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Robertson Safi’s dream has come to pass as oil is discovered in Sierra Leone

Robertson Safi’s dream has come to pass as oil is discovered in Sierra Leone

The discovery of oil in Sierra Leone is an indication that we are indeed a rich country in terms of mineral deposit. At one point, a friend had asked me rhetorically ‘how quick the tide can turn in Africa, especially for the courageous’. He was, as a matter of fact referring to the announcement on September 16 this year by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation of an oil discovery in offshore Sierra Leone, which he says, ‘brings great joy to the people of this improvised country…’

The issue of oil discovery in poor Sierra Leone has triggered a lot of debate among ordinary people.   The expectation of sudden surge of oil wealth in Sierra Leone has stimulated great excitement among some of the populace, while others are calling for an exercise of caution. For over a decade, of Sierra Leone’s major export mineral resource, diamonds was the sought-after commodity that fueled a brutal civil war. Thousands were killed and maimed in this war.

The country has not gained much after almost a hundred years of the exploitation of its diamonds. The discovery of oil has been welcomed news not only from the ordinary Sierra Leonean but from the political class; there is hope that the country would be given another chance to surge forward in development, and escape from almost a permanent place at the bottom of the Human Development Index. Only recently, the Minister of Mineral Resources and Political Affairs, Alpha Kanu, was literally singing songs of praise at a weekly news briefing held by the Ministry of Information on the discovery of oil.

Speaking recently to newsmen in central Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, Hon Alpha Kanu said   only one well has so far been dug but that its content indicates, the country has oil. The discovery of oil in Sierra Leone, Kanu said has helped in the upper bracket of a rich ‘identity that should put us all above petty squabbles in the national interest’. Oil has also been a major source of conflict in countries like Nigeria in the West African region and the Arab world.  

The President, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma, believes that the discovery of oil in the offshore of Sierra Leone will serve as a way of lifting the revenue generation drive of the country and at the same time, also helping to market the country at the international front.

Let us look at countries with mineral deposit of oil, and practically compare these countries to those without oil in terms of economic standings; it could be noticed that these countries with oil, no matter what problems they have sociologically and politically, are economic power houses, and proud members of the international community.

Take Nigeria in the West African sub region as a case study, or even Libya and Iraq. This is more the reason we should, as Sierra Leoneans, join hands together to ensure that we speedily begin exploitation of our oil, and when this begins, we ensure the revenues from oil are put into sustainable development, and there is equity in the share of the oil wealth.  And it must start somewhere; and the political elites should ensure, proper agreements are entered into so as to ensure that the poor Sierra Leoneans gets a share of the oil revenue.

Robertson Safi

Robertson Safi

Sierra Leone’s Mineral Resources Minister should woo Safi


About seven years ago, we were making headlines in the international media, but definitely for the wrong reasons which had to do with civil war. Destroyed by a decade long civil war, any thought of oil exploration yet alone a major hydrocarbon discovery, would be seen as mere fantasy. This is no metaphorical statement. But today, it is big time reality: there is oil in Sierra Leone.

But in all of this, we must understand that it started somewhere some years ago and it is high time we knew how it all started. And I therefore think the great joy brought to Sierra Leone by the news of oil discovery in the country should go to none more so than Africa and Middle East Energy Advisor, Robertson Safi. He was Sierra Leone’s Government’s Adviser on Economic and Trade Matters in 1995, and was appointed as President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah’s personal advisor on petroleum affairs between 2000 and 2004.

On the back of the turbulent political history and at the time when the price of petrol was weak, Mr. Safi, a businessman, working closely with Africans and the Middle East conglomerate, addressed these obstacles as simply part of the job.  He helped build up confidence in the potential of Sierra Leone, and this attracted serious investors to come and look at the oil potential in Sierra Leone.  And about ten years later, the man I would refer to as ‘the father of Sierra Leone’s oil industry’ is smiling alongside his African children that indeed, oil has been discovered in Sierra Leone.

In fact in his latter role, Safi oversaw the implementation of an exploration program in the Liberian basin in 2000 and this culminated the passing of the Petroleum Bill by the Sierra Leone Parliament. It also led to the development of a model agreement and successful bid round attracting bids from a number of major oil companies.

This first International Bid round for the newly demarcated Oil Blocks in April of 2002 was pioneered by Safi.  He also provided advice on procedures for supervising the oil industry and other related ventures and, at the same time, contributed in the building of local capacity by facilitating the external training for two nationals in Regulatory Framework in the petroleum industry. He was also responsible for the introduction of a similar multi-client geophysical program in Liberia.

It is clear from investigations conducted by this columnist that by the year 2000, the Sierra Leone government engaged the services of this Ghanaian born oil consultant, Robertson Safi whose contact with TGS/NOPEC led to the signing of a Memorandum  of Understanding between Sierra Leone and TGS/NOPEC and  also offshore exploration for petroleum in Sierra Leone’s territorial waters was made a priority.

TGS/NOPEC is a leading Global Exploration Consulting Firm with offices in Houston, Texas and the United Kingdom. Now the Memorandum of Understanding entered into between the Sierra Leone government and this firm actually paved the way for the mobilization of a geophysical Vessel, MV Nanhai 502, from the Chinese Offshore Oil and Geophysical Company symphony of China in July of 2000.

Also, when the vessel arrived, it started a preliminary 2-dimensional survey, which lasted for 8 weeks, at no initial cost to the Sierra Leone Government, and the geophysical data acquired from this exercise was later processed in Texas; this served as the basis for the demarcation of Sierra Leone’s exploration area into Oil Blocks.

From the above, it is apparent that Robertson Safi played a major role in the current oil discovery in Sierra Leone. And I think there is every need for us to encourage him to come and help in the further development of oil exploration in Sierra Leone.

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