The West is sneezing – repeatedly, and for countries like Sierra Leone, with historic and significant trade and aid ties especially to the UK, the the question becomes whether we should reach for the Vicks.
According to leading law firm Hogan Lovells a decline in UK investment would not create significant waves, saying: “The impact of the UK on Africa should not be overstated. Combined data from the Office for National Statistics and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development shows that, in 2014, the UK contributed only 16% of the total foreign direct investment flows into Africa and this investment has been proportionately reducing since that time.”
The vexed and vexatious subject of development aid is another matter altogether. The UK government spends 0.7 per cent of gross national income on foreign aid, with Africa the biggest regional beneficiary of bilateral aid - £2.54 last year. The UK is the biggest bilateral donor in Sierra Leone and last year’s aid package was worth in excess of £200m. Of course, this figure is not one homogenous entity and potentially covers a wide variety of things, including food, advice, fees, training and debt relief. Nevertheless, the issue of aid to countries like ours remains contentious and post Brexit sentiments are less inclined to an open purse. The Trump administration views military might, not diplomacy and foreign aid as the primary way to assert its influence abroad and is asking for USAID to cut its budget by around 37 per cent. In such a environment, the lens of economic development turns once again to the private sector as the engine of development.
As we see time and time again, Sierra Leonean businesses are not short on innovation and determination. They are a resourceful and hardy bunch, and today’s emerging business owners fling themselves into the start-up culture with gusto. When it comes to private versus public, an entrepreneurial career increasingly appears to be emerging as the preferred choice for today’s younger generation.
The highlight of this month’s issue is our exclusive interview with Momodu Kargbo, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, who talks about his early influences, fiscal prudence, unpopular decisions and support for the private sector. We look at some more unusual entrepreneurial options – fashion, food and vintage handbags, courtesy of the Senesie siblings. Ain’t no shame in monetising your assets, and Lyande Kaikai talks about the rise of Airbnb in Sierra Leone. There’s a growing network of start-up support. Pitch Night, ILab and Sensi Tech Hub are working together to create a vibrant ecosystem of collaboration and innovation.
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