By Mohamed Massaquoi
Around 300 investors gathered in London for the UK-Sierra Leone Trade and Investment Conference jointly supported by the UK and Sierra Leone governments.
In his statement, President Julius Maada Bio made some commitments.
“As a government, we are committed to doing more trade and investment. Development assistance is fine but what we need to do in Sierra Leone is to urgently create thousands of jobs for our young population while expanding and diversifying our economy in order to make it more resilient. We believe it takes private capital to do that and lots of it too,” he said.
“We recognise and welcome that the UK government has taken a forward-looking view on this and the UK government has committed to scaling up private capital investments in new areas of economic opportunity. I am here this morning to share with you why Sierra Leone is one such place of great opportunity and what we have done and are doing to make it a destination of choice. I am here to invite UK investors to access the great opportunity our country offers. So I want to start off with what we all know.”
He continued that: “We are a very peaceful democracy. We have had five peaceful elections and three peaceful transfers of power. Our friend, the British High Commissioner will attest that there are no civil wars, no Ebola, no journalists being thrown in jails, and no human rights abuses. The rule of law is supreme. We have an advantage of location. We are only a six-hour flight away from the UK and Europe, four hours away from Brazil, and eight hours away from the US.
“We have very rich soils, good rainfall volumes, lush landscapes, and one of the richest seas in the sub-region. We have over 5.4 million hectares of arable land. We have spectacular seascapes, unexplored islands, breath-taking eco-tourism potential, and a lot of clean beaches and sea for sport fishing and more. We have some of the richest mineral deposits of rutile, bauxite, iron ore, diamonds, gold and more. We have a youthful population that is eager to work and we have invested heavily in their education and skills training. We have the deepest natural harbour in the sub-region. We are hard at work developing our network of roads in the country. As a country, we are signatories to trade agreements with Europe, the UK, the US, and across the entire African continent that grant us duty-free access to both those developed and emerging markets.”
“We have developed a medium-term national development plan that is pro-growth and encourages private capital investment in key priority areas in agribusiness and fisheries, tourism, infrastructure, and renewable energy. The objective is to grow the economy with a diversified portfolio that creates jobs. That is what you already know. Let me now tell you what we have been doing over the last one year since my government won democratic multiparty elections. We inherited an economy burdened with debt in which corruption was rife. The IMF and the World Bank, among others, had abandoned the country. The pace of new investments stalled and the iron ore mines especially ceased production as murky deals unraveled. So before and when we acceded to power, we asked ourselves questions about what business and investors would like us to get right.”