Sierra Leone: a destination for investment and future center for trade
With Sierra Leone’s long civil strife behind it, the country is poised to usher in a new era of economic growth and prosperity. Having held successful democratic elections, economic recovery has begun, and increasing attention is being paid to creating the policies and developing the infrastructure needed to support economic development and create jobs.
With a population of just over 6 million—which is growing at about 3 percent annually overall and 5 percent in the urban areas—Sierra Leone offers a modest domestic market; however, companies based in Sierra Leone also enjoy relatively easy access, through regional trade agreements, to nearly 215 million regional consumers in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire (18.2 million), Guinea (9.4 million), and Liberia (3 million) by sea and land transportation.
Sierra Leone is on the West Coast of Africa, situated on the Atlantic seacoast between Guinea and Liberia. The country covers an area of 71,740 square kilometers)—about the size of Ireland—and contains about 27,540 square kilometers (10,633 square miles) of forests and a 402 kilometer (250 mile) coastline dotted with sandy white beaches on the northern shores and marshlands in the south.
The country’s climate is tropical and humid, with a rainy season from May to November and a dry season from December to April. There is also the harmattan period between December and February, when dry winds arrive from the Sahara. Sierra Leone receives the most rainfall in West Africa, averaging more than 300 centimeters (118 inches) a year, and its nine major and three minor rivers have hardly been tapped for their irrigation potential.
Few countries present such a variety of untouched wilderness, islands, waterfalls, wildlife, agreeable weather, rich cultural heritage, unspoiled beaches, and dramatic tropical and mountainous backdrops. Sierra Leone’s beaches stretch from Conakry Dee to Yeilboya to Lumley and Lakka. Though tourism is currently beach oriented, the country contains historic sites such as monuments linked to the slave trade, ecotourism such as bird watching in the Gola Rainforest, and climbing of Loma Mountain— the highest peak in West Africa.
Though Sierra Leone is well known for its diamond trade, this precious stone is not the country’s only mineral resource. Sierra Leone was once a prominent global exporter of rutile and bauxite, and recently revitalized mining of both minerals. Diamond exports, which had been banned due to illicitly mined stones, are experiencing growth and new interest.
Agriculture will be an engine for future growth. Population growth and recovery of incomes across West Africa causing a rapid increase in demand for food crops, and with the country’s plentiful aquatic resources, tropical climate and soils of Sierra Leone present great opportunities for rice, the country’s number one food crop; large-scale oil palm and other tropical tree crop production and processing; and cattle and dairy processing. The country already has a small presence in key international export markets such as coffee, cocoa, kola nut and palm oil.
Sierra Leone’s marine resources sector includes fishing and ship repair and maintenance services. The fishing subsector is split into two markets: industrial fishing in the Economic Exclusive Zone and small-scale fishing. Both markets provide opportunities for investment. Industrial fishing was limited through 2003, enabling local fish populations to recover in large numbers. Since the end of the war, an EU ban on fish imports—due to uncontrolled illicit fishing—has also reduced industrial fishing in Sierra Leone. Freetown, which has the world’s third largest natural harbor, has considerable potential to become a major shipping center, including for fish processing, transshipment, and maritime services. As fisheries rebound, the lack of services offers opportunities for new investment in ship repair and maintenance to serve both domestic and foreign markets.
Sierra Leone offers many significant investment and trade opportunities, there are a number of organizations that can provide investors with risk guarantees that insure investors against political and noncommercial risks. One of these, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, provides a list of such providers on its online resource website, PRI-Center.