By Pa John Baimba Sesay, Information Attaché
The role of the People’s Republic of China in Africa’s development has been tremendous. In January of this year, the African Union commissioned a one hundred and twenty four million Dollar ($124 m) headquarters built single-handedly by China for the African continent. This is a clear manifestation of the depth that Sino-Africa relations have reached in recent times. Being the world’s second largest and fastest economy, China is poised to continue to play a strategic role in driving the world’s socio-economic development.
Sierra Leone’s friendly and diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China date back to the late 1960s. It was not surprising therefore that Sierra Leone was historically well placed to ensure China’s entrance not just to the United Nations but the UN Security Council. This was a victory for the foresightedness ably demonstrated by the late President Siaka Probyn Stevens at a time when the rest of the world could not have anticipated the near global economic dominance that China has so rapidly achieved in less than half a century. Cooperation ties between the two countries have since grown from strength to strength.
President Ernest Bai Koroma ‘s election in September 2007 came at time when Sierra Leone was in the throes of a post-crisis recovery and urgently in need of the right leadership that will chart the way for sustainable socio-economic development. In defining the blueprint of his Agenda for Change, President Koroma was clear in his mind, that China, as a leading country in the world with tremendous opportunities to offer, would have a special place; and that existing friendly cooperation ties would have to be strengthened even further.
At a ceremony marking the formal leave of absence by Ambassador Abu Bakarr Multi-Kamara in April of this year, President Ernest Bai Koroma was compelled to underscore the need for Sierra Leone to “take advantage” of the opportunities that a country like China has to offer. The appointment of Ambassador Abu Bakarr Multi-Kamara was therefore deliberate and seen as being in line with the President’s desire for us, as a post war nation, to take full advantage of the broad spectrum of opportunities that could be offered not just by China, but by a host of other countries in the south pacific to which, the Embassy of Sierra Leone in Beijing is also accredited.
China’s support to Sierra Leone:
The impact of China’s presence in Sierra Leone could be felt in a number of areas, especially in the area of infrastructural development. There are over a dozen Chinese companies in Sierra Leone that are currently active in support of the country’s development agenda such as building of roads and bridges; provision of hydro renewable energy, education and training, medical services and building of a teaching hospital etc.
There are many others seeking further investment opportunities in both the growth sectors, including agriculture, mining, fisheries and tourism, and in human development such as enhanced social health and education infrastructure, technical middle level training and skills development and employment generation particularly for our growing population. These are the opportunities that the new Ambassador will defiantly seek to focus on, with a view to not just articulating Government policy and the attractive incentives and investment opportunities that Sierra Leone has to offer, but in forging collaborative strategies and investment frameworks that will be to the mutual benefit of the two countries.
New Ambassador at the Embassy
It is against this backdrop that an article on the Embassy in Beijing, authored by one Alpha Kargbo and published in the Sierra Leone Telegraph online newspaper of Tuesday, 1st May 2012 would require important clarifications and rectifications of the facts on the ground. This is important to ensure that recent reform measures instituted by Government to restore the hard won confidence, goodwill and long-lasting friendship and cooperation ties are not derailed by deliberate misinformation. It is also to ensure that the new posture and recommitment to change in the Embassy, under its new leadership, remain on course and cannot be diverted. This is especially so in the determined and ongoing efforts to raise the bar of cooperation ties to a much higher level, in a manner consistent with the President’s vision of Agenda for Change in the coming years.
We cannot run away from the turbulence that the operations of the Mission in Beijing was faced with in the past years that had necessitated the conduct of an urgent and exhaustive enquiry by no less a person than the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alhaji Alpha Kanu himself. The outcome of those investigations were met with a series of decisive actions aimed at not just repositioning the leadership of the Mission in Beijing, but an overhaul of its Trade Promotion and Commercial Section.
Moving forward, we now have a new Ambassador in place with a determination and expressed commitment to implement the headquarter recommendations and reform measures to the letter. This includes the institution of new internal control measures and procedures designed to promote openness, transparency and accountability in the operations of the Embassy and its interface with its clients including not just Government and public functionaries in China, but prospective investors wanting to establish mutually beneficial projects and collaborative ties with the Embassy.
It is a determination to push the past couple of years of turbulence to the back burner and brace up for the recommitment to change necessary to restore confidence and engender a new resolve to build on past achievements and open up new prospects for much higher levels of strategic partnership and engagement with the Government and people of China.
Commercial Attaché’s appointment
Past experience and challenges in the business of trade and investment promotion in the Mission in Beijing have informed the need for a qualified and seasoned Chinese national as an inter locator (Commercial Attaché) to facilitate commercial and trade engagements. Under stringent operational guidelines and as a no-cost arrangement to Government, the Mission has found the facility useful and cost-effective in tapping the vast potentials that exist in the areas of commerce and investment promotion between Sierra Leone and China.
Contrary to views, there is at present, only a Commercial Attaché in the person of Li Jinji. For some years, there had been one Mr. Liu Jing (Harry) occupying that position but since February this year, on account of recommendations of the aforementioned inquiry into the operations of the Embassy, his services were terminated in accordance with the terms and conditions of his engagement. Mr. Li Jinji has now taken over the responsibility. Accordingly, the privileges that were accorded to Liu Jing (Harry) like carrying a diplomatic license plate, occupying an office space in the Embassy, his service passport, amongst others, have all been revoked as of February this year.
There has also been a complete review of the previous arrangement in the Embassy and collateral actions have been taken that are aimed at not only restoring the confidence that the Embassy has always enjoyed, but to ensure that the Agenda for Change is promoted at all levels.
Marketing our investment opportunities
Sierra Leone is a country with a series of investment opportunities. In the area of extractive industries, there has been a great reform; the fisheries sector is another investment opportunity, as well as infrastructure and tourism. And this is especially an area that the Commercial Section in the Mission would want to utilize for the mutual benefit of both Sierra Leone and China.
Given this fact, the International Monetary Fund has projected Sierra Leone’s Gross Domestic Project to grow at twice the African average and as a result of the impact of the mining sector and thieving private sector growth is projected at 13% this year. Today, the country, under the leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma, has made cross border trade simple and easy, through the introduction of the Automated System for Customs Data. There are in existence attractive fiscal incentives, the country is the top reformer in the African continent for providing Sustainable Economic Opportunity, as shown in the Mo Ibrahim Africa Governance Indicator, also improving 25 places in the Doing Business Rankings in five good years, according to the World Bank. Incentives that could be offered to investors by the country range from the area of capital items, corporate tax and the promotion of exports.
The commitment of the Government towards employing international best practices in governance and policy need not be overemphasized. And it is with this in mind, that the Sierra Leone Mission in China has repositioned itself to meet not just the expectations of the Government but that of the people of Sierra Leone. As an Embassy, these are the issues we will continue to market to potential investors from China particularly and Asia in general. But we expect the support of all Sierra Leoneans in telling the world of the country’s readiness for socio-economic growth.