Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma said China’s decision to write off his country’s debts will now give the West African republic breathing space to focus on other priorities.
China canceled that debt at the start of the president’s six-day visit to the country, a visit that marked the 45th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
“We welcome such a pronouncement because it is helping us out of a very difficult situation. Giving us this relief will help us address other important issues,” Koroma said in an interview with China Daily in Beijing.
Sierra Leone’s economy was one of the fastest growing in Africa in the past decade but was hit by two devastating events – the collapse of the price of iron ore, its main export, and the Ebola epidemic, which killed 3,590 people. Its GDP contracted by 21.5 percent in 2015.
“It has been very difficult, but with the help of friends like China, we have been able to roll out programs of recovery to restore our utilities, get our services back and provide support for our private sector to get the market properly operating again,” he said.
Koroma, president since 2007, said the economy was now on target to grow by 4.7 percent this year and by 5.4 percent in 2017.
“This shows that although, yes, it has been difficult, the measures adopted, including austerity ones, have resulted in things taking shape. And in the not too distant future, we will be able to restore ourselves to pre-Ebola status and become one of the fastest growing economies in the world again.”
One of the biggest investors in Sierra Leone is Shandong Iron and Steel, which owns the country’s Tonkolili iron ore mine. It ceased production during the Ebola crisis but resumed activity last year. The president made a visit to Shandong on Saturday.
“We need to visit them to encourage them to scale up their activities. The projections they have made before, they are not currently hitting. We are, therefore, looking for assurances,” he said.
Koroma welcomed China’s commitment to Africa and, in particular, President Xi Jinping’s tripling of financial support to $60 billion at the second Forum on China Africa Cooperation Summit in Johannesburg in December of last year.
During his visit, an agreement was also signed by the two sides to support the establishment of a center for disease control in the country.
“Ebola is new to us all, including China at the time, and we have learned lots of lessons and are still learning. There is no complete study on Ebola, but this is an opportunity for us to continue to study the virus.”
Koroma said he believes in developing a market-led approach to Sierra Leone’s development.
“We have an open market and we want to create an environment that is friendly and supportive to external investors. We are not an exclusively Chinese market. We have other players, but it seems that the Chinese are getting an upper hand,” he said.
Koroma said he hoped some Chinese manufacturing, particularly in resources processing, would now move to Sierra Leone as it has done with some other African countries.
Source: China Daily | Dec 6