Sierra Leone’s Trade and Industry Minister Dr Richard Konteh this week visited South Africa in an effort to strengthen bilateral trade relations between the two countries.
Speaking to Engineering News Online in an exclusive interview, the minister said that trade between the two African countries was still very low.
Konteh had been meeting with a number of South African businesses in the mining, agriculture, infrastructure, construction and tourism sectors over the past few days.
“We would also like to meet with officials of South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, to start the process of signing a formal bilateral trade agreement during the next week,” he said.
While the West African country possesses substantial mineral, agricultural, and fishery resources, it is still in the process of rebuilding its physical and social infrastructure after a decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002.
In recent years, the Sierra Leone government, led by President Ernest Koroma, has embarked on a strong reform programme, implementing a number of policies to facilitate doing business in the country, while also taking a tough stance against corruption.
It is estimated that the country’s real gross domestic product growth would accelerate to 5,8% in 2011 and to 6% in 2012, from an estimated 4,6% in 2010, as external demand improves and foreign investment in mining projects and other infrastructure opportunities increases.
Konteh said the country was also in the process of developing a clear framework for public–private partnerships, a business model that has worked well in South Africa, to roll out much-needed infrastructure projects.
Infrastructure construction and management is a $1-billion market in Sierra Leone, said Konteh. The country needs about $500-million for the building of roads alone, with some projects having already attracted committed funding.
Likewise, the country is struggling with a large power supply deficit, and is currently generating only about 74 MW of electricity, compared with demand of 200 MW, excluding the power needs of mining and other industries.
Konteh said that the government was looking to decrease the country’s dependence on thermal energy, and would look at exploiting Sierra Leone’s wealth of potential renewable energy sources such as hydropower, biofuels and solar.
Some international companies have already taken advantage of the opportunity, with Swiss-based company Addax committing itself to investing €200-million to develop 400 000 ha of land to produce sugar, ethanol and 30 MW of energy.
Konteh said that detailed studies to identify additional land for similar investments were ongoing.
In addition, the discovery of large iron-ore resources, coupled with the discovery of oil and gas in recent years, have positioned the once war-stricken country well for future development and growth.
“These are markets that are worth billions of dollars and foreign investors are welcome to come and help us develop these projects,” said Konteh.
Sierra Leone would also be looking at exchanging some of its mineral ore wealth for investment in the country’s infrastructure.