Eleven years of civil war between 1991 and 2002 has left Sierra Leone in ruins. According to the United Nations it’s the second poorest country in the world. Tens of thousands of people were killed and many more injured and displaced during the war. One of the largest UN peace-keeping forces helped to end the war, disarming thousands of rebel fighters. In May 2002, stability was restored when the former ruling party were returned to power in democratic elections. Now, after three years of peace, the rebuilding has begun, and Sierra Leone is looking for outside investment to kick start its economy. It’s determined to make a fresh start.
Sierra Leone has miles of beautiful beaches – in a country that was once a war-zone, could tourism be one of the new industries that moves the country into the future? Bimbola Carrol is Sierra Leonean. He lives in England. He left his home during the war. He is determined to change the perceptions of his homeland. He set up a website focusing on travel, tourism and investment opportunities to do just that. Last year alone it got 40 million hits. He explains: “The website was set up to show people another side of Sierra Leone – a more positive side which is not often seen in the media. It also highlights the tourist potential in Sierra Leone. But the initial mission is to change people’s perceptions to stimulate investment to Sierra Leone as a whole – it’s not just about diamonds.”
Bimbola is travelling back to Sierra Leone with Derek Moore, founder of the international travel company Explore, to investigate Sierra Leone’s potential for tourism and the barriers stopping the industry getting back on its feet.
Until now, most of Sierra Leone’s foreign earnings have come from exporting diamonds. But it’s rich in other natural resources. Apart from diamonds, there is titanium ore, gold and fisheries. Agriculture could also be developed. The land is fertile but only a fifth of it is farmed – and it needs long term investment. Tourism, on the other hand, offers the promise of revenue – on a far quicker turnaround.