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Hundreds, if not thousands, of people crowd onto the morning ferry to make their way from the Lungi area south across the Sierra Leone River to Freetown in this April 17, 2012, file photo. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Hundreds, if not thousands, of people crowd onto the morning ferry to make their way from the Lungi area south across the Sierra Leone River to Freetown in this April 17, 2012, file photo. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

African consumer boom bypasses many in poverty-stricken Sierra Leone Add to ...

“It’s a kind of reheated neo-colonialism, a generalized resource curse,” said Patrick Bond, director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Civil Society.

In Sierra Leone, if new investments are to bring new jobs, some say they are still waiting to see them.

Sangbulima’s residents say the nearby ore loading facility has employed only four people so far in their village. Their expectations may be unrealistically high as they live more than 160 kilometres south of African Minerals’s Tonkolili mine.

The company says its iron ore project has overall created many jobs for Sierra Leoneans, 9,000 to date.

But the Sangbulima villagers say their fishing livelihood has been disrupted by the throbbing engines and booming klaxons of the ore ships and the new channel markers studding the river.

“Two years ago, you would have seen smoke here, smoking the fish,” said Idrissa, sitting with other villagers in a “palaver” meeting with visitors under the shade of trees.

“The fishing career has been blocked now,” he said.

An African Minerals spokesman said the company recognized it had a “unique responsibility” in Sierra Leone given the importance of its iron ore project to the local economy.

“From Q2 next year, African Minerals expects to be producing 20 Mtpa (million tons per annum) of iron ore, making it one of the largest producers in West Africa. This will generate significant revenue for the country,” he said, without specifying how much. Local expectations are high.

“The only way to look at it, Africa Rising, is to look at how does it really benefit the African,” said John Sisay, the Sierra Leonean chief executive of Sierra Rutile, another mining company in the West African country.

“Otherwise, what’s the point?” he asks with a shrug.

With its galloping growth rate of an estimated 21 per cent this year, driven by the new iron ore projects, Sierra Leone has joined the pack of the bounding “African lions” – among the fastest growing economies in the world.

But Sierra Leone’s prospects may look considerably sleeker from Johannesburg or London than from the pot-holed streets of Freetown, where services like power, transport and Internet are often obtained with difficulty – by those who can afford them.

Huge development challenges remain in this Atlantic state whose coastal mountains spied by a Portuguese explorer gave it its name of “Lion Mountain” and where white foreigners are still greeted with shouts of “Oporto, oporto” in the Temne language.

In 2007, it ranked last in the U.N. Human Development Index and still languishes among the bottom 10 on the list. Some 70 per cent of its 5.5 million people live below the poverty line.

During its 1991-2002 civil war, Sierra Leone was a horrific poster child of Africa’s “Hopeless Continent” image, with its diamond riches driving a fratricidal conflict made notorious by documented amputations of limbs and rapes.

But, after a decade of peace, the country has emerged from those dark days, and Sierra Leoneans are not looking back. “We don’t want that again,” said ex-soldier Ibrahim Sesay, 64, after voting last month in the nation’s third elections since the war.

Diplomats and election observers hailed the Nov. 17 vote which re-elected President Ernest Bai Koroma as marking the graduation of a recovering failing state to a developing nation.

Senegal and Ghana have also held close but successful elections this year, part of a consolidating trend of democracy in Africa which economists like Mr. Robertson say has been bolstered by economic reforms and improved financial management.

But political risk still looms large. Democratic Republic of Congo remains a morass of instability and violence, the world fears a Jihadist state in Islamist rebel-occupied northern Mali and the unchecked Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria is tinging with blood that nation’s widely hailed economic dynamism.

South Africa, the continent’s largest economy, is struggling with sluggish growth and suffered violent labour unrest in its mines this year that embarrassed the ANC government and raised fears about potentially explosive post-apartheid inequalities.

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