The African continent’s growing wealth needs to be spread beyond the confines of powerful elites and governments must come clean about opaque mining and oil deals, a leading think-tank said on Tuesday. The Africa Progress Panel, in its annual report chaired by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, identified poor governance and creaking transport and power infrastructure as the main impediments to the continent of a billion people. “Only leadership and governance can close the gap between a rich continent and a poor people.”
The report highlighted Africa’s increasing ties with emerging giants such as China, which has overtaken the United States as the region’s top trading partner, saying they were having a significant impact on the continent. However, it criticised governments and external investors for striking deals, especially in the minerals sector, that too seldom benefited the people from under whose feet the precious metals and ores are being dug. “Africa is rich and its stock is rising. The value of its land and stocks of minerals is going up,” Annan said. “There is no lack of resources, no deficiency of knowledge and no shortage of plans. Africa’s progress rests above all else on the mobilisation of political will, both on the continent and internationally,” he said.
Before the economic slump of 2009, sub-Saharan economies enjoyed rapid growth of 5 percent a year — comfortably above population expansion rates — and most have managed to bounce back well with this year’s recovery in world commodity prices. In April, the International Monetary Fund projected regional expansion of an average 4.7 percent for 2010.
But in many countries, the gap between rich and poor was getting bigger, the report said. “This is both unjust and potentially dangerous,” it said. In South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy, income inequality has got worse since the end of apartheid in 1994, and there are protests by blacks living in squalid townships around major cities almost daily.
A Country like Sierra Leone in West Africa, is poised for a dramatic overhaul of its economic system as the new President shows determination to bring about a refreshing drive as to how the country is governed, by arresting economic mismanagement; a threatening graft culture; and making attempts to move the country from one dependent on aid for its survival, to a country that can sustain itself. Sierra Leone is a unique case of an African success story. The international community should extend a big hand of support to the Sierra Leonean President, Ernest Bai Koroma, as he positions his country towards economic growth and prosperity. Supporting leaders like President Koroma will create the necessary incentives and impetus for more commitment in Africa’s new dynamic leaders that would provide a more solid political base at home for such leaders to continue the fine work they are doing, with a fresh mandate from their people.
The Sierra Leone leader is indeed making an effort to ensure the country’s wealth is distributed evenly, and he has successfully achieved this by making available free healthcare for pregnant women and children under five, thereby easing the extra expenses incurred from huge medical bills; cheaper electricity, by instituting an efficient hydro-electric output; a new general services tax that will consolidate all existing taxes thereby ensuring a fairer tax system; increased subsidy on fuel products to ensure affordability; an efficient road network that is being reconstructed for ease of access to make trade more flexible across regions; lowering the costs of basic commodities; fighting to end the graft culture that has for too long threatened the country’s development; creating a National Revenue Authority that has seen an overhaul in the country’s revenue collection potential; and establishing a social security scheme that provides financial security to all employees in Sierra Leone in the form of Old Age Benefits, Invalidity Benefits and Survivors’ Benefits, based on Social Insurance Principles.
The West should not waiver in its support for Sierra Leone, and more direct financial assistance is needed to boost the new agenda for change instituted by this new president, that will ultimately lift the country out of its poverty environment structure. Supporting the government of President Koroma will protect the vital strategies in place that are set to bring about the necessary changes that is so desperately needed in this country of huge potential.
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