Change Maker Sierra Leone – land of great potential and untapped opportunities By H.E. Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone In February last year, our battle against the Ebola epidemic was beginning to yield dividends, when I was asked to write the programme foreword for the inaugural ‘Invest Sierra Leone’ forum which was held in the House of Commons. Several months later, as we approached victory against the virus, I contributed the foreword for Herbert Smith Freehills’ ‘Sierra Leone: An Investor’s Guide’. While the primary tragedy of the outbreak was the terrible devastation and human suffering it caused; these two initiatives, aimed at increasing investment into the country, were both reflective of the urgent need to address the catastrophic economic consequences of the epidemic and the private sector’s continuing commitment to the economic development of Sierra Leone. Our business community has always been a critical partner for achieving Sierra Leone’s economic objectives. From my first term’s ‘Agenda for Change’, to the ‘Agenda for Prosperity’, Sierra Leone has pursued the vision of an inclusive economy, with reduced poverty and greater opportunities for all people; and before we were struck by Ebola, ours was one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Political stability and sound macroeconomic fundamentals had led to increased FDI (net) inflows totaling USbn over 2010-14, up steeply from US2mn on the previous five-year period. We have now defeated the Ebola outbreak and completed the f irst phase of our recovery programme. This underpins our determination and ability to rediscover that economic success by strengthening entrepreneurship, by continuous economic diversif ication and innovation; by growing our trade relations and by upgrading our industrial sector. Already, this March, the International Monetary Fund has confirmed that “Sierra Leone’s economy is recovering from the twin shocks of the Ebola virus epidemic and the halt in iron-ore mining. Economic momentum is building again, and GDP is expected to grow by 4.3 percent this year from a contraction of 21 percent in 2015.…” We are still not at pre - Ebola levels even though we are on course to achieve our objective of full economic recovery. But we cannot do it alone; the private sector – both national and international - has to be at the very heart of our recovery plan. As a business man before I become President, I have direct personal experience of the workings and challenges of Sierra Leone’s business environment; and I am fully aware that creating trust in our systems and processes is key to attracting international investment and improving private sector confidence. Investors, both national and international, will want to know how we intend to improve on the favourable investment climate. Questions about the stability of foreign investments in the country, the application of the rule of law for business and the right policies to attract foreign investment without undermining internal revenue generation will be asked. Frank and objective dialogue between the private sector and the Government of Sierra Leone is an important step in the journey forward, and independent initiatives such as ‘Invest Sierra Leone’, ‘Freetown Insight’ magazine and ‘Sierra Leone: An Investor’s Guide’ make an important contribution to that process.
FT Insight 9 There have been real lessons learned about the need for economic diversification, and our priorities align with a diverse range of opportunities across various sectors – amongst them are infrastructure, health, education, agriculture, construction, electrification and ICT. For example, only about one-fifth of our 5.4 million hectares of available farmland is presently used for crop growing. Our immediate priority is to increase production and productivity, focusing on rice and cassava and cash crops such as cocoa and oil palm. Additionally, we should be able to add value to our wide range of crops by processing them in country. We are also fortunate to be home to the third largest natural harbour in the world; and our strategic location adjacent to European market shipping lanes has long made Sierra Leone a popular trading and refueling location. The Government is devising an extended programme to develop Freetown as a trans-shipment global trade hub by improving the management and renovation of the port. This will create demand for port services equipment, management expertise and rehabilitation engineering. The ecotourism potential of our diverse landscape of islands, rivers, mountains, spectacular beaches and lush vegetation is barely tapped. Hotels, tours and other leisure gateways are exciting possibilities in a country that is only about six hours from Europe. These are just a few of the investment possibilities we have on offer. The collaboration between Freetown Insight magazine and Herbert Smith Freehills that has resulted in an annual commitment to the ‘Invest Sierra Leone’ forum will encourage potential investors to explore many more. This is a dynamic and transformational moment for Sierra Leone. Great opportunities and challenges beckon as we embark upon the journey towards forging a win-win partnership for our country’s enormous investment and trade potential. In a global economy, all our futures are intertwined and I look forward to building productive relationships with the private sectors of nations across the world. www.ftinsight.net