Sierra Leone is deeply grateful for the aid, Britain – but now let’s trade

Sierra Leone is deeply grateful for the aid, Britain – but now let’s trade

On 17th October 2014, the Royal Navy’s medical ship Argus set sail for Sierra Leone. Its cargo: hospital beds, medical equipment, off-road vehicles and a crew of brave men and women heading straight into one of the worst health crises of the 21st century. The Ebola epidemic was ravaging West Africa – Sierra Leone alone was experiencing 20 deaths a day. At a time when all hope seemed lost, RFA Argus pulled into Freetown.

My country owes the UK a debt of gratitude for helping win the fight against Ebola – and also for much more. Britain played the lead role in ending our bloody civil war, afterwards providing much of the aid we needed to start our recovery and rebuild as a nation. Today the UK is Sierra Leone’s largest development partner. But this is unsustainable – for both of us.

That’s why as a candidate for President in Sierra Leone’s general election this week, I am pledging to begin the process of transitioning my country from aid-dependent to trade-dependent – becoming a reliable and stable partner for Britain in business, security and prosperity instead.

We commence this move grounded on one of the most interconnected relationships with the UK of any Commonwealth or African country – and on the new opportunities presented to both our nations to strengthen those relations further, after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

Though cautiously optimistic following that result, we were at first uncertain how it would impact relations between us when, for 45 of the 57 years since Sierra Leone gained independence from the UK, Britain has been a member of the EU.

Fortunately, in June last year, Guy Warrington – the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone – allayed any residual concerns, stating in no uncertain terms:

“The opportunities are there. Britain is open for tariff-free trade with Sierra Leone. Let’s make that work for Salone’s businesses, jobs, and people.”

We are ready to seize those opportunities. Since my party, the All People’s Congress (APC), was elected into government in 2007, we have worked to build Leone up from the rubble of the Civil War into a middle-income economy. Our target year for that transition to be complete is 2035.

By focusing on improving infrastructure, expanding healthcare facilities, increasing access to education and creating jobs Sierra Leone now has – as determined by the IMF in 2016 – the second fastest-growing economy in the world. Once we had the very poorest.

My election manifesto outlines how we plan to sustain and speed our economic growth, working towards increasing the value of Foreign Direct Investment to at least £2.4 billion by 2035.

This is the year we also set as the target date for aid dependency to be overtaken by funding through trade and our own means. We know that the people of Sierra Leone agree with the need to make that change: indeed, they’ve been telling me and my party as we’ve met and engaged with them during the current election campaign.

Once that contest is over, regardless of the result, it can be said for certain that the people of Sierra Leone will stand together with the British people as they embark on their own journey into the future. We will welcome them as they prepare to set sail from the EU, re-focusing towards older, more familiar, shores. As they draw that anchor and follow the path set by RFA Argus and make for Sierra Leone, they will find waiting on the other side a stable, dependable partner, and – most importantly – a loyal friend.