After showcasing all that is good in Sierra Leone to whet the appetite of investors in London to pack their bags and head to Freetown to talk business, president Julius Maada Bio on Saturday 8th June 2019 sat next to Britain’s Prime Minister – Mrs Theresa May, as they watch the Queen’s birthday trooping of the colours parade, taking place in Buckingham Palace in London.
Many Sierra Leoneans in the UK have expressed disappointment that President Bio has decided not to meet with them at a town hall meeting, where they have been invited for a chat about developments in Sierra Leone.
On Friday, 7th June 2019, a notice was published by the Sierra Leone High Commission in London saying it has cancelled the town hall meeting. But there was no reason given for the cancellation.
But watching the Queen’s Birthday Trooping of the Colours by the military explains why the President is unable to meet with his fellow citizens as planned. As James Bond would say, he is “On Her Majesty’s Service”.
There is no doubt the immense importance of President Bio’s presence at Her Majesty’s Birthday Trooping of the Colours, in terms of the special relations between Sierra Leone and Great Britain, the trade and investment spinoffs such relationship could lever.
On Friday again,President Bio was at University of Oxford where he delivered a Lecture at the Brasenose College. The subject of his talk was: “Beyond Mere Inspiration: Tackling the Challenges of Leadership in Sierra Leone”.
Listening to the President’s lecture were academics, students and policy analysts. President Bio was received at the University by John Bowers QC, Rector at the Brasenose College and Professor Wale Adebanwi, Director of the African Studies Centre.
But the main highlight of President Bio’s visit to London was the UK-Sierra Leone Trade and Investment Conference, where about 200 industrialists, UK government policy advisers and potential investors gathered to hear about what Sierra Leone has to offer.
President Bio also met with Sierra Leonean British Actor and Film Director – Idris Elba. According to report from State House, “Idris Elba has promised to transform Sherbro Island into a World-Class City”.
On the margins of the UK-Sierra Leone Trade and Investment conference, Idris Elba is said to have spoken with President Bio about his plans to transform Sherbro Island into a world-class city as part of his drive to give back to the country of his father’s birth. He said he would like to make Sherbro Island a great tourist destination. .
But such an ambitious plan does not come cheap. According to estimates, Idris Elba is believed to be worth about $25 million. He would need to find over £10 million to invest in transforming his dream into reality.
“I want to come to Sierra Leone for the first time under your fantastic leadership,” Idris Elba is understood to have told President Bio.
Speaking about the Sherbro Island vison, Elba’s advisers said that the transformation of Sherbro Island will make it a West African regional economic hub, showcasing tourism, entertainment, an international convention centre, innovative affordable housing and aquaculture.
Responding to Idris Elba and his team of advisers, President Bio thanked Idris for his ambition to invest in Sierra Leone. He assured that as a government, the project will receive his fullest support.
He said that the project will give hope to many Sierra Leoneans, adding that “I want to make every Sierra Leonean proud to return back to Sierra Leone”.
President Bio instructed that preparatory work and all necessary documentations should commence. He also advised the team to visit the Sherbro Island and engage with the community about the project.
Another possible windfall for Sierra Leone came with the announcement by Harriet Baldwin MP, Minister of State, UK Department for International Development that the British government has allocated a grant of £30 million for an ‘Invest Sierra Leone’ programme, aimed at supporting UK firms doing business in Sierra Leone and to improve investment drive.
Speaking about some of the big plans the Bio-led government has for Sierra Leone, Dr. John Tambi, Chairman of the Presidential Infrastructure Initiative said: “We are going to radically transform Sierra Leone within 5 years……..From a Lungi / Freetown Bridge to a Sea Port facility in Bonthe, many areas in Sierra Leone have been mapped out to benefit from a nationally-enhancing development drive.
“The Lungi Bridge will be an 8 kilometre 6 lane bridge, with 120 years lifespan. There is going to be a New Lungi airport terminal, and new tourist hub, creating at least 5000 jobs a year. “
Sierra Leone needs at least $700 million of investments to build its fishery, tourism, agro-processing and forestry-based industries that could create hundreds of thousands of jobs across the supply and value chains in various districts of the country.
Will the investors present at the UK-Sierra Leone Trade and Investment Conference last Thursday in London, along with Idris Elba rise to this challenge?
Will President Bio’s presence at Her Majesty the Queen’s Birthday celebrations in London, pave the way for more British government financial support and leveraging of much needed private sector investments? Only time will tell.