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Saudi Prince Alwaleed’s Visit to Sierra Leone – Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leoneans in the Gulf Speak out

Saudi Prince Alwaleed’s Visit to Sierra Leone – Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leoneans in the Gulf Speak out

Sierra Leone’s President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma last Monday received Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud of the ‘highly reputed’ Kingdom Holding Company, (KHC) at the Presidential Lounge, Lungi International Airport.  (Photo: l-r HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and HE President Ernest Bai Koroma in Sierra Leone)

His Royal Highness (HRH) Prince Alwaleed visited Sierra Leone to explore investment opportunities. His business holding company covers Tourism, Banking, Estate Development, Hospitality, Telecom, Agriculture, Information Technology, Broadcasting, Media, Entertainment, Travel, Automotive Manufacturing and other businesses.

The Prince was accompanied by a high–powered delegation that included Dr. Khalid Almansour, Adviser-Africa to HRH the Chairman, Dr. Nahla Nasser Alanbar, Private Executive Assistant to HRH the Chairman, Ms. Hassna Alturki, Department Head, Travel and External Affairs, Mr. Hani Agha, Senior Manager for Travel and External Affairs, Mr. Mohammed Alfaraj, Assistant Manager, for Travel and External Affairs and Mr. Fahad Bin Saad Bin Nafel, Executive Assistant to HRH the Chairman, Mr. Hassan Mukhtar, Advisor to HRH the Chairman, Mr. Naief Alzuhair, Manager Website & Social Media, Corporate Communications Department, to name but a few.

During the visit, His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma decorated His Royal Highness with the highest National Award in the country, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Republic of Sierra Leone (GCRSL).

After the visit, I called Hon. Alhaji Alpha Sahid Bakar Kanu, the Minister of Information and Communications who also doubles as the Official Government Spokesman and asked him if the visit was successful. This is what he had to say:

Hon. Alpha Kanu

Yes, the visit was very successful. Our President, His Excellency Dr Ernest Bai Koroma was accompanied by top-ranking Government Ministers and a good number of senior government officials to welcome the Prince at the Lungi International Airport.

As a nation, we are very happy for the visit of the Prince. We think it is an opportunity to strengthen the bilateral relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone’s Information Minister, Alpha Kanu

Sierra Leone’s Information Minister, Alpha Kanu

We have also been impressed with the Prince’s philanthropy because when the President told him about his vision for improving the Free Health Care Initiative in the country for Children under-five, lactating mothers and pregnant women, including youth empowerment, the Prince donated one million dollars for the two programmes through Alwaleed Bin Talal Humanitarian Foundation.   And he promised to do more when he has more details. On the investment side, the Prince has been given a presentation of all the opportunities that exist in Sierra Leone in the areas of tourism, mining, oil exploration, fisheries, real estate, energy, to name but a few. The next step is that, he promised to come back, but before that, he would send an advance team to work with the Sierra Leonean people to identify areas of mutual interest for investment. He also promised to get involved in the charitable organizations and the financing of women and the youth. So, the visit has been a very good and successful one.

On his departure, the Prince and the President concluded a lot of things- which all big men and heads of state talk about. We were not privy to that meeting. But we believe whatever decisions were made during that closed –door meeting, would be in the best interest of the Kingdom Holding Company and the people of Sierra Leone.

So, what do Sierra Leoneans resident here in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf make of the Visit?

Uthman Kargbo is the President of the Sierra Leone Nationals’ Union in Saudi Arabia.  Hear him: It is the duty of every patriotic citizen to embrace and welcome such remarkable visit. Sierra Leoneans in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf have been longing to see people like Prince Al-waleed Bin Talal investing in Sierra Leone.

Uthman Kargbo, President of the Sierra Leone Nationals Union, Saudi Arabia

Uthman Kargbo, President of the Sierra Leone Nationals Union, Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Prince is a prominent worldwide investor and his visit to Sierra Leone will be sighted as the beginning of a new epoch of massive investment opportunities in the country. As a business tycoon, it is believed that Prince Alwaleed would find in Sierra Leone the right place to establish his business shrewdness.

I am sure, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma must have objectively persuaded his honourable guest that he (the Prince) will have in Sierra Leone all that he needs in terms of expanding his business empire across the African Continent and he would give Prince Alwaleed all the assurances that, in Sierra Leone, he will have all the support required to make his businesses boom to his satisfaction.

From what we have heard, President Koroma and his competent Officials have presented to the Prince well-tailored and worthwhile projects.  The Prince is a very shrewd investor. And I am pretty sure that he would not hesitate to avail himself of any investment opportunities which he thinks would be profitable and of interest to both parties. Sierra Leoneans all over the Arab Gulf states can’t wait to see the Prince taking his investment opportunities to Sierra Leone in the not too distant future.

Dr. Sorie Gassama- King Saud University

For Dr. Sorie Gassama, a lecturer at the King Saud University, the Prince’s visit to Sierra Leone should be considered as a maraca at this point in time. This, the erudite Doctor says, is especially so, considering the fact that President Koroma is a selfless and progressive individual who has made the forward thrusting of Sierra Leone a priority. Let us all pray that he continues to be guided in the right path. As is, being a Sierra Leonean, I see it as my duty to suggest hypercritical areas that His Excellency should consider doing business with the Prince. Having lived in Riyadh for the past one year, and seeing what the Prince has invested in, I can tell with no doubts that the Prince is more interested in the area of tourism than anything else.

Dr. Sorie Gassama, a lecturer at the King Saud University

Dr. Sorie Gassama, a lecturer at the King Saud University

This can be seen in the investments that he has made in putting up sky-scrappers. One such is the Kingdom Tower, a modern mall, like no other in the middle of the city that goes unnoticed. He has tons of investments of the like that are frequented by tourists. Having him rehabilitate our once admirable, but presently dilapidated beaches will pay dividends. Additionally, have him take a look and see if he can invest in developing those areas closer to the ocean in Freetown that are currently occupied by squatters and pigs.

With the right investment, these very places can create a lot of jobs, and bring in tons of millions of dollars every year by way of tourism. Take a lesson from Parisians, Clean those areas, and rid them of squatters and pigs, construct three star hotels, invest in wet boats that can take tourists along the peninsula on sight seeing missions for a fee. These done, Freetown will soon be full of tourists bringing in hard currencies with a reduction in unemployment or possibly bringing a total end to unemployment taking into account the country’s population.

In Paris, the Seine River that divides the city into two is used to this advantage. It is a project that contributed a whole lot to mass employment of Parisians, and undoubtedly brings in a lot of money. Having said that, my advice is for all Sierra Leoneans to put the love of their country ahead of any love they may have for their political parties. After all, it is Sierra Leone that matters.

Ibrahim Sillah – King Saud University 

Ibrahim Sillah also lectures at the same University and he is also an Ex-President of the Sierra Leone Nationals’ Union here in Saudi Arabia. He has no doubt that HRH, Prince Alwaleed’s visit to Sierra Leone at this point in time signifies a lot.

It is significant in the sense that it comes at a time when Sierra Leone is being governed by an astute and visionary leader in the person of His Excellency, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. And I do believe that the Saudi Billionaire Prince would not have accepted President Koroma’s invitation if he were not sure that he would be in good hands. The fact of the matter is Alwaleed has heard a lot of success stories about President Koroma. Hence, he has viewed the President’s invitation as an honour that should, by no means, slip by; rather, it is an opportunity that he should gleefully grab.

Ibrahim Sillah of King Saud University

Ibrahim Sillah of King Saud University

I believe the two men must have had a golden opportunity to constructively and objectively discuss a host of business and investment issues in a calm and friendly atmosphere.  This is not the Prince’s first to Sierra Leone. His maiden visit was in 2003. But this time around, I learnt that the Saudi Prince found that the ground work for the success of his visit had been well-prepared by technocrats and foresighted members of President Koroma’s Government.

I am sure that Prince Alwaleed was overwhelmed by the degree and level of maturity and statesmanship he uncovered in the President of Sierra Leone. That telling impression on the Prince would propel him beyond any aorta of hesitation or doubt to heavily invest in Sierra Leone; for he would find out that, at the end of the day, he stands to lose nothing.

Rather, he stands all the chances to enrich his Kingdom Holding Company (KHC) and maximize its revenues in abundance. In fact, I have the gut-feeling that this historic visit of Prince Alwaleed will be not only   a catalyst for long-term business relations between his company and Sierra Leone, but would also be a great booster to the already existing diplomatic and bilateral between Sierra Leone and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Who knows, it may hopefully culminate in Saudi Arabia opening a Saudi embassy in Freetown; a dream that has long been harboured and nurtured by Sierra Leoneans. That done, Sierra Leone would forever be thankful to HRH, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, the man who has been twice characterized by Forbes Magazine as ‘The Most Intelligent and Creative Investor ‘in our today’s world.

Many thanks to President Koroma and his formidable officials for the spectacular resounding red-carpet welcome they accorded to HRH, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. That befitting welcome, I am pretty sure, must have had a telling impressing on the Saudi Prince; his hopes and aspirations of having a durable and professional work relationship with His Excellency, the President, and must have been reassured. This was, no doubt, evident in the swift philanthropic gestures he made by donating two millions USD to two very important sectors of the society, the women and the youth.

In addition, to further buttress his appreciation of his historic encounter with President Koroma and the golden investment opportunities presented to him, Prince Alwaleed has committed himself to sending a professional team that would come to Sierra Leone in the not-too-distant future to make feasibility studies and make its recommendations as to which area(s) he should best pour in his investments. That fulfilled, Sierra Leoneans would soon be mesmerized to witness the magnitude of investments and job opportunities Sierra Leone would soon be saturated with by Prince Alwaleed and other investors in the Gulf Region and around the world.

In conclusion, I salute His Excellency, President Koroma, his competent officials, Sierra Leone’s envoy to Saudi Arabia, Ambassador Wusu B. Munu, and His Excellency’s indefatigable and most professional Information Attaché, Alhaji M.B. Jalloh, who has been a catalyst behind rebranding and marketing Sierra Leone in this most vital region of the world. BRAVO for a job well-done, President Koroma.

Haroun Ahmed Tejan Gerber

In a brief contribution, Haroun A.T Gerber who works for the Al-Rowad Medical Center as Financial Manger described the Prince’s visit as a “tremendous achievement” for Sierra Leone.

The recent visit of His Royal Highness, Prince Alwaleed to our beloved Sierra Leone is a tremendous achievement for which all patriotic Sierra Leoneans should be proud of.

Haroun A.T Gerber of Riyadh

Haroun A.T Gerber of Riyadh

It is something I personally was not envisaging. I regard the visit as a milestone and long term prospect for our country. As we all know, Sierra Leone is a post-conflict nation and for heavy weight investors like Prince Alwaleed to invest in Sierra Leone, we are pretty sure, he would play a pivotal role in helping us rebuild our country as time unfolds.

Finally, I think the visit is just the beginning of future prospect for present and generations yet unborn for the Republic of Sierra Leone.

Unisa Kanu – APC Chairman Saudi Arabia

On his part, Chairman for the All People’s Congress Party, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States Branch, Unisa Kanu described the visit as “an implicit endorsement” of President Koroma’s commendable Agenda for Prosperity.

It will unequivocally send the right signals not only to the numerous investment organs in Saudi, but to the entire Gulf region that Sierra Leone is ready for business.

Unisa Kanu, Chairman of APC Saudi Arabia

Unisa Kanu, Chairman of APC Saudi Arabia

Furthermore, for me to adequately articulate a measured coverage of this significant visit, I would prefer to reflect on the related sequence of events leading to the visit. Although the eventual outcome could well be coincidental in nature, there are enough supportive dynamics evidently at play here, which are too good to be ignored.

Just recently, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma – together with three other leaders from Africa – was on a special treat to the White House under the auspices of the US President, Barak Obama in recognition of his exemplary leadership qualities. That was followed by a special invitation from the Emir of the United Arab Emirates to attend the opening ceremony of the prestigious Horse Racing World Cup in Dubai and hold bilateral and economic discussions with the Emirate Government.

Knowing the potential impact that visit must have registered on the bilateral relations between Sierra Leone and the UAE, it would be right to interpret President Koroma’s presence in the region during that visit as an introductory chapter that could expand into a comprehensive bilateral engagement between Sierra Leone and the Gulf States.

 It is also worth highlighting that the recent optimistic projections of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which forecasted an impressive growth in Sierra Leone’s economic, did make headline news in our global media. Collectively, Sierra Leoneans are not the only ones gearing up with enthusiastic spirits over an optimistic economic future! Indeed, the presence of heavy-weight investors in the likes of Prince Waleed Bin Talal should be regarded as a monumental booster towards the much needed investor confidence potent enough to transform Sierra Leone into the attractive economic bastion of the region. Economic pundits would agree with me that, this massive visit will potentially open up a flood of investment opportunities for the country, particularly in the economic and tourism sectors where job-creation is paramount. This is no doubt a collateral guarantee to the fact that the socio-economic status of the ordinary Sierra Leonean is just about to change for the better. Sierra Leone is experiencing a change in fortunes under the charismatic and commendable leadership of Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. Indicatively, the Agenda for Prosperity is on course!

Nabie Musa Turay, IDB Jeddah

He is the Marketing Manager overlooking Africa & the BADEA Scheme in the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) represented the Islamic Development Bank Group. He is based in Saudi Arabia’s second and commercial capital, Jeddah.

It is indeed a befitting occasion for our Mission in Saudi Arabia to add its weight on the scale of  H.E, President Koroma’s “Agenda for Prosperity” by taking into the country a heavyweight investor  in the likes  of Chairman of Kingdom Holding Company (KHC), His Royal Highness (HRH) Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia.

Nabie Musa Turay, of IDB Jeddah

Nabie Musa Turay, of IDB Jeddah

I am sure the Prince is interested in investing substantially in the country in many sectors, but I think tourism could be his priority.  Many countries, attracted by the potential economic benefits, have embarked upon the development of tourism. This has to be considered and appreciated with the adequate and associated costs and benefits. The nature of tourism and tourists examines the conceptual frameworks of tourism and evaluates the adequacy of impact methodologies currently in use.

The focus on the economic, physical, and social impacts of tourism should be kept in mind while embarking on the development of the Tourism industry of the country. The economic chapter considers tourism in relation to balance of payments, income and employment; the physical chapter is concerned with the effects of tourism on both natural and man-modified environments; and the social chapter looks at the effects of tourism on traditional lifestyles and the erosion of cultural heritages.

Having said all the above, I have the following recommendations:

1) Investment Confidence should permeate between the country and the investor in order to attract a myriad of investors from the Middle East particularly in the Gulf States

2) Officers of trust from both the public and private sectors should be educated on the “dos” and the “don’ts” while bringing these people into our cultural investment environment

3) Put clear mile stones on each party’s commitment in the MoU to be signed in this first  high level meeting backed by a follow up both at home and the Embassy.

4) Identify specific areas of interest and not those areas that will scare the investor away from the main course.

5) Avoid personal gains and focus on the general needs of the country that will solve the growing social ills of the unemployed youth and the common public

7) Sierra Leone has no religious biasness, hence discourage finger pointing people/ groups that promote negative criticisms

8) Appreciate the efforts of our Mission for bringing this investment opportunity to the doors of the country. Considering the status of Prince Alwaleed in international business, I was very much encouraged by his interest in Sierra Leone, as other major international entrepreneurs were likely to be attracted to the country as a result of his interest in our country.

Isatu Demby – Riyadh

She is a Secretary at one of the famous Riyadh schools. She also took part in the “Vox Pop”.

During my 10 years stay in Saudi Arabia, I learnt that the Prince is a major player in world business and we are excited to have him in our country. I just want to assure the Prince that Sierra Leone has the peace and stability to attract investors with a viable private sector. And the country is a better destination for investors.

Isatu Demby - Riyadh

Isatu Demby – Riyadh

I am pretty sure; the Prince has chosen the right destination to do business. As Sierra Leoneans, we need to encourage the heavy weight Investor to throw his weight in Sierra Leone. I think the Prince’s visit would endeavour to assist the Sierra Leone government and Sierra Leoneans to fulfil their aspirations in the development of the country.

The good aspect of the visit is that it would strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries, especially on the economic front.

Sheikh Mohamed Baryoh -Dubai

Outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I contacted Sheik Mohamed Baryoh, CEO/President of Alpha Capital International and Financial Advisor of the Royal Emirates Group in Dubai to tell me what he personally makes of the Prince’s visit to Sierra Leone. This is what he told me:

The esteemed visit of His Royal Highness (HRH) Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia to our beloved country, Sierra Leone, is a testament of the good governance and visionary leadership of our dear President, Dr. H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma which has made the whole world take notice in a dramatic fashion.

Sheik Mohamed Baryoh, CEO/President of Alpha Capital International

Sheik Mohamed Baryoh, CEO/President of Alpha Capital International

It is also a culmination of the collective efforts of our patriotic Saudi Arabia embassy team wisely guided and led by Ambassador Wusu B. Munu, Head of Chancery Mr. Umaru Dura, Information Attaché Mr. Alhaji Jalloh and others.

They have done a fantastic job of rebranding the image of Sierra Leone here in the Middle East and ensuring that this important and key region is made aware of not only the abundance of economic and  profitable investment opportunities in Sierra Leone, but also that there are solid and results-oriented ministers in the Ernest Koroma -led  APC Government who are serious and mean business about the innovative “Agenda  for Prosperity” which has resulted in Sierra Leone climbing up virtually every single economic indicator or index for growth and development globally since 2007.

With the foundations of good governance in place, it makes it much easier for any cunning and savvy investor such as HRH Prince Alwaleed to seize the golden opportunity and expand his/her investment portfolio in a ripe and investor friendly economic climate in which the ROI (Returns on Investment) in Sierra Leone can be overwhelming. For example, Sierra Leone currently lacks true 5-star hotels throughout the country, yet we have increased investor and tourist confidence in our country which has now more than ever signalled the need for us to cater for this important segment.

Any investor that embarks on this virgin market and builds a number of mighty and modern luxury 5-star hotels throughout the country can be assured of a virtual monopoly of this investment opportunity; in which investments in this sector will soon yield huge and consistent revenues. His visit to Sierra Leone will hopefully encourage other heavyweight and royal family investors in the Middle Eastern region to pay attention to our country. It is clearly a “stamp of approval” from one of the world’s greatest investors which could lead to a domino effect of other powerful investors across the universe wanting to “follow the smart money” as we say in the business world. Finally, I personally believe that influential and competent representation in the Gulf States will continue to deliver the desired results for our country.

Ibrahim Bah

He is the Acting Chairman of the newly formed Sierra Leone Nationals’ Association in the Emirates, (SLNAE). 

From what we have read in our online news portals, the visit of the celebrated Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed was very successful. He was really given the reception that befits his status. I must commend our Government for that. At this point in time, Sierra Leone needs potential investors like Prince Alwaleed.

Ibrahim Bah of Dubai - Acting Chairman SLNAE

Ibrahim Bah of Dubai – Acting Chairman SLNAE

Sierra Leone has very great touristic potentials and we are badly in need of investors like HRH Prince Alwaleed to help us in that direction. As tourism and real estate sectors are potentially very lucrative areas in the Prince’s Kingdom Holding Company, I think as a nation, we need to encourage His Royal Highness to start with those areas in our country. Once those areas have been developed, there would be mad rush by other potential investors to visit the country and from that point, the sky will be our limit.

It is also important to note that we need an entrepreneur, philanthropist and international investor like HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal to help boost President Koroma’s “Agenda for Prosperity”. And the donations he made towards the Free Health Care Initiative and Youth Empowerment during his brief stay in the country shows that he means business and we should also as a nation reciprocate by embracing the Prince whole-heartedly. This time, we should shrug aside politics and put the interest of the nation first.

Abdurrahman Yusuf Turay

He teaches English Language at the Al Manhal Schools, Riyadh. Like all the others, he is very pleased with the Prince’s visit to his country.

Prince Al Waleed bin Talal’s visit to Sierra Leone should be seen as an advantage to the country especially in the area of investment. Those who think the Prince’s visit to the country is just to donate huge sum of money to the Government are mistaking. Investment is the Prince’s main purpose of visit. We know Sierra Leone under the leadership of His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma is trying assiduously to attract business tycoons the world over.

Abdurrahman Yusuf Turay

Abdurrahman Yusuf Turay

Therefore, the Prince’s visit clearly demonstrates the Government’s effort in that respect. Moreover, the Prince’s visit is a way opener for other big investors to troop in. This signals a green light to investors that the stage is now completely set for big time investments. Sierra Leone’s investment policies, respect for foreigners and unique religious tolerance pave the way for investors to feel safe in doing business in the country.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are countries that are very much cautious in doing business in the sub-Saharan Africa. The Prince’s visit to Sierra Leone, especially this time, will serve as a milestone in the investment history of the country and an advertisement to the world that Sierra Leone is now a safe place for business and the regime is worth going into business with.

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