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Sierra Leone: Celebrating 50 Years of Independence

Sierra Leone: Celebrating 50 Years of Independence

After four busy, hot, and lively days in Sierra Leone I am sad to be leaving, but enthused by the spirit of positivity I have encountered.  As I leave I am taking up Ian Hughes’ offer to provide a guest contribution to the High Commissioner’s blog, with my thoughts on what has been a highly satisfying visit.  (Photo: Henry Bellingham MP, UK Minister for Africa)

I heard from President Koroma about his inspired decision to ask Sierra Leoneans to rededicate themselves to national reconciliation, starting with a national conference to develop a consensus on what citizens of your great country hope to achieve together over the coming years and decades. I pledged British support for the Minister for Trade and a group of businessmen and entrepreneurs who want to generate jobs and bring general prosperity by galvanising the national economy. And at a meeting with the Minister for Internal Affairs, I supported proposals to create a genuine partnership between international donors and Sierra Leonean law enforcement that would bring strategic coherence to our shared ambition to improve national security and improve access to effective justice for all Sierra Leoneans.

Yesterday, I was privileged to be at the national stadium when Sierra Leone celebrated 50 years of Independence.  It was a great pleasure to be in Freetown at such a moment. 10 years after coming out of the abyss, this country is set to complete a difficult transition and to step towards the confident, independent and self-sufficient Sierra Leone that was the ambition of those citizens who took the first proud steps into independence fifty long years ago.  The sense of optimism in the national stadium yesterday will stay with me for a long time.

My time here has shown me that Sierra Leone is a rare success story for West Africa.  Over the last four days I have seen evidence of a functioning democracy; a steadily growing national infrastructure; and the seeds of steady economic growth.

The UK, along with the international community, continues to support this progress and we welcome Sierra Leoneans efforts to shoulder a greater burden themselves. We look forward to seeing this country take its next step along the democratic road in 2012.  But I strongly believe this will only happen if all of the actors, high and low, play their proper part. I met some of them during my time here and as the weeks and months pass, I look forward to hearing from the High Commissioner and his team how they get on.

The UK is proud of its contribution to helping the Sierra Leone economy to grow.  But we are determined to work even more closely with government and business to help the economy grow, to generate wealth, to create jobs and to increase government revenues to enable this country to stand on its own two feet.  It is my ambition that trade between our two nations grows.  By next year, I would like the volume of trade to match our bilateral aid to Sierra Leone.  Going further, by 2013 I want bilateral trade to have doubled to £100million, and doubled again to £200million, by 2015.

Sierra Leone’s resource wealth and evident natural beauty have the potential to transform the country. Careful thought and difficult decision-making will be needed to ensure that Sierra Leone reaps the benefits of agriculture, tourism and natural resources and to attract the best businesses.  Since Sunday, I have seen evidence of this all around Sierra Leone as the country develops and grows.  The UK looks forward to standing with Sierra Leone over the next fifty years to make this a reality.  And I look forward to visiting this wonderful country again, in the not too distant future. I can’t wait to come back.

Guest blog by Henry Bellingham MP, UK Minister for Africa http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/ianhughes/entry/sierra_leone_celebrating_50_years

British High Commission, Freetown.

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