By Prince C. Kamara
Alhaji Alpha Tanu Jalloh, former President Sierra Leone Importers Union; now President of the Federation of Foreign Exchange Bureaus and President of Sierra Leone Indigenous Business Association (SLIBA) has on behalf of his organization expressed concerns about the Coronavirus situation in China and the need for Sierra Leone to come to its rescue in whatever way as “one good deed deserves another.”
Speaking in an exclusive interview at his Rawdon Street office in Freetown over the weekend, Alhaji Jalloh explained that “we were hit by Ebola here in 2014 and we had so many challenges at that time. The first country to identify themselves with us was China.”
“But I have a concern with the present trend in the world with regard the Coronavirus that is going on most especially at the epicenter which is China. The Coronavirus is a strange and unknown virus. It is a deadly and dangerous virus and China is our biggest trading partner,” Alhaji Jalloh noted.
He went on to state that “we bring most of our products from China.” He said “I can recall back in 2014 when we were hit by the Ebola virus the only country that was the first country to come to our aid and identify with our problem was China. China sent about three hundred medics. In fact, they helped strengthen their medical facilities already in the country. They were not afraid. The worst thing that happened was the travel restrictions; most especially, border-crossing restrictions. We were even restricted to go to our closest neighbors and so many countries refused to give us visas.”
According to him, he made a representation to the Chinese Embassy based on the situation and they accepted allowing Sierra Leonean business people short stay visas for three months’ single entry. “And it was good for the country because most of our women here rely on the trade they are doing with China. So in that respect, when they gave us that facility, we were so happy. They didn’t end it there! There were special arrangements made in China for Sierra Leone or Ebola-hit countries. When you land in China, at the entry point, you are given a First Aid kit. In these kits you have medicines that we even bring back to Sierra Leone that helped us significantly because these are special medicines. And they gave us each a telephone with a SIM card well loaded. Not only that. They even lodged us at a Five-Star hotel for 21 days. So most of us were not paying hotel bills because by 21 days you are finished doing whatever business you went there to do and come back to Sierra Leone. China is the only country that did that for us. I do not know how much it cost because when I checked the counter at the hotel, they told me it is 900 Yen per night for the rooms we were occupying! It’s a great sacrifice for a country like China to do for a country like Sierra Leone,” the President of the Federation of Foreign Exchange Bureaus, Alhaji Alpha Tanu Jalloh told AYV.
He maintained that one great thing that happened during the whole of the Ebola epidemic was that there was no scarcity of any product in the market. He said: “The market was full of products because they did the best they could in cooperating with us. Not a single citizen suffered at that time. And remember, with Ebola as dangerous and deadly as it was; these guys gave us facilities to quarantine even our people that were affected. They have done a lot; they have made so many sacrifices for us when we were in need at that time.”
He lamented however that: “And today, tears run my cheeks when it’s the opposite. Today China is hit and unlike Sierra Leone, it took time. For China it didn’t… in the fastest possible time this disease went round affecting all the continents in the world. We have about four hundred and some more deaths in China alone. Then we have one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. It has affected all the major countries in the world…Europe, America, Britain…all the major countries that think they have sophisticated technology to handle some of these things, yet this disease entered their country.”
Alhaji Alpha Tanu Jalloh went on to lament that: “It’s sad for China; and China thought it would handle this in the shortest possible time but now it’s going out of hand. The affected area is now expanded to all the counties in the whole of China.” He rhetorically asked: “What are we doing to identify ourselves with what China has done for us in the past? It’s a question I always ask myself. So I am asking my authorities, it would have a repercussion if we do not take measures now because if this virus stays long in China; remembering the fact that China is our biggest trading partner and all of us are waiting to travel to China…but how can we? Because when you travel to China, you don’t only risk going to China but when coming from China, no country will allow you to enter their country, that’s the sad part. So I don’t want us to run out of stock here. I have the pressure everyday with importers coming to me, asking how we should do this; the measures I ask them to take for now is for them to identify their suppliers. Everybody should identify their suppliers in China; tell your suppliers what you want and we would find a way to pay your suppliers so we don’t have scarcity in the country because traveling is not favorable for now. Those who wanted to travel have to wait because China promised they would try to resolve this issue before February 24th. We hope that by this time they would have the Coronavirus under control, if not, it will hit so many countries, not only Sierra Leone.”
He maintained however that in the meantime, they are considering opening up a backup front which is Turkey. “We are seriously working on it while China is seriously working on eradicating the Coronavirus. Meanwhile, we are asking our government to please reconsider what China has done for us at a time we were in need and take appropriate steps to helping China in the deadly and dangerous situation they find themselves.”