July 29, 2016
ORIGINS OF SINO-SIERRA LEONE RELATIONS
On July 29, 1971 – 45 years today- the Government of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) agreed to develop diplomatic relations, friendship and cooperation, based on the principles of mutual respect, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.
Three months later, on 25 October, 1971, Sierra Leone voted in favour of UN General Assembly Resolution 2758, which recognised the PRC as the only legitimate representative of China in the UN.
The communiqué establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries was timely, for Sierra Leone was seeking new friends to assist in her development efforts.
CEMEMENTING BI-LATERAL TIES
China’s bilateral relations with Sierra Leone are most visible in four main areas: Infrastructural Development, Technical Support, Investment, and Trade.
China has been a key infrastructure developer in Sierra Leone:
The National Stadium, Youyi ministerial complex building, Police and Military headquarters buildings, new Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, additional offices for Parliament, all in Freetown, mini stadium in Bo and ultra-modern China-Friendship Hospital at Jui, on the outskirts of Freetown, are some of the edifices China has constructed in Sierra Leone. The Chinese have also built bridges, roads, power transmissions, and dams throughout the country.
TECHNICAL SUPPORT: HEALTH, EDUCATION AND CULTURE
Chinese technical support to Sierra Leone has largely targeted health, education and culture. The role of Chinese doctors in Sierra Leone’s health infrastructure cannot be overemphasied. China was the first country to send medical doctors in significant numbers to Sierra Leone after independence.Thetrend continues to date with the deployment of Chinese medical staff in hospitals across Sierra Leone, including at the ultra-modern specialised medical centre at Jui, just outside Freetown, which was commissioned by President Ernest Bai Koroma on 12 November 2012.
President Koroma was unequivocally grateful to China for their support to Sierra Leone and noted that, “…the Sierra Leone-China Friendship Hospital demonstrates not only my Government’s firm commitment to ensuring quality healthcare for our people, but also a long standing relationship and friendship between the Government of Sierra Leone and the People’s Republic of China.”
In the area of education, China has also lent tremendous support in building both middle manpower and higher education of Sierra Leoneans. China began to accept Sierra Leonean students from 1976. That same year, China sent 8 students to study English at Fourah Bay College. Since then, hundreds of Sierra Leoneans have been enrolled in higher educational institutions in China for various professional courses.
In 2012 China and Sierra Leone celebrated 40 years of fruitful collaboration in the medical field. Scores of Sierra Leoneans have been trained in China.
China and Sierra Leone signed a cultural agreement in April 1981 and thereafter, cultural delegations from the two countries have exchanged many visits.Sierra Leonean artists have popularised the country’s rich cultural heritage in China and Chinese artists have also performed in Sierra Leone.
The establishment of the Confucius Institute at Fourah Bay College (University of Sierra Leone) by Gannan Normal University (GNU), where Sierra Leonean students are taught Chinese language, culture and arts has further deepened cross-cultural exchange between the two countries. The Institute also provides opportunities for students, faculty and staff to visit China. Five Sierra Leonean students are currently enrolled at GNU, while a delegation from Fourah Bay College, comprising the Vice Chancellor and Principal, recently visited China.
TRADE AND INVESTMENT
Joint ventures between Chinese and Sierra Leonean companies began in 1984, when cooperation agreements were signed between:
EBOLA AND POST RECOVERY EFFORTS
The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) struck Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in 2014, with devastating consequences. China’s effort in helping these three countries was tremendous.
On August 8, 2015, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Sierra Leone and told President Ernest Bai Koroma, among many other things, possible Chinese assistance to the three countries in the post-Ebola period.
Yi’s visit focussed on the following areas:
Strengthening Sierra Leone medical and public health infrastructure
Establishment of a Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention, to be based in Sierra Leone
Mining and industrial cooperation to focus on processing of mineral products
Fishing and agriculture to encourage more Chinese companies to invest in Sierra Leone
More infrastructural development in Sierra Leone
Promotion of human resource development (e.g. proposed construction of Youth Village in Sierra Leone).
THE TWO LEADERS MEET
On 27 September, 2015 President Xi Jinping met with President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone in New York to further concretise Sino-Sierra Leone relations.
In December 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping and African leaders reached a consensus to upgrade China-Africa relations during the FOCAC [Forum on China-Africa Cooperation] summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.
President Xi Jinping announced at the summit that China-Africa strategic partnership would be upgraded to a comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership, to encompass ten cooperation plans on industrialisation, agricultural modernisation, infrastructure development, and public health with African countries. To that end, China pledged to provide a whooping US$60 billion funding support to Africa, including US$5 billion of grant and interest-free loans, US$35 billion of loans of preferential nature with more favourable terms and export credit line, an increase of US$5 billion to the China-Africa Development Fund and a special loan for the development of African SMEs, plus establishing the China-Africa Fund for Production Capacity Cooperation, with an initial contribution of US$10 billion.
Within the framework of the aforementioned commitment, China is to give continuous support to Sierra Leone, focusing on the priority projects in the Agenda for Prosperity – Mamamah International Airport, which will reportedly cost US$350 million, Rokel Water Supply, West Africa Tropical Disease Research Centre, a priority project in the post-Ebola recovery context, and the Hill Station Road project, among others.
As today marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Sierra Leone, it is but salutary to conclude that the two countries are tied in a historical fate that guarantees mutual benefits and respect for each other’s values and mores. This bilateral tie is undoubtedly destined to blossom as both governments and peoples continue to nurture a strong and unbreakable diplomatic marriage.
In the words of the Chinese Economic Counsellor in Sierra Leone, Mr. Shen Xiaokai, “In the past decades, China has been devoted to elevating Sierra Leone’s infrastructure, human resource development, public health, agriculture and so on, through various aid projects. And China has been committed to strengthening a win-win partnership with Sierra Leone through investment and trade. Both countries have made huge achievements.”
The above cannot be further from the truth.
Editor’s Note: This article is an adaptation from a presentation by Joe A.D. Alie, PhD, Dean of Post Graduate Studies, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, during a recent visit to China. We are grateful that he availed a copy to us and ratified its adaption.