The Hon. Victoria Saidu Kamara (Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs of Sierra Leone)

11.03.2011 - Interview conducted by Ashley S. Fitzpatrick

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Q1. Sierra Leone has a vast natural resource base. What do you think are the challenges in redistributing this wealth to the general population?

Our main challenge is capital. We do not have capital to explore. Most of what we have is still under the ground and we just know that itís there. The second thing is that we donít have the intellectual capacity to value what we have. Thirdly, we do not have the technology. Even if the technology is available, we cannot afford it. So these are the three challenges that we have: lack of capital, lack of intellectual capacity and lack of access to technology. For the few that we can manage, we have signed favourable agreements with investors. When those projects materialize, the profits will be evenly distributed in the country.

Q2. Sierra Leone has successfully turned its country around from the civil war to the peaceful coexistence of many ethnic and religious groups. Is this diversity a source of pride and is it used in the national branding of Sierra Leone?

Yes. What we have done successfully is that when the war came to an end, we did not try and pursue retaliation or revenge. We went straight into reconciliation. So that has brought us faster to reconciliation than would have otherwise been the case if we had tried to punish people or retaliate. It would have been a domino effect if we had done that and we would still be in the war mode. If you kill one person, they have a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a cousin, and itís endless. So we just forgive everybody and forgave ourselves and went straight into reconciliation. That has brought us faster out of the war. We are doing things and working on the infrastructural development. The President has also lifted the spirit of reunion by engaging the country in this infrastructural development. So we have work to do. Ethnic diversity, because of reconciliation, means we are able to come together as a country.

Q3. Sierra Leone is a member of several regional and international organizations such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the African Union and many others. How important is the development of multilateral cooperative efforts for promoting stability in Sierra Leone?

Itís very important. The Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) is very important to us because if we had not belonged to that organization, our war would still be going on. Those 14 countries were able to mobilize and assist us militarily, especially Nigeria, to help us end the war. Economically, we trade and exchange goods and services. Itís been very beneficial, especially coming out of war. We enjoy sympathy for our neighbours. A lot of our people went into exile during the war. When they went to those places they found friends and people who took them in and helped them, just because they knew that we belonged to the same organization. All of those efforts and sympathy towards us makes us continue to believe in economic integration. In addition to the UN, we have what is called the Mano River Union between Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and the Ivory Coast. Thatís another economic union that facilitates trade and a lot of other things. I have friends in those organizations. That why we were able to come out of the war so quickly, because we had friend who were chipped in to help stabilize us.

Q4: What role does art and music play in creating cultural diplomacy in Sierra Leone?

Itís very important because arts and culture brings understanding. Half of the worldís problem is a lack of understanding. If only we could share, especially with the Arab states because most of the troubles emanates from there. The average Muslim doesnít even take constructive criticism because they are always on the defensive because of lack of understanding. Arts and culture can bridge the gap. We can take it to that level and thatís why I said that UNESCO could do more. ICD could do more. These types of conferences bring people together and let people speak their minds and then compromise is within reach. So when we can have more access to one another, we do more in the name of peace.

Thank you so much for your time and input.