It’s been a year since I wrote my last post from Freetown and so much has changed. One thing is clear; Sierra Leone is no longer searchable only by the tags ‘civil war’, ‘amputees’ and ‘child soldiers’. Here are 10 of the biggest news stories from 2010, many of them soon to be the topics of my forthcoming posts in the New Year.
1. Combating maternal and child mortality
In April 2010, the government of Sierra Leone kicked off a landmark healthcare policy known as the Free Healthcare Initiative or ‘fri welbodi’ in the local Krio language. It promised free access to healthcare for pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children under the age of five in an attempt to improve the country’s dismal maternal and child mortality record, the worst in the world.
2. Climbing up the UN Human Development Index
There was a time only a few years ago when Sierra Leone ranked last on the UN Human Development Index. This meant it was the worst country in the world to live in. Today it’s pinned at 158, 11 places from bottom. This is a substantial climb up and now places the country ahead of many neighbours such as Liberia and Niger.
3. Finally, the right to information
Five years in the making, the Sierra Leonean Freedom of Information legislation is crossing its last hurdles and will soon be passed into law. From a governance perspective, this law will compel government bodies to be more transparent to civil society and ordinary citizens.
4. Africa’s biggest exporter of iron ore?
With the discovery of another large deposit of iron ore last year in the northern Tokolili district, Sierra Leone hopes to become one of the world’s largest exporters of iron ore. This new discovery hopes to create some 10,000 jobs over the next few years and produce 40 million tonnes annually by 2013.
5. The advent of public service broadcasting
The BBC has always been the most popular broadcaster in Sierra Leone and last year the country paid its biggest homage to public service broadcasting, by transforming its state broadcaster into the independent Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).
6. Alternative tourism
Ever since the excellent Bradt guide to Sierra Leone appeared in bookstores, the country’s image in the tourism sector has been getting a face lift. The latest was the arrival of Tribewanted in October 2010, a tried and tested voluntourism initiative that encourages international adventure seekers to spend a few nights on the beach and mingle with local communities.
7. The Special Court wraps up
For years, the Special Court had shaped people’s understanding of Sierra Leone. Set up to prosecute those that bore the greatest responsibility for the country’s decade-long civil war, the court has finally started handing over assets to the government of Sierra Leone.
8. The Wikileaks connection
Apparently no one escapes Julian Assange’s radar. Fresh cables have revealed US concerns over the delays in the trial of Charles Taylor and West Africa’s involvement in the cocaine route. One of the leaks even hints at the Sierra Leonean government’s complicity in drug crimes.
9. Sierra Leonean wins the Caine Prize
Sierra Leonean-born Olufemi Terry made the country proud by bagging the 10th Caine Prize*, noted as Africa’s leading literary award. The Guardian has done us all a favour by posting the full short story online.
10. Celebrating 50 years of independence
The year 2011 marks 50 years of Sierra Leonean independence and plans are already underway for a year of celebration. A special government committee has been set up to plan the festivities and newspaper ads are asking average citizens to come up with creative ideas. Word has it, the Queen of England’s been invited.
*the Caine Prize anthology - A Life in Full and other stories - is published by New Internationalist and is available to buy at our online shop.