By Dennis Kabatto :

The central focal subject of discourse when Global Diaspora Forum (GDF) convenes on May 13 – 14, 2013 for its third annual celebration of the contributions Diaspora communities make to their countries of origin is “Where Ideas Meet Action.”

GDF events will meet in Washington, DC; Dublin, Ireland; Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, California.  Modern technological advancement has made it possible for participants in all four venues to connect in real time with the “ideas and innovations” discussed from the primary venue in Washington.

A wide range of stakeholders including Leaders of Diaspora communities, United States Government officials, academic experts, representatives of international institutions, members of nonprofit organizations, foundation executives and private sector stakeholders will to promote Diaspora engagement during the two days forum.

GDF officials say they “will feature inspiring stories from prominent figures in American popular culture, demonstrate exemplary initiatives in international development and diplomacy undertaken by diasporans of all generations, and showcase methods of cultural bridge-building that encourages young diasporans to connect with their countries of heritage.”

To that end, the US Department of State, a major GDF partner has invited Sierra Leone Policy Watch (SLPW) an emerging Sierra Leonean Diaspora independent, nonprofit public policy think tank based in Burtonsville, Maryland, to participate in this year’s forum.  SLPW promotes good governance within the context of Sierra Leone’s socio-economic realities as they relate to the rule of law, economic freedom, political freedom, transparency and accountability.

I caught up with Jesmed F. Suma, founding member and the current Executive Director of SLPW for an interview on the importance of his organization’s participation and his agenda at the forum.  This is some of what he said.

Mr. Jesmed F. Suma, Executive Director and Founding Member, SLPW

Mr. Jesmed F. Suma, Executive Director and Founding Member, SLPW

How significant is the Global Diaspora Forum (GDF) to SLPW and the Sierra Leone Diaspora?

The Global Diaspora Forum is the largest gathering of Diaspora leaders in the US organized by the US Department of State. On behalf of the Sierra Leone Diaspora community, it creates an opportunity for Sierra Leone Policy Watch Inc., a policy think tank, to collaborate with the US government through the state department and other Diaspora organizations, to discuss, brainstorm, and collaborate on innovative ideas and new projects.  Please take note that it is SLPW not SLPWD.

What tangible benefits do SLPW and Sierra Leoneans stand to gain from the Global Diaspora Forum?

In addition to the response I gave to your first question, it would help us to explore best practices from other communities in terms of how to advance the Sierra Leonean immigrant’s interest in the USA. And from policy perspective, we hope to certainly mention the recent development partnership between the USA and Sierra Leone as regards to the MCC and create partnership with relevant government institutions to explore best practices on socio-economic development to support the transformational development going on now in Sierra Leone. I must add that we do not represent the government of Sierra Leone so we do not speak on behalf of the government. Our discussion would be limited, where necessary to the role the Diaspora community can play in the collective efforts.

You presented an excellent paper on ‘How to Drastically Cut Sierra Leone’s Rice Imports in Five Years’ on your Facebook forum.  One of the GDF partners is the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).   Relating to your aforementioned paper in rice sufficiency, do you intend or plan to partner with the IFAD to implement your ideas to help return Sierra Leone to its former self-sufficiency in rice?

Yes indeed, and I am very impressed with the positive responses I have received for the paper.  But before I answer your question, I would like your readers to know that it is just a discussion paper not a technical proposal.  My hope is that it would spur discussions on the subject that could evolve into an actual policy document after all the necessary due diligence has been taken and all empirical data considered.  Furthermore, it does not represent the views of Sierra Leone Policy Watch, Inc. I just want to encourage discussion in our community that begins with proposed solutions rather than criticisms. Readers may download a copy from the following link: https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=05c68262fc7b3c17&id=5C68262FC7B3C17%211804 or they may contact me with any comments or questions via JesmedSuma@slpw.org .

Now to (IFAD) I want to believe that IFAD deals with state governments and not individuals. But now that you’ve asked, I shall certainly bring up the discussion on agriculture but I am afraid the paper I wrote may not meet the minimum standards to be considered a project proposal, but it would absolutely spur discussion on the subject. The paper is more about how to get Sierra Leone to be self sufficient in rice production in five years and stop us from being over dependent on imported rice.

A news report by VOA says Africans are concerned that they may be losers under new immigration reform laws debates in Washington.  That if the new bill is passed it would replace the visa lottery by a merit-based system that gives more points to highly educated applicants and ultimately reduce the number of African immigrants.  The question is, since the State department is a major partner of GDF, and the federal agency that handles visas, would you be advocating for the retention of visa lottery and other immigration issues on behalf of Africans during the forum?

Absolutely, it is an issue that is going to be discussed at the forum, not only by us the African Diaspora community, but also the Hispanic and other Diaspora communities who are equally going to be impacted by the new bill.

The good thing is the forum would give those of us representing Diaspora organizations from continental Africa an opportunity to meet, dialogue, and coordinate our effort around this issue and many other African immigrant related issues.

Mr. Dennis Kabbatto I thank you for the interview and the opportunity to discuss some of these pertinent issues relating to Sierra Leone.

By Dennis Kabatto

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