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Normal life in Sierra Leone

I have just done a posting on my personal blog about Sierra Leone, where a British Army friend of mine is now working. He is back in London just now, and passed on some photos of Sierra Leone that he and one of his friends had taken, and I picked out my favourites to put on my blog.

They illustrate an idea I have had for a while now that maybe one of the nice little things that digital photography, in combination with the internet, will do for the world is to present to it a slightly more balanced notion of what life in Africa is like just now. On rich country TV we only ever get slaughter and catastrophe from Africa, because only slaughter and catastrophe is news. But now, in addition to superbly photographed famine and mayhem, we get less well photographed … well, just stuff. Photos that a generation ago would (a) have been far less numerous, and would (b) have merely languished in the photo albums of a certain sort of expat, are now being displayed to the anyone in the world who cares to glance at them.


I do not claim that the slaughter and catastrophe is not happening. Sierra Leone itself had a horrific civil war less than a decade ago. “Worse than you can possibly imagine”, my friend said. But now, touch wood, things are going better.

Mobile phones have been a particular success, apparently, mostly because regular landline phones, such as rich countries have long had, have been such an abject failure, but perhaps also because mobiles enable Africans to cooperate much more effectively while still not having to commit to something days in advance. My friend says that Africans, just as Western stereotypes have always said, at any rate the Africans in Sierra Leone, are still very bad at doing this.


That is a mobile phone top-up and recharging booth. Mobile phone companies are now making lots of money in Africa. Good for them.

8 comments to Normal life in Sierra Leone

  • hovis

    Interesting point about the effect use that mobile phones are having on African economies – a colleague returned from a meeting with several african banks enthusing how commerce and banking were booming due to the technology allowing previously uncontactable people access to bank accounts and the mobile phone credit being used as a form of transferable virtual currency.

  • On Africans being unwilling to commit to projects, I think it’s only fair to observe that that is a predictable result of not having reserves to commit.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Great pictures, Brian. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mobile phone companies are now making lots of money in Africa. Good for them.

    For those of a less enlightened outlook that can also be read as:

    Mobile phone companies are now creating lots of wealth in Africa. Good for them.

  • Jon Hyman

    Another reason why mobile phones have been so successful is that they are run by private companies, independent of the inefficient and still pretty corrupt governing elite. Despite Freetown being one of the wettest capitals in the world, this summer – the rainy season – saw a chronic water shortage due to the incompetance of the government-run water authority.

    Mobile phones have helped improve making arangements only to a certain extent. On one occasion, I turned up for a pre-arranged meeting with a government minister to find that he was out shopping, and could I come back later. On another, I found that a trade union leader I had come to see was out of the country at a conference – but had made the arrangement with me anyway! It is a very laid back country.

    The civil war was indeed extremely brutal, but was less about diamonds in themselves, rather, that diamonds were the key to political power. A point that must be stressed is that ‘blood’ diamonds only exist, as it were, during wars (and ones presently held in storage by de Beers from times of conflict cannot be identified a such). Watch out for a dangerously misleading film out soon with Leonardo di Caprio, ‘Blood Diamond’, which is likely to have a deleterious effect on the diamond industries of various countries which have made great progress to clean up diamond operations. Diamonds make up 80% of SL’s exports, and any possible consumer boycott, well-meaning as it will no doubt be, will only retard the country’s development.

    Also, my comment here(Link)

  • HJHJ

    No just mobile phones, but fixed cellular terminals.

    These allow users to plug a conventional phone or phone system in and communicate over the wireless network as if they had a landline connection. They also allow fax and internet connection to be made (using the GPRS GSM data network) albeit somewhat more slowly than fixed lines.

  • Barthelemy

    The only salvation for Africa- and its economy- is to privatize enterprises, make technology accessible, and set up philanthropic funds, both national and international. The country should have a 3 party system and have another dictating body lead by the monarch, so each enforces the other.
    Now, cell phones should be given out for free in my opinion; or atleast the market should be accessible to the common man not only to increase the standard of living, but to boost confidence which will eventually translate to economic growth.
    The aggregate demand is high, and with proliferating supplies domestically, the equilibrium price should stabilize. Simply stated, tampering with prices in the short run will not effect LRAS curve or the economic growth of the country.
    My research at SU concerns the introduction of cheap technology and the forced stimulation of economies and its effect on the long term economic success.

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