In advancing President Julius Maada Bio’s Economic Diplomacy agenda abroad, the Sierra Leone Ambassador to Washington D.C. – also accredited to 7 other countries in North and South American countries, Sidique Abou-Bakarr Wai has made major inroads less than six months in office.
Last week, the ambassadors of all 16 West African countries in Washington D.C. unanimously agreed to put Ambassador Wai in charge of managing their collective secretariat. In this capacity, Wai will lead the group’s secretariat in engaging the United States Government in ways that present the ECOWAS group as a vibrant and unified diplomatic community, and the ECOWAS region as a common market for attracting U.S. investments.
The ECOWAS endorsement of Ambassador Wai came a week after spearheading a consultative meeting among the Mano River Union (MRU) group of ambassadors. At the meeting, the ambassadors agreed on a “one-region, one-market” diplomatic advocacy initiative for the MRU sub-region. This understanding has resulted in the development of the first ground-breaking billion-dollar one-market infrastructure concept dubbed as the Mano River Rail Transport (MRRT) project to be presented to the United States Government. The initiative is part of an effort to attract funding from the Trump administration’s 60 billion dollar Prosper Africa initiative.
The proposed project is expected to connect all four capital cities in the MRU, including Conakry, Freetown, Monrovia, and Abidjan to strategic tri-border towns around Koindu in Sierra Leone and Gbapleau in the Ivory Coast. The ultimate objective of this pacesetting project is to boast trade and transportation in the sub-region, while at the same time creating employment and numerous complementary business opportunities for both local and foreign investors.
A memorandum of understanding is being worked on by the four ambassadors and consultation is underway with their governments, top U.S. rail construction and transit management companies, and the senior leadership at the White House and the State Department in Washington.
In addition, Ambassador Wai has secured an invitation from the Governor of the state of Mississippi, Honourable Dewey Philip Bryant to President Bio, for the latter to pay a state visit to Mississippi from October 1-2, 2019.
While in the oil-rich gulf city of Biloxi, President Bio will have to opportunity to engage state and city leaders, as well as executives of oil companies and other business leaders in the gulf region. Also underway is a collaborative effort with several line ministries, including the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Freetown on a “Tourism and Trade Fair” expo proposed for mid-September in Washington D.C.
In other developments, Ambassador Wai’s team has made significant inroads in their engagement with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to make a case for the removal of Sierra Leone from the B1/B2 visa restriction. The restriction was imposed on select officials of government in Sierra Leone and two other African countries by the Trump administration in September 2017. This came because the countries in question were declared recalcitrant in accepting deportees. Sierra Leone is currently under review and is expected to be removed from the recalcitrant list at the conclusion of the review.
Ambassador Wai has also championed initiatives geared toward improving consular and other administrative services at the Washington Embassy. Staff morale, collaboration and teamwork among embassy personnel is currently at all-time high, and diaspora community engagement is in overdrive. The recent town hall meeting hosted by the Embassy in Washington D.C. dubbed as “Bringing the Embassy to the Sierra Leone Diaspora Communities in the Americas” witnessed the start of a remarkable community-based engagement and collaboration.
As a former community affairs adviser to the New York City Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly, one-time candidate for New York city-wide Public Advocate and past president and spokesman for the United Africa Congress, Ambassador Wai is no stranger to the corridors of power in the United States and the African Diaspora community in general. In Washington DC, Ambassador Wai is now at work leveraging the goodwill he has earned over the decades to make President Bio’s Economic Diplomacy agenda a success.