Friday, June 30, 2017 9:55 am
Having spent 23 years at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), rising to retire as the number two, Jennifer Kargbo now leaves a quiet life. Throughout her stint at the UNECA, first at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, criss-crossing in 13 African countries, down to Lusaka, Zambia, she has championed development projects across the continent. In this interview, she spoke to Abubakar Hashim on how to revive the ailing Sierra Leone economy now in recession, her days at UNECA, the institution that recently revealed that $50 billion are stashed annually from Africa illicitly to the Western World
Q: You are retired and now a private citizen. How has the journey at UNECA been?
I joined the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in 1988 based in Addis Ababa. I worked directly with Ministries of Finance in African countries. I was responsible for policies and programs for the ECA. I became the lead person for ECA budget department. Between 1990 and 1996, the ECA was the stabilizing force to Africa’s economies. Policies like the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) were re-modeled by ECA into Africa as alternative to SAP. Also other Poverty Alleviation Programs, Self-Reliant Programs, Industrialization programs, where issues of adding value to raw materials in African economies were the focal points in UNECA engagements. Some counties implemented these measures, like Ghana did.
We also provided policy perspectives for war-torn countries, particularly fragile countries. The ECA has also been pushing for Africa’s regional integration, building markets and economies of scale.
Between 2005 to date have been the key policy years of the ECA. Having worked in 13 African countries and retired as the number two at ECA, these years have been challenging, yet rewarding. Africa’s industrialization was the key focal point in these years. We cannot industrialize if we don’t add value to our raw materials to compete effectively with the outside world.
How do we compete with the outside world that already has an edge over us?
They started from where we are today. Apart from adding value to our products, we should begin to look inwards in patronizing our goods and services. We have to promote skills training from sole proprietorship to partnership then to corporate businesses. Over 70 percent of businesses in Africa and in Sierra Leone in particular are sole proprietorships. It’s not healthy for growth. The private sector in Africa must be stimulated. We can only compete with the developed world if we grow from sole to corporate businesses, producing large industrial goods and services at competitive prices.
How do you assess the present state of the Sierra Leone economy?
The indigenous Sierra Leoneans should take ownership of the Sierra Leone economy. We must produce what we consume. Today, we are a trading port, doing buying and selling. The Wellington Industrial Estate at the East of Freetown has collapsed. Only cheap alcohol locally, produced by the Indians, now flourished the Sierra Leone market, with the nagative multiplier effects on our youths. We should focus of Agro Industries to add value chain. We should move away from being a trading port to a producing port, by adding value to goods to be competitive in the global markets. Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and other African countries are realizing this option of development. The Sierra Leone economy will not grow until we take ownership and control of our economy.