Last week I had the honour and pleasure to present to H.E. Julius Maada Bio, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, my letter of credence by which H. E. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and H.E. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, have appointed me as Ambassador/Head of the European Union Delegation to Sierra Leone. Thereby I conveyed the desire of the European Union to maintain and strengthen the good relations which exist with the Republic of Sierra Leone.
The European Union and its Member States, for many years, have been alongside Sierra Leone, as committed partners of this country, together with other international and regional partners. During the two decades since the end of the war, we have been accompanying Sierra Leone in her transition process.
Sierra Leone has come a long way during the last decades and is now considered as one of the most peaceful countries in Africa. The democratic and peaceful handover of power following the 2018 elections was possible thanks to the sustained efforts of the Sierra Leone people and authorities.
Sierra Leone and the European Union have built together a long-term partnership, founded on shared values: the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles, good governance and the rule of law.
The European Union wishes the same that the Sierra Leonean people and Government wish for Sierra Leone: consolidation of peace and stability as well as sustainable and inclusive development. We have been – and will remain – Sierra Leone’s friends and partners.
The European Union has been proud to support Sierra Leone’s efforts to consolidate democracy, peace and development. We acknowledge the positive Sierra Leone reform agenda and the efforts to enhance human capital development including access to free quality education and technical and vocational skills training and development, to boost technological innovation as a driver for economic growth, to develop the agriculture and fisheries sectors and to enhance public finance management and domestic revenue mobilisation. We also appreciate the political engagement in favour of gender equality and women empowerment.
During the last Political Dialogue between the European Union and the Government of Sierra Leone on July 13th this year, we reviewed together the political priorities of our relationship for the years to come. Consolidation of peace and stability will require progress on the democratic governance agenda, which implies working towards an inclusive society with equal opportunities for all citizens. We have the common vision that an improved business and investment climate is crucial to accelerate growth and socio-economic development. We agree that the fight against corruption needs to be pursued, both for a better business and investment climate and to improve trust in public institutions and the civil service. Dealing with migration issues is also a common priority, and we wish to reinforce our collaboration in this area. Global challenges, including climate change, environmental protection and public health, require global responses, and therefore we would like to step up our efforts to seek common positions in multilateral fora. We are keen to seek further opportunities for political level engagement to take this ambitious common agenda forward.
The European Union has been supporting, and will continue to support Sierra Leone’s sustainable development and the implementation of the Medium Term National Development Plan, 2019-23. In the last years, also today, the EU has been working with Sierra Leone in the priority areas of governance, education, agriculture and infrastructure. During the last Political Dialogue, the EU and Sierra Leone agreed on the main cooperation priorities for the next seven years. Our common focus will be on: Green alliance including energy, food security and ecosystems; Human capital development and Governance, including economic governance and investment climate. Our future cooperation will be geared towards attracting more private sector investment. For this purpose, we are convinced that it is crucial to create an enabling business and investment climate that can diversify the economy and boost a broad-based economic growth that generates jobs and income for Sierra Leone’s young population. We are keen to address together with Sierra Leone the challenge of reducing aid dependence.
The Covid pandemic and the measures to contain it have slowed down economic growth during the last two years and we are aware that for a country like Sierra Leone this amounts to a setback in its development trajectory. The European Union and its Member States have been supporting Sierra Leone by reorienting existing programmes, financing awareness raising campaigns and delivery of vaccines and supporting vaccination campaigns. Nevertheless, it is our hope that Sierra Leone can swiftly return to fully pursue its development agenda.
Let me especially recognize the progressive human rights agenda of Sierra Leone. The decision to end the ban on pregnant girls attending school and the scrapping of criminal libel were important achievements. Especially I would like to commend the Government’s decision and the Parliament’s vote on July 23rd in favour of a Bill abolishing the death penalty. The worldwide abolishment of the death penalty is also an important priority of EU foreign policy.
Abolishing death penalty was the right decision and it is creating further momentum to continue to embrace progressive policy decisions that will contribute to further anchor the rights of Sierra Leoneans. We look forward to the White Paper of the Constitutional Review Process, which is an opportunity to map out further electoral and governance reforms. Together with our international partners, we will remain engaged in supporting Sierra Leone’s democratic journey including strengthening universal human rights.
The next Local, Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2023 will be a very important test for Sierra Leone’s democratic consolidation. The European Union welcomes the strong commitment of the Government to implement electoral reforms ahead of the elections. The broad and inclusive mobilisation during the National Electoral Legal Reforms Conference on August 12th points into the right direction. This conference offered a multi-stakeholder and cross-party forum for debating electoral reforms ahead of the elections. It demonstrated the value of cross-party engagement for consensus building on important political decisions.
The European Union deployed Election Observation Missions (EOMs) to Sierra Leone in 2007, 2012 and 2018. The upcoming Election Follow-up Mission (EFM) in October/November 2021 will be an occasion to assess together with stakeholders in Sierra Leone the ongoing electoral reform process against the recommendations made by the last 2018 EOM.
I am looking forward to working with the Government and with other political actors as well as with all our Sierra Leone partners including non-state actors, human rights and gender activists. Together we continue to strengthen the long-term partnership between Sierra Leone and the European Union. The European Union and its Member States will work together under the “Team Europe” approach. We will seek to maximise the complementarity and the impact of our combined efforts in support of Sierra Leone, through our development cooperation and our political dialogue with the Sierra Leone Government.
I would like to assure the people of Sierra Leone that the European Union will remain a strong, credible and solid partner to Sierra Leone, which is committed, reliable and responsive. My predecessor, Ambassador Tom Vens, during his tenure as Head of the European Union Delegation to Sierra Leone, worked with passion, commitment and dedication. Together with the team of the EU Delegation, I intend to do exactly the same, with the aim of strengthening the partnership between Sierra Leone and the European Union, for the mutual benefit of our people.
The author is Ambassador of the European Union to Sierra Leone and has arrived to the country on 1st September 2021. Before his appointment as EU Ambassador to Sierra Leone he was German Ambassador to South Sudan from 2019 to 2021 and from 2015 to 2019 Deputy Head of Division for Sahel, West- and Central Africa in the German Foreign Office in Berlin where he worked inter alia on relations with ECOWAS, Nigeria and on Lake Chad region. As a German diplomat he was posted to DR Congo, Ukraine and Bolivia. Before entering the diplomatic service, he studied political sciences in Germany and France.