EXPLORING THE ARENA OF PRODUCTION ENGINEERING IN SIERRA LEONE

By: Ing. Yayah A. B. Conteh.

Most African countries including Sierra Leone have remained relatively scarce of factories. This scarcity of factories has not only limited industrial development for economic transformation within the continent itself but has also impacted negatively on quality employment geared towards the alleviation of poverty amongst the citizenry.

Sierra Leone, like most other African countries, tends to rank below the global average on the Worldwide Governance Indicators – indicators such as political stability, governance effectiveness, upholding the rule of law and order amongst others which are significant pre-requisites to developing a sustainable manufacturing sector.

Sierra Leone lacks industrial dynamism at the moment. The concept of manufacturing in an industrial establishment is singled out in this discussion because it is a high productivity sector capable of absorbing large numbers of moderately skilled workers.

Despite being a major producer of important metals and minerals like gold, diamonds and bauxite, etc., Sierra Leone still lags far behind other African countries in the sector of industrial development.

Some reasons for the inability of our country to compete internationally with others on the continent in the arena of industrial manufacture are due to a handful of setbacks as summarized in the discussions below:

Prior to independence and thereafter, I am told, Sierra Leone boasted of a National Workshop at Cline Town including another installed at the now defunct Marampa Mines where some production activities were being undertaken. These entities housed Blast Furnaces and other Machine Tools which subsequently phased out of existence after an appreciable period of time.

I am not too au-fait with the reasons that led to the phasing out of these entities but I am certain it must have been probably related to some form of ineptitude, mismanagement and neglect on the part of some government functionaries in the overall administration of their operations at that time.

Indeed, the possession of National Workshops in those days housing Blast Furnaces and Machine Tools employed in production and other related ventures for the socio-economic development of the country need not be overemphasized in this discussion.

For want of a better comprehension of a Blast Furnace, it is no more than a huge steel stack lined with refractory brick where iron ore, coke and limestone are dumped into the top, and pre-heated air is blown into the bottom. It is about 30 metres high and can withstand temperatures approaching 2000oC. It is a type of metallurgical furnace whose purpose is to chemically reduce and physically convert iron oxide into liquid iron called “hot metal”.

Machine tools, on the other hand, are power-driven machines specially designed to cut and shape metal and produce waste in the form of chips. Examples of such machine tools include the Lathe (probably the most universal of all by virtue of the various functions it performs), the Milling Machine, the Planer, the Shaper including the Hole Making and the Drill Press, amongst others.

The time has come indeed for Sierra Leone too to integrate wholesale into the main stream manufacturing industry by producing graduates both at university and vocational institute levels who can propel it to enviable technological heights.

The establishment of National Workshops by the government housing Blast Furnaces and Machine Tools across the length and breadth of major provincial cities in the country where the uses and applications of such entities can be fully tapped for the enhancement of the socio-economic development of the nation should now be uppermost in our minds.

This would even mean revisiting the curriculum of the university and vocational institutes in order to fully incorporate the study of these entities and other related aspects into them. The study would be such that the practical applications in the use of such machinery should be extensively exhausted in order that the overall skills and mastery of ideas and concepts captured in the process can be geared towards improving the manufacturing landscape of the country.

Need I emphasize the fact that the setting up of such an enterprise by the government at strategic locations in the country would have to prove quite a herculean task, taking into consideration the quantum of funds that would be eventually involved. But it would however end up serving the purpose for which it was intended, prominent amongst which is the eventual absorbing of large swathes of workers and placing them into productive and decent paying jobs. It would all go to serve examples of how industrialization as applied to Africa, be it small or big, can generate rapid structural change, drive development, alleviate poverty and unemployment.

It always appears sickening to me going around the city of Freetown in particular, and seeing a handful of some comparatively tiny Mechanical Workshops owned and controlled by few foreign nationals mostly of Indian and Arab extraction dedicated to the machinery of common spare parts like bolts and nuts including the fabrication of some other components of not-too-complicated configurations which they end up selling to the public at astronomical costs.

Lamentably, the bulk of the operatives at these centres constitute relatives and friends of the same foreign nationals imported from abroad who are charged with the responsibilities of manning these establishments.

What is happening to our national workforce?

One might advance the simple argument here that because no such centres are owned and controlled by our government and that because our national workforce do not possess the skills and technical-know- how to measure up to the challenges posed by these opportunities, that is more the reason they are marginalized in favour of foreign personnel.

If this school of thought is to hold, then is it not time for us to change the whole narrative for the betterment and progress of our country? Will the operations and successes of these centres ever remain chained to the genius and expertise of foreign rather than their national counterparts? Does it not sound proper first and foremost for government to embark upon the establishment of such centres and equally ensure their sustainability? Does it not sound proper too for the curriculum of our tertiary and vocational institutions be so tailored as to produce well- grounded products who would have broadened their intellectual horizons in the uses and applications of such entities in order that they stand better opportunities of competing globally with their counterparts?

Take a look around you today and you’ll see heaps of disposed scrap metals being sold to foreign nationals at give-away prices. These items end up being transported across the seas to industrialized countries by same foreigners where they would be recycled mostly in blast furnaces or other related mechanisms for the production of solid metal bound for the machinery workshop.

How magnificent it would have appeared for us been in possession of appropriate technology that would have enabled us process these items to the required finished products, and thus increase the employment opportunities for our citizens!! For afterwards we have a healthy and determined working age population in this country, and this is the cornerstone of sustained and inclusive economic success anywhere which lifts the living standards and dignity of our people.

It must be borne in mind that for the past five decades now, Africa’s industrial development has been quite disappointing.

One scholar wrote that due to its poor performance in the industrial sector and chronic corruption, etc., Africa has the lowest percentage of intra-regional trade in the world at 18%, compared with70% in Europe, 55% in North America, 45% in Asia and 35% in Latin America.

This means that the bulk of the countries in Africa, including Sierra Leone, need to wake up from their ‘ industrial slumber ’ and endeavour to enter the new age of industrialization which will enable them to be identified amongst some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Let it be borne in mind that the engagement in modern industrial manufacturing processes contributes significantly to the accumulation of physical and human capital. It provides relatively well paid jobs for large numbers of skilled and not-too-skilled workers, especially those who are not integrated in the formal sector.

Engineer Yayah A. B. Conteh is the Director of the Mechanical Services Department(MSD) of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority(SLRA).

Tel Number: 076640364 / 077718805.

E-mail: contehyayahab2020@gmail.com.

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