A very warm welcome from all the British Government Team here in Sierra Leone to our national day, a day of celebration of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 93rd birthday.
There has been much talk of Sierra Leone’s need for new friends. But I would like to focus on the value of old friends. Of the sort of friends who rise to the challenge when the chips are down and times become difficult.
The UK has been Sierra Leone’s partner and friend for a very long time. It has been a long and fruitful relationship. We played a central role in bringing the civil war to an end, and helping build the peace. We helped end the scourge of Ebola. We were there when the landslide required a quick and intense response. More recently, we demonstrated our commitment in times of trouble by providing shelter to those left homeless by the Kroo Bay fire.
That commitment has continued over the last year. The UK remains by far the biggest bilateral contributor of development assistance to Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone remains the biggest bilateral recipient of development assistance in Africa on a per capita basis.
After the successful conducting of elections about this time last year, the new government set about implementing their manifesto, as articulated through their ambitious programme, the New Direction. At its launch this time last year we welcomed HE the President’s commitment to govern inclusively for all Sierra Leoneans and to pursue the human rights agenda, in particular protecting the rights of women and girls, repealing criminal libel, and combatting FGM.
A strong, prosperous and peaceful Sierra Leone is our common objective. Sierra Leone’s long-term success matters to the UK, and this year we were pleased to welcome the new National Development Plan which sets the scene for the next 5 years. We are particularly encouraged by its emphasis on human capital, on food and agriculture, renewables, and on environmental protection.
2018 saw the British Council celebrate 75 years of cultural relations activity in Sierra Leone. A common factor in all its 75 years’ work has been the British Council’s role in linking the people of Sierra Leone with people in the UK. With no involvement in politics or commercial self-interest, the British Council in Sierra Leone is seen as an integral part of the educational and cultural landscape. Long may this continue and flourish from their iconic building, around the corner from State House on Tower Hill.
The importance the UK government places on our bilateral relationship with Sierra Leone was demonstrated again when our Minister for Africa visited Sierra Leone in May. Minister Harriet Baldwin met the new Presidential team and celebrated the co-operation between the UK and Sierra Leone. She saw how the UK’s longstanding partnership with Sierra Leone is improving the prosperity of the country. At a school where girls are being supported through UK aid to stay in school, be safe and learn, the minister witnessed how the UK is working with Sierra Leone on this priority issue.
Minister Baldwin emphasised that the UK and Sierra Leone would continue to be close Commonwealth partners, and said she wanted to build an equal partnership, focussing on long-term economic growth and educations, public health, the private sector and resilience to climate change. Sierra Leone and the UK live the example of Commonwealth cooperation though initiatives like the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy project, and the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance. The importance of Commonwealth bonds was again highlighted by one dedicated and proud Commonwealth citizen in December when he rowed the Atlantic Ocean without leaving it, having set sail from Freetown!
The minister’s was not the only high-profile visit from the UK in the past twelve months. In February Sarah, Duchess of York made her first trip to Sierra Leone to visit Street Child’s projects and to launch their new ‘Schools for Tomorrow campaign’, which is building, renovating, and re-energising 1,000 schools in Sierra Leone over the next 5 years.
After a turbulent start, we are encouraged to see the essential role of Parliament recognised. The UK will always support this institution, invaluable in any functioning democracy. In September, Members of Parliament from the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association concluded a week-long visit to Freetown where they conducted a Post-Elections Seminar for new MPs, to help build an effective, accountable and inclusive Parliament of Sierra Leone. In November, Independent Sierra Leonean MP Hon Emilia Loloh Tongi returned from the Women MPs of the World conference in London, which marked the 100-year anniversary of legislation which first gave women in the UK the right to vote. I was very happy to subsequently host female Parliamentarians here, to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing women in politics in Sierra Leone.
Throughout the year we supported the Sierra Leone government on a wide range of issues of mutual interest, and continue to do so.
We are working closely with our partners to enhance human capital across Sierra Leone, while empowering women and adolescent girls with access to family planning, education and greater livelihood opportunities. This year alone 2.7 million handbooks in English and Maths are now with pupils in support of the Government’s Free Quality School Education Initiative. We have also seen Free Health Care Drugs distributed to community health centres, hospitals and clinics across the country to improve maternal and child health. Alongside these, and many other initiatives, we continue to work closely in partnership with the government to ensure children in Sierra Leone grow up with confidence towards a brighter, fairer future for themselves, their families and their country.
The UK has also welcomed efforts by government to strengthen public financial management, increase revenue and prevent corruption. UKaid will be supporting this through a new team of advisors embedded in key ministries to help the Government achieve their ambitious agenda, as well as support to NGOs so that we bring government and civil society together to address these barriers to Sierra Leone’s development.
In July the UK hosted a disability satellite summit in the lead up to the Global Disability Summit in London, at which the Government of Sierra Leone and Sierra Leonean Disabled Persons Organisations committed to improving the lives of disabled people and ensuring their full participation in the economic and social development of Sierra Leone.
The First Lady led a high-powered delegation to the Illegal Wildlife Trade conference in November.
We applaud the increased attention the President’ and the First Lady have given to sexual and gender-based violence, and hope this concludes with concrete action that addresses this serious issue.
We have also both made commitments to uphold the rule of law and secure justice for all, and to safeguard free speech and wider freedoms and rights, including those of civil society groups and NGOs. British INGOs play a key role in the development process.
The UK’s support to Sierra Leone’s security sector continued at pace and in November we were honoured to host His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio at ISAT, so he could learn first-hand about the UK’s support to the Sierra Leonean security sector.
That support includes working with the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra Leone Police to support the country’s contribution to peace and security in Africa.
The ISAT-funded Horton Academy’s regional and cross-security sector footprint continues to expand. 10 of 14 ECOWAS countries are represented by students and instructors from militaries, national and metropolitan police forces, fire, correctional and protection services, national security agencies and road safety corps. All of which recognises the Government of Sierra Leone’s developing collaborative approach to dealing with the emerging threats confronting Africa and the sub region.
ISAT funded the recruitment and training of a cadre of 329 female officer cadets and recruits, with their six month training course having begun on the International Women’s Day weekend in March. This is a first for Sierra Leone, reflecting RSLAF’s commitment to balancing its force with a baseline of talent that properly represents Sierra Leone’s society and furthers its aspirations to operate in regional and international alliances such as the UN and AU.
ISAT’s productive partnership with Sierra Leone’s security sector is starting to bear fruit in cross-cutting issues such as maritime and border security, and countering the Illegal Wildlife Trade. This will not only improve national security, but also revenue collection and government finance – all of which creates the conditions for the necessary expansion in the private sector.
In November we commemorated 100 years since Armistice Day at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at King Tom, whilst rededicating the Cemetery after completion of its rebuilt sea wall. The occasion allowed many countries to formally remember and pay respect to all the men and women who have been killed in wars and conflicts since 1918, remembering in particular the contribution of the West African Rifles and those who lost their lives in the civil war here.
In December His Excellency joined ministers and others to pay a visit to the site of the Guma Sun military exercise. The exercise was a joint Sierra Leone/UK military exercise, in the Guma Valley Jungle training area. The Force Reconnaissance Unit of the RSLAF and C Company of 2nd Battalion, The Rifles conducted joint jungle training exercises with both sets of troops working closely together, sharing experience, knowledge and training.
I wish to give a personal congratulations to RSLAF Officer Colonel Idara Bangura, the first Sierra Leonean in many years to study at the internationally-renowned Royal College of Defence Studies in London. Elsewhere Lt Col Bob Farmar of the RSLAF is currently undertaking the tough Advanced Command and Staff Course at the UK Defence College at Shrivenham. Both are examples of UK’s continued commitment to our unique security sector relationship.
WE share the government’s desire to move the bilateral relationship from one based on aid to one based on trade. I remain committed to getting more British Companies to come and invest in Sierra Leone. This country will only really prosper when it has a vibrant and successful formal private sector. Some of that investment will come from within and from the Diaspora. But much will need to come from the international community. There are already a number of British companies doing this. I look forward to working with the government on our UK-Sierra Leone investment conference in June to announce the measures taken to further improve the business environment.
UKaid is also improving infrastructure to unblock the binding constraints for private sector growth, and we are supporting renewable energy to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels. We are investing in essential transmission infrastructure in Bo and Kenema. In partnership with the Ministry of Energy and the private sector, we are bringing electricity to nearly 100 towns across the country through modern, solar mini-grids. Elsewhere, our close partnership with the Guma Water Company will improve access to safe drinking water for 600,000 residents and businesses in Freetown, preventing leakage and supporting more sustainable use of scarce water resources.
We are supporting a more prosperous and inclusive Sierra Leone which is better able to invest in its own people and build a healthy and growing economy that can create jobs. Through our new flagship private sector development programme – Invest Salone – we look forward to developing investment partnerships with the private sector and working with the Government to improve the ease of doing business. This will catalyse investment in His Excellency’s priority sectors – agriculture, tourism and fisheries – supporting both firms and the government to enable Sierra Leone to realise the benefits of international trade.
In November, in this place, representatives from Sierra Leone’s business community, MDAs and NGOs gathered to witness the relaunch of the British Chamber of Commerce Sierra Leone. Established in 2012 to aid and encourage the development of trade, commerce and investment between Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom, the Chamber was relaunched under the theme “Sierra Leone is taking a New Direction”. As I said at the time, wealth creation can never primarily be a government business, but this can be achieved through a vibrant local private sector and overseas investment. Her Majesty’s Government and that Chamber will support Sierra Leone in this.
To further encourage dynamic and ambitious enterprise, as part of our Chevening scholarship programme, we again sent eight bright and promising Sierra Leoneans to the UK to benefit from a paid-for Master’s degree, so that they may build on their existing knowledge, and better contribute to Sierra Leone’s development upon their return. At this time of reflection we remember Mohammed Timbo, who very sadly passed away before completing his experience.
As the United Kingdom exits Europe, we will be putting greater emphasis on the Commonwealth and our friends within it. This global association of volunteers – who believe in the tangible benefits that flow from exchanging ideas and experiences and respecting each other’s point of view – is growing stronger year by year, and the advantages are plain to see.
I can reassure you that Brexit will make no difference to the beneficial market access that Sierra Leone enjoys to the UK in trade terms or to the strength of UK investments in Sierra Leone. I can also assure that we will continue to work with European partners in much the same way as we done before to help the government achieve its development targets. We still share the same values and will continue to advocate them.
Regardless of any uncertainties at home, one thing that is sure – and sure to continue – is the health, friendship, and mutual respect that exists between the UK and her old friend Sierra Leone. It is right that on the birthday of our shared Head of the Commonwealth, we recognise the path we have shared together, and look forward to furthering our mutual support and assistance in the chapters to come.
This is the last time that Karen and I will be hosting this party. We will be off to another African posting next year. So I would like to thank her and the staff of this mission and all the friends in the room for making this the best and most enjoyable posting of my career. I am very proud of the contributions that the UK has made to Sierra Leone over that period in time.
TOAST TO PRESIDENT