The founding director of Visit Sierra Leone, Abimbola Carrol, said today that the upcoming “Blood Diamond” movie starring Leonardo di Caprio is bad news for Sierra Leone because it threatens to undo any positive steps the country has made in the past few years.
Jewellers and diamond organizations worldwide are already mobilizing to counteract the movie’s potential negative impact to their businesses, but Carrol insists that the repercussions are far greater than just numbers on a balance sheet. Heavily dependent on its diamond industry, the country of Sierra Leone would feel an obvious impact from a slowdown in the diamond industry. Not only that, but secondary effects from a slowdown would be further reaching still.
According to Carrol, “The greatest damage will be to the already tarnished image of Sierra Leone, as this will affect all industries – not the least tourism which has been gathering pace in the past couple of years. Hollywood will no doubt benefit from the release of this movie but the results for Sierra Leone could be dire.”
Carrol knows firsthand about Sierra Leone’s awful war. He was attending university there when trouble broke in 1997, forcing him to leave the country suddenly and head for Gambia in a cargo ship. From there, he made it to the UK where he completed his education and still resides.
In July 2004, he launched VisitSierraLeone.org with the goal of providing a positive view of Sierra Leone. “I felt there was enough negative information about Sierra Leone out there. Changing the perception of Sierra Leone is fundamental to any lasting progress, and at VisitSierraLeone.org we have provided information and advice to travellers through our Forums, job and volunteering opportunities for visitors, as well as our recently launched hotel reservations, airport transfer and vehicle hire services.”
In the past, “blood” or “conflict” diamonds have provided financing for some of Africa’s wars. Since that time, though, the industry had cleaned up its act. According to diamondfacts.org less than 1% of global diamond sales can now be attributed to conflict diamonds. Today, diamonds are responsible not for fuelling wars but for supporting the growth of successful economies like Botswana and South Africa.
Sierra Leone’s war ended in 2002, and progress has been made even if it appears to be painstakingly slow. The travel industry has also been picking up pace and recently received a boost with the announcement that British Airways will commence flights to the country in October after an absence of 14 years due to instability in the region.
“Countries like Sierra Leone are trying to kick start their economy once again, and at the very least they deserve a chance to do so,” said Carrol. “It is essential that movie goers be able to separate fact from fiction, and present from past.”
Since its launch in 2004, VisitSierraLeone.org has become the foremost travel resource for Sierra Leone. The site is officially approved by the National Tourist Board of Sierra Leone and includes a comprehensive range of information for anyone planning to visit the country.