AGI’s work in Sierra Leone began in 2008; a year after President Ernest Bai Koroma came to power in free and fair elections. The election was an important moment for Sierra Leone, emerging from a decade of conflict, highlighting the increasing stability of the country through its first peaceful transfer of power between political parties. After the conflict, Sierra Leone was classed as one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked near the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index and with a life expectancy of just 41 years. Yet in the words of many commentators, including the President himself, Sierra Leone had “no business being poor” – with a tradition of academic achievement, openness and tolerance combined with world-class agricultural, touristic, marine and mineral resources which have the potential to underpin a dynamic economy.
In recent years, Sierra Leone has taken great strides towards a brighter future, and is projecting a more positive image to the world. In the past decade, the country has seen the second fastest improvements in the world on the UN Human Development Index. In the same period, it made the third largest improvement in governance of any country in Africa, according to the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance. In 2010, Sierra Leone was ranked in the top 25 in the world by the World Bank for overall improvement in ease of doing business over the last five years, and was praised for its investor protection reforms and administrative tax compliance reforms.
Of course, each of these statistics also shows that there is still a long way to go. The powerful progress achieved so far is fragile, and accelerating Sierra Leone’s reconstruction by meeting the President’s goals on private sector growth, energy, infrastructure, healthcare and agriculture will be challenging, requiring significant change in the government’s ability to set and deliver its priorities, as well as tackling deep and underlying issues like corruption. But in a region with a troubled past, Sierra Leone is increasingly seen as an example which could spread stability to its neighbours in the way civil war once seeped into Sierra Leone.
A team of 8-10 AGI staff have been on the ground in Sierra Leone since we launched our programme in October 2008, providing support in key government institutions, including the Office of the President, Sierra Leone’s Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA) and the Ministries of Agriculture and Health.
Take health as an example. The war left Sierra Leone with some of the worst maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. Little wonder Koroma made his Free Healthcare Initiative for pregnant women and children an early priority. AGI’s team in the Ministry of Health helped Koroma’s government develop a clear plan for abolishing user fees, align donors behind it, and make sure the necessary reforms to drug supply, hospital infrastructure and health workers’ salaries were undertaken.
Launched in April 2010, the programme has doubled the number of women giving birth in hospital, and seen recorded deaths among children treated for malaria fall by more than 80%. Results like these show why improving government effectiveness can have such an impact on people’s lives.