Can Dr Samura Kamara rise up to Sierra Leone’s Foreign Policy Challenges?

by John Moses Kamara

“It has pleased His Excellency…” So began the announcement from State House that Dr Samura Kamara is has been appointed to be the new Foreign Affairs Minister in the President Ernest Koroma’s second term.

As Sierra Leone continues its rapid progress towards a developing democracy, the announcement becomes the latest installment in its transition, which has seen a generally peaceful and free and fair general elections held recently that would consolidate its governance structure and provide the basis of its sovereignty and diplomatic relationships with the outside world.

The role of the international community in helping end our 10 year old internal strife has set the framework for our relationship with the rest of the world via the United Nations, the African Unity, Non-aligned Movement, the Commonwealth, the International Monetary Fund and many other organizations and treaties, which Sierra Leone is a member of, or is a signatory to, respectively.

As important as our multilateral relationships are certain bilateral relationships. Sierra Leone has enjoyed a historically cordial and strategic partnership with Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria, China, United Kingdom and the United States.

Our relationships with our brotherly neighbours of Guinea and Liberia were partly carved by our colonial inheritance as much as our shared tribesmen and people. Arbitrary colonial boundaries continue to separate many families on each side of the boundaries between Sierra Leone and Liberia and between Sierra Leone and Guinea. But the blood connections have ensured that there are strong family ties and bonds of kinship that has fundamentally aligned our relationship with these countries.

Our relationship with the United Kingdom is a strong and pervasive one by virtue of our colonial heritage, language and continuous involvement of UK in our security and political developments since its intervention to help defeat the rebel backed forces that ended the war. Both Labour and Conservative governments have poured lots of political, economic and diplomatic capital to ensure Sierra Leone develops from a fragile state to a developing democracy.

Perhaps the most important bilateral relationship is that with the United States of America, who provides one of the largest economic assistance to Sierra Leone and also provides other forms of assistance. With the collapsed of the former Soviet Bloc, the importance of having an equidistance relationship between the East and the West has now taken a different meaning with the advent of China to replace Russia as the alternative sphere of influence. The Chinese are increasing investment presence in Africa, including Sierra Leone offers opportunities for both to pursue a mutually beneficial economic and politic relationship.

President Ernest Koroma believes Dr Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara is the man equipped to meet the challenges of Sierra Leone’s foreign policy, which are now beyond romantic ties to economic and security realities. Dr Kamara, who was born in 1963 in Kamalo, Bombali District, is an Economist by profession and was previously Governor of Bank of Sierra Leone and most recently Minister of Finance and Economic Development. He also served under the SLPP government of Alhaji Ahmed Tejan-Kabba and is regarded by friends and foes as clever and shrewd.

It is this economic background that may well have convinced the President that he will be suited to the Foreign Ministry, as he has placed more emphasis on economic growth, international investment and trade to further the concept of ‘Sierra Leone is “open for business.” Dr Samura also served as a Member of the Board of Governors of the African Development Bank and Governor of Islamic Development Bank. These stints may well assist him in delivering the economic emphases of our foreign relationships.

But critics, including myself, question this appointment. Many do not believe he has the requisite experience in the diplomatic field or the stature and prominence in the international scene to merit such a portfolio. Dr Kaifala Marah, who has been appointed to replace him at Finance, may well have been a more suitable candidate due to his long stint at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, which gives him more experience in dealing with many diplomatic personalities and issues.

I also strongly believe that this portfolio represents the best opportunity to appoint a grandee of the opposition, such as Dr Kadie Sesay. After all there are no serious disagreements between APC and SLPP about the conduct of our Foreign Policy, which is largely coincidental to the circumstances and realities of Sierra Leone’s position in relation to the outside world.