“I’ve challenged Sierra Leoneans — and I’m sure they’ve accepted the challenge — that in the next 50 years, we are not only going to transform ourselves from a low-income country, but we will get ourselves to the level of middle-income country,” says President Ernest Bai Koroma.
“By the next 50 years, Sierra Leone will be a donor nation rather than a recipient nation,” Koroma adds.
Koroma, who’s been Sierra Leone’s president since 2007, spoke to Marketplace Africa about the Bumbuna project and other development strategies aimed at bringing in more investors. An edited version of the interview follows.
CNN: As president, how do you rally a society past the trauma of war and help it keep the eye focused on the future?
Ernest Bai Koroma: We have had our difficult past and we don’t want to stick on the past. We want to focus on the future and that is why we are galvanizing the people to ensure that we learn from the mistakes of the past. We have opportunities, we have a great potential out there and Sierra Leone will transform itself.
I have made a pronouncement during our 50th anniversary celebrations that as a nation we have to look at our 50 years as a period of not only celebrating but reflecting on the issues of the past — also using the mistakes of the past as lessons to ensure that our future and the next 50 years will be a future of a difference.
And I’ve challenged Sierra Leoneans — and I’m sure they’ve accepted the challenge — that in the next 50 years, we are not only going to transform ourselves from a low-income country, but we will get ourselves to the level of middle-income country and by the next 50 years, Sierra Leone will be a donor nation rather than a recipient nation.
CNN: It’s been 10 years since the war, look ahead the next 10 years, where do you see Sierra Leone?
EBK: Sierra Leone will have developed democratic values, to the point where it will no longer be considered as a fragile state. With all of the opportunities that avail themselves in the mineral sector, the agriculture sector, the tourism, we should be able to transform ourselves to a medium-level country.
I believe with these gains we have made, we are not going to rest, we are going to continue to press on and Sierra Leone will be the place for investment opportunities. And with that, I’m sure within the next 10 years, Sierra Leone will be completely different.
We will have basic infrastructures established, the road network will be up and about; communications, we’ll be landing a fiber optic by next month and it will enhance our communication; educational sectors are now going through a reform process and we will continue to provide leadership and Sierra Leone will be completely different in the next 10 years.
CNN: In many fragile post conflict states, the key challenge is infrastructure and making sure the infrastructure is able to manage the rebuilding of the whole country and the whole society.
EBK: We quickly agreed on prioritizing our development agenda, and we call it in Sierra Leone, the Agenda for Change. And (in) that agenda we have energy, agriculture, infrastructure, health and education as the key sectors that should be given a priority and attention…We believe that because of our agriculture potential, if we enhance our agricultural productivity, we will not only be addressing the issues of food, self -sufficiency but we’ll be addressing the issues of employment creation and also poverty reduction.
CNN: Sierra Leone, right now, is one of the least electrified countries in sub-Sahara Africa but now you have this Bumbuna Hydroelectric project — what are the immediate benefits for the economy and for the people of Sierra Leone?
EBK: We inherited a very difficult situation in the energy sector. It was a sector that had less than 10 megawatts of energy provision for the whole country. That is why we, as a government, worked on the completion of the Bumbuna Hydroelectric Project, it is a project that has been well under construction for over 30 years…and people are realizing the benefits.
Some of them have increased their domestic and economic activities because of a constant energy generation and they know that at the end of the day, “if I pay my bills, I will continue to enjoy the supply and I enjoy the supply, I will be able to provide the services that will provide me an income,” so I think it is a win-win situation.