Friday marks the 51st year of Sierra Leone's independence from British rule, a day when Sierra Leoneans get together and party hard. Lumley beach, in the west of Freetown will be packed with the city's young, dancing to Salone's biggest hits. If partying was an Olympic sport, I think the country would be among the medal favourites. Over the next few months, in this election year, I hope to bring you positive stories from around the country to celebrate its rich culture and promising future. But first, in this important week, I thought I would reflect on the countries past, present and future to help paint a picture of where Sierra Leone stands today.
Independence week also sees the verdict on Charles Taylor, a man seen by most as responsible for the savage Civil War by which this country is sadly often defined. The former President of Liberia stands accused of aiding the Rebel Army (RUF) in Sierra Leone through weapon sales in return for the now infamous 'Blood Diamonds'. Opinion is largely split over his trial. Before moving to The Hague he was originally tried at the UN special court in Freetown, the first of its kind. Many saw it as an important step to the episode's closure, while others viewed it as a waste of funds which could have been better spent rebuilding vital infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.
The differing opinions reflect the country's willingness to forgive and desire to look to the future. Interestingly this week also marks the official opening of iron ore producer London Mining. The company has just made its first shipment of iron ore, and along with its rival African Minerals is largely responsible for the country's predicted 35% growth. This is not to say the country will be joining the BRIC nations anytime soon but it is still a positive sign of economic progress. However, economic growth does not always reflect an improvement in the standard of living and that is where the challenge really lies for the country.
The past 51 years have not been easy. It is amazing to consider that in 1961, both Sierra Leone and Singapore were granted independence and it was the former that was signalled out for having the brightest future. In my opinion, this week's events are significant for two reasons. Firstly, and forgive me for stating the obvious, mineral wealth can be both a blessing and a curse. The country must ensure that it uses its resources to improve the quality of people's lives. Secondly, its government must remember its independence, too often outside parties intent on making their buck can, to put it mildly, lead to problems. Sierra Leone has come a long way in the last 10 years and in my opinion has the potential for a very bright future.
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