Postcard from Freetown – Selling our Birthright at the Expense of our Children

“Nature is said to be transient while art is said to be permanent.” Having this in mind, I had the opportunity of travelling around Freetown, especially in the Regent and Goderich area, breathtaking lush green landscape and it reminded me of the beauty of Sierra Leone and all the arable land available. If this land is used properly and adequately it can benefit the people of this country immensely. Interestingly, I observed the new developments going on around the Goderich area, young Sierra Leoneans buying lands and building modern day houses and structures that are in par with the 21st century. Impressive and welcoming I must say.

Sierra Leoneans may not be keen or fussy about statistics, but the other day I saw the new Statistic Sierra Leone office looking revamped and refurbished with the latest and modern computers to collect and collate data nationwide, and this is another sign of great improvement by the APC (All People Congress) party.

It is worth noting that the population rate of Sierra Leone is now on the higher side, compared to the post war era where we were about 4 million people and now we are hitting the 6 million mark. The more worrying and call for concern part is that more than half of this population may well be staying in Freetown and the regional cities. I can testify to this because back in the 90’s when I was growing up in Freetown, it was not as congested and jam packed as it is today. Freetown is now the main commercial center and heartbeat of Sierra Leone. Every Tom, Dick and Harry is here trading their trade. Also this means that all the able bodied youths have left the villages for the so-called bright city lights, just like Jozi (City of Gold) plying their trade to achieve their dreams and grab their own gold whenever the opportunity presents itself.

According to what I have been told, 75% of our population are in the agriculture sector, many are literally tied to the land, and they depend on the land for their livelihood and survival. Needless to say majority of the people who grow up in farming communities in the 50s, 60s, and 70s were educated from agricultural proceeds like cocoa, coffee, kola et cetera. My calculation and with what I have seen since I have been in Freetown is, at least 60% of our current Ministers, Parliamentarians and the bulk of the civil service workforce enjoyed the cash from agriculture while in school and college. So invariably whatever policies or programmes that affect land and agriculture has to be looked into keenly so that the interest of the poor and marginalized is taken into account before this becomes a dilemma that will choke us as a country in the future.

The bulk of the youth are waiting for jobs, they are not adequately trained to take up most of the available jobs since they require post secondary school qualifications and experience. Another disturbing factor in Sierra Leone is that the bulk of its citizens are too old to do work that requires expending energy so the farm lands remain under-utilized. Considering the latest trend of the 21st century, many of the young people prefer staying in the cities doing odd jobs, fending for their mouth than staying in the village, so how does government draft a policy and make agriculture and farming attractive to this present crop of youths is currently lacking.

A lot of resonance needs be done here to point to the future of this country and most importantly to the land and agricultural sector which to my opinion is the jewel of this country despite the clamouring about blood diamonds and the mining industry and what not. I think Sierra Leone has past that stage where government keep the people in the dark about things that are their constitutional right to know. The talk of villages receiving $5 per acre per year is ridiculous and upsetting and thus I reiterate, the imperialist will never leave Africa and our poor and illiterate citizens are the ones suffering from this menace due to the greedy and selfish politicians that struck these deals with foreign companies at the expense of their own fellow countrymen.

Another question I keep on asking myself, after leasing these lands to foreign companies, who is this finished product for? Does the Sierra Leonean populace benefit or share in the profits in this product? The answer is a big no. What appeared to my understanding is that the Addax investment in Sierra Leone (bio-fuel) benefiting Sierra Leoneans is a dream far-fetched, because the end product destination is Europe and our land and citizens are just modern day slaves being used with our own natural resources and labour to satisfy the western world.

Can we say our politicians got this wrong? Absolutely, they got it wrong. Re-negotiating these land deals to the benefit of the local people and their communities should be revisited. It is time we put on our thinking caps and remember that the present day generation of landowners will pass and their children will be the ones to accept this present dubious arrangement that their forefathers and fathers where led to have made.

What is the way forward for now? That we will need to deliberate upon critically and carefully but my uncommon sense tells me that; government should suspend all agreement with the foreign companies and struck a deal that is transparent, participatory, beneficial and fair to the owners of the land. This way we might end up with a win-win situation.

Let us remember land is an asset, it does not diminish especially in a developing economy and it is something we can be proud of. Let us not throw away our baby with the bath water or sell our birth right for a piece meal because when the meal is finished, what next Mama Salone?

@DanteBello

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