Sierra Leone, World bank and IMF

by Mahmud Tim Kargbo

So it’s ding ding! Seconds out! And we begin the final round of that international slugfest, the World Bank and IMF negotiations. Out of their corners came President Bio and Finance Minister Dennis Vandi, shrugging their shoulders and beating their chests – and I just hope you aren’t one of those trusting souls who still think it could really go either way. The fix is in. The whole thing is about as pre-ordained as a bout between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy; and in this case, I am afraid, the inevitable outcome is a victory for the World Bank and IMF, with Sierra Leone lying flat on the canvas with 12 stars circling symbolically over our semi-conscious head.

I suppose there may be some aspects of the Chequers proposals that they pretend not to like. They may puff about “cherry-picking” the Chinese loans to Sierra Leone specifically the cancelled Mamamah airport. There may be some confected groaning and twanging of leotards when it comes to the discussion on World Bank/IMF rebuilding the economy they help battered in the previous regimes. But the reality is that in this negotiation the World Bank and IMF have so far taken every important trick. The Sierra Leone government has agreed to hand over millions of taxpayers’ money and natural resources for two-thirds of diddly squat from the World Bank and IMF.

In adopting the Chequers proposals, we have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank. If we continue on this basis we will throw away most of the advantages of Sierra Leone. By agreeing to a “common rulebook” with the World Bank and IMF – over which we have no control – we are making it impossible for Sierra Leone to be more competitive, to innovate, to deviate, to initiate, and we are ruling out major free trade deals that will help us rebuild our economy with indigenous nationals in the thick of it all and address our social challenges.

If we go ahead with the Chequers proposals, we are forswearing the project of global Sierra Leone – so splendidly articulated by the President in his UN General Assembly speech of September 23, 2021 – and abandoning the notion of Sierra Leone as a proud independent economic actor. We will remain in the World Bank and IMF taxi; but this time locked in the boot, with absolutely no say on the destination. We won’t have taken back control – we will have lost control. We will serve as a terrible warning to any other African or developing country thinking of changing its relationship with the exploitative World Bank and IMF neo-colonial financial institutions: that even Sierra Leone, one of the richest countries in terms of mineral resources, with a new government that promised “New Direction”, was unable to break free of the gravitational pull of the World Bank and IMF and forced to sue for humiliating terms.

Of course, I hope that the President will still change course – and rediscover the elan
and dynamism of his above mentioned UN General Assembly speech and scores of international and national interviews. With more than one year until the end of his presidency period, there is still ample time to save Sierra Leone. If we are to do so, we must go back to the issue of the role played by World Bank and IMF in destroying our economy in the past regime(s), which has been so ingeniously manipulated – both by World Bank/ IMF and parts of the Sierra Leone Government – so as to keep Sierra Leone effectively in the hands of these very exploitative neo-colonial financial institutions to get very easy access to our country’s natural resources and fixed assets.

Instead of really tackling the problem of the economy we have allowed it to be occluded by myths. It is a myth – pure nonsense – to state that there is “no economic value in getting a new airport or the contract was badly negotiated” so it must be cancelled. Of course, the current government can renegotiate the deal and make it better. These are two separate governments, and on either side, you will find plenty of differences: for instance, as part of the new negotiations, the current Bio led government would have negotiated with the Chinese to make the whole Mamamah area right down to Mile 91 an economic zone with big-time industries to manufacture and distribute finished goods within West Africa and beyond.

It is a myth to say that you could create an effective “economy” – by renewing your exploitative partnership with the World Bank and IMF on the pittance they continue to give your government as loans after deducting the usual 10% from the loan.

And above all, it is a total myth to say that by dancing to the World Bank/ IMF music government will improve social service protection for the suffering majority or rebuild its international image in human rights violations.

The tragedy is that as soon as the President cancelled the contract, the World Bank/ IMF began working on their very exploitative methods to sustain their looting in Sierra Leone. Our Government got lost in an eternal dither and couldn’t make up minds, for months after months, to satisfy World Bank and IMF, and

  • They failed to seize the opportunity of re-evaluating the Mamamah airport contract and add value to it for the good of the nation.
  • They failed to renegotiate the rogue Masiaka toll gate contract and get the better out of it.
  • They failed to renegotiate the badly arranged mining contracts of Ernest Bai Koroma due to international pressure by corporate rogues of the SL Mining…

It is now clear that some members of the current Government never wanted solutions. They wanted to use that problem to attract World Bank and IMF back to Sierra Leone and they enjoy doing so even if it takes to stop a proper contract from the previous regime. Solving Mamamah would mean a solution from the previous regime, and they didn’t really want that.

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