"Dollar boys" keep Sierra Leone in business
By Simon Akam
FREETOWN (Reuters) - Alhaji Bangura plies his trade on Siaka Stevens street in the heart of Sierra Leone's capital, a wad of "leone" banknotes in hand.
He is a "dollar boy," part of a poorly remunerated army that trades foreign exchange in a country where hard currency is hard to find and labor is cheap.
"Anyone that wants to change, I can change for them, white or black," explained the 28-year-old.
A ragtag group known for piercing cries of "dollars, pounds, euros!," the dollar boys form a pillar of the war-scarred West African state's economy, providing traders and companies, access to currency the central bank cannot supply.
"The reason why the economy has not collapsed and things have not come to a halt is that informal arrangements fill the gap," said Financial Secretary Edmund Koroma, referring to both the dollar boys as well as to the bilateral deals formed between exporters and importers.
When the global financial crisis struck in 2008, it hit demand for Sierra Leone's main foreign exchange earner -- and ultimate luxury commodity -- diamonds.
With forex now scarce, the elaborate "dollar boy" network provides a crucial service for everyone from small-time traders to large-scale importers.
"It's much better from the street than the bank," said Mohamed Musa Sesay, who imports shoes, jeans and stationery from neighboring Guinea as well as Gambia and Senegal. Continued...