Thursday, June 07, 2007



Some might know that Tony Blair came to visit Sierra Leone last week. I was going to tell a story about his visit to Makeni and how I introduced him to cassava leaves but he didn’t in fact leave the airport tarmac. At least he could have told me he wasn’t coming. Actually many thought that Blairs airport only visit was a bit rude and disrespectful to Saloneans but he is credited with his initiative to send in the British troops in 2000. Blair did however manage to meet the President Mr. Kabba and tell him that the Brits were going to build a new library. I know all this because by chance I happened to be in the central library, an awful run-down place where I was pleading (unsuccessfully) for some more books for Makeni when I was invited to a meeting. The meeting was more of an announcement by one of Tony’s MPs Claire Curtis-Thomas an extraordinarily plumy lady who came accompanied with her private secretary, architects and engineers. The proclamation was that a huge library would be built to include 100,000 books and 300 computers whereupon the architects showed off their plastic model, told us something about human scale and the engineers gloated about the complex functions of the building. It is all wonderful and how thankful the people of Sierra Leone are going to be, says she who must be obeyed.

I and the other 5 or 6 Saloneans attending the “meeting” were astonished at the condescending rudeness of this rather imperious lady Brittania and her no negotiation delivery. “Any questions” at the end was treated as a mere perfunctory but I did manage to pipe up as politely as I could that a library that big required a Freetown population rather than the selected location in a town called Waterloo some 30 very long and congested kms from Freetown. I was immediately shot down and I cant now recall the answer but I felt the sting. Another brave soul from the library gingerly commented that he didn’t have the trained librarians to run such a large library. The answer was “ well you’ll just have to train them, after all you have got a couple of years.”. The unsaid but clear statement was “how ungrateful you seem to be”

The “meeting” ended and in the small talk afterwards “she” complained to me about the lack of water for a shower that morning and I tried to explain that this was normal. Moreover I tried tacking upwind by emphasising that this was an example of the very low level of standards in the country to service a huge building. Clearly not amused Ms Clair –Thomas moved to an easier ear to bend. I was so shocked that I forgot to take a picture. Oh well.

Unfortunately I believe that this way of providing “aid” to poor countries is all too common. There is a severe need, much poverty and hunger with the attendant poor education, healthcare, sanitation and nutrition etc etc. However the delivery seems to be insensitive to the needs of people here and seems more about an easy way of salving the consciences of those in the west. This very broad statement might not be true but over the past 8 months I havnt seen much to counter it. In fact it is a common refrain, even from those belonging to respected NGOs. Much of the aid may in fact be detrimental and just serves to diminish the Saloneans self image and self confidence that they can do it themselves. Teach how to fish seems to be a simple rule …..?

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