The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 June 2013
Sierra Leone’s potential to become a major economic hub in the West African sub-region has never been in doubt. But what is often contested is the government’s hyperbole about the pace of development in the country and its international competitiveness. Much more needs to be done.
In the last ten years, several countries have taken the bold step of not only increasing their humanitarian support for post-war Sierra Leone, but have also stepped up their economic investments in the country.
And most of that external investment drive have come through massive loan agreements and the use of credit guarantee schemes, underwritten by the respective foreign governments.
Is Saudi Arabia about to step up its petrol-dollar investment in Sierra Leone?
The Chinese, the African Development Bank, the Arab Bank for Development, the Kuwaiti Fund, have all stepped up their investments in Sierra Leone, especially helping the government of president Koroma achieve his infrastructure development objective.
The Saudis have been very coy and discreet about their multi-billion dollar investment portfolio held across the world. In Sierra Leone, although the Saudis have supported the country’s effort to rehabilitate its health care systems, there are very few visible Saudi supported projects to be seen.
There were talks five years ago of the Saudis wanting to invest heavily in developing Sierra Leone’s fishing, tourism and agro-based industries. But those talks did not translate into investments.
With the necessary levels of investment, those three sectors alone could have been netting the government of Sierra Leone annual average revenue of more than $500 million. But the reality is that not more than $50 million is currently being generated from those sectors.
The latest report from the government of Sierra Leone says that a new relationship is about to be built between president Koroma and the Saudi government, which could lever that investment.
But is this just another international relations propaganda, or is Sierra Leone about to receive the Saudi petrol-dollar investment it needs to transform its vast natural resource potential, create jobs and help achieve president Koroma’s Agenda for Prosperity?
This is Alhaji M.B Jalloh’s (Sierra Leone’s Information Attaché in Saudi Arabia) report:
His Royal Highness (HRH) Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia is scheduled to visit the small West African State of Sierra Leone on 10th June, 2013, following his recent invitation by Sierra Leone’s President, His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.
Prince Alwaleed – ‘The Richest Arab’
HRH Prince Alwaleed is the Chairman of Kingdom Holding Company (KHC). He was ranked number one in the Arabic and English issue of Arabian Business Magazine’s 50 Richest Arabs List, 2012 with a net worth of 25.9 Billion dollars.
The Prince’s wealth reached $ 26.9 billion dollars, according to the latest poll conducted by Bloomberg as of 3rd, June 2013.
Sierra Leone – Saudi Relationship Very Cordial
The warm friendship that Sierra Leone and Saudi Arabia have enjoyed spanned from the late 1970’s, when both countries signed a bilateral relationship. Since then, the bilateral and economic relationship between the two countries has been growing from strength to strength.
The Saudi billionaire’s visit to Sierra Leone would further strengthen the friendly and mutual cooperation that exist between the two countries and peoples.
The President and His Royal Highness are expected to discuss social and economic issues of mutual interest, and the bilateral relationship between their respective countries as well as the potential opportunities for HRH to develop and grow his investments in Sierra Leone as a whole and in the hotel industry in particular.
The Prince’s visit to Sierra Leone, according to a Senior Official attached to the Office of the President, can also afford President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma’s administration the golden opportunity to discuss with his special guest the sea of potential Sierra Leone has for inclusion in the Prince’s business empire of vast investment portfolio for Africa.
Prince Alwaleed – a heavy weight Investor
The billionaire Prince, who is bias towards investment, is a Western trained businessman. He’s a man who has huge investments in almost every nook of the world; he’s is a man who is ready to invest in whatever legal form of project that he believes can yield dividends; and he’s is a man who is so compassionate about the abject poverty of nations of the developing countries.
He has investments in Africa in sectors such as Tourism, Infrastructure, Real Estate and Telecommunications. That indicates his interest in that continent for economic and social prosperity.
Prince Alwaleed, for example, has 5-Star hotels in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, to name but a few.
With the vast potential Sierra Leone has, the KHC Chairman may grab the opportunity to invest in that country, given the favourable conditions for business, which have attracted direct foreign investment in several sectors, including the Mining Industry, Tourism, Agriculture, Marine, Energy, amongst others.
Sierra Leone – a business friendly country
Geographically, Sierra Leone covers an area of 71,710 square kilometres with Liberia to the South – East, Guinea to the North – East; and the Atlantic Ocean to the West.
The last national census conducted in 2005, pegged the population of Sierra Leone to 4.9 million but according to indicators, the population is rapidly growing towards six million.
Sierra Leone has become a choice place to do business and getting better by the second; and you can talk that to the Governor of the Central Bank, Sheku Sambadeen Sesay, who was the country’s Financial Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development until 2008, when he took up his current position.
According to him: “ Investors have the assurance of the World Bank, which recently promoted the country to the 148th position from the 163rd slot it occupied in a ranking that was considered 183rd countries the world over.”
At present, the real kick is in the upbeat prediction that Sierra Leone will move even higher in the table in the coming years to be among the top performer in this category in sub-Saharan Africa.
The signs are there for all to see. The Administrator and Registrar General’s Office has reduced the time for business registration procedures while average number of days for obtaining licenses and business permits has been cut from twenty-six days in 2008 to twelve in 2010.
“All these improvement complemented the activities of the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA) set up in 2007 to provide personalized and high value added services and information to investors and exporters working to develop proven investment opportunities in the country,” says the Governor of Bank of Sierra Leone.
Also in June, 2010, the Government of Sierra Leone went a step further by inaugurating the National Export Strategy (NES) which advocates a strong private sector-led export drive to grow the economy along the line charted by South – East Asian economies.
President Koroma’s administration is also serious about transforming Sierra Leone’s soft infrastructure, by streamlining tax administration, establishing fast track commercial courts and cutting red tape.
Such reforms have seen Sierra Leone climb 20 places in the World Bank’s annual doing business rankings in the last five years, and made the country one of the top 5 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa for investor protection and conducive atmosphere to establish business.
And now that the Government’s reform efforts have gathered momentum, a growing number of foreign investors have taken cognizance of the opportunities that Sierra Leone has to offer.
Sierra Leone’s potential for trade and industrial activities was highlighted by leaders from all over the world at the Sierra Leone Trade and Investment Forum held in London in 2009.
As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair explained at the forum, “Sierra Leone has massive natural resources and wonderful possibilities commercially in agriculture, tourism, mining and other sectors. In addition, for the first time, it now has a stable government with a president who genuinely wants to make change and root out corruption.”
Foreign investment success stories
According to the widely read European Independent Media Agency, The European Times, foreign investors already operating in Sierra Leone demonstrate the country’s potential.
French petroleum giant Total is one global investor which has put its faith in Sierra Leone and is thriving there, serving as an example to other multinationals considering an investment in the country, the Magazine reported recently.
“Local cement producer Leocem, part of Heidelberg Cement, was recently the target of around €7.7 million in investment from the parent group, a sign of confidence in Sierra Leone’s future.”
Another successful foreign investor, the Magazine added, is Maersk Sierra Leone, part of the global AP Moller – Maersk group, which has been operating in the country for many years and established a registered local company in Sierra Leone since 2003.
It also reported that Addax Bio-energy, a division of the Switzerland based Addax & Oryx Group, has established a Greenfield integrated agricultural and renewable energy project in the northern headquarters of Makeni, to produce fuel ethanol and electricity from sugarcane.
African Minerals Limited is a minerals exploration and development company with significant interests in Sierra Leone. It is listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange, and is now headquartered in London, United Kingdom.
The Company is currently focused on the development of the world class iron ore deposit at Tonkolili in northern Sierra Leone and its related rail and port infrastructure. The project is the largest employer in Sierra Leone and is set to become the largest contributor to the country’s GDP.
London Mining Company is an expanding producer of high specification iron ore for the global steel industry and is focused on identifying, developing and operating sustainable mines.
London Mining commenced sales from the Marampa mine in Sierra Leone in 2012 and expects to reach production capacity of 5Mtpa this year.
The banking system has been greatly improved since the establishment of new banks with off-shore headquarters, especially from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
These foreign banks are helping to build capacity in the country as they introduce innovations in management and modern payment systems, compatible with today’s global business imperatives.
Stakeholders in the financial system are currently gearing up for the take-off of the stock exchange, which is for now functions in a low-key mode under the auspices of the Apex Bank.
The tourism industry is becoming an attractive area for investment given the superb panorama of the beautiful beaches and mountains from the hotels in Aberdeen and other notable areas along the Atlantic Ocean in the Western Area, where the capital is located.
There are numerous places of attraction around the country which tourists would not regret visiting. Our flora and fauna, and our beautiful monuments like the famous Bounce Island where slaves were shipped to America during the Atlantic slave trade, the Tambo Kilimi Reserve in the Tambakha Chiefdom, Bombali District and other areas in Kabala, Shenge, Sulima, Pepel and Bonthe are beautiful and still remain as major tourist attraction areas in the country.
Sierra Leone is remarkably beautiful, with pristine beaches, green mountains, and jungles that remain largely untouched. It has friendly people with political and religious tolerance. Sierra Leone is blessed with the largest natural harbour in Africa.
The last five years saw rapid development in the tourist industry, thanks to the shrewd business mentality of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, who told Sierra Leoneans in his 2007 presidential campaign that, if elected, he would run Sierra Leone like a business entity. Today, the rapid development that is taking place in the country is unprecedented, to say the least.
Little wonder that foreign investors are coming to Sierra Leone in droves to invest in various sectors because all the necessary economic strategies have been put in place to make the country very business friendly.