Thursday, March 15, 2007

His Excellency Melvin Chalobah High Commissioner of Sierra Leone

Melvin Chalobah has come to London with one clear message: Sierra Leone is stable and open for business.
The development banker-turned High Commissioner is also full of praise for the role that Britain played in bringing the vicious civil war in his country to an end. "The British came in 2000 with a show of force which sent a message to the rebels that the game was up."
Chalobah himself tried to broker peace in 1996. As acting foreign minister during the transition to multiparty democracy, he came face to face with the rebel leader Foday Sankoh in Abijan. "Sankoh offered to lay down his arms. I was so optimistic that I immediately decided to establish my own business in Sierra Leone. We really thought things were on the right track." 

Unfortunately the peace process unravelled and fighting intensified. The High Commissioner moved to Addis Ababa where he served as a chief technical adviser (CTA) on a UNDP/OAU project to enhance the OAU Conflict Management Centre at a time when there were no less than 10 active wars raging in Africa, including his own country. When ECOMOG forces were unable to quell the violence in Sierra Leone, the UN was asked to intervene, but not before thousands were killed or maimed.
The High Commissioner has just completed a tour of duty as Ambassador to the AU and Ethiopia and hopes that with the establishment of the AU, future interventions in conflict countries will be more timely and effective. But he warns: "The AU has the goodwill, drive and determination but the logistics are absent and this is where we need the cover of the Security Council... Otherwise the AU cannot operate as effectively as it should."
He also calls for continued cooperation on efforts to end trade in Blood Diamonds and small arms. "The Kimberley Process is helping. Not long ago there were 15 active wars, now there are only three or four. That shows that the source of income fuelling these wars is no longer easy to come by. But still there are lots of loopholes. It needs the effort of the entire international community."
Since 2001, Sierra Leone has been rebuilding itself. Chalobah is grateful to Britain for the key role it played in Sierra Leone's rehabilitation and reconstruction. With DfID's direct budgetary support, Sierra Leone has been able to disarm and demobilise soldiers, train a police force and the country has held a truth commission. The High Commissioner also predicts that elections due this July will be peaceful.
"Since the government has taken over, the guns are silent. We are now in reconstruction phase," says Chalobah. Here again, Britain, as Sierra Leone's biggest donor and trading partner, is providing assistance. Universal primary education has been introduced and youth employment programmes have started for the lost generation of child soldiers who have no skills or jobs. The country's destroyed infrastructure is being rebuilt, as are hospitals and schools. "But we can't just depend on aid. Now we need the economic growth to generate the resources to train teachers and doctors," says the High Commissioner.
He is looking for British investors to provide the spark for economic growth, he says. Agriculture, particularly the palm kernel industry, and mining are obvious candidates, while eco-tourism has huge potential, he adds. With the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery this year, people from all over the world will be inspired to visit their land of origin.
Sierra Leone's diaspora should also participate in rebuilding the country, he says: "We have quite a lot of people here, so why don't we use the skills they have acquired and see what impact they can make? They have the local knowledge so we should engage these people as technical assistants."
With 22 years of development banking under his belt, High Commissioner Chalobah is just the man for the job.

Link to Diplomat