Our friend Sam Hill returns to Sierra Leone. The hard way.
There’s no way of estimating how many hours have been devoted to the question of Africa – its poverty, its wars, its plagues, its culture, the legacy of colonialism, its potential for development… In general, how we fix it? Can it be fixed? Should it be fixed? Who should fix it?
And what exactly do we mean by “fix”? I mean, isn’t the question itself a bit arrogant? Is fixing it as colonialist an assumption as those that led us to fuck it up in the first place?
Africa isn’t just a rabbit hole. It’s a bottomless rabbit hole. How many hours have been spent on the question? No telling. Millions for sure.
As it turns out our friend Sam Hill knows a bit about Africa. In addition to a decades-long career as an international consultant confronting issues like those facing many African countries, he spent time in the Peace Corps as a young man working in rural Sierra Leone. The wars, ebola, the extreme poverty, all of these things are personal to him.
Also, he’s apparently read everything on the subject.
Last year Sam returned to Sierra Leone and Newsweek is featuring his story.
I had another reason for focusing on Sierra Leone. I lived there in the Peace Corps almost a half-century ago. I have a baseline from which to measure Sierra Leone’s progress, or lack thereof. And I have skin in the game, in the form of friends I hadn’t heard from since the war. So in 2018, I went back, deep into the bush where journalists and even aid workers rarely go, to talk to people the academics and experts don’t talk to. I found a face-to-face reality that was far more daunting and desperate than I’d expected, but at the same time I came away convinced the solution is out there. But it’s not doing the same old thing that hasn’t worked for hundreds of years.
My journey began in the capital city of Freetown, made famous in the movie, Blood Diamonds. I opted to travel upcountry as poor locals do, using public transportation and on foot, eating whatever I could find along the way. Prominent businessman Alfred Gborie called that, “A very bad idea.” He was right.
The situation he encountered is unfathomably complex and his analysis and conclusions are necessarily controversial. Given the state of the continent, there are literally no opinions that aren’t.
This is an instructive read, and in places a painful one.