Invest in S Leone - Blair

2009-11-19 09:52

London - Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Wednesday that Sierra Leone has recovered from its brutal civil war and now offers opportunities in agriculture and tourism, with millions of hectares of arable land and kilometers of untouched beaches.

Blair said Sierra Leone's president, Ernest Bai Koroma, has reduced corruption and made the country accessible to foreign investors. Koroma fired one of his ministers for corruption earlier this month and has promised to make the government more transparent.

"Progress (in Sierra Leone) is no longer measured by an absence of conflict," Blair said.

He said Sierra Leone is improving the reputation and efficiency of its mining industries and becoming known as a country that promotes religious tolerance between its Christian and Muslim populations.

Blair was speaking at a London conference aimed at encouraging investment in the west African country.

Africa's hope

Sierra Leone is still struggling to recover from a civil war between 1991 and 2002 during which rebels recruited child soldiers and were known for hacking off the limbs of civilians to terrorise them into submission.

Blair is credited by many in Sierra Leone for helping to end its brutal conflict. British troops that Blair sent to Sierra Leone in 2000 played a decisive role in preventing rebels from seizing the capital, Freetown.

In a speech given earlier at the conference, Koroma said that both Africa and Sierra Leone had once been a place that needed charity - not foreign investment. But he insisted that this is changing.

He said Africa's economy is now growing by 5.5% a year and foreign direct investment hit $63bn throughout Africa in 2008.

"Instead of symbolising Africa's tragedy, Sierra Leone symbolizes Africa's hope," Koroma said.