Ten years ago, British forces led by Brigadier (now General Sir) David Richards brought an end to the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone. Operation Palliser not only bears testament to successful British military intervention; it provided the groundwork for Sierra Leone’s economic and political recovery.
Today, Britain continues to walk the path of reconstruction and development with this important member of the Commonwealth. British companies including Dawnus Construction are already helping to drive Sierra Leone’s impressive GDP growth, while a range of NGOs are contributing to a comprehensive poverty-fighting strategy that is seeing positive results.
This week marks the start of Project Umubano, the Conservative Party’s innovative social action programme in Africa. More than one hundred Conservatives activists and supporters are once again teaming up to put their beliefs into practice and to learn about the realities of international development at the coalface – and this year sees our largest ever group of volunteers travelling to Sierra Leone.
Working alongside local partners in the areas of Law, Entrepreneurship, Education and Health, and through a mixture of stand-alone training projects and collaboration with NGOs including Street Child of Sierra Leone and the Craig Bellamy Foundation, our volunteers in Sierra Leone are making a small but lasting contribution to the country’s overall development.
Meanwhile, the Umubano programme in Rwanda enters its sixth year, drawing on the deep skills base of our Party membership. In a new development for 2012, Umubano volunteer and Architect and Urban Designer Derek Latham has assembled a team of planners to work with the Mayor’s office in Kigali on planning and development. Urbanisation will be one of the great challenges of the 21st century for sub-Saharan Africa as growth soars.
Project Umubano continues to confound the cynics who, back in 2007, questioned its substance and authenticity. Almost 300 Party supporters aged between 16 and 70 have now participated in the programme and are now some of our Party’s most passionate advocates for good aid and development. Many of the volunteers have made big sacrifices in order to join Project Umubano and all have already devoted a large amount of time in preparing for their own individual project areas.
Umubano has also attracted the attention of Centre-Right parties in other countries, who want to learn from the project’s ability to harness voluntarism and increase party activism. The dedication and enthusiasm shared by our volunteers has created a strong sense of membership and belief in our shared aims. Volunteers return every year, encouraging others to join them. In an age of decline for traditional party membership across the continent, social action is a catalyst for growth.
Some argue that in times of austerity, our international aid promises should be broken. But in a year when Britain is putting its best foot forward, showcasing to the world our heritage and values, it is fitting that we will become the first G20 country to meet the international 0.7% Aid promise. Even in these difficult times, to renege on our commitment to aid would be a retreat from our core values. And as the number of Conservatives willing to dedicate their time and skill to the development of countries like Sierra Leone increases, we know that these core values are shared – and inspiring the party members of tomorrow.