January was a quiet month in Sierra Leone. The excitement of elections moved seamlessly into Christmas and New Year celebrations and left the country with a communal hangover. The result was an uncharacteristically quiet start to the year. The culmination of the 'national hangover' was one of the worst fuel crisis' in years lasting over a week and resulting in some very large and boisterous queues across the city.
With the population and their cars refuelled and re-energised the country is now looking to the government to implement the 'Agenda for Prosperity' on which they campaigned. President Ernest Bai Koroma is in his second and final term, presenting him with an opportunity to put politics to one side and make difficult decisions that will ensure a 'prosperous' future for Sierra Leone.
So far, the government have displayed a willingness to make difficult decisions on some issues while displaying worrying short-sightedness on others. Last month, they moved petty traders off the roads in the centre of town as well as tightening up regulations on the popular Okada (Motorbike) taxis. The move on street traders was particularly controversial, putting many livelihoods at risk and one could argue the centre of town has lost much of its charm. But it was an important decision to clean up the streets and present Freetown as a capital open for business.
In stark contrast, last month also saw a law passed allowing sand mining to continue on the peninsular beaches six days a week. As documented in this excellent article, while sand mining is creating jobs for the young, it is endangering one of the country's greatest assets, its beaches. Anyone who has travelled to Sierra Leone will testify to its stunning coastline. Mining it is not only an environmental tragedy it is an economic one robbing the country of its huge tourism potential.
2012, with its peaceful elections, was seen as a landmark year for Sierra Leone but it is now that the hard work really begins. The President and his government are faced with the challenge of controlling rapid development. They will need to find a balance between creating jobs for the unemployed and protecting the countries assets for future generations. At this critical stage it is time for politics to take a back seat.