West Africa’s Emerging Investment Destination

West Africa’s Emerging Investment Destination

Friday, May 30, 2014 3:07 pm

Abubakar Hashim/Freetown

Walking down the streets in the capital city of Freetown, or driving along its peninsular beach-coast line, or even into the interior, in the provincial city of Bo, Makeni or Kabala, the atmosphere is serene, enveloped with warmth and hospitality from its people. A far-cry from its ugly past!

A country once ravaged by a brutal 11-year civil war, has today emerged an investment hub in West Africa. The signs of war have faded. Development, particularly infrastructural projects, now dot every nook and cranny of the entire country. Multinational companies troop into the country in droves.

The mining sector, particularly the iron-ore, is presently the engine of economic growth and a major revenue earner for the country. This sector alone nets in close to 70 per cent of government revenue, revealed Ibrahim Sorie Kamara, Commissioner of the country’s revenue institution, the National Revenue Authority, NRA.

•President Ernest Bai Koroma

•President Ernest Bai Koroma

What particularly surprises people the world over, is how fast Sierra Lone has emerged to be the investor’s delight in West Africa. The wounds of wars have disappeared into oblivion. The only scars are the wheelchairs of the war-amputee victims moving along the streets of Freetown, eking their daily needs.

During the country’s 53rd Independence Anniversary, which was celebrated at State House, President Ernest Bai Korama thumbed-up his government’s efforts towards directing the country along economic prosperity. His independence anniversary speech preceded an award ceremony for distinguished Sierra Leoneans, who excelled themselves in various fields of endeavour. President Koroma emphasised economic prosperity goes along with hard work and diligence from the citizens. Government, he said, provides the enabling environment for prosperity and the private sector is the engine of growth.

At 53, the country is moving along a private sector-led economic growth strategy. The port of Freetown, for instance, has privatised core sectors of its operations. The container handling section is presently in the hands of a private core investor, Freetown Terminal Limited, FTL, employing Sierra Leoneans in container handling. The oil-jetty terminal at Kissy is also being privatised on a build, operate and transfer, BOT, basis.

At 53, the economy has been liberalised and opened up in virtually all sectors. For instance, banks are springing up. Industries, small, medium and large-scale, are gradually cropping up, with emphasis on Sierra Leonean participation, either as shareholders or in employable positions.

In the political arena, the country operates a presidential system of governance, with the ruling All Peoples’ Congress, APC, in power. The Sierra Lone Peoples’ Party, SLPP, is in dominant opposition, with the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change, PMDC, the United Democratic Movement, UDM, and the Revolutionary United Front, RUF, in peripheral opposition.

One particularly striking feature of the Sierra Leonean political landscape, as its celebrates her 53rd independence anniversary, is the seemingly cordial relationship exhibited by President Koroma and the minority leader of the Parliament, Dr. Bernadette Lahai.

President Koroma and Dr. Lahai were together touring the eastern parts of the country in Kenema, Tongo and other parts of the opposition strongholds; a demonstration of tolerance and political assimiliation, unprecedented in West African politics.

In the religious sphere, the country enjoys religious tolerance as its clocks 53. There are inter-marriages between  Muslims and Christians. Wedding bells ring in the churches, followed with Muslim version in mosques. The brides and the grooms smile to the churches and mosques, almost simultaneously, with no hitches. This gesture is perhaps, also uuparralleled in West Africa and even, in Africa.

As in other countries, Sierra Leone too has some challenges as it clocks 53.

The distribution of wealth is a formidable challenge. As the late former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah once remarked: “The vast majority of Sierra Leoneans are a mass of starving illiterates, men, women and children plunged for decades in the most appalling obscurity.” This appalling situation is the present formidable challenge of President Koroma. This vast majority constitute the youthful age bracket of 15 to 40-year-olds, unskilled and largely uneducated. Even jobs for the educated age brackets are a bit difficult to get.

There is a new Youth Affairs Ministry and a new Disability Commission to tackle these teething challenges.

Another huge challenge the government encounters is the natural topography of the capital city of Freetown, especially during the rains. Recently, mudslides ravaged families to death. The hill sides are very prone to disaster. Freetown is mountainous. When it rains, disaster looms. Government has set up disaster alert centres to sensitise its citizens on precautionary measures.

At 53, the country is waxing strong and virile. Its tourism industry is booming due to its beautiful topography and its soothing peninsular coast line.

Little wonder, the country is now ranked to be the most investor-friendly and the hub for world-class investors in West Africa.

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