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Rebranding Sierra Leone’s image

Rebranding Sierra Leone’s image

Rebranding Sierra Leone’s image to encourage investors into the country has been one of the primary objectives of the President of the Republic and his cabinet. We have read and heard about changes being effected at home in terms of construction, and the makeover being undertaken at the Lungi International Airport.

Let me categorically state that I am 100 percent in favor of the facelift being carried out at the airport. I had a very bad experience at Lungi airport, on my maiden visit to Sierra Leone in 2010.  After a long flight, and being hassled at customs, I decided to go to the bathroom at the main terminal. I was disgusted upon opening the door; there was an ocean of urine from the door to as far as I can see. I did not want to imagine what the commodes looked like in the bathroom stalls. Needless to say, I immediately turned around and walked back towards the terminal.

You might be wondering “Sahr, where are you going with this?” Well, before I answer that question, let me say I’m glad to hear that there has been significant improvements at the airport. At least, I would like to believe that I will bravely venture in to the bathroom on my next visit.

Rebranding a country’s image should start with it’s missions overseas. One would expect that we have the right calibre of people with the highest integrity at the gateways of the international community. Alas, Sierra Leone’s missions overseas have been plagued with one controversy after another – from China, Russia, Belgium.

The Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington DC has just announced an increase in visa application fees for U.S. citizens and passport holders. Even though not stated, but this cannot be unassociated with the recent announcement from the U.S. State Department that they were increasing non-immigrant visa application fees because the current fees can no longer cover processing costs. The increase is a mere $20. At the same time, there were drastic decreases in various immigrant visa fees to the tune of hundreds of dollars.

Unlike The Sierra Leone Embassy, The U.S. State Department gave cogent reasons. The last time I was at the our embassy in Washington DC, they cannot even boast of a laptop at the front desk, and the staff were so oblivious of the presence of customers. One can painfully spend an hour and a half in the lobby for services that can easily take fifteen minutes. I would love to see a facelift done to the embassy and it’s interior decor with this new increase in visa application fees.

The bottom-line is the government needs to post people to their missions who are well trained professionals with knowledge of diplomatic protocols and good customer service skills. Remember, our missions overseas offers the first glimpse of our country to visitors and investors. Rebranding Sierra Leone’s image should start with rebranding our missions overseas.

by Sahr J. B. Ngayenga Jr., Studying Economics and Information Technology at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

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