Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said in Freetown that he is in the country to say that “the economy in Sierra Leone has enormous potential.”
Mr Blair who breezed into Freetown yesterday Tuesday in what Information Minister I.B. Kargbo called a semi-private visit told Awoko at the Lumley Beach that he was in Sierra Leone because he was “doing a project”.He explained saying “I’ve got a team here that is supporting the president in trying to make sure that we get good processes of government so that the decisions and the priorities and the vision that the president has can be translated into action on the ground and we’re working alongside Sierra Leonean colleagues trying to achieve that and the team I’ve got is of young people who are very committed and people who’ve worked in governments in different parts of the world or alongside governments so that what we’re trying to offer and specifically I’m here on Lumley beach just to say the economy in Sierra Leone has enormous potential not least in tourism I mean not only in tourism but certainly in tourism.”Questioned what his advice to the president was given that the last time he spoke about mining and this time around the mining industry is on a down turn, Mr Blair said “Look the whole world is in a financial and economic down turn so these prices of materials and resources will drop for a time that’s true but they’ll rise … they’ll rise again that’s for sure and also there are resources like iron ore for example that are absolutely sure-fire winners for the future and you’ve got it, you need to develop it and one of the things is to get proper processes in so that the right people come in and the right people develop it.”
On the question of what he has achieved since he promised to be an ambassador for the country when he was last here, Mr Blair said “Well I think … I don’t say that I’ve achieved this you know I think it is the President who should take the credit for it but I think you can see the way Sierra Leone is regarded in the world people are now understanding there is a real potential here we’re going to have a conference later this year which is going to showcase Sierra Leone, everywhere I go I try and say to people this is a great country. Now it will take time of course it’s going to take time but you can see in the way the President prioritised power for Freetown and actually he’s delivered it … it’s possible to get things going and now I think the potential is there in tourism I think it’s there in mining and resources and I think it’s there in agriculture but obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
On what advice he gave to President Koroma regarding the political violence between the two leading political parties Mr Blair said “Well he doesn’t really need my advice on that I think the way he handled it is the right way which is to say we don’t want anymore of that type of disturbance we want people to come together we want people to respect each other even if they disagree.
The Former British Prime Minister went on “look I used to fight the conservative party every election and we used to go hammer and tongues at it but after the election if they won they were the government, if we won we were the government and everyone would never think of questioning that … and Sierra Leone has come a long way actually in the last few years given what was happening I mean you go back a decade ago … but for the people we should never lose sight of the fact that to maintain that democracy and that stability is the precondition for everything there is no investment that will come if that doesn’t stay solid so that’s why it is important and I think the fact that after the disturbance there was the statement put out and people coming together and I think the president has made a series of overtures to opposition people and they to him and I think that’s the way it should be … at the time of national crisis people should hang together.”
On the question of what he is benefitting or stands to benefit from all of this, Mr Blair said “There’s nothing in it for me personally except that … you know there are things that I can concentrate on now I’m no longer Prime Minister that I could not concentrate on properly when I was Prime Minister cause you are dealing with everything when you are Prime Minister, it’s such a huge thing but now for example the Middle East peace process or Africa, what I wanted to do in Africa specifically was to show that aid was important but actually good governance is in my view just as important. So what I wanted to do was put together a project team and work alongside African governments or African Presidents that wanted to have that help and so we’ve got a project here in Sierra Leone one in Rwanda and they’re both going really well actually and why am I doing it I’m doing it because I’m passionate about Africa and particularly because I’m passionate about this country for all sorts of reasons not least my father used to come and teach here in the 1960’s and he used to tell me about it so now I see it for myself.”