Mixed reactions over Saudi Prince’s visit to Sierra Leone

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 June 2013

Obama_King_Abdullah_June_3_2009It is not very often that Arabian Princes visit Sub-saharan Africa, and when they do, expectations are very high. Saudi Arabia is the richest Arab country in the world. It has huge potential to help Africa out of economic decay and poverty.

So when Saudi Prince – Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud of the ‘highly reputed’ Kingdom Holding Company (KHC) visited Sierra Leone last Monday, talk of multi-million dollars investment in the country’s ailing industries was rife.

Sierra Leone needs over $200 million investment in its fishing, tourism and agricultural industries in order to create jobs for the seventy percent of adults that are out of work, as well as increase the country’s export earnings.

To achieve this, the government of Sierra Leone needs every help it can get from the likes of the Saudi Prince, who was given a red carpet welcome in Freetown by president Koroma.

State House had decided to decorate the Saudi Prince with the highest honour the president can bestow on any of the country’s citizens – ‘Grand Commander of the Order of the Republic of Sierra Leone (GCRSL)’.

But President Koroma is not averse to doling out such honours to rich foreign dignitaries, despite accusations of selling state honours for foreign cash.

Colonel Gaddafi was awarded an Honorary Member of Sierra Leone’s Parliament by president Koroma in the wells of the very parliament in Freetown in 2009, in return for Libyan petrol-dollars.

gaddafiColonel Gaddafi is said to have invested over $10 million in Sierra Leone since the country ended its decade long civil war, which Gaddafi himself was accused of instigating and fuelling.

And it seems on this occasion too,  Saudi Prince – Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud was also flattered by the offer of such honorific gesture.

As Alhaji M.B. Jalloh – Press Attaché at the Sierra Leone embassy in Saudi Arabia reports; “During the visit, His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma decorated His Royal Highness with the highest National Award in the country, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Republic of Sierra Leone (GCRSL).”

Is this yet another unconstitutional honours for sale gaff made by the president?

And what will Sierra Leone receive in return for president Koroma awarding such honour to a Saudi Prince?

Reactions to the Saudi Prince’s visit have been mixed, but supporters of the government’s Agenda for Prosperity are optimistic. This is Alhaji M.B. Jalloh’s report:

His Royal Highness (HRH) Prince Alwaleed visited Sierra Leone to explore investment opportunities. His business holding company covers Tourism, Banking, Estate Development, Hospitality, Telecom, Agriculture, Information Technology, Broadcasting, Media, Entertainment, Travel, Automotive Manufacturing and other sector.

alpha kanu2After the visit, I rang up Alhaji Alpha Sahid Bakar Kanu (Photo), the Minister of Information and Communications, who also doubles as the Official Government Spokesman and asked him if the visit was successful. This is what he had to say:

“Yes, the visit was very successful. Our President, His Excellency Dr Ernest Bai Koroma was accompanied by top-ranking Government Ministers and a good number of senior Government officials to welcome the Prince at the Lungi International Airport.

“As a nation, we are very happy for the visit of the Prince. We think it is an opportunity to strengthen the bilateral relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Sierra Leone.

“We have also been impressed with the Prince’s philanthropy because when the President told him about his vision for improving the Free Healthcare Initiative in the country for Children under-five, lactating mothers and pregnant women, including youth empowerment, the Prince donated one million dollars each for the two programmes through Alwaleed Bin Talal Humanitarian Foundation.

“And he promised to do more when he has more details. On the investment side, the Prince has been given a presentation of all the opportunities that exist in Sierra Leone in the areas of tourism, mining, oil exploration, fisheries, real estate, energy, to name but a few.

“The next step is that, he promised to come back, but before that, he would send an advance team to work with the Sierra Leonean people to identify areas of mutual interest for investment. He also promised to get involved in the charitable organizations and the financing of women and the youth.

“So, the visit has been a very good and successful one.

“On his departure, the Prince and the President concluded a lot of things- which all big men and heads of state talk about. We were not privy to that meeting. But we believe whatever decisions were made during that closed–door meeting, would be in the best interest of the Kingdom Holding Company and the people of Sierra Leone” – concluded Minister Kanu.

So, what do Sierra Leoneans residing here in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf make of the Visit?

President of sierra leone national unionUthman Kargbo (Photo) is president of the Sierra Leonean Nationals’ Union in Saudi Arabia.  He said; “It is the duty of every patriotic citizen to embrace and welcome such remarkable visit. Sierra Leoneans in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf have been longing to see people like Prince Al-waleed Bin Talal investing in Sierra Leone.

“The Saudi Prince is a prominent worldwide investor and his visit to Sierra Leone will be sighted as the beginning of a new epoch of massive investment opportunities in the country. As a business tycoon, it is believed that Prince Alwaleed would find in Sierra Leone the right place to establish his business shrewdness.

“I am sure, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma must have objectively persuaded his honourable guest that he (the Prince) will have in Sierra Leone all that he needs in terms of expanding his business empire across the African Continent and he would give Prince Alwaleed all the assurances that, in Sierra Leone, he will have all the support required to make his businesses boom to his satisfaction.

“From what we have heard, President Koroma and his competent Officials have presented to the Prince well-tailored and worthwhile projects.  The Prince is a very shrewd investor.

“And I am pretty sure that he would not hesitate to avail himself of any investment opportunities which he thinks would be profitable and of interest to both parties. Sierra Leoneans all over the Arab Gulf states can’t wait to see the Prince taking his investment opportunities to Sierra Leone in the not too distant future.”

GassamaDr. Sorie Gassama (Photo), a lecturer at the King Saud University said:

“As a Sierra Leonean, I see it as my duty to suggest hypercritical areas that His Excellency should consider doing business with the Prince. Having lived in Riyadh for the past one year, and seeing what the Prince has invested in, I can tell with no doubts that the Prince is more interested in the area of tourism than anything else.

“This can be seen in the investments that he has made in putting up skyscrapers. One such is the Kingdom Tower, a modern mall, like no other in the middle of the city that goes unnoticed. He has tons of investments of the like that are frequented by tourists. Having him rehabilitate our once admirable, but presently dilapidated beaches will pay dividends.

“Additionally, have him take a look and see if he can invest in developing those areas closer to the ocean in Freetown that are currently occupied by squatters and pigs.

“With the right investment, these very places can create a lot of jobs, and bring in tons of millions of dollars every year by way of tourism. Take a lesson from Parisians, Clean those areas, and rid them of squatters and pigs, construct three star hotels, invest in wet boats that can take tourists along the peninsula on sightseeing missions for a fee.

“These done, Freetown will soon be full of tourists bringing in hard currencies with a reduction in unemployment or possibly bringing a total end to unemployment taking into account the country’s population.”

Ibrahim Sillah also lectures at the same University and he is an Ex-President of the Sierra Leone Nationals’ Union here in Saudi Arabia. He has no doubt that HRH, Prince Alwaleed’s visit to Sierra Leone at this point in time signifies a lot.

He said: “I believe the two men must have had a golden opportunity to constructively and objectively discuss a host of business and investment issues in a calm and friendly atmosphere.

“This is not the Prince’s first to Sierra Leone. His maiden visit was in 2003. But this time around, I learnt that the Saudi Prince found that the ground work for the success of his visit had been well-prepared by technocrats and foresighted members of President Koroma’s Government.

“I am sure that Prince Alwaleed was overwhelmed by the degree and level of maturity and statesmanship he uncovered in the President of Sierra Leone. That telling impression on the Prince would propel him beyond any iota of hesitation or doubt to heavily invest in Sierra Leone; for he would find out that, at the end of the day, he stands to lose nothing.

“Rather, he stands all the chances to enrich his Kingdom Holding Company (KHC) and maximize its revenues in abundance. In fact, I have the gut-feeling that this historic visit of Prince Alwaleed will not only be a catalyst for long-term business relations between his company and Sierra Leone, but would also be a great booster to the already existing diplomatic and bilateral between Sierra Leone and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“Who knows, it may hopefully culminate in Saudi Arabia opening a Saudi embassy in Freetown; a dream that has long been harboured and nurtured by Sierra Leoneans.”

The  Chairman for the All People’s Congress Party, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States Branch, Unisa Kanu described the visit as “an implicit endorsement” of President Koroma’s commendable Agenda for Prosperity.

“It will unequivocally send the right signals not only to the numerous investment organs in Saudi, but to the entire Gulf region that Sierra Leone is ready for business.”

NabieuNabie Musa Turay (Photo) is the marketing manager with oversight for Africa & the BADEA Scheme in the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC). He is based in Saudi Arabia’s second and commercial capital, Jeddah.

He said: “I am sure the Prince is interested in investing substantially in many of the industrial sector of the country, but I think tourism could be his priority.

“Many countries, attracted by the potential economic benefits, have embarked upon the development of tourism. This has to be considered and appreciated with the adequate and associated costs and benefits.

“The focus on the economic, physical, and social impacts of tourism should be kept in mind while embarking on the development of the Tourism industry in the country.”

 

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