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26.03.2007 Feature Article

DEVELOPMENT DIALOGUE AND THE BUREAUCRATS

The press release carried by the Sierra Leonean-owned Vancouver, British Columbia-based www.thepatrioticvanguard.com from the Freetown-based National Communications Strategy Project (NCSP) that it is to launch a weekly radio talk show dubbed “Development Dialogue” on the Freetown-based United Nations Radio FM 103 that will discuss accountability among Sierra Leonean elites is a pointer to the opening up of Sierra Leone's development fronts to the people. This is after years of lack of genuine interactions and answerability among ordinary Sierra Leoneans, national ministers, senior bureaucrats, development experts, academics, diplomats, media professionals, and representatives of non-governmental organizations operating Sierra Leone's development process.

When the independent nation-state Sierra Leone was founded in 1961 it was basically a development project, no more, no less. From the famous Fourah Bay College, founded in 1827, to the country's professional civil service (bureaucrats), Sierra Leone radiated the core neo-liberal Western values as a development project. Infact, English-speaking West Africa was rule from Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. This made Freetown the centre of diffusion of neo-liberal development paradigms for Anglophone West Africa, especially the training of bureaucrats and other professionals. For a while, Sierra Leone did well. But in the course of time as development challenges mounted, the indications was that Sierra Leone is not only Freetown but also a large of part outside Freetown, from the dry terrains of Port Loko to the rough domains of diamond-rich Kono. These large areas values was not reflected in the country's initial ringing development projects – an indication of weak foundation of Sierra Leonean nation-state as development scheme.

As today's growing international development literature and research demonstrate, the inability of Sierra Leonean elites, products of the proud and ancient Fourah Bay College, the flagship of the then “Athens of West Africa,” as Sierra Leone was touted as West Africa's centre of development enlightenment, to mix indigenous Sierra Leonean norms, values and traditions into national development planning saw a gradual cracks in the foundations of the proud nation-state. The climax of this saw the brutal Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels emerge from the long developmentally-neglected outbacks of the country: amputating, raping, arsoning, and diamonds looting, and fighting a failed ten-year insurrection that started in 1991 and ended in 2002, interfaced with military juntas, coup attempts, and acute social distress that radiated across a West Africa that Sierra Leone once governed. The enlightened had descended into primitivity, because Sierra Leone's elites, despite their long-running pretensions, could not hatch holistic national development policies that balanced its neo-liberal Western structures and its indigenous norms, values and traditions.

What we see here are elites, perhaps cowed by unhealthy and unrealistic rough and tumble political climate, shielded from the norms, values and traditions of Sierra Leoneans in their national policy development planning. As the buffer between the people and the government, as the intellectual fronts between the people and centres of power, as the eyes and ears between the governors and the development aspirations of Sierra Leoneans, the elites did not reflect the real developmental struggles of Sierra Leoneans in regard to their norms, values and traditions. This picture had made the Sierra Leonean nation-state, from scratch, not authentically reflective of the real Sierra Leone – its history, its norms, values and traditions in its development process but more or less a reflection of the dominant neo-liberal Western values to the detriment of Sierra Leone's values and growth.

It is in this sense that the National Communications Strategy Project programme is appreciated, especially its opening up unto the daily struggles and values of Sierra Loenans country-wide through the dialoguing of their well-being with the elites who have for long not consulted Sierra Leoneans when developing the very policies that are to drive their well-being and that is partly responsible for the darkness that engulfed the country for a good part of its almost 36 years of corporate existence. And the idea of starting the National Communications Strategy Project programme through the discussion of intersection between the “Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and the national development policy framework of Sierra Leone” demonstrate the seriousness of the programme. The reason is that as Sierra Leone and other African states are entangled for years in neo-liberal policies because of colonialism and its subsequent overwhelming power of globalization and attempt to disentangle themselves and balance their development policies with the enabling aspects of their history, norms, values and traditions, they are increasingly interpreting their development goals from their norms, values and traditions with that of the already existing neo-liberal structures so as to harmonize the values that are drive their development process.

The use of Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSPs) as starting point by the National Communications Strategy Project programme shows the apparent shift in development thinking in relation to the Sierra Leonean environment. Unlike the much-maligned Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) that was imposed verbatim on Sierra Leone and other developing countries without their inputs (that's their history and values) that had been replaced by the PRSPs, the PRSPs are prepared by the member countries of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund “through a participatory process involving domestic stakeholders as well as external development partners, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.” Broadly, the PRSPs are not only for consideration for debt relief but healthier macroeconomic practices and the overall development process of the PRSPs member countries such as Sierra Leone.

In the schisms of development values, critics argue rightly, as Sierra Leonean elites will hear from average Sierra Leoneans, that the condition used to judge PRSPs by the World Bank and IMF are actually used to impose neo-liberal (that's Western values-driven liberalization and monetarism) policies along the lines of the Washington Consensus (that's Western-driven “"standard" reform package promoted for crisis-wracked countries” such as Sierra Leone “by Washington-based institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and U.S. Treasury Department”), and that these policies tend to increase poverty rather than decreasing it.

As the Accra, Ghana-based development bi-weekly Public Agenda (March 23, 2007) reported citing a press release by the IMF's Independent Evaluation Office (March 12, 2007), the IMF acknowledges that policies, practices and aid towards Africa, suggestive of other international development agencies, contains “ambiguity and confusion.” The ambiguity and confusion are the result of lack of broader inclusion, or more appropriately “miscommunications to external audiences,” as the IMF is quoted as saying and has become aware of, of Sierra Leone and other African states' history, experiences, norms, values and traditions into the IMF, the World Bank and other international development agencies policies and practices towards Sierra Leone and other Africa states. It is this background that the National Communications Strategy Project development dialogue programme should be a forum for opening up into the long-neglected Sierra Leonean history, experiences, norms, values and traditions into the discussions of Sierra Leone's development process, whether about its topical “Good Governance, Peace and Security,” “Pro-Poor Growth for Food Security and Job Creation” and “Human Development.”

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, © 2007

This author has authored 338 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KofiAkosahSarpong

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