Sierra Leone and France are seeking to expand bilateral cooperation through increased trade and investment, the office of Sierra Leone’s Vice President says.
The revelation was made following a meeting on Tuesday between Vice President Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh and French ambassador accredited to Freetown, Marc Fonbaustier.
Mr Fonbaustier is based in neighbouring Guinea from where he oversees Sierra Leone through a French Consulate in Freetown.
According to a social media post by the the Vice President’s office, Tuesday’s meeting entailed an exchange on a range of bilateral cooperation issues, including strengthening the “consular and linguistic axis” and plans to expand to new areas such as trade and investment financing.
“We will soon have Schengen visa issued in Freetown as we look forward to the reopening of Alliance Francaise in the near future,” the statement says.
Mr Fonbaustier first visited Sierra Leone in an official capacity in March 2021, when he presented his letter of credence as ambassador designate, to President Julius Maada Bio.
Sierra Leone and France have had diplomatic relations since the 1960s, shortly after the former gained independence from Britain.
France maintained an embassy in Freetown until 1996, at the height of the 1991-2002 civil war, when the embassy was shutdown. The French embassy in Guinea has since then covered Freetown.
Sierra Leone also shutdown its embassy in Paris in 2014.
The Sierra Leonean ambassador to Belgium, based in Brussels, is accredited to France.
The highest ranking French official to have visited Sierra Leone is a Minister, in 2001.
Former President Ernest Bai Koroma was the first ever Sierra Leonean president to have visited France, when he led a delegation to the 2013 Élysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa.
In 2019 President Julius Maada Bio became the second Sierra Leonean head of state to visit France, when he met French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris, where they discussed the possibility of reopening Sierra Leone’s ambassy in Paris.
President Bio in 2020 told a visiting French lawmaker in Freetown that Sierra Leone was looking forward to the two countries establishing embassies in each others’ capital.
M’jid El Guerrab, French National Assembly Member for French people living in the Maghreb and part of West Africa, was in Freetown as part of a mission to heighten bilateral cooperation between the two countries, particularly at the parliamentary level.
Although the two countries currently have little political engagement, there is also substantial business relations between them. The telco, Orange, the logistic company Bollore, the oil company Total and Air France are three of the largest French owned investments in the West African country.
Bolloré, which operates in the country through its subsidiary Bolloré Africa Logistics, in 2010 won a 20-year concession for the container terminal at Freetown Port.
According to data from the French Foreign Ministry, as of 2018, trade between France and Sierra Leone stood at €39.4 million.
French exports comprise mostly agrifood products, mechanical, electric, electronic and computer equipment and machines for extraction or construction, as well as transport equipment and chemicals, perfumes and cosmetics.