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UK Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham delivers speech at the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Party

UK Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham delivers speech at the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Party

As UK representative to Sierra Leone’s 50th Anniversary of Independence Celebrations,  Henry Bellingham MP (in photo), UK Minister for Africa at celebrations marking Her Majesty’s birthday party said “It is a great pleasure to be here in Freetown at such a moment, for Sierra Leone is on the cusp of a better and brighter future. Fifty years after attaining independence; 10 years after the end of a bitter and bloody civil war; three and a half years after the present administration came into office; a little over one year before a historic fourth post-war election, Sierra Leone is set to complete a difficult transition and to step forwards into the bright uplands of a better and brighter future for all Sierra Leoneans”.  Below is his full speech.

Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, fellow Ministers, the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

It is a great pleasure to be here in Freetown at such a moment, for Sierra Leone is on the cusp of a better and brighter future. Fifty years after attaining independence; 10 years after the end of a bitter and bloody civil war; three and a half years after the present administration came into office; a little over one year before a historic fourth post-war election, Sierra Leone is set to complete a difficult transition and to step forwards into the bright uplands of a better and brighter future for all Sierra Leoneans.

Sierra Leone is a rare success story for West Africa. The ten years since the end of the civil war have seen slow but steady progress including:

  • a functioning democracy at the service of its people that has seen a rare peaceful handover of power from one party to another in a democratic election;
  • Refurbishment and extension of national infrastructure essential for a successful economy and a functioning society – roads, electricity, water, school, clinics ;
  • Macro-economic stability at a difficult time in the global economic cycle;
  • Steady economic growth with the prospect of a step change upwards when minerals exploitation plays its proper part in the development of the economy and of the country.

The UK and international community continue to support this progress and we welcome Sierra Leonean efforts to shoulder a greater burden themselves. We encourage them, their government and their institutions to grasp the reins of their own future confidently. All the many friends of Sierra Leone here tonight look forward to this magnificent country completing its transition: a confident, independent and self-sufficient Sierra Leone was the ambition of those citizens who took the first proud steps into independence fifty long years ago; it remains the ambition of the citizens of today; and it is becoming a reality once more.

As a friend of Africa and a friend of Sierra Leone I follow events in this region closely. I was very pleased when the different sides in Guinea found compromises that avoided conflict and allowed the installation of a democratically elected government. I was deeply concerned when the election result in Ivory Coast was rejected by that country’s President and fighting resumed. I am relieved that there, too, the situation has taken a turn for the better, though President Ouattara has an urgent and difficult task ahead of him to bring genuine reconciliation to a country riven for so long by political and factional tension. I was encouraged by the proactive stance of the President of Sierra Leone, leading regional efforts to avoid conflict immediately following the election; a sign of this country’s increasing confidence in regional affairs. I must also take this opportunity to commend my officials in Abidjan who put their lives in danger in an effort to support a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Countries like these look to Sierra Leone’s example for encouragement. They and the rest of the world will be looking to see this country take its next step along the democratic road in 2012. Their example shows us that success comes only when key factors are in place:

  • A government that genuinely supports the democratic process, allows free expression of political opinion and undertakes to step down without question if the electorate decides it want different leaders:
  • Political parties that put country before narrow political interest and strive always to work with their colleagues and rivals to find practical, affordable and appropriate solutions to problems before them;
  • Candidates that campaign passionately on the issues but accept that their opponents’ point of view has weight and that there is room for diversity of opinion, preference and ideology;
  • Winners who accept that they have been elected to strive for the benefit of all their electorate, not just those who voted for them on the day;
  • And losers who accept the voice of the people and, until the next time they are given a chance to set out before the electorate their case for government, work energetically but positively to ensure that the government of the day is effective, honest and efficient in its dealings with the issues.

I see all of these elements here in Sierra Leone. But they will only work properly to bring about a successful election – whichever side wins – if all of the actors, high and low, play their proper part. I met some of them today and will meet others tomorrow. As the weeks and months pass, I look forward to hearing from the High Commissioner and his team how they get on.

Ladies and gentlemen, sustainable development in Sierra Leone, in West Africa, in Africa as a whole, can only be underpinned by sustained economic development which in turn depends on increased investment. Looking around at those countries that have successfully grown out of poverty – Korea, India, Mexico to name but three – the importance of partnership is crystal clear. Partnership between public and private sectors. Partnership between government and civil society. Partnership between national and international investors. For example we have partnered tonight with Standard Chartered Bank, the oldest British business in Sierra Leone, which in turn has partnered with communities in Bo and Freetown to deliver health and education projects.

The UK is proud of its contribution to helping the Sierra Leone economy to grow, especially but not exclusively through our support for the London Conference in 2009. 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. One initiative that has great potential has been the creation of the Salone Business Network formed to support SL’s efforts to raise her international profile and attract blue chip companies.

Sierra Leone’s resource wealth and natural beauty have the potential to transform the country. Fertile soils that can become the basis for a successful and lucrative contribution to solving the food shortages that are pushing up prices around the world. Minerals – iron ore, diamonds, gold, rutile and potentially oil could truly transform the economy of this country and the lives of its people.

But success cannot be assured. Careful thought and difficult decision-making will be needed. Experience elsewhere demonstrates that economic development can have both positive and negative consequences. To ensure that Sierra Leone reaps the benefits of agriculture, tourism and natural wealth it is crucial to bear in mind:

  • Transparency: both by companies and governments to maintain credibility and ensure efficient bureaucratic process;
  • Equity: a fair return for the government, the people and the companies investing their cash and their knowledge;
  • Competition: companies have to exert themselves to the utmost to ensure they are the most profitable, most flexible and pay the best wages to attract the best workers.

Similarly, to attract the best businesses and ensure that Sierra Leone sees the full benefits of commercial development, the necessary institutions and processes must be in place:

  • A dynamic anti-corruption commission to ensure the rules are followed and the Government and people of Sierra Leone receive their fair share of profit;
  • Clear and consistent legal norms so that government, companies, investors and workers alike know where they stand;
  • A credible and proactive Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA) to compete in the international market place to attract the best and the brightest investors.

We see 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.

British High Commission, Freetown

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