Sierra Leone’s global outreach is expanding —Kamara

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dr-samura-kamara1In the four odd years Dr Samura Kamara has been Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the country has been through the extremes of socio-economic fortunes. The fall from the heights it achieved after a boom in its iron ore exports receipts was exacerbated by the scourge of the Ebola virus and its devastating effect on society. Through it all, Dr Kamara, strengthened by the strong-willed government of President Ernest Bai Kamara, was able to assure the international community, especially Sierra Leone’s development partners that his country would weather the storm and recover quickly enough to return to the path of growth.

He learnt on the enormous goodwill and contacts built up along the way in his 35 years career in development economics and government service: he was at various times Governor, Bank of Sierra Leone; and Finance and Economic Development Minister with working knowledge of the inner processes at the IMF.

Dr Kamara speaks on his ministry’s mandate and the challenges of getting development partners to continue supporting government in the economic recovery programme as well as Sierra Leone’s obligations in the various bilateral and multilateral relationships it is engaged in. Excerpts: 

 

How would you appraise the impact of Sierra Leone’s foreign policy on the country’s socio-economic and political development drive in recent years?

The Foreign Service is Sierra Leone’s principal international voice and, as such, has responsibility for the pursuit of the Government’s aims and objectives in relations with international partners, as well as the promotion in global and regional fora of the national commitment to worldwide peace, security and economic wellbeing.

At the Ministry, we are working to position Sierra Leone as an effective partner for regional and global peace, security and development, as well as contributing effectively in the transformation of Sierra Leone to a middle-income country by 2030, and thereafter, to a developed and donor country by the end of the 21st Century. It is work in progress and I must say that our efforts are paying off. We are effectively contributing to the country’s socio-economic and political development drive through our engagement at the multilateral and bilateral levels, including building partnerships with several countries, the Mano River Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the United Nations (UN), the Commonwealth, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement.

At the UN, our contribution to ongoing debates on development, social, environment and political issues is to enhancing the visibility of Sierra Leone. Our successful engagement with the UN Security Council and the Peace-building Commission endears us as a store house of lessons learned on how to move away from conflict to a peaceful, stable and development focused country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was instrumental throughout those engagements.

The Ministry plays a critical role in advancing the ambitions of the country. Thankfully for us, our ambition has been outlined in a document called the Agenda for Prosperity and prior to that we had the Agenda for Change.  The two documents which serve as economic blueprint for the development of the country have boldly defined transformative policy paths into our post-conflict reconstruction. We do believe that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or indeed the wider Foreign Service comprising the Ministry, our Embassies and consulates overseas do have a much bigger role to play in bringing the international community to a greater focus on how to engage and assist Sierra Leone in promoting its ambition. It is not an easy task; it requires a lot of diplomacy — an understanding of how the international (diplomatic) community works. This is because whatever we do there is a strand of diplomacy.  Our biggest challenge is how we can better mainstream our Foreign Service in promoting Sierra Leone’s agenda for development; agenda for legitimising Sierra Leone’s role in the international community; agenda for increasing Sierra Leone’s voice and representation in the international institutions; and agenda in joining the rest of the international community in promoting big agenda items like peace, stability and development.

As a Ministry we are continually working with other Ministries and Departments in enhancing Sierra Leone’s role and participation in international and national debates on new and emerging issues that are of global and national interest, as well as securing support from international and development partners.

To what extent would you say the reforms initiated in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation under your leadership to revolutionize Sierra Leone’s foreign policy and attract greater foreign partnership and investment to the country are paying off?

Under my stewardship, the Ministry launched the Foreign Service Transformation Strategy (2014-2018) SLFSTS, which provides a strategic policy and operational framework  geared towards launching a systematic and profound transformative recalibration of the country’s diplomatic landscape through an incremental institutional reform agenda focusing on the structural, functional and organizational capacities of Sierra Leone’s Missions and Consulates overseas within the context of an assessed need to respond effectively and efficiently to a rapidly changing global environment while pursuing also the national interests.

The implementation process has entailed reconfiguring  the Ministry‘s administrative and professional structure, closing human resource/capacity gaps and related systemic weaknesses to optimize performance, strengthening diplomatic representation and the commencement of the enactment of a  legal framework for the regulation of the Foreign Service.

As the Strategy itself is sequentially rolled out, the Foreign Service is evolving into a professionalized entity, empowered to increase Sierra Leone’s voice and representation, respond to geo-political trends and create a sustainable delivery pathway that is adaptive and beneficial to the development aspirations of Sierra Leone.  There has been increased optimization in the efficiency of delivering on the foreign policy objectives of Sierra Leone while providing a strategic direction for achieving this outcome.

A cornerstone of the strategy is the enhancement of economic diplomacy, including recalibration aimed at enhancing government’s resource mobilization capacity from traditional development assistance, and beyond.

The development of this first-ever comprehensive medium-term Ministry’s strategic plan, which captures the many strands of diplomacy and how we can effectively exploit these for the greater benefit of Sierra Leone and the international community, is a major breakthrough.  We want to reset our foreign relations, and the type of Ministry (and the wider Foreign Service) capable of comfortably handling the myriad traditional and non-traditional diplomatic challenges of the 21st century, intertwined with geo-political tensions. This requires strong professionalism and a strategic competency and geographical mix in the stock of Foreign Service Officers.  The Strategy is a blueprint that captures our objective of expanding our diplomatic ties, and this so far is one of my greatest achievements. By expanding our global outreach, we are making the world to know that this relatively small country – Sierra Leone, exists; it is peaceful, politically stable and resilient to global tensions. It has enormous resources and investment opportunities including human capital and above all, it wants to tell the world that it is ready to contribute to the pursuance of global objectives. All these are part of our diplomatic relations which also includes the many Presidential overseas visits or travels by President Koroma as a way of rebranding Sierra Leone out there. Today, as a Foreign Service, we are working as a more competitive unit both inside and outside of Sierra Leone; we have realised that we have to compete with other countries in legitimising Sierra Leone’s position in the wider world.

We have given serious consideration to increasing our diplomatic presence strategically in the various regions of the world, from within the African continent to the Asian pacific, Europe, Latin America and Australia.

Last June, you led a Sierra Leonean delegation to China for a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and discussed issues of mutual interest both at the bilateral and multilateral levels. How important is China to your country’s development agenda?

There is a very strong relationship between Sierra Leone and China. We support each other at the multilateral level and we have benefitted a lot from our bilateral relations. We have just celebrated our 45th year of Sierra Leone-China relations and we aim to better strengthen this relationship. China has given its indication of supporting Sierra Leone’s advocacy for Africa in the reform of the UN at the multilateral level. At the bilateral level, we saw what China did in the fight against the Ebola outbreak – shipments (by air) of various drugs, medical equipment and materials; medical personnel; a modern mobile and permanent biological laboratories and transportation. China has done a lot of economic projects for us: in infrastructure, in the health sector as seen in the construction of one of the best referral hospitals in the country – the Sierra Leone-China Friendship Hospital; in Education – academic, technical and vocational training; in agriculture- Chinese private sector; in public housing, including the new ultramodern Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation building, etc. We have a strong faith in China as a strategic and trusted partner and we are therefore determined to further strengthen support for each other at both the multilateral and bilateral levels.

What kind of support is Sierra Leone receiving from the international community and development partners in its efforts to achieve its development targets?

As a member of various international organizations, and as a country with strong bilateral ties with several countries across the world, we contribute towards these institutions and benefit from our partners in a mutual way. Most of the support come in the form of technical assistance, and capacity building as well as concessional and non-concessional loans.

What strategies have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation adopted to develop a strong regional nexus and closer cooperation with other African countries for mutual development pursuits at the global arena?

We have plans to increase our diplomatic presence strategically in the various regions of the world. On the African continent, we are in the process of upgrading our Consulate in Kenya which is one of the commercial hubs in Africa to a full diplomatic embassy. We are also looking at establishing a diplomatic embassy in South Africa that can cover the Southern African sub-region. Discussions to re-open our embassy in Cairo, Egypt are at an advanced stage. These are our initial steps which will be built upon as time progresses. The establishment of diplomatic Missions is one of our key strategies to achieving strong regional nexus and closer cooperation. Our membership of the African Union, the ECOWAS, and the Mano River Union and adherence to their respective principles and decisions underscores our commitment to closer cooperation and mutual development pursuits at the global level.

What would you suggest as the best approach towards addressing the huge infrastructure challenges facing the continent?

The world is eager to do business with Africa, but is hindered by an inherent daunting difficulty in accessing African markets.  Africa’s infrastructure deficit remains a major obstacle towards achieving its full economic growth potential. The African Development Bank (AfDB) has identified infrastructure development as one of the keys to unlocking economic growth in Africa and has estimated that the inadequate infrastructure reduces the continent’s economic output by approximately 40 per cent annually. Bridging the infrastructure gap could increase GDP growth by an estimated 2 percentage points a year. It is estimated that about US$93 billion is needed annually over the next decade to overhaul sub-Saharan African infrastructure, whereas only about $25-billion is being spent annually on capital expenditure.  The substantial shortfall represents an immense opportunity for public and private sector investors, developers and financiers who are able to understand the nuances and unique opportunities of each region and each individual country.

In the case of Sierra Leone we were quick to appreciate the significance of infrastructural development and how it is inextricably tied to development.  One of the first acts of President Ernest Bai Koroma’s government was to develop a road map for proactive action, which we called the Agenda for Change.  The Agenda essentially sought to put our country on the path from aid dependency to a dynamic, self-sustaining economy. It focused on investment and reform in the key strategic sectors which were most critical to unlocking the full productive potential of our economy. Critical amongst these key sectors were physical infrastructure development and a drastic boosting of energy provision. We sought to harness the enormous hydro-electric potential in our rivers and waterways, as well as to developing bio fuels and solar energy.

Today the sheer magnitude of both the infrastructure and financial inadequacies preclude reliance on traditional model in many African countries where government served as the sole financier of infrastructure projects and was responsible for construction, operation and maintenance. Today there is a need to employ innovative approaches, such as developing partnerships with other African countries, multilateral financial institutions and, increasingly, private financial institutions.  One such approach is to turn to Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) which allow for the private sector to apply their skills and experience to infrastructure development and operation and mobilize finances.  A promising initiative has been the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), which the African Union has adopted as a framework for developing regional and cross-border infrastructure projects. Applicable projects are funded by a mix of government funds, public private partnerships, and official development assistance.

 

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