Ambassador Sidique Abou- Bakarr Wai and U.S Congressman Gregory Meeks
The Embassy of Sierra Leone in Washington D.C. on March 9 hosted U.S Congressman Gregory Meeks, a Democratic Member of the House of Representatives from Queens, New York.
Mr Meeks who recently became Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House visited the Mission on the invitation of AmbassadorSidique Abou- Bakarr Wai. Also invited were Ambassador Seydou Kabore of Burkina Faso, Ambassador Kerfalla Yansene of Guinea, Ambassador Frederic Eden Hegbe of Togo, Ambassador Barfour Adjei Barwuah of Ghana, Ambassador George Patten of Liberia, Ambassador Mahmadou Nimaga of Mali and Ambassador Mathilde Mukantabana of Rwanda. Former NYC Commissioner Patricia Gatling, Rev. Dr Abdul K. Sesay, Dr Fouad Sheriff, Rakie Macarthy, Head of Chancery of the Embassy of Sierra Leone, were among the other dignitaries present.
Representative Gregory Meeks is the first African-American to be elected Chairman of the United States Congress Foreign Affairs Committee. Hon. Patricia Gatling, the former Human Rights Commissioner for New York City, introduced Chairman Meeks, noting the historic importance of his appointment in the 199 years of the existence of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Africa Ambassadors representing their nations in the United States present at the dinner seized the opportunity to present their countries’ challenges as well as opportunities for investment to the gathering. They expressed their heightened expectation for future collaboration with President Joe Biden’s new administration for the mutual benefit of the 54 countries on the continent of Africa.
The Chairman at this point noted his long-standing friendship with Vice President Kamala Harris, which he said pre-dated her time in the Senate. International security concerns were paramount among the issues presented to the Chairman. Among the potential strategic partnerships with the United States and the individual African governments were the military.
The African continent is in dire need of enhanced security resources especially in the Sahara region, Nigeria and East Africa in defending their coastal waters. The African representatives promoted the agricultural advantage and potential of the continent, calling for partnerships with the United States private sector to ensure worldwide food security in the future.
Africa will have the highest number of young people in the world, and therefore education and human resource development must be invested in the continent’s youth, the envoys noted, adding that the natural resources of Africa need to be for the benefit of Africans and therefore legally protected.
The Ambassadors requested assistance from the United States in achieving this goal. Also mentioned in terms of economic development of Africa included the textile industry. The group also appealed to President Biden’s administration to review financial aid conditionalities to Africa. They also pointed out the humanitarian crises along the Mediterranean Sea with the youth of Africa attempting to migrate to the western world and placing themselves in danger.
Climate change was extensively discussed, and the expectation for the United States to lead the world in this direction remains a sine qua non to African leaders. Most of the Ambassadors in their comments observed that America is still yet to tap into the huge natural, human and economic potential Africa is offering. The relationship between Africa and America should be strengthened, not allowing the existing gap to grow further with China, Russia and other nations rushing to fill.
The Ambassadors expressed their frustration in this area to Chairman Meeks, over their countries’ recent relationship with the United States through the previous administration.
In his contribution, Ambassador Sidique AbouBakarr Wai reiterated the priority areas of President Julius Maada Bio in Human Capital Development, Healthcare, Agriculture and Infrastructural development. Ambassador Wai thanked Representative Meeks for his role in making the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact available to Sierra Leone. He further reminded the Congressman that Sierra Leone is in compliance with the State Department and Homeland Security for the lifting of the Visa ban that was imposed on Sierra Leone since 2017, noting however that there is still delay in the process.
Sierra Leone wishes to take advantage of its deep-water ports, its coastal waters and defend the resources within its’ boundaries, Mr Wai stated, adding that he has enjoyed a long-standing friendship with Chairman Meeks spanning over 30 years working together in New York on law enforcement, civil right and economic development issues.
In his response to the comments of the African envoys, Chairman Gregory Meeks thanked Ambassador Sidique AbouBakarr Wai for allowing him to meet with this group of distinguished Ambassadors from Africa. Chairman Meeks expressed that it was his pleasure and honour for Ambassador Wai to keep this relationship with him for this many years. Meeks emphatically allayed all fears of the African Ambassadors in the United States, noting that he has the fifty-four countries of Africa as a priority during his chairmanship.
“My DNA tells me that Sierra Leone is my ancestral land, and my people are from the Mende group, and Africa is my Motherland,” Meeks stated, adding: “We are all committed to the development of the African continent”.
Chairman Meeks said his leadership as Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs would seek to promote and change the relationship between the US and the African continent.
“I want to work closely with the African Development Bank, African Union, ECOWAS, and other regional groups. Through inter-continental trade, we will make Africa economically sustainable and ultimately prosperous. Through the partnership, we will work on renewable energy, building institutions and technology. My office will always be opened to you all. I will physically travel as I have done in the past with colleagues from Congress so that we may see for ourselves. One of our priorities is to promote Free Education for all Primary students in Africa,” he stated.
Congressman Meeks further promised to help attract African Americans to return to Africa not just as tourists but as entrepreneurial businessmen and women.
“Together, we will be addressing food shortage and enhancing agricultural production, monitoring security, climate change, piracy, and illegal fishing in Africa. We need a strong investment with our African partners,” he said, citing the support of his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, in particular Congresswomen Karen Bass and Barbara Lee.
The Chairman concluded by noting that the time to promote and enhance relationships between the 54 African countries and the United States is now.
“We have a lot of work to do together,” he said.