By Unisa Dizo-Conteh, London, UK.
On November 18, the Government of Sierra Leone together with Department For International Development (DFID), the World Bank and the United Nations (UN), will host, in London, an investment conference that will showcase the opportunities of doing business in Sierra Leone. The President of Sierra Leone will passionately tell potential international investors that Sierra Leone is ready for business and the country offers exciting investment opportunities – such as ongoing economic reforms and peace and stability. But the youth of Sierra Leone offers even bigger investment opportunities for Sierra Leone.
At the United Nations Conference in New York recently, President Ernest Bai Koroma was delighted to announce to the world the changes his government had made to improve the climate for investment. He also talked about the vast opportunities that the country offers its investors.
“Last year, the country was named the ’easiest place to open a new business’ in West Africa by the World Bank,” President Koroma said. He went on to say that “...from minerals to fishing, from agriculture to energy, the opportunities for investors are enormous and tangible”.
The President’s claim is supported by prominent international bodies, such as the World Bank. Mary Agboli, Operations Officer for the International Finance Corporation, (IFC) a member of the World Bank Group, expressed confidence in Sierra Leone’s efforts in creating an enabling business climate. Mary said that the country had demonstrated that it is “increasingly committed to reform agendas that make it easier to do business.”
At the UN Conference, the President was quick to point out specific sectors were improvement are being made. President Koroma said tourism is expanding and “the first guidebook to the country has already sold out, and we are one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 destinations this year.” He added: “We have beautiful beaches, world class fishing and diving, and a rich cultural and historical heritage to explore.”
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom the president described as his ‘good friend,’ reiterated the President’s convincing message and he went further by revealing some essential examples of the country’s potentials for investments.
Tony Blair said that he had seen firsthand the changes being made on the ground by the Government of Sierra Leone to stimulate investment in the country. He talked about the country’s “development of essential policies around investment incentives and public-private partnerships...and real investment opportunities and projects...such as a multi-million pound investment in palm oil, the opportunity to privatize the port, and new hotel developments on Sierra Leone’s world class beaches.”
There is also the fact that Sierra Leone, after its civil war ended 7 years ago, continues to enjoy peace and stability. The country proved it is politically stable as demonstrated by the peaceful transfer of power from the then ruling party to an opposition party after the later had won a general elections two years ago. The UN recently noted that although this journey would be “bumpy,” the country “had embarked on a remarkable journey towards a stable, peaceful and democratic country.”
But, there is something that makes Sierra Leone ticks more largely in terms of business investment. The country’s youth provide even better opportunities for investors looking to invest in Sierra Leone. The youth account for 60 percent of the country’s entire population – the largest in sub-Saharan Africa.
Modern world is changing rapidly and this changing wave brings along opportunities as well as uncertainties for investors. As a result, businesses must develop a new approach to make good use of the opportunities and deal with the challenges effectively. For businesses to survive they will need to choose a workforce that is flexible and highly talented to be able to adapt to this change. Their adaptability makes the youth central to any level of sustainable business growth in Sierra Leone.
Additionally, the youth have demonstrated huge self-discipline by not giving up, despite the negative impact of the war in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leonean youth, at home and in the diaspora, have shown enormous determination to participate in national development, and this in turn will surely benefit investors.
There are signs that the government of Sierra Leone is implementing strategies that would give young people in the country a true chance to further improve their skills and experience for future employment. The government is on course to set up the National Youth Commission, which is believed would better equip the youth to participate effectively in the labour market; something that will also provide huge benefit for investors.
There is no doubt that the reasons for international investors to consider Sierra Leone as their choice for investment are many. But the real asset that would guarantee national stability, higher returns and sustainability is the youth of Sierra Leone.
*Unisa Dizo-Conteh is the leader of one of Sierra Leone’s most dynamic youth organisations, Young Leaders-Sierra Leone (www.youngleaders-sierraleone.org), which provides a platform for young Sierra Leonean professionals at home and in the Diaspora to participate in nation building through dialogue, education, advocacy, networking, and development. Dizo also works as outreach officer for Sierra Leone Diaspora Network (www.sldn.org.uk) an organization working to promote investment opportunities in Sierra Leone.