Koroma woos foreign investors for post-Ebola growth
Sierra Leone is still counting the costs of the Ebola epidemic, not least on its economy which contracted in 2014 and 2015, after several years of solid growth. Now the West African country is trying to woo back investors and attract new ones.
Though Sierra Leone has been declared free of the dreaded Ebola since last October, foreign companies are slow to return after abandoning the country in early 2014 because of the outbreak of the epidemic.
Until the Ebola crisis the West African country had been posting impressive double-digit economic growth rates for several years and the administration of President Ernest Koroma was praised for its investment-friendly policies.
The devastating epidemic caused a 20 per cent contraction of the country’s economy in 2014 and 2015, and to reverse the trend and return to the path of sustainable development, the country is wooing back old investors and new ones.
The Sierra Leone government used the UK-Sierra Leone Trade & Investment Forum, which took place early in the year in London, to promote its Post-Ebola Recovery Plan aimed at restoring and strengthening private sector-led growth and encouraging new inward investment.
At the Forum, organised by Developing Markets Associates (DMA), the government presented its investment priorities for key sectors – including extractive industries, agriculture and infrastructure – to senior figures from the international business and investment community.
Samura Kamara, the Sierra Leonean Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, read an address from President Ernest Koroma in which he said: “Ebola closed the door on us for over a year, but we have defeated the evil virus and today we are partnering with DMA to showcase the great investment opportunities in Sierra Leone.”
Koroma stressed his government’s strong focus on the private sector. “It is this belief in the centrality of the private sector in our economic transformation that brought billions of dollars’ worth of investment to Sierra Leone before Ebola struck,” he said.
According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, net foreign direct investment into Sierra Leone totalled US$2 billion between 2010 and 2014, up from $402 million in the previous five years. President Koroma attributed this steep increase in investment to “political stability and sound macroeconomic fundamentals”. He added: “These opportunities still exist, and this private sector friendliness still exists.”
Coming from the business sector, President Koroma said: “I do understand and fully appreciate the workings and challenges of the private sector more than any other president our country has had; and I have always lent the authority of my office to create the environment for businesses to thrive.”
President Koroma assured investors: “Sierra Leone offers a gateway for private businesses to either invest alone or in public-private partnerships in priority areas such as electrification, ports, airports and toll road concessions, highways, subways and railways, mass social housing, water treatment plants and irrigation as well as information and communication technologies.”
The UK’s Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, hoped that the Forum would be a pushing point that would help Sierra Leone to move its economy forward. He announced that the UK Government was committed to supporting Sierra Leone’s recovery. “We have pledged over £240 million (€309 million) over the next two years to support the President’s plans for recovery,” Duddridge said. “It’s not about aid. It’s about business and there are huge areas for private sector involvement,” he emphasised, encouraging British companies to look towards the West African country.
Analysts consider Sierra Leone a haven of investment opportunities due to its rich mineral deposits, huge potential in renewable energy, in particular solar and hydro-electric, its strategic shipping location on the Atlantic seaboard of West Africa, with one of the largest natural harbours in the world, as well as its millions of hectares of forests and fertile agricultural land and abundant fish stocks.