Foreign policy working for the good of Sierra Leone

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In the five-odd years that Dr Samura Kamara has been at the helm of Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, he has vigorously pursued the country’s foreign policy objectives. As visionary development economist and former Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr Kamara has effectively utilised the policy of economic diplomacy to strengthen the country’s relationship with external partners and the international community.

Through strategy friendships and peer-network with the international financial and development communities, the economist is raising Sierra Leone’s voice in the global arena.

In this interview with The African Economy, Dr Kamara elaborates on the impact of Sierra Leone’s foreign policy on its socio-economic and political development as well as the ministry’s various bilateral and multilateral relationships. Excerpts:

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How is Sierra Leone’s foreign policy impacting socio-economic and political development?
Our government has instituted a transformational mission of the Foreign Service to drive the effective implementation of the country’s foreign policy objectives through a process that will see Sierra Leone move to a middle-income country by 2030.

Our foreign policy has formed the basis of our participation in sub-regional, regional and global multilateral organisations such as the Mano River Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, and the United Nations. These interactions have not only given voice, legitimacy and representation of Sierra Leone in diplomatic and international circles, but also have led to our collaboration with member states and other international entities such as the African Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the Commonwealth, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Non-Aligned Movement and the European Union on issues that promote peace, security and development.

Our bilateral ties with other countries as well as collaborative efforts with the USAID, UKAID, JICA, KOICA, etc have resulted in the implementation of several projects and initiatives in the economic, health, education, infrastructure, governance, agriculture, energy and trade sectors as our recently concluded post-Ebola recovery efforts demonstrate.

As signatories to major international treaties, concerning women and children, human rights and justice, Sierra Leone has been able to promote and protect its citizens. Through the promotion of international cooperation, respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries, adhering to international law and treaty obligations, and the seeking of settlement of international disputes by negotiation, reconciliation, arbitration or adjudication, Sierra Leone has enjoyed an atmosphere of political stability in the past decade to the extent that the country was recently ranked the 39th most peaceful country in the world, ahead of the United Kingdom and France by the Institute for Economic and Peace. It easily ranked 1st in West Africa.

A few years ago, President Ernest Bai Koroma unveiled the 2014-2018 Foreign Service Transformation Strategy with the theme: “Sierra Leone Foreign Service Renaissance in the 21st Century”. How has it helped the country to achieve its goal of becoming an indispensable voice in the economic and diplomatic circles?
For over four decades after independence, our foreign policy outcomes were heavily weighted towards political diplomacy, which understandably, reflected the existing realities at that point in time. Most African countries, including Sierra Leone, were caught up in the Cold War and had to navigate the existing global political systemic issues in addition to addressing the political demands of newly independent states. But with the end of the Cold War, we moved into the new millennium. Nation building went beyond political issues, incorporating the social and economic elements of globalization. Sierra Leone had to refocus its foreign policy to look at not only political diplomacy but also economic and social diplomacy to advance its national interest at home and abroad. This move required a reconfiguration of our foreign policy delivery in terms of focusing our attention on capacity building in critical areas, forging new alliances, scaling up our diplomatic presence and designating economic diplomacy as a critical part of our Foreign Service’s daily work.

We went on to recruit a full complement of staff at various levels to strengthen policy-oriented work within the revamped structures at the ministry.

To what extent is your ministry positioned for the new policy?
With strengthened capacity, the Ministry is now equipped to advise, coordinate and collaborate with other MDAs for better and optimal interaction with international economic institutions, countries and the domestic diplomatic community and ensure that Sierra Leone’s issues are reflected in the appropriate national and international circles.

The newly created Directorate of Research, Planning and Knowledge Management coordinates collaboration with other MDAs and carries out research that informs our foreign policy. The new Directorate of Legal Affairs and International Conventions ensures that Sierra Leone’s interests are captured in all international treaties and protocols, guides their domestication process and monitors national compliance. The reconstituted Economic and Technical Cooperation Directorate has increased its work with bilateral partners and international institutions to optimize technical and economic cooperation on trade and foreign direct investment. The Multilateral and International Institutions Directorate coordinates our increased participation and contribution in major multilateral political and financial institutions and ensuring that our voice is reflected in their decisions. The Administration and Finance Directorate has the overarching responsibility of supporting the operations of all directorates and overseeing missions, and the Protocol Directorate carry out activities that facilitates liaison with diplomatic partners and ensures that these are frequent and structured.

A key output of the transformation process is the on-going actions to increase our diplomatic presence through the opening of new missions in strategic parts of the world such as in Turkey, Indonesia and Kenya. These are three major trade and diplomatic hubs that Sierra Leone will leverage to enlarge and strengthen its economic and diplomatic ties.

Overall, the on-going transformation within the Sierra Leone Foreign Service has brought to the fore the issues of trade, development and cultural interactions – non-traditional areas of diplomacy.

How would you describe the role of multilateral finance institutions, such as the African Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Serra Leone’s development drive?
The African Development Bank (AfDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) are Sierra Leone’s long-standing major development partners. Over the years, especially in the past two decades, these institutions have supported us during and after the 10 years civil war and the twin-shocks of the Ebola outbreak and the collapse in commodity prices.

The AfDB plays a pivotal role in supporting projects in WATSAN, Energy and Power, Agriculture, Private Sector Development, Transport Infrastructure, Economic and Financial Governance, Health, Human Capacity Building, and Youth Employment. The World Bank, through IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and IDA (International Development Association), funds projects in almost every growth sector geared towards reducing poverty and promoting development in Sierra Leone. The Bank has made huge commitments and provided large long-term loans to strengthen our Public Finance Management systems through capacity building and by making available direct budgetary support for various governance and development programmes. The IMF has been very instrumental in providing short to medium-term funding facilities to drive fiscal and monetary reform in Sierra Leone, especially after the war, and most recently, during the Ebola outbreak and the collapse in global iron ore market when Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea received IMF debt relief facilities and new interest-free loans in 2015/16. As part of the IMF reform-oriented support, Sierra Leone (as reported by the IMF in January 2017) has successfully implemented the IMF recommended Enhanced General Data Dissemination System, one of the first wave of countries to do so.

The post-Ebola recovery programme and the President’s development priorities, including those articulated in the Agenda for Prosperity, have received financial support from the three institutions.

How would you assess Sierra Leone’s relationship with China?
Sierra Leone and China have a longstanding bilateral relationship. This relationship has been beneficial to both countries over the many years of diplomatic ties dating back to the 1970s. Through several bilateral agreements, we have been able to secure funding from China for major infrastructural development projects that promote sports, tourism, health, education, and agriculture. This relationship has also seen the provision of grants and loans for the rehabilitation and construction of hospitals, hotels, stadia and ministerial buildings such as ours; private sector investment by Chinese companies in building and road construction; capacity building of Sierra Leoneans in Chinese educational institutions and on-the-job training in various fields resulting in the transfer of technology in construction. Our bilateral relationship has also facilitated an increase in private business transactions between our two nations with many Sierra Leonean businesses now importing building materials and other goods from China.

How are you maintaining the international support Sierra Leone has been receiving?
Our country has benefitted immensely from the goodwill of our external partners over the years. As a ministry, our mandate is to show the world what Sierra Leone represents, including our interests and values as a nation. Our sustained contact and goodwill with the international community is achieved through membership and participation in the major global organizations of the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF — and in the regional and sub-regional bodies — the MRU, ECOWAS and the AU. My ministry uses these fora to demonstrate Sierra Leone’s commitment to democratic principles, addressing current and emerging global issues, and to share the government’s plans for the sustainable development of its people. My ministry seeks and encourages effective collaboration with bilateral and multilateral partners and works with these partners within the terms and conditions clearly laid out in agreements and alliances. My ministry works with other government MDAs to ensure that support from the international community is utilized in full and on terms as agreed.

As the Foreign Ministry, we also collaborate closely with resident High Commissions, Embassies and Consulates in Sierra Leone, providing relevant information and data on the country’s socio-economic and political status, and explaining government’s policies on key issues. On this point, our development partners and investors can now access Sierra Leone’s enhanced General Data Dissemination System, a live and regularly updated Open Data source for Statistics on Sierra Leone, essential for making partnership, policy and investment decisions. We believe in getting the economic fundamentals right in a transparent manner, thus gaining the confidence of the international community.

President Koroma wants to harness Africa’s diaspora for development. Is this practicable?
Since his assumption of the presidency, one of President Koroma’s earliest priorities was, and still remains, the bringing home of Sierra Leonean expertise and knowledge from all over the world for national development. The Office of Diaspora Affairs coordinates the programmes. Through the Public Service Commission, government now runs an improved recruitment strategy where jobs are advertised online and shortlisted applicants abroad are interviewed using electronic media – the first time Sierra Leone has ever done so.

Additionally, Sierra Leoneans abroad wishing to invest in the private sector are being encouraged by the reform of business registration procedures, concessions and investment incentives. They are impressed with the idea of a fast-track court where business people seeking adjudication can seek redress in a timely manner. The Sierra Leonean diaspora are now contributing to infrastructural development as government has made land accessible for housing and business construction purposes.

These initiatives have enabled qualified Sierra Leoneans from the diaspora to take employment both in public and private entities; invest in various businesses, and embark on a fresh construction.

How best can African leaders invoke the spirit of solidarity to actualise the dream of a conflict-free and prosperous Africa by 2020?
President Koroma’s 30th January address at the AU Assembly in Addis Ababa reiterated the need for African leaders to demonstrate the political will and pool resources for a conflict-free and prosperous Africa by 2020. In recent times, we have seen the continent being used as a transit point or breeding ground for terrorist activities. Our security forces on the continent should work jointly through information sharing and coordination to curb these illegal activities. Border security agencies in African countries need robust monitoring to forestall the illicit inflow, proliferation and circulation of arms and ammunitions on the continent. African leaders must constantly engage in decisive strategic dialogue with partners in the international community global policies and practices that impact negatively on Africa and its people. Our leaders have to put their citizens first and ensure that global solutions take into consideration the local realities on the continent.

African leaders must continue to strive for economic advancement and good governance through collaboration in sub-regional and regional organisations and initiatives such as NEPAD and the African Peer Review Mechanism, cross-border and inter-continental trade, and skills transfer to promote meaningful employment on the continent and end youth unemployment.

 

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