Sierra Leone - Poverty and wealth

Sierra Leone, like many developing states, is a land of gaping inequalities where national income is concerned. According to The World Development Report, 1999-2000, in 1989 the richest 10 percent of the population had 43.6 percent of the national income, whilst the poorest 20 percent of the population had 1.1 percent of the national income. The access to national income and resources tends to be heavily weighted in favor of ruling party leaders, cabinet ministers, and those with political ties to the president.

According to Earl Conteh-Morgan and Mac Dixon-Fyle, authors of Sierra Leone at the End of the Twentieth Century, by the mid-1980s, the level of poverty in the country was such that "state hospitals and clinics suffered heavily through a lack of supplies, modern equipment, and motivated employees. This sector also suffered nonpayment of inadequate government salaries. The consequence was that many officials were forced to corruption diverting drugs and medical equipment or putting them into private use." In other words, Sierra Leone, by the mid-1980s was already a failed state. Central government ministers and bureaucracies simply centralized and monopolized important functions, and thereby public revenues. In the process, they deprived the local authorities of adequate revenues and responsibilities necessary

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Sierra Leone
Lowest 10% 0.5
Lowest 20% 1.1
Second 20% 2.0
Third 20% 9.8
Fourth 20% 23.7
Highest 20% 63.4
Highest 10% 43.6
Survey year: 1989
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Sierra Leone 47 9 9 3 13 8 12
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Nigeria 51 5 31 2 8 2 2
Liberia N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
a Excludes energy used for transport.
b Includes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

to nurture grassroots local development and a democratic culture. The lack of funds and the continued centralization of authority by the central government meant that such basic but necessary functions as garbage collection, maintenance of public toilets, and supervision and maintenance of public markets, were eventually abandoned. Even Freetown, the capital, suffered a decrease in the scope of service deliveries. In the 1980s, it was described by many observers as increasingly developing into overgrown and overcrowded shantytowns with crumbling buildings, open drains, and deteriorating, chaotic roads.

By the late 1980s and long before the eruption of civil strife, political and economic deterioration in Sierra Leone had become extreme. Between 1980 and 1985 incomes per capita declined by an average of roughly 6 percent per annum. The inflation rate reached 80 percent by the end of the 1980s. Loss of morale and significant economic deprivation was the consequence for government workers, teachers, and others dependent on government salaries. Often deprived of salaries for months on end, many resorted to informal economic activities as a way to supplement their meager or nonexistent incomes. The most popular form of economic activity became petty trading for the mass of people, and the more influential obtained import licenses and involved their relatives in trading activities. Private vehicles were often used for commercial purposes, either as taxis or to transport goods.

Deterioration and dilapidation was not just confined to the roads and streets, but were found in the classrooms as well. Teachers lacked even chalk for writing on the board. Windows, roofs, and furniture not only deteriorated, but were, in many schools, absent. As a result, the quality of education decreased substantially from the primary level to college. The consequence for higher education has been a massive brain drain of lecturers and school teachers to neighboring African states, to international organizations, and to the West.

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