Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why Hello Mr. Ambassador!

Last night I met the American Ambassador for Sierra Leone. He was just delightful. I found out about a meeting a the Ambassador's house in which he was going to be discussing several different things. Since I was in town I decided to hit up the meeting with some friends of mine.

We got to the house and saw that the terrace was set up for a lovely little garden party. Cookies and juice?? Yes please! (Incidentally while my friends and I were waiting for the meeting to start we went up to snag some refreshments. About 5 minutes later they started the meeting and while going through the agenda for the evening mentioned that at the end of the meeting there would be some refreshments while we socialized.) Oops! Jumped the gun on that one. Party foul.

We heard from various different sections of the embassy. The chief economic guy spoke about doing business in Sierra Leone and was I felt, ridiculously upbeat. I can imagine fewer things more frustrating than trying to run a for profit business here (it's hard enough to try a not for profit business) but he was very encouraging. Apparently the GDP? (or some form of measuring the prosperity of the country) went from 5% last year to 52% this year....which is an astronomical climb. He said it would be one of, if not the largest increase in the world. Way to go Sierra Leone! A large portion of this is due to the oil that was recently discovered off the coast, as well as the mining that's taking place here now.

The biggest reason I wanted to go to the meeting was to hear about the upcoming elections. Like in America, this is an election year for Sierra Leone. Unfortunately, the likelihood that the elections here will turn violent is a little bit more than in America (although it must be noted that during the last elections the power went from one party to the other party, and they still remained non-violent). It turns out that they actually didn't talk about security very much during the formal meeting so a few friends and I accosted the security detail after it was over and peppered him with questions. He really didn't say much that I wasn't expecting. "We're monitoring the situation" "You should avoid having teams come in during that time" "Might be a nice time to take a vacation" "We'll let you know if things escalate." etc. He did however, say two things that stuck out to me.
1. Security begins with you so you should have a personal plan in the event of some kind of emergency. Hum. So this year I'm DEFINITELY going to let the embassy know that I'm here! As far as a bigger plan....I'm going to have to think about that one.
2. When I asked him about the elections this year versus 5 years ago, he mentioned that one thing that concerned him was that this year, with all the money coming in from mining, etc. there was a lot more at stake than during the last election. It might make people more desperate. Hmm. Some good things to chew on.

This weekend I was out and about with some people and there were some political parades going on. On the one hand, I really love seeing people excited about their candidate, excited about being involved in the progression of their country. On the other hand, the war is still looming in my mind and big groups of people congregating (especially when a lot of them are wearing masks) can be a little intimidating.

Suffice it to say, while I'm not afraid, I have decided it's time to start praying for peaceful elections once again! :)

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