Sierra Leone’s new Ambassador to Iran is one of the country’s youngest politicians who also carries a role as the Ministry of Youth Affairs in his background. He is trying to mark a new chapter in his political life as one of the future candidates for Sierra Leone’s presidency. Dr. Amara Kamara stressed in his interview with AVA Diplomatic that he seeks to develop ties between Iran and Sierra Leone while not allowing this process to collide with his run-up for presidency.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with the Honorable Dr. Alimamy Amara Kamara,
Ambassador of Republic of Sierra Leone to Iran
Interview by Mohammadreza Nazari
Did Your Honor have a diplomatic background before your appointment as Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to Iran?
This is my first assignment in the diplomatic world. Before now, I have been a mainstream politician. At a much younger age, I was elected to the House of Parliament in the Republic of Sierra Leone. I was there for five years for my first term, and upon my re-election in 2012 for the second term, I was appointed Minister of Youth Affairs. I served in that position for three years and was later appointed Resident Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Iran. I am also accredited to the Republic of Lebanon, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Considering the political backgrounds you acquired in Sierra Leone, it is interesting to see you here as an Ambassador to Iran. How did it happen?
The President, H.E. Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma decided in his wisdom to appoint me to the foreign service as an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Before, I was a party youth leader, and a committed member of the all people’s Congress party to which I belong. So I see my appointment as a motivational factor. I have served as a party youth political leader; I have served as a Member of Parliament and a Cabinet Minister. My notion is that perhaps His Excellency the President wanted me to gain some diplomatic background. I remember for once when I was taking leave of His Excellency the President, he stated among others that he believes Iran as a nation is strategic and needed someone who has energy, someone who is open-minded to work strengthen the long standing bilateral relationship between two nations.
And as it seems, you are going to be a Presidential candidate as the election season arrives.
Well, you heard that one, Ok. What we are doing now at party level is preparing for the primaries that we lead to the selection or appointment of a flag bearer who will be the presidential candidate. Yes, I have declared to become the flag bearer of my party because I think I am qualified for the position and will get the support of grassroots party members. I have had experience as a parliamentarian, a cabinet minister and now with the experience I am gaining in the Diplomatic World, I think I will be better equipped to hold that very important office in my country.
So indeed, I came forth boldly to say I am interested. What we are doing now is consultations that we lead to the final selection or appointment of the flag bearer. I know I have strong support among the young people but I can be patient as a young man. But if the party decides to give someone else I will be still in the learning curve. We are doing some consultations; I am doing some consultations; we are discussing things at party level. It is not a hard push to do or die. But as a politician, you have to come forward and that is what I have done. I will be going back home shortly for us to take audition as to see who will be the leader. I am participating as one of the people wanting to lead the party. I will continue to do so until a decision is taken on whom becomes the flag bearer.
When will the voting be held inside the party?
The election will take place on March 7, 2018. So I will be going hopefully in July or August to participate in the electioneering process.
Have forming, leading and engaging in the party campaign had any impact on your performance as the Ambassador of Sierra Leone to Iran?
No, it has not. You should know that in the Embassy, there is a Minister Counselor/ Head of Chancery that takes care of the daily administrative duties. The Ambassador is the Head of Mission. But back home, as I said in my background, I am a politician. In fact, I see my coming to Iran as an added advantage to my trajectory in terms of what I have told you. I am lucky as a young man to have gained such a rich background. I am the type everybody knows to be vibrant even from college. So I think my coming here has given me an additional advantage in approach and how to become diplomatic in handling issues. I have had the opportunity to meet with my colleagues and sharing experiences. Iran is a very big country. It is a power in the Persian Gulf. It is a superpower in the Persian Gulf; a very great country; so I have got the opportunity to mingle at this level. So it gives me an advantage and does not affect my work as an Ambassador in any way.
If you want to be the President of Sierra Leone, you should be able to promote the value of leone and control inflation rate. Do you have any plan to settle the economic status of Sierra Leone?
Yes, I have a plan. Every person aspiring for such high position must have a plan and a vision. However, it is early for me at this point to put across these plans. I will only say that it is in the process of development and will be clearly stated in my political manifesto in a not too distant future.
When you were putting forward your credentials to President Rouhani, he very much welcomed the deepening and strengthening of ties between Iran and Sierra Leone. What is your action plan to expand the economic relations between the two countries?
This is precisely what I was authorized by my President to follow up on in the Islamic Republic of Iran during my tenure as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in this country. I am also authorized to work hard to deepen and strengthen the already existing strong bilateral relationship between our two countries since our establishment of diplomatic relations in 1996. Although we still strongly believe in political diplomacy, the trend, however, in the 21st century is shifting towards economic diplomacy wherein trade, investments, mining and development in the agricultural sector among others takes predominance. Whilst ambassador in this country, I will work with the government and private partners, the Iranian Chamber of Commerce and other interested parties to explore the possibilities of developing bilateral potentials for development in the areas I have outlined.
Sierra Leone is one of the main exporters of rice, coffee and cocoa. Does it have any plan to export these items to Iran, too?
The rice export was long before in the 60s. Now we are importing rice mainly from Bangladesh, China, Thailand, India, etc. It is unfortunate that a once exporter country of rice is now an importer. In future if we work hard to once again become an exporter country of rice, I believe the Islamic Republic of Iran will be a select country for export of our rice. We also produce more quantities of cocoa, coffee, groundnut, kola nut etc, some of which we export to neighbouring countries and Europe. It is not only Sierra Leone exporting to Iran, for the purpose of developing trade Iran as State is also in a position to export some of its vital commodities and manufactured products to Sierra Leone.
How much is the trade balance between the two countries in dollars?
I cannot tell now. I do not have the statistics on that. One thing that is notable is that the annual Iranian exhibition in Sierra Leone has become a grand event where the products of Iranian origin are exhibited on sales to the Sierra Leonean public. That is the most notable event or activity in terms of our business ties for now. How we could work to maintain that level is what the two countries are working on now.
There are many mines in Sierra Leone that can catch the attention of Iranian investors. Have you had any consultation in this regard?
Well, this is what we are trying to do. We are working on it. You know we have met one or two business people. We are doing consultations. We are looking forward to doing it. We are making some efforts. We have given some business people our mining policy, the land policy and how to establish their businesses in our country. It is relatively new and we continue to work in that direction to make people interested in mining, and to understand what is going on. To create awareness that opportunities exist to invest in Sierra Leone.
Have you met with the chairman of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, which is the largest private-sector institution of the country?
I think we have met. They promised to come. There are names I cannot recall. They are coordinating that from the Chamber of Commerce. There are one or two men who are also responsible for the Iran-Africa cooperation. I have met with them. We are working on it and we will meet with them again, because they said they want to meet with us. And you know, it was true that in one of the meetings, they sent this Iranian corporation; a company that is doing the business, and then there was a professor at Tehran University who wrote a book about the Sierra Leonean culture. So we are meeting with the professor to see how this could be translated, because we want to know the Iranian opinion about culture. It is so amazing I want to inform Freetown. Everybody is eager “Oh! So the Iranians want to know about our culture. This is very important for anyone to know.
What consultations have you done in the areas of agriculture and transmission of transportation technologies?
We have written letters to the Ministry officials, because the protocol demands we go through Foreign Affairs. We met with the Education Ministry. They are organizing a meeting in Africa. So we are waiting to meet with the Minister of Agriculture. I told them about the green house to visit but we have not heard a word from them; the fisheries industry also is one of the areas we are looking forward to working with. This is what we have done on our side. So we are waiting for communication from Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
What parameters outside what we referred to are you considering to apply into the perspective of expanding relations between the two countries?
My personal concern is to help build or develop the bilateral relationship of my country and the Iranian people. This is one area we are very much concerned with and making efforts. We want to see more interaction between our people and those business people or professionals in Iran. I do not know if it works now, but I understand that Iran used to offer diplomatic courses. These are areas we want to see continuation of action and also want to see improvements in the relationships. My people want to know more about Iran. There are good things about Iranians they should know, which I believe as of now, they are not aware though we have an embassy here; a long-standing Embassy. Much has not been done for the Sierra Leoneans to know about Iran and we have this bilateral relationship that is so strong with strong respect between the two countries. We also want to see the Iranians, given their level of development; to interface with us as a developing country in order to benefit from this bilateral relationship. We have raw materials and we can benefit from Iranian technology to make things move in our country.
Here’s a question. Could we say that the challenges between Iran and Saudi Arabia have affected the relations between Iran and Sierra Leone?
No, the challenges between Iran and Saudi Arabia have nothing to do with the relationship between Sierra Leone and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Sierra Leone is an adherent to the policy of non-alignment and does not interfere in the internal policy of any other sovereign state. We have an open door policy with focus on bilateral and multilateral cooperation between member states.
What about the challenge that has arisen between Saudi Arabia and Qatar? Which one of them do you try to get closer to?
I have just explained to you our policy. We have a non-aligned policy. We are friends with everybody.
But the President of Sierra Leone was in Saudi Arabia a month ago…
I just told you our policy. We have a non-aligned policy. There is a statement on the Sierra Leonean policy. We do not take sides in conflicts. He was there at the invitation of the Saudi King. We have an Ambassador there. We have our relationship. We do not meddle in other countries’ affairs. We deal with countries on the basis of mutual respect, be it bilateral or multilateral. We do not meddle into the internal affairs of other sovereign states. We support the Iranians based on our relationship. That is why I am here. This is what the President believes in. We do not take sides. We respect the Iranian people and it is manifested everywhere. That is our policy.
Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma attended the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia held on May, 21 where Donald Trump also gave a speech. What was his stand there?
Our stands are simple, just like the Iranians. We are against anything that has to do with terrorism. I am sure this is what the President is interested in. We all see that terrorism is a problem in the world. Unfortunately, we have seen it happened here in Tehran, a very peaceful country; recently at the parliament. So everybody is against terrorism; President Koroma and all of us as Sierra Leoneans support every effort by any individual, every nation coming together or working in partnership to defeat terrorism. That is our interest.