Diet tycoon tries to fatten Sierra Leone

War-damaged state turns to ex-Weightwatchers' boss for economic recovery

Ernest Koroma, the President of Sierra Leone, told his Nigerian cleric that he was seeking "a Tiny Rowland with a heart". In the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, trade and aid was declining in Africa's poorest economies and Sierra Leone needed help.

Two-and-a-half years ago, the cleric flew to London with a list of names of those who might help rescue a country that was still feeling the devastating effects of a brutal 11-year civil war that only ended in 2002. Fortunately, Steve Cosser, who made his fortune from pay-TV and buying out Weightwatchers, "needed a project as big as the sky to occupy my mind" when the cleric came calling at his home in upmarket Belgravia's Eaton Square.

In the few hours between the cleric calling him to ask for a meeting and when the emissary turned up, Cosser came up with the idea of fusing together the country's trillions of dollars of vast natural resources, which include oil, diamonds, lithium and even fisheries, into a sovereign wealth fund.

"It doesn't take a genius, even someone like me who left school at 14 and doesn't have a brain stuffed with too much knowledge, [can] work out why there is a disconnect between the wealth of resources in the country and the poverty there," says Cosser, who explains anyway that Sierra Leone needs access to the capital markets.

Although fusing together all those disparate assets could take years, President Koroma is now seriously looking at the potential of eventually floating that fund in New York. So many economists have come up with such wildly different estimates of what the fund could be worth that Cosser says he "doesn't believe any of them" – he just knows that it would be huge.

That fund wouldn't include the assets of London-listed miners have decided they can make fortunes from the West African country's virtually untouched gems and precious metals. African Minerals, the loss-making iron ore venture run by Romania-born entrepreneur Frank Timis, and Aim-listed London Mining Company are among those betting big bucks can be made in Sierra Leone.

Cosser, though, says he is looking to do something a little different: "I'm trying to smash together philanthropy and capitalism."

The Hackney-born tycoon has fought a verbally unrestrained battle with Sable Mining, which is chaired by former England cricketer Phil Edmonds, over the land rights to Bagla Hills, an impoverished area close to the border with Liberia. With malnutrition rife among the 50,000 population, the area is rich only in a type of antelope, the Jentink's duiker, and iron ore.

Cosser is recognised as the leaseholder, having agreed a 72-year deal with 23 families who own the land. He sits on an estimated 3.5 million tonnes of iron ore – the second biggest resource in the world – the profits of which he intends to use to help transform Bagla through his Star Mining venture. "We will make Nicolae Ceausescu's palace in Bucharest look like it is a half-lit lightbulb on the Moon in terms of the power we will generate there," claims Cosser, who, on Friday, sent 1,000 bags of rice to Bagla's population with a further 9,000 to follow over the next fortnight.

While Cosser concedes that Bagla is "not Canary Wharf", there is a port he claims the likes of Maersk are desperate to run. From there, he would look to export all over the world, making himself and the people of Bagla billions of dollars in the process.

If the results prove up to the talk, Koroma's cleric will have succeeded in finding the contradiction that is a compassionate Tiny Rowland.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness