(I elaborated on this post in the AFRICAN MAGAZINE and the article is printed as MINDS AND MONEY: REINVESTING IN SIERRA LEONE………………….READ MORE HERE
Last year the GoSL and the UK DFID embarked on the “Sierra Leone: Back in Business” Campaign; an effort to bring investors back into Sierra Leone. I dont know if this campaign increased the number of investors in the country but I think GoSL and DFID were more concerned with the process of the campaign rather than outcome. Long before Sierra Leone was back in business but still in conflict, in 2000 when the biggest investor in the country was probably the UNAMSIL peace keepers; CELTEL International B.V became one of the first multinational companies to begin operations in Sierra Leone. Since then many other companies have followed suit but private sector development needs to occur at a faster pace if the country is going to move from the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index.
When poor countries are trying to get investors they usually embark on what i like to call “state led prostitution”. The government basically has to prostitute itself and its resources to any one willing to bid (not even the highest bidder). This means giving tax breaks and signing deals that are more in favor of the foreign companies than national interest. In the name of privatization and foreign direct investment
many African nations including Sierra Leone have been guilty of “state led prostitution”. The kind of investors who take deals from prostituting states generally do so to avoid corporate social responsibility or restrictions in other countries that are more in favor of national welfare. The tricky thing about state-led prostitution in countries like Sierra Leone however, is that the market is highly competitive. “It’s a prostitute eat prostitute world” There is always the threat that another prostituting state in Africa or elsewhere could make a more attractive offer to the investing client. The question for states like Sierra Leone then becomes: “How can I make my country attractive for investment without embarking on state-led prostitution and preserving national welfare?” Luckily and rarely an investor comes along that believes in Corporate Social Responsibility and is willing to invest capital in human development and national welfare. Celtel International B.V, SBTS Group, and Access Point Africa are doing just that in Sierra Leone proving that Corporate Responsibility and profit are not mutually exclusive.
Corporate Responsibility in Sierra Leone
Celtel Academy Freetown
is a training academy that will bring “world class educational opportunity combined with the depth and speed of information technology and the internet” to Sierra Leone. If Sierra Leoneans are endowed with cutting edge skills then companies like Celtel will reduce their dependence on foreign expats. With this training academy, Celtel is making a decision to not only invest in infrastructure but also in people. Infrastructural developments are good but without skills, brain power, and leadership; buildings and roads will crumble and decay. Another example of Celtel’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility in Sierra Leone is the recently launched “Build Our Nation”
Campaign. The goal of this campaign is to provide much needed school supplies and books to secondary schools in need. The company has set aside a total of Le. 450 million ($150,724) for the first year of implementation. Additionally, the “Come. Back Home”
Campaign in an effort to recruit Sierra Leoneans and other Africans in the diaspora who are interested in living and working in Africa to join their corporate family. The company will be participating in career fairs in the UK and the US during the course of this year to make Sierra Leoneans aware of the opportunities available with Celtel.
Last year AccessPoint Africa Incorporated (APA) with CEO Conrad Coyanda-Parkzes hosted a free community training class at its Bo Internetworking center. The training class was provided as a collaborative effort between Sierra Visions and The African Network – TAN. Participants in the training included student and professionals from local institutions such as Bo Town Council, Bo Kenema Power Systems (BKPS), SLBS, Bo Government Hospital and Njala University. The training introduced participants to Internet concepts and covered different areas including the use of search engines, and email registration.
SBTS group encourages its employees to participate in community service efforts by allowing them paid time off to participate in various volunteer initiatives. The company’s employees have participated in volunteer activities for various organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Conforti Primary School Scholarship Fund, the Home Coming Summit, Sierra Visions, the Sierra Leone Development Fund and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
The efforts of these companies, NGOs, and concerned individuals doing all they can to contribute to Sierra Leone’s development is exactly what the nation needs to take advantage of the recent international media attention garnered by best selling author Ishmael Beah and musical sensation Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars. The journey ahead is going to be long and hard but it is far from impossible. As I leave for Sierra Leone in the next couple days, I am excited, happy, and optimistic not only for myself but because I know that change is possible and on the way. Sierra Leone is back in business and moving forward one step at a time.