The end of the Cold-War and increased globalization has resulted in more economic interdependence among countries of the world; this in turn has led to ‘economic diplomacy’ gaining greater significance over traditional ‘political diplomacy’, said His Excellency Ibrahim Bakarr Kamara, Ambassador of the Republic of Sierra Leone to Kuwait.
The ambassador was speaking at the start of a wide-ranging and exclusive interview with The Times. “Despite the need for political support at global forums and in resolving regional issues, countries are realizing that often economy trumps politics in international relations. This shift in emphasis has called for accredited ambassadors to be more conversant with their country’s economic policies than with its political leanings. Diplomats are now expected to promote development, encourage investment and in general further the economic interests of their nation,” added the envoy.
“Prior to my appointment in 2009, as my country’s first ambassador to Kuwait, I was associated with the private sector in Sierra Leone for more than three decades, principally in its mining industry and in real-estate. This long exposure to business and trade environment has given me a broad and in-depth picture of different aspects of economic activity in my country. Following my arrival in Kuwait, I have frequently interacted with entrepreneurs and potential investors in this country, to inform them about growth areas and the immense investment potential of Sierra Leone. My professional business background has also allowed me to closely monitor, evaluate and advice my government on how best to utilize the various resources available in this country in order to boost symbiotic exchanges,” elaborated the diplomat.
“Sierra Leone and Kuwait share several historical commonalities,” said Ambassador Kamara, “We both became independent nations in 1961, we are both resource rich countries, Kuwait has oil and we have diamonds and other precious minerals. Both our countries were engulfed in wars in 1991 — Kuwait to liberate itself from the Iraqi invasion of Saddam Hussein and Sierra Leone by a civil war led by Charles Taylor from neighboring Liberia that devastated the country from 1991 to 2002.”
The envoy added, “The strong friendship between our two countries were tested during our troubled times, when, despite the ravages taking place in my country, Sierra Leone sent a 200-strong military and medical contingent to support Kuwait and the international coalition gathered to oust Iraqi troops. Similarly, during our dark days and even after, Kuwait through its Fund for Arab Economic Development extended support to my country through investments in infrastructure and development. After the return of peace to both our countries, Sierra Leone and Kuwait have espoused democratic values, supported each other at various international forums and worked to boost cooperation in different domains.”
“These relations received a fillip in 2007, when the newly elected democratic government in Sierra Leone, headed by President Ernest Bai Koroma, accepted the invitation of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and the former Prime Minister His Excellency Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and decided to establish diplomatic relations with Kuwait. As a close friend and confidant of President Koroma, having grown up and studied with him, I was asked by the president to become my country’s first ambassador to Kuwait in 2009. I gladly accepted his offer and since arriving in this country have worked assiduously to foster and enhance bilateral relations between Sierra Leone and Kuwait.’ The diplomat added that since 2012, he has also been accredited as non-resident ambassador to the Kingdom of Jordan and the Sultanate of Oman.
Saying that currently bilateral trade was not clearly pronounced, Ambassador Kamara continued, “Trade and business between Sierra Leone and Kuwait is still at a very nascent stage and there is plenty of potential for improvement. Unfortunately, notwithstanding our best efforts, there are several misconceptions about Sierra Leone in the minds of businesses and investors in this country. For instance, even though the civil war ended more than a decade ago and the country has firmly embraced democratic traditions and adopted a free-market economy, there is still a perception that Sierra Leone is an unstable country without security and safeguards for businesses. But, I must admit that this is not unique to Sierra Leone, any country that has gone through protracted internal conflict will be conceived as risky, and businesses will be apprehensive of venturing there.”
“However, I would like to point out that today Sierra Leone is one of the most peaceful countries in Africa, we have held three peaceful and fully credible presidential and parliamentary elections. In 2002, immediately after the end of civil war, we held our first free elections and then, after a full five-year term, in 2007, when President Koroma led the opposition All People’s Congress to power. In the 2012 elections, the incumbent president was given a second term in office by 58 percent of the voters. For the past ten years Sierra Leone has enjoyed unprecedented peace and security and no untoward incidents or political upheavals have been reported by any of the local or international media that operates freely and independently throughout the country,” said the envoy.
Noting his country’s progress under President Koroma, the ambassador elaborated by saying, “The president who comes from a corporate background, having been the CEO of one of the foremost insurance companies in Sierra Leone for 14 years, assumed office in 2007 with the expressed aim of running the country like a corporate entity and economically turning the country around. In his first-term he rolled out his ‘Agenda for Change’ program that envisioned overhauling the economy, creating an investment climate that reexamined role of the private sector, implementing development projects through Public-Private Partnerships and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. The ‘Agenda for Change’, with its focus on investment, and reforms deemed critical to unlocking the full productive potential of the country’s economy, is helping transition Sierra Leone’s from an aid-dependent nation to a dynamic, self-sustaining economy.”
Following the phenomenal success of the ‘Agenda for Change’, the government of President Koroma in its second term, has launched the ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ platform that envisages transforming the country to middle-income status by 2035, with sustainable future for all Sierra Leoneans. To achieve this status the government plans to diversify the economy, make the country globally competitive and enable an environment where private sector can thrive. The country looks to better manage its natural resources through transparent transactions, add value to primary products and to promote inclusive and sustainable growth that benefits all Sierra Leoneans.”
“Reforms to the education system, expanding infrastructure projects, extending health care initiatives and eradicating hunger and malnutrition, are only some of the projects that will be implemented through the ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ program during the five-year period from 2013 to 2018. Recently, the U.S. based foreign-aid agency, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), identified Sierra Leone as a candidate country eligible for receiving MCC grants. The eligibility was based on the Sierra Leone’s commitment to good governance, economic freedom and investing in its people, by combating poverty and promoting sustainable economic growth though private investments.”
The ambassador noted that Sierra Leone is now one of the top five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to investor protection and the ease of starting a business. The government also has one of the top anti-corruption laws in Africa and is recognized by international institution like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as one of the world’s leading reformers in doing business. Transparent commercial laws, a clear tax structure, investment incentives and prudent fiscal policies that result in lower costs to access capital, have all led to a business-friendly environment where it is possible to register and open a business in two days and with just four steps.
The diplomat went on to add, “These initiatives from the government have attracted individual and institutional investors from around the world to different sectors of the country’s economy, including infrastructure, power, offshore oil drilling, agriculture, tourism and the traditional mining industries. There has been huge investment interest from across the globe, including a high influx of Chinese capital, but regrettably, there has been very little from this part of the world. The embassy is doing its best to rectify this anomaly and we expect the upcoming African-Arab Summit in November 2013, which is slated to be held in Kuwait, to help remove any hurdles that obstruct bilateral trade between our two countries. “
In conclusion the ambassador said, “I would like to take this opportunity to thank His Highness the Amir, the government and people of Kuwait for their warm hospitality and support in fostering happy relations between our two countries. I am also pleased to say that recently my government extended by accreditation to Kuwait for another two years and now I will have the opportunity to continue working to strengthen our friendly mutual relations, both on the government and on the people-to-people level.”
Times Exclusive Report