By: Mohamed L. Massaquoi
United Arab Emirates
The need for countries to increase their diplomatic presence and visibility at the international stage is ever increasing in an interconnected world that we live in today. Countries establish diplomatic missions with the aim of fostering and strengthening relations, accelerating foreign direct investments through trade and other economic activities, increasing education and cultural exchanges. Since his assumption into office in 2018, President Dr Julius Maada Bio has emphasized the need for Sierra Leone to revamp its diplomatic presence abroad to align with the country’s national aspiration – under his government’s broader policy of economic and development diplomacy.
One of such relations that has blossomed exceptionally under President Julius Maada Bio is the United Arab Emirates and Sierra Leone relations – a friendship built on mutual trust and respect, progress, and development. This article discusses some of the major highlights of collaboration between the two countries and how those interventions have helped to heighten the bonds of friendship.
Since 2018, there has been several high-level visits between the Governments of United Arab Emirates and Sierra Leone in a bid to foster cooperation. In 2019, President Julius Maada Bio met with the then Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, (now President of the UAE), His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. During their engagement, President Bio catalogued his development aspirations for a progressive Sierra Leone. The UAE President, as a direct outcome of the said meeting, sent a delegation to Freetown, Sierra Leone which conducted a study tour on various sectors of collaboration ranging from mining, infrastructure, healthcare, renewable energy among others. The delegation also signed five Memoranda of Understanding with the Government of Sierra Leone, as a basis for establishing the framework for cooperation – a move that is already yielding ripe fruits.
Agriculture and Food Security
Currently, a key highlight of cooperation between the two friendly countries is the signing of over $50 million pact with Elite Agro, a UAE-based company, for the cultivation of 14,700 hectares of swamp rice in Sierra Leone. Work on the said project is underway. When work fully kicks off, this project will support the government’s agenda of producing enough food to ‘FEED SALONE’ and create more jobs for youths as espoused under the New Direction’s ‘BIG FIVE INITIATVES’. The Government of Sierra Leone continues to provide the necessary support to ensure that the project reaches the expected outcome – a win-win situation.
Sierra Leone is renowned for leading one of the world’s most robust COVID-19 response. Demonstrating support for the country’s handling of the pandemic, the UAE donated a 100-bed field hospital to its West-African friend. Situated in Port Loko district, the Mohamed bin Zayed Field Hospital, which also houses other facilities like modern equipment, a conference room, apartments for doctors and nurses, has undoubtedly added value to the country’s healthcare infrastructure. The oil-rich nation also assisted Sierra Leone with tons of COVID-19 medical equipment, in addition to been among the first external responders to the Wellington fire incident in November 2021.
Strengthening educational ties and Training of security personnel
In 2021, the UAE and Sierra Leone signed a Memorandum of Understanding to bolster cooperation in the field of education through holding seminars, lectures, and courses of mutual interest at tertiary levels. Currently, a considerable number of Sierra Leonean students are in the UAE on scholarship pursuing various courses at elite universities in the Emirates – a move that sits in very well with President Bio’s Human Capital Development.
Also on capacity development, the UAE in 2022 provided training opportunities for a colossal number of personnel from the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra Leone Police in order to equip the country’s serving officers with advanced skills and technology.
Conference of the Parties (COP-28)
On the margins of the recently concluded Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, President Bio also met with Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, UAE Minister for Industry and Advanced Technology. Dr Al Jaber is also President-designate for the COP-28, to be hosted in Dubai, UAE. During the meeting, they both reaffirmed commitments to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries and to engage even further in areas of climate change, renewable energy and food security. They also discussed efforts made by both countries in tackling climate change challenges. President Bio is expected to play a major role at the event in December this year, as Dubai will host world leaders to discuss practical solutions to addressing threats posed by climate change.
The UAE and Sierra Leone continue to work steadily on other projects in order to support growth, development, and prosperity. This has further been demonstrated by the ratification of Agreements by both countries that will usher in cooperation in trade and investment. The pacts include: Agreement on Protection of Investments, Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Agreement on the Establishment of Joint Committee on Cooperation.
This is a blossoming friendship and with President Bio in the driving seat at State House in Sierra Leone, this bond can only get better.