- Sierra Leone's diamonds are turning from being a curse into becoming a blessing for the reconstructing nation. Revenues from diamond exports have risen about 60 percent during the last year as the government restores control over the industry. These exports are strongly contributing to the projected GDP growth of 7.2 percent in 2004.
Diamond exports from Sierra Leone have mostly been banned for the last year due to their financing of the brutal civil war in the country and in Liberia. As the Freetown government is slowly implementing the Kimberley Process Certification - which certifies the legal production of diamonds - exports are again booming.
By the end of October this year, revenues from official diamond exports had reached US$ 120 million, compared to US$ 71 million during the same period in 2003. This represents an increase of almost 60 percent in one year.
According to the latest UN report reviewing the situation in post-conflict Sierra Leone, the increased diamond export revenue is "largely attributed to the government's consistent implementation of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme." A further Kimberley Process peer review visit to Sierra Leone and Guinea is scheduled for early in 2005, to address regional initiatives to prevent the illicit trading and smuggling of diamonds. After that, exports could rise even more.
The Sierra Leonean government is given much international aid to empower it to boost its diamond efforts by implementing the elaborate Kimberley control regime. The UN peacekeepers and US and UK aid agencies are currently assisting the government in the implementation of a new minerals policy through technical and capacity-building support.
The need to boost government revenues is urgent. While the UN peacekeepers are slowly scaling down their operation, post-conflict aid is scaled down by the donor community. "The expected decline in donor aid in 2005 emphasises the need for strengthened domestic revenue collection and more stringent expenditure control measures," the UN report also notes.
Sierra Leone is however starting to reap the fruits of peace. As the situation remains "generally calm and stable" throughout the country, the favourable security environment has facilitated a strong economic growth. It is estimated by the Freetown government that real GDP growth in 2004 will reach an impressive 7.2 percent.
Sierra Leone has come in last in this year's UN Development Programme (UNDP) survey of 177 countries worldwide on life span, education and standard of living. A long-lasting strong GDP growth, coupled with advances in the crippled national health and education system will be necessary for Sierra Leone to advance from the position of being "the poorest country in the world".
Sustaining this year's high rate of real growth in GDP was "likely to become more challenging" with declining donor support, the UN however feared. Also, the continuing depreciation of Sierra Leone's currency, the leone, coupled with the rapid expansion in money supply and the resulting impact on domestic prices, was posing "a challenge to macroeconomic stability in the country," the report held.
Several other negative economic trends were also observed. Youth unemployment has been rising the last year, creating social tensions in the country before the UN peacekeeping mission prepares to leave. The lack of infrastructure and adequate equipment continues to hamper the economic development of the country.
Progress has nevertheless been impressive and Sierra Leone is now observed to move "from recovery and reconstruction to the development phase." The government and its international partners have started focusing on the alleviation of poverty to ensure that improvements in the macroeconomic situation have a positive impact on living standards of the population.
The poverty reduction strategy paper - which is currently being finalized by the Sierra Leonean government in consultation with its developmental partners - is set to provide the framework for this course of action. "Post-conflict aid will need to be followed by adequate longer-term donor assistance and development," the UN urges.
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