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A friend indeed for Sierra Leone

By Alpha Mohamed Jalloh | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-23 07:00


In October 2000, China and African countries jointly established the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, ushering in a new era of Sino-African relations during which cooperation between the two sides has deepened and produced more fruitful results.

While the concept of "China-Africa community with a shared future" has been welcomed by both Chinese and African people, FOCAC has organized frequent dialogues and established an effective mechanism for expanding cooperation between China and Sierra Leone. More important, FOCAC has promoted multilateralism, yielding benefits for both sides.

On board the "FOCAC shuttle", the China-Sierra Leone relationship embarked on a new journey. Speaking at the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 in June 2020, President Xi Jinping said China would continue to do everything possible to support Africa's response to COVID-19, work with Africa to follow up on the 2018 FOCAC Summit in Beijing, and accord greater priority to cooperation on public health, reopening businesses, improving people's well-being, and building an even stronger China-Africa community of shared future.

China-Sierra Leone cooperation has expanded over the past 20 years through high-level visits and other exchanges. From participating in the First Ministerial Conference in 2000 to Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio's participation in the FOCAC Summit in Beijing in 2018 and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Nabeela Tunis's attendance at the Coordinators' Meeting on the Implementation of the Follow-up Actions of the Beijing Summit in 2019, Sierra Leone has always been an active member of FOCAC.

China and Sierra Leone have maintained close exchanges and frequent high-level visits. Three Sierra Leonean presidents have visited China five times, and the Sierra Leonean president's special envoys/special representatives, the vice-president, parliament speaker and the foreign minister have paid more than 20 visits to China. These high-level visits not only set the direction for the development of China-Sierra Leone ties, but also laid the foundation for enhancing mutual political trust and promoting the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries.

Thanks to the implementation of FOCAC projects and initiatives, people-to-people exchanges have seen a rapid increase. And the various seminars, training programs, think tank exchanges, cultural visits and other activities have gained public support for the friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries.

China-Sierra Leone cooperation has deepened over the past 20 years through the joint efforts and contributions of the two sides. As a consequence, bilateral trade has increased from over $8.6 million in 2000 to about $510 million in 2019.

In fact, despite the impact of the pandemic, bilateral trade reached $320 million in the first eight months of 2020.

China has been Sierra Leone's largest trading partner for more than 10 years, and high-quality and cost-competitive Chinese goods have enriched Sierra Leone's market, saved Sierra Leonean people's money, and helped improve the country's production and economic efficiency.

Also, dozens of Chinese companies have invested in Sierra Leone, creating about 4,500 direct jobs and injecting vitality into sectors such as infrastructure, transportation, telecommunications, tourism, manufacturing, fishery and mining. Among the Chinese government-assisted projects that have been implemented are the Office Building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Bo Stadium, hydropower stations, hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, and rice-aid, medical and health programs.

The Chinese government has also awarded scholarships to more than 500 Sierra Leonean students to study in China, and invited over 5,100 personnel to attend various short-term training courses. Needless to say, these cooperation programs have boosted Sierra Leone's socioeconomic development.

China-Sierra Leone relations have strengthened with the two sides rendering precious support to each other, and the two countries have always stood together to overcome challenges. Immediately after the founding of FOCAC, China worked with the international community to help end the civil war in Sierra Leone and supported the post-war reconstruction, and helped restore peace and stability in the country.

When the Ebola epidemic broke out in 2014, China immediately dispatched more than 300 doctors and nurses to Sierra Leone and supplied planeloads of medicines and equipment, which helped achieve victory over the disease.

In 2017, when a tragic mudslide hit Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, China provided urgent humanitarian assistance and Chinese personnel took an active part in the relief operations. During the initial stage of China's battle against COVID-19, President Bio sent a message to President Xi expressing sympathy and solidarity with China and the Chinese people.

On the other hand, in spite of the huge difficulties it faced at the time, China made every effort to help Sierra Leone fight the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in strengthening the country's prevention and control measures. The three medical experts' teams China sent to Sierra Leone have been working day and night with their local counterparts to conduct tests, treat patients and train the technical staff.

On the global stage, China and Sierra Leone have been working closely on issues of common concern and upholding justice and shared interests. Sharing weal and woe, the two sides have proven to be genuine friends.

The international landscape, at present, is fluid with unilateralism and protectionism on the rise. The pandemic has hit Sierra Leone at a time when its economic growth has slowed down. According to the Sierra Leone Central Bank governor, the economy is going through stagnation. Increasing income inequality and food insecurity have imposed a huge burden on the Sierra Leonean people, especially women. And many households have slid below the extreme poverty threshold due to COVID-19.

Therefore, it is important for China and Sierra Leone to continue to deepen cooperation and focus on economic development to help people overcome the impacts of the pandemic.

The author is director of China-Africa Institute, University of Makeni, Sierra Leone.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.


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