaming," says Murray.

"With roaming, you pay when you receive a call, but with One Network, there is no such paying, and with prepaid customers you can buy local scratch card and top-up whenever you are," he adds.

What about closing the gap with competition? "We have been growing significantly in the corporate sector with solutions offered by the blackberry. The corporate segment also uses a dedicated server (as opposed to working over the Internet or room server) which turns to be faster and more reliable and high quality of the data network."

"In terms of production development, we launched the blackberry in June, the competition launched the same in August, you get a small window of opportunity, that makes competition fun," he says

allAfrica.com: Kenya: Country 'Can't Host Four Mobile Phone Firms (Page 1 of 1)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Defense in torture case against Charles Taylor's son faces unusual problems in Africa

Taylor Witnesses are difficult or impossible to find, some having moved to remote African villages accessible only by muddy roads rarely patrolled by police. Many survivors of Liberia's bloody civil war who witnessed acts of torture are reluctant to talk to anyone about what happened, let alone a defense lawyer for the notorious son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

Then there are the language and cultural barriers. These and other problems have forced a delay until spring in the trial in Miami federal court of Taylor's son Charles McArthur Emmanuel, or Chuckie Taylor, the first person to be prosecuted under a law making it a crime for a U.S. citizen to commit torture or war crimes overseas.

People who have dealt with similar issues in war-torn western Africa say the difficulties are not surprising, given rampant official corruption and an almost complete lack of functional government institutions.

"It will take a generation for Sierra Leone and Liberia to recover from the horrors that Charles Taylor and his henchmen, including Chuckie, have wrought on their fellow man," said David Crane, a law professor at Syracuse University in New York and former chief prosecutor for the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Emmanuel, 30, is charged in an eight-count indictment with involvement in horrific acts of torture and killings from spring 1999 to late 2002 as head of the Anti-Terrorist Unit — also called the Demon Forces — during his father's presidency. Emmanuel was born in Boston to an ex-girlfriend of Taylor, who studied economics at Bentley College there.

The indictment accuses Emmanuel of shooting three people chosen from a group at a bridge checkpoint in April 1999 and ordering the throat of another victim cut after the man tried to escape. Torture methods allegedly used include burning with hot irons, scalding water and lit cigarettes; beatings with weapons and iron bars; and stinging by ants.

Emmanuel's job as head of the paramilitary unit was to eliminate or intimidate his father's political opponents through whatever means he saw fit, federal prosecutors maintain.

"He had a reputation for mindless evil who enjoyed personally torturing individuals," Crane said.

Like any defendant in a U.S. court, Emmanuel has rights to see the evidence against him, find possibly favorable witnesses and confront his accusers. But his court-appointed attorney, Miguel Caridad, said it has been a formidable task meeting those obligations.

"We're going to a bridge where people's heads were cut off and put on top of the bridge and to a police station where people were tortured," Caridad said at a recent court hearing. "We need to know the names of witnesses and whether they know of any other people who might have been there."

Caridad said he has traveled twice to Liberia and neighboring African countries in attempts to locate people who may have seen the alleged crimes, sometimes finding they have moved hours away to rural areas reachable only by difficult-to-traverse roads. Often there is no electricity, water or police protection and intermittent cell phone capabilities, and Caridad and his assistants are forced to carry cash brought from home for basic expenses.

"It's just a very, very difficult thing to get done," Caridad said.

Because of these problems, U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga postponed Emmanuel's trial from January to April of next year, with prosecutors agreeing that mounting a proper defense in this case poses unique challenges.

"The government does not want to prevent the defense from completing a thorough and professional investigation," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rochlin. "We don't want to be unreasonable."

There is a lot at stake in making sure Emmanuel is properly tried on the charges beyond his own rights as a defendant.

Emmanuel was arrested in March 2006 at Miami International Airport on charges of lying about his father's identity on a U.S. passport application, to which he pleaded guilty. Emmanuel wound up in Trinidad after his father left the Liberian presidency in 2003 amid repeated calls by President George W. Bush and others for Taylor to step down.

Taylor is charged in a special U.N. court in The Hague, Netherlands, with arming and supporting rebels — some of them only children — in neighboring Sierra Leone who killed tens of thousands of people, hacking the limbs off thousands more. He is jailed and his trial, which he interrupted when it began last June, is scheduled to resume next month.

Crane said the twin prosecutions against Taylor and his son are important for millions of Africans who suffered during these conflicts, particularly as governments and international groups try to rebuild respect for the law in those nations.

"It sends a message to all Africans that their lives matter and that those who choose to commit acts of atrocity will be held accountable," Crane said.

The Emmanuel prosecution also marks the first test for the 1994 U.S. law making it a crime for an American citizen to commit torture or war crimes overseas. Judge Altonaga earlier this year rejected the defense argument that the law was unconstitutional, but Emmanuel could argue that point again on appeal if he is convicted.

Emmanuel, who is being held without bail, could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on all charges against him.

Defense in torture case against Charles Taylor's son faces unusual problems in Africa - International Herald Tribune

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

African Football Confederation disqualifies Sierra Leone from 2008 competitions

 image    LAGOS, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- The African Football Confederation (CAF) has disqualified Sierra Leone from participating in the 2008 Champions League and Confederation's Cup competitions for failing to meet the deadline for the two events, local media reported Tuesday.

    In a CAF letter to the Sierra Leonean Football Association (SLFA), the continental body said it did not receive any entry from the association in spite of a warning that Nov. 30 was deadline for entries.

    SLFA sources said its head of league competitions, Abu Bakarr Kabba, had two months ago sent a letter of intent to CAF informing it about Sierra Leone's interest to participate in the 2008 competitions.

    Kabba said he found it strange to learn that CAF insisted it never received any correspondence to the effect.

    A sports enthusiast Mbili Mkanbhu blamed SLFA for the disqualification and said Sierra Leone had not organized any competition and therefore could not send names of teams which did not participate in any competition to the CAF.

    The disqualification has dampened the enthusiasm of football stakeholders and the general public which squarely rest the blame on the SLFA executive for not organizing a proper league.

African Football Confederation disqualifies Sierra Leone from 2008 competitions_English_Xinhua

Crowds flock to Sierra Leone slave ship

There was chaos at Freetown's port in Sierra Leone when a replica of the Amistad slave ship opened to the public.

"I want to know much about its history," one man shouted in Krio as a crew member appealed for patience and calm as hundreds of people struggled to gain access.

Crowds outside the Amistad in FreetownThe replica of the 19th Century trading ship has been retracing a 14,000-mile slave trade route to mark the 200th anniversary since Britain abolished the slave trade within its empire.

It sailed into Freetown - founded as a settlement for freed slaves - over the weekend.

Freedom Schooner Amistad (Copyright Amistad America)

"We have to have some way for you to get on the boat safely. What we're doing now is building a platform so you can come up and come down on the boat," the crew member shouted to the crowds, which included children on a school outing.

The history of ship is deep-rooted in Sierra Leone's history, as in 1839 some 200 Sierra Leoneans were taken to Cuba as slaves.

Some of them were sold to Spanish slavers who loaded them on to the Amistad.

Led by Sengbeh Pieh, the slaves revolted on the ship, killing many of the crew.

They however ended up in the United States where they were imprisoned.

Their case was taken up by several abolitionists, led by former US President John Quincy Adams, which ultimately led to their freedom.

"I came to look at the Amistad revolt because I want to know more about it because I read it in school and I think I saw the film [by Steven Spielberg] two or three years ago, so I wanted to see the ship where the revolt took place," said Mbalu, who was waiting to go on board.

"I would like them to show me the place where Sengbeh Pieh was sitting or maybe lying down - yes that's the particular place I've come to see," she said.

The children were allowed on board first, and then the expectant crowds.

Access problems

But after her visit Mbalu said she was disappointed not to have been allowed access to the cabin where the slaves were kept.

Crowds in Freetown queuing to get aboard the Amistad

People know little about Pieh despite him being on a banknote

"The access is very steep you have to descend a ladder," explained William Minter, chairman of the Amistad America Board of Trustees.

"For large numbers of people of all different ages, there's only one way in and one way out so it's hard to move traffic through," he said.

When Sengbeh Pieh eventually returned to Sierra Leone in 1842, he was a hero, and his face adorns one of the country's banknotes.

But 165 years on, many Sierra Leoneans know little about the Amistad or Sengbeh Pieh - at least until this week.

BBC NEWS | Africa | Crowds flock to S Leone slave ship

Taylor War Crimes Trial to Resume in Jan.

image The special court trying former Liberian President Charles Taylor on war crimes charges cleared the way Tuesday for his trial to resume next month, more than six months after its chaotic adjournment.

In a hearing lasting less than 10 minutes, the prosecution and defense agreed they would be ready to hear the first evidence on Jan. 7, when the U.N.-backed court will begin a schedule of 25 1/2 hours of hearings per week.

The trial is expected to continue until mid-2009.

Taylor, the first African leader to face an international court, is charged with arming and supporting rebels who killed thousands of civilians and hacked off the limbs of thousands more during Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war, which ended in 2002. Specific charges include murder, sexual slavery and rape, terrorism, and conscripting child soldiers.

He has pleaded innocent.

Prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the court she would present a list of witnesses this week who will appear during the first two weeks of the trial and will file a motion to grant protective measures for some witnesses — the final measures before the trial can begin in earnest.

Prosecutors have said they will present witnesses from Taylor's inner circle who will testify that from his headquarters in Liberia he controlled rebel forces in neighboring Sierra Leone to exploit its timber, diamonds and other resources.

They also have proposed bringing victims mutilated by the rebels, although Taylor's defense team has argued that such testimony was irrelevant and only intended for its emotional appeal, since no one disputed that atrocities occurred during the brutal war.

Taylor boycotted the start of the trial on June 4 when the prosecution gave its opening statement. He told the judges by letter that he was poorly represented by the court-appointed attorney and was accorded inadequate funds to mount a proper defense.

After one more session boycotted by Taylor, the trial was adjourned. It reconvened only for pretrial hearings after he dropped his demand to represent himself and hired a team led by British barrister Courtney Griffiths paid by a grant to Taylor of US$100,000 per month.

The trial, at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, is being held in The Hague because of fears it could ignite violence if it were held in Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital.

The Associated Press: Taylor War Crimes Trial to Resume in Jan.

Presidential Leadership and 'Good Governance' in the Context of Sierra Leone's Cultural Environment

There is new political will within the newly elected government of President Koroma (right). The task of undoing the failures of past regimes therefore lies with his government and with those international agencies willing to support him in the task of national renewal. (Photo: STR / AFP-Getty Images)

In many ways, the post-independence era has not been one of Sierra Leone's better periods. Except for the relatively stable early 1960's, Sierra Leone has moved from the flamboyant era of Albert Margai to Siaka Stevens' era of widespread institutionalized corruption, from Joseph Momoh's failed regime to the trendy regime of Valentine Strasser's National Provisional Ruling Council, and on to the Tejan Kabbah era itself, during which Sierra Leoneans paid a heavy price for the survival of President Kabbah's sly and corrupt government. Not many observers are interested in developing theories about management strategies during this period. Answers are not seriously sought about the question of whether a presidential leadership style that succeeds is when good governance policies are successfully implemented and development programs are efficiently managed.

A case, however, could be made that these are not the best of times in Sierra Leone's history. At the same time, this period in history has seen the efforts of international development agencies and movements by civil society aimed at making development work for Sierra Leone. Much of the commitment to advancing humane development programs has come from international development agencies such as the United Nations Development Program, Britain's Department for International Development, the United States Agency for International Development, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and Transparency International, and perhaps that commitment is also found in local civil society organizations.

Read full story by clicking the link below.

Presidential Leadership and 'Good Governance' in the Context of Sierra Leone's Cultural Environment - Worldpress.org

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Commonwealth and human rights

Human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and Gambia by authorities have brought to the fore once again the issues of protection of citizens' rights within the Commonwealth, one of the issues that the Commonwealth has jurisdiction on.

image The others are the promotion of democracy and the rule of law. The gravity of the human rights abuses by the regimes in Zimbabwe and the Gambia should focus people's minds on the issues in a general way. Such abuses, it should be made clear, deserve the much attention from leaders of the Commonwealth.
It is clear that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe enjoys the monopoly over rights abuses and other crimes against humanity in violent political situations - as we have seen in recent months. The Commonwealth must stand to end such impunity. But the Commonwealth can only act if the county whose nationals are violated does not act against the transgressors of these aspects of international law.
The Commonwealth could play an important role in curbing abuses of international law in Africa. In the continuing abuses that have taken place in parts of the continent in the recent past, we have witnessed a high degree of impunity. Having said that, we would like to point out that African countries have, over the years, become parties to the various international legislations that have been drawn up to protect fundamental freedoms and human rights of the individual.
Some of these include the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948; the Geneva Conventions of 1949 for the Amelioration of Conditions of War and the Protection of Civilians and War Victims; and the Convention against Torture, and other Cruel, Inhuman of Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984.
To top it all is Africa's own safeguard against human rights abuses: the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights. But, alas, the Court is not functioning. Why? Well, it will become operational only after 15 member states have ratified the Charter setting up the Court. However, only two countries have done so while 23 have ratified the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, even though the African Court's Charter has been around longer that that of the ICC.
It is obvious that there is a singular lack of political will among African leaders to give the continent legal weight to tackle its own cases of human rights abuses so that there is no passing the buck to the "international community" to deal with African violations of human rights law.
That is exactly what has happened in the case of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have asked the ICC to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in these countries. Perhaps, the case of Zimbabwe and the Gambia deserve much attention because the impede on the principles of democracy and human rights and undermines the rule of law.

AfricaNews - Commonwealth and human rights - RSS english

World's Poorest Country

image Another of Sunkari Conteh's children is sick. The last/ time one of her children was ill, it died.

Almost three years old, her daughter succumbed to diarrhoea because Conteh couldn't afford to pay a Le 90,000 medical consultation fee.

"I pleaded with the doctor to wait while my husband gathered the money," she said. "The doctor refused.

I cried and yelled at him, but he didn't listen." As she cried again this past Saturday, Conteh recalled that she was able to take her baby to a pharmacy, but after a few days, her daughter died anyway. "I don't even like to think about it, it's terrible, it's pathetic." Now Conteh is worried another of her children may suffer the same fate. Once again, she can't afford the fees to vaccinate her youngest child.

The Kroo Bay mother has four children and provides for them by selling oranges in the streets of her community. Her husband is unemployed.

Conteh is like thousands of Sierra Leonean mothers struggling to survive in what last week the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) announced is now the poorest country in the world.

Sierra Leone has taken Niger's spot at the very bottom of the UN's human development index. According to the UN global report, launched in Freetown last Friday, this country is now ranked 177th out of 177 countries.

But the international 2005 findings are bleaker than a 2006 national report, which was also launched Friday.

The UNDP claimed Sierra Leone fell to the lowest place because there is insufficient information about the country.

"I believe the situation would have been much better if there was adequate data to show for development in the country," said Bernard Mokam, the UNDP's country director.

But Saidu Turay, the Public Relations Officer for Freetown's Kroo Bay slum, wasn't surprised when he heard the report on the radio.

"Once these reports come up we feel sad," he said.

"It's a clear manifestation that nothing has been done since the time of the last report. The health care system is very, very poor." Turay said just last Friday a baby died in his community because there was no treatment. As he discussed the report from the doorway of the one-bedroom Kroo Bay shack he shares with several members of his family, a woman entered his compound shouting and crying - she'd just heard that she, too, had lost a family member to sickness.

"If Sierra Leone is rated as the least developed country, then Kroo Bay will be rated as the worst developed slum in the country," said Turay.

He said the Kroo Bay community suffers from high maternal and infant mortality, high unemployment, low rate of children in school, lack of housing, lack of proper medical facilities, high crime, child labour, trafficking and prostitution, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy and many other problems.

Turay rolled his eyes. "Etcetera, etcetera - these are the things that affect us in the community and these are the things the UN looked at when they were doing their study." Turay said in the last three months, three Kroo Bay women have died during childbirth because they couldn't afford to go to hospital or have a caesarean section. Conteh, too, said she delivered her five children with a traditional birth attendant in Kroo Bay.

"I don't have the money. Life is extremely difficult, I am right now suffering from malaria, but I don't have the money to go to hospital," she said.

Turay said this is common in Kroo Bay: "If you don't have the money to buy the required drugs, the person dies." With a growing population of more than 8,000 people, Kroo Bay is one of many Freetown slums long neglected by development projects and the government. Turay said it is extreme poverty like Kroo Bay's that accounts for the country's poor performance on the human development index.

On Friday, Vice President Sam Sumana said his government is re-preparing a poverty reduction strategy paper from the last government, which he said "will stand as a stepping stone towards development." He also said the new government is committed to combating the problems raised in the report.

Turay said the APC government should be aware of the problems after years in opposition. He said he doubts anything will change.

"During the electioneering process you saw a lot of politicians coming down to the slums and making all kinds of promises because they wanted our votes," he said. "But once the election is over you hardly see any of them, even to say thank you for the votes.

They give us sugar-coated vibes and then leave our problems to be solved by ourselves." Turay said if it wasn't for international nongovernmental organisations like Concern, Save the Children and the YMCA - who Saturday launched a new community centre and training project in Kroo Bay - his community would be completely neglected. "The government forgets about the existence of the slums, even though we are in the heart of the city." The theme of this year's global and national UNDP reports was the massive impact climate change is having on the people of the developing world, including Sierra Leone.

"Our coastal land areas such as Bonthe Island, Banana Island, Rokupre and other villages directly depending on agriculture will be inundated," said Joseph Rahall, the coordinator of Green Scenery, a local civil society organisation. "This will cause mass displacement of people, causing security threats and our security is not in place to solve such problems.

The criss-crossing of people will create conflict and we don't want to go back to war." Turay, too, said he is worried about climate change.

He said Kroo Bay is rapidly expanding and most new homes are being built on top of rubbish, at the water's edge. "If the water rises, we're in trouble," he said.

A greater worry in Kroo Bay is the annual rising of water during rainy season. For more than five months every year the people of Turay's community and others like it are continuously flooded with water and debris from the hills around Freetown.

"On the issue of flooding, we are scared, we are always prepared for the worst to happen next year," he said. "This year was the worst ever." Turay said this is one impact of climate change that could easily be tackled by this government.

"You see the trees being cut down in the hills," he said, noting that deforestation causes erosion, which causes the flooding. "Climate change also affects us greatly and it is on the increase because I don't see much being done about deforestation. It is a man-made problem." Along with destruction, the annual flooding also leaves the drainage areas of Kroo Bay clogged with garbage from the hills. The stench of sewage, stagnant water and mounds of garbage permeates the air throughout the community.

Turay said this build-up can be traced back to his community's health problems - poor drainage and stagnant water are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and Turay said malaria is a growing problem in Kroo Bay.

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However, Turay said for Kroo Bay residents, day to day food security is a more constant worry than health problems.

"We are poor and we can't afford the price of food, especially when the price of rice keeps sky-rocketing and there are no mechanisms to control the price.

People find it very difficult to survive here. We find it difficult to sleep at night because we are thinking about how we will survive the next day."

allAfrica.com: Sierra Leone: World's Poorest Country (Page 1 of 2)

Country Has No Rose for Thorpe

image Of course, for a woman of her caliber and resolve she expects no bouquet of roses for conducting the much-contested 2007 relatively free of violence general elections and a runoff between two historic bitter rivals; the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and the All People's Congress (APC). It is not surprising that Christiana Thorpe, the Chief Commissioner for the National Electoral Commission in Sierra Leone, finds herself the subject of much heated post-elections debates amongst winners, losers and umpires.

The outcome of the elections is leaving many high-flying politicians come crashing to the ground and others rising up from over fifteen years of political hibernation. Ms. Thorpe's leadership in partnership with the Executive Representative of the United Nations Secretary General in Sierra Leone, Victor Angelo produced what the world has referred to as the model democratic elections in Africa. This has become unsettling for many SLPP leaders, and indeed, the cause for the ensuing post-elections debates that have become the fodder for scholars and the Fourth Estate in Sierra Leone and abroad.

Digging up political hallmarks of this small West African nation that shares borders with Guinea and Liberia, its Manor River Union member states, would help us to understand the gist of the ensuring post-elections political debates.

Sierra Leoneans negotiated their way out of British colonialism by peacefully dimming the once proverbial sun that never set on the British Empire in Lancaster House and won their Independence in 1961, a process that ushered into power the SLPP as the first political party to govern Sierra Leone. Dimming because, evidence of flag-Independence is still prevalent in Sierra Leone - not only for its close ties to London, but also because Britain saw the need to free the diamond fields of its former colony from the grips of sex-slaver and limbs-hacking rebels.

Interestingly, 2007 was not the first time that the APC has unseated the SLPP through the ballot box. In 1967, the APC, under the leadership of Siaka Stevens, defeated the SLPP. Siaka Stevens would later fall for the infamous one-party system phenomenon that blew over the sub-Saharan region for obvious reasons. Like many other African leaders who must stay in power, Stevens manipulated the people through a rigged referendum to bring about a one-party system.

It was those unchecked powers and nitty-gritty political un-resourcefulness by the old APC guard that became the stage upon which rested the major political blemishes on the previously clean democratic political history of Sierra Leone - oppressive government and the decade-long brutal war.

But it would be an incomplete telling of the history without the statement that Sierra Leone acquired bloodless Independence, subsequent and post-war electoral processes have made that nation a model country in Africa for conducting good elections. While many civil wars in Africa degenerate into ethnic cleansing and sometimes genocide, the same cannot be said of the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Flatly, the recently extolled general elections by the international community in Sierra Leone is a manifestation that could allow the safe room for wriggling into a reasonable position to assert that the people sacrificed their lives in the eleven years bloodletting to deny oppressive regimes a safe haven and to return the good electoral processes to which they were previously accustomed.

But the SLPP still finds it very difficult just to take credit for overseeing an excellent electoral process and move on. Top SLPP leaders did not only boycott the inauguration of the new APC government, former President Tejan Kabbah's sense of humility during the changing of the political guard was met by stunt criticisms of him from top SLPP leaders. Some hold it to be self-evidence that the outgoing leader was a mole in the SLPP who wanted to see the return of power to his northern origin.

Also, many in the SLPP have blamed Kabbah for not doing the despicable thing that many incumbent governments do - to rig the elections. Some people have even levied accusations on him that his choice of Vice President Berewa as the flag bearer of the SLPP, who they say is unpopular, was a ploy for Kabbah to fulfill his hidden agenda. But it is also fair to state that Kabbah and Berewa have successfully exhumed themselves from these grave accusations and sometimes-baseless speculations as model citizens of the world by the peaceful and safe change of the political guard to whom the political bell tolls.

Awareness Times, a popular local tabloid in Sierra Leone, champions what its editor calls "investigative journalism" into the actions of Victor Angelo vis-à-vis his performance as the UN-based umpire of the elections in Sierra Leone. The newspaper and some SLPP supporters posit that the election was a rehearsal of a pre-arranged APC stuff to win.

Quite a few chastened conspiracy theory-based opinion papers from SLPP supporters freely find space on the pages of the Awareness Times newspaper in its exposé bid of what many SLPP supporters have referred to as a ploy by Victor Angelo to rig the elections in favor of the APC. But that was during the run-up to the runoff.

Refusing to let go now, Awareness Times has recently published a paper written by Amara P. Vandy in Bo titled, "SLPP Southern Province blasts: United Nations' Victor Angelo is a Hypocrite." Notably amongst the many invectives on Victor Angelo in the article, Mr. Vandy writes; "The executive of the Southern Province branches of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) have in recent days, totally boycotted a 'consultative meeting' which the Executive Representative of the United Nations Secretary General in Sierra Leone, Victor Angelo had called with political parties active in the region citing to this reporter that Angelo was nothing but, in their words, a 'damn hypocrite.'" A letter dated November 28, 2007 on Awareness Times website lodges the SLPP leadership complaint with the UN Secretary General, Bank Ki-Moon. In part, the letter reads; "Accordingly, the Sierra Leone People's Party has resolved that until Mr. Victor Angelo is recalled and replaced as your Executive Representative to Sierra Leone, the Party and its members shall withhold their participation and co-operation from all United Nations programmes and activities in Sierra Leone." Upon hearing of Victor Angelo's recent resignation from the UN after thirty-years of service, some SLPP knee-jerk reactionaries responded, allotting bountiful self-credit to themselves that their complaint with Bank Ki-Moon had scored a major goal for them. But Victor Angelo on the other hand swiftly debunked that sentiment at the very last chance he had in his farewell statement. He stated that he had put in his resignation with the UN ever since and that the UN had been slow to find a replacement staff. He maintained that he worked in Sierra Leone fearlessly, denied taking any sides in the elections and asserted that his work was not influenced by intimidators. He spoke of the success he helped to bring to Sierra Leone boastfully that Sierra Leone has moved from a "crisis" state in 2000 up into a "model" state in 2007.Even though the rest of the world sees an example of a good democratic process in Sierra Leone conducted by Christiana Thorpe, her process of invalidating votes has met serious criticism from the SLPP leaders.

Meanwhile, speculative theorists are making efforts to connect Angelo and Thorpe in a conspiracy to have rigged the elections.Amidst the foregoing name-calling and finger pointing, the APC is yet to present Ms.

Thorpe the petals of rose for her so-called conspiracy to rig the elections on its behalf. What is obvious though, is Ernest Bai Kororma's witty and careful cherry picking of political appointees worthy of staying and the appointments of new ones.Despite the crashing of politicians of the old guard, the new APC's rising political stars of President Koroma's "new dawn" in Sierra Leone are hard at work. Firstly, notable amongst positive actions so far, is the promise to light up the world's darkest city in December 20, 2007.

allAfrica.com: Sierra Leone: Country Has No Rose for Thorpe (Page 1 of 1)