By M.B. Jalloh, Press Attaché, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States and Central Asia
Following the drastic reduction in the number of new Ebola cases in the West African states of Guinea and Sierra Leone, while Liberia has been recently declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization after attaining forty-two days without recording any new case, the Governments of the three Mano River Union countries have been making tremendous efforts to get the International Community and their development partners on board the post-Ebola recovery development programmes.
Since the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the sub-region early last year, its impact had been the devastation on their national economies and the death of nearly ten thousand people. Last month, United States President Barack Obama invited the Presidents of the three most Ebola affected countries to the United States to chart a way forward for the post-Ebola recovery. Their meeting with President Obama at the White House was reported to be very fruitful. The three Heads of State also held another fruitful meeting with senior officials of the World Bank.
In Sierra Leone, while His Excellency the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma is doing all he could to take the country back on track in terms of development and poverty alleviation, there are also other Government officials at home and abroad that are in high spirit to ensure the post-Ebola recovery plans becomes a landmark. One of them is Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Iran, H.E Dr. Muhammad B. Fofana who is also accredited to other Central Asian countries.
Dr. Fofana has just concluded a three – day official visit to Turkey. He was invited by the prestigious Ondokuz Mayis University (OMU) in Samsun city as a Guest Speaker for all West African Countries where he showcased the investment opportunities in the sub region as a whole and Sierra Leone in particular to the numerous Turkish Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Managing Directors (MDs) of Multinational Companies at an
International Conference titled: “The Turkish Investment Partnership and Educational Relations in Africa.”
During the visit, the Envoy, who was accompanied by his Ankara- based Honorary Consul General, Sozer Ozel held his first official meeting with the Rector of the Ondokuz Mayis University, Governor and Mayor of Samsun City – a city in the North Coast of Turkey in the Black Sea Region.
During a courtesy call on the Governor, Ibrahim Sahin, the Ambassador had a very fruitful discussion with him bordering on Sierra Leone’s post-Ebola recovery plans. The top Turkish Official in Samsun and the top Sierra Leonean Diplomat in the region discussed a range of issues: Health, Education, Tourism, Agriculture and Direct Foreign Investment.
Amongst other things, the Envoy persuaded the Governor to urge Turkish investors to invest big time in Sierra Leone, noting that the country has a lot of investment potentials with untapped resources to invest in. He also dilated on the point that President Ernest Bai Koroma has created a friendly business environment that has been and continues to attract more foreign investors into Sierra Leone. President Koroma’s Envoy, therefore, urged the Governor to encourage more Turkish investors to do business in Sierra Leone during the post-Ebola recovery era.
In his response, the Governor of Samsun sympathized with Sierra Leone for the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease and its impact on the national economy and human lives. Governor Sahin emphasized that they were ready to support the Sierra Leone post-Ebola recovery plans in line with what Ambassador Fofana highlighted.
The Governor also recalled that Turkey was one of the first countries to render assistance to Sierra Leone when the virus struck last year. He assured that Turkey would always support Sierra Leone in terms of dire need. The discussion between the two Government officials ended on a very good note with Ambassador Fofana beaming with smile for such diplomatic break-through.
The Ambassador, who does not believe in arm-chair diplomacy, also engaged the Mayor of the cosmopolitan city, Yusuf Zirya Yilmaz, to keep him abreast of Sierra Leone’s post-Ebola recovery plans and the need for the International Community and friends of Sierra Leone to aid the implementation of those plans. One of the major issues they discussed was the twining of some Turkish cities with some cities in Sierra Leone. Based on the suggestions made by Ambassador Fofana, the Turkish Mayor has already invited the Mayor of the Freetown Municipality, His Worship Franklyn Sam Bode Gibson to Turkey to start working out modalities on the twining process and to see how best they
can develop the two cities.
The Ambassador was also able to convince the Mayor about the need to develop other cities in Sierra Leone to modern standards. They also agreed that one or two other Mayors from Sierra Leone should travel with the Mayor of Freetown to Turkey for knowledge and experience sharing in order to identify the problems they often encounter in running their respective municipalities.
Ambassador Fofana also had a fruitful discussion with his hosts, the Rector, Professor Dr. Husan Akan and some Professors of the Ondokuz University. The diplomat expressed the need for Turkey to encourage more Sierra Leonean students from the four regions of the country by providing them with scholarships to study Sciences, Diplomacy, Tourism, Medicine, Engineering, Journalism, and other professional courses in Turkey since the country has few professionals in those disciplines.
He specifically requested for the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS) in Sierra Leone to be affiliated with the School of Medicine in Samsun. The Rector welcomed the idea and it was unanimously agreed that within the next few months a Memorandum of Understanding would be signed with regards the proposal made by the Ambassador. It was also agreed that some education authorities from Turkey would be visiting Sierra Leone to conduct Annual Entrance Examinations for scholarships at University level, to enable more Sierra Leoneans to study in different Turkish Universities.
The Rector also disclosed that there are about 250 African students from 44 countries only in his university and that there are more Africans in the more than 200 Turkish Universities. He promised to see more students admitted in his university before his four years term comes to an end.
In Istanbul, the Ambassador was accompanied by his Honorary Consul, Aziz Ihsanoglu where he engaged the famous IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation active in more than 100 countries around the world. He made it very clear to them that Sierra Leone needs more humanitarian support than ever before. He, therefore, appealed to them to send more humanitarian relief to the nook and cranny of the country; especially in areas that were hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak.
IHH have been operating in Sierra Leone by helping vulnerable communities even before the outbreak of the wicked epidemic. The Secretary General of the organization, Huseyin Oruc, in his response, promised to give consideration to the Ambassador’s request.
The Ambassador was also a guest of one of Turkey’s renowned TV stations, Haberasks TV where he also informed the station’s larger audience about the huge investment potentials in the West Africa sub region. The eloquent Ambassador emphasized the need for a new strategic partnership with Africa for the mutual benefit of Turkey. He identified certain areas for possible investments in West Africa and Sierra Leone in particular such as: Agriculture, Infrastructure, Fisheries, Tourism Industry, Mining, Telecommunication etc.
“The potential for highly profitable foreign investment in West Africa is enormous and numerous investment promotion agencies have been set up across the region to publicize West Africa’s economic opportunities to facilitate investment,” the Ambassador told the moderator, Daggs Eker, a veteran Turkish female Journalist.
The Ambassador concluded his official visit by meeting with fellow Sierra Leonean nationals who welcomed him to Turkey. Addressing the group of Sierra Leoneans, most of them students, both in Istanbul and Samsun, the Ambassador told them to portray Sierra Leone a safe trade and investment destination to Turkish entrepreneurs and investors.
He briefed them on the political and socio-economic situation at home and that the macro economic situation had significantly improved because of the hard but sound financial disciplinary measures taken by the Ernest Koroma-led APC Government.
According to him, the “government has over the years succeeded in laying a solid foundation by implementing policies and programmes that has significantly transformed the landscape of Sierra Leone and created the enabling environment for the private sector to thrive.”
He also urged them to remain law-abiding and be focused on what they are doing out there. He also appealed to them to return home and contribute to national development when they complete their courses. In their response, the nationals promised to return home and assist the Sierra Leone Government in its development strides. They also promised to remain law-abiding in order to maintain the bilateral relationship between the two countries respectively.
At the end of his official visit to Turkey, the Ambassador was able to woo many investors and some of them personally assured him of their readiness to go and invest in Sierra Leone as part of their contribution to the post-Ebola recovery plans. Ambassador Fofana’s successful visit to Turkey shows that he believes more in robust economic diplomacy than arm-chair diplomacy.