An eloquent Mrs. Zainab Bangura, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Sierra Leone kept the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission’s Sierra Leone Country SpecificÂ Configuration , stakeholders and delegates spellboundÂ last Friday as she made a strongÂ and powerful case for further assistance to her country as her government strives to strengthen gains made so far in good governance , transparent and accountable stewardship and post-war socio-economic and political reconstruction .
Mrs. Bangura was responding to questions posed by the Representative of the United States of America during a debriefing session by the Peacebuilding Commission delegation that had just completed a field trip to Sierra Leone to monitor events on the ground in advance of the Fourth Report of the UN Secretary General on the activities of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office (UNIPSIL), pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1886 mandating him to submit a report on the activities of UNIPSIL every six months, a process that often leads to the extension ofÂ the UNIPSIL mandate in Sierra Leone for another 12 months .Â
The U.S Representative wanted to be enlightened onÂ three things : Firstly theÂ proposedÂ U.S.$46 millionÂ ‘Joint Response to Youth Employment in Sierra Leone’Â program to be financedÂ by the World Bank, the German Technical Cooperation and the UN ,which is projected to provide 160, 000 jobs for Sierra Leone’s youths ; Secondly, he wanted her to explainÂ how the PBC can geneer economic support for Sierra Leone and thirdly , he needed to know about the prospects in the mining and extractive industries in whichÂ Australia plans to invest.
Responding to the questions and other matters raised by other representatives during the session, Zainab Bangura said that if one looked at President Ernest Koroma’s Agenda For Change,Â He would notice that it has a great concentration on Agriculture. The unemployed and idle youths of Sierra Leone could find gainful employment there , if the necessary investment was made in that area. In an eloquent demonstration of Sierra Leone’s potentials for becoming self-sufficient in food production, the Foreign Minister told the session that Sierra Leone was blessed with rich,fertile and arable soil. “By investing in Agriculture, you will do a lot for my country. This is why President Koroma has prioritized agriculture.There are lots of potentials there”, she explained.Â She said that the President has asked all Sierra Leoneans, including ministers and public officials, Â to go back to the soil.” I too will be cultivating hundreds of acres “.She promised and assured the session that whatever investment was made in Agriculture in Sierra Leone would not go in vain.
Mrs.Bangura also stated that much-needed investment could be made in small business enterprises in Sierra Leone. She told the session that government had put in place structures that now ensure that business is conducted smoothly in the country. Government has removed all the red tapes and bureaucracies involved in registering business in Sierra Leone, she said. “You can now register a company in 48 hours”, she intimated.Â
Another useful area of investment in Sierra Leone is infrastructure, which could help to provide thousands of jobs for youth. She stated that President Koroma last told Parliament that his government “is a government of infrastructure.” The Minister said Sierra Leone was not only constructing or rehabilitating trunk roads, but feeder roads, which would enable farmers to bring their produce to towns. Poor roads, she said, made it difficult to achieve socio-economic growth and help given Sierra Leone to reconstruct her infrastructure would be highly appreciated.
The Foreign Minister also pointed to the airport and quay as areas that help is needed. Sierra Leone, she said, has one of the best natural harbours, which if fully developed, would bring tremendous revenue.Â Government, she went on, was also planning to commercialize the airport. “We are talking to the Chinese to build us one of the best international airports. If we develop our ports, we can export our goods, as Sierra Leone has tremendous potentials.but all of these things we cannot do on our own .We need help.”
The minister said that another way Sierra Leone can grow is through development of private sector partnerships and she also appealed for help in that sector.Â
She gave a graphic picture of the high rate of rural-to-urban migration, which poses another serious problem and increases the frustration of lack of jobs. She said that a situation has been created where the village population in Sierra Leone consists of only old people as all the young had gone to the city. The middle level and the more productive are gone. They who should be working on the farms are no more. She advocated strongly for commercial farming which would be bring the young people back to the rural areas. She re-echoed the fact thatÂ long-term investments in youth development and in agriculture and micro-credits would curb the problem of urban migration.
Mrs. Bangura also highlighted the brain drain in Sierra Leone.Â She said that Sierra Leone produces doctors and nurses but she cannot retain them because she does not have money to pay them competing salaries and benefits like other countries. She also stated that Sierra Leone does not have the skilled personnel with the capacity to engage partners. The PBC, she appealed could help Sierra Leone create hope through an expansion ofÂ training and opportunities .
She also called on the PBC to help Sierra Leone overcome bureaucratic delays and conditionalities to expedite donor contributions.Â The country needs help also in getting non-traditional donors and in the coordination of donors.Â
Sierra Leone’s Foreign Minister also called for help in the development of political parties. She indicated that Sierra Leone’s political parties were financially strapped and too tied to patrons. She stressed that undue attachments to patrons has an inimical effect on political parties as these patrons may want political pay for their support. She also appealed for vehicles to help political parties campaign better.Â
On the question of Sierra Leone’s mining and extractive enterprises, Mrs Bangura called for what she described as a supporting roleÂ in the utilization of Sierra Leone’s natural resources . She informed the session that oil has been discovered in Sierra Leone and it will be known in a few months the commercial potentials of this resource .She warned that short-term profiteers would flood Sierra Leone and the country would need the engagement of development partners to solve this problem.
After Mrs. Bangura’s presentation, many delegates and representatives commended her for her powerful , insightful and eloquent answers.
The Chair of the Peacebuilding Sierra Leone Country Specific Configuration , Canada’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Mr. John McNee promised that the PBC will continue to be committed to Sierra Leone as she strives to consolidate peace and develop a strong economic base.Leeroy Wilfred Kabs-Kanu, Minister Plenipotentiary, Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the UN, NY, USA