The fall in price of iron ore and other minerals has had an adverse effect to the Sierra Leonean economy as reflected in the poor performance of the government sector.
Before the outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic Ebola disease in the country in May 2014, Sierra Leone was referred to as the one with the fastest growing economy by the government itself, official sources and other partners.
The 18 months standoff period of the Ebola era halted if not all, but most of the economic activities that were going on in the country and the problems within the mining sector left the country’s economy in bad shape.
But this does not mean there are no ways to rescue the situation. One major sector that can rescue the country’s economy, but also make it sustainable for a very long period is the ‘Tourism Sector’ which has the potential to transform the image of Sierra Leone, but only if much attention is given to this sector.
This country can learn from the success story of ‘Hainan province’ which was once an exile town but it has recently been transformed into a paradise for tourist’s attraction.
Speaking to a contingent of visiting African journalists, Mr Sunny Gam, a local guide had this to say, “Local residents were not driven away, but they were encouraged to take full responsibility of the city by providing standard educational, health and employment facilities for them,” he remarked.
He explained that in 2013 they launched the clean environment project whereby people were empowered on how to keep their environment and public areas clean.
But also, according to Madam Zhou Yanhua, from the tourism department in Hainan, this sector has become one of China’s most economic contributing sectors; she disclosed that the Province of Hainan was reconstructed into a modern city within 16 years by the Chinese government.
This was after having realized its economic potential due to the availability of its special features like warm weather, green environment and beautiful beaches. These have been coupled with rich culture, fertile soil, unique animal species and natural water, among others.
Most of these facilities are available in Sierra Leone, a country that has been blessed with rich historic background from the slave trade era.
Just to mention a few, there is a Bounce Island, Banana Island, Tiwai Island, Takugama Park, the grave site of Bai Bureh, beautiful mountains, beautiful white and silver sand beaches, natural water, green environment, warm weather, the slaughter house, among other historic touristic sites, the list could go on.
If one has to draw a lesson from China, within the 16 years transformation of Hainan, more than 80 Five Star Hotels were constructed together with hundreds of other level hotels, two international airports completed, according to Madam Zhou.
Presently, two more airports are under construction, Silk Road completed, but also there has been a rehabilitation of two historic cultural villages as a way of making the environment user friendly, she added.
“With the government’s support, the former exile town was successfully transformed into a modern city and as at 2015 this city received more than 50 million local and foreign overnight tourists who contributed immensely to the national economy of China, making it now the second largest world economy after the USA,” according to Madam Zhou.
It was also disclosed that the government transformed the houses of the local farmers as a way of encouraging them to continue with their farming and also protect their culture and tradition.
“Various policies protecting reserve tourist areas and species were set up by the government. People were discouraged to hunt in protected forests to ensure healthy environment,” she maintained.
At the Botanic Garden in Wanning City where the Spice and Beverage Research Institute was located, various items such as green and black tea, chocolate and spray, among others are available for sale.
According to the Deputy Director General of the Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs office in Hainan, Mr. Chen Kangle, anyone who intends to invest in this province must ensure their operations are job creating, and also they must protect the Botanical Gardens features which are part of the province’s environmental pact.
Sadly, this is not the case in Sierra Leone as the Tourism Ministry is one of the least funded by the government together with the Social Welfare Ministry, according to the 2014 and 2015 allocations. The government should invest in this sector so as to make it a great contributing factor towards the national economy.
Local tourism should be emphasized, because up to now only a few Sierra Leoneans have visited the Bounce Island which holds the bulk of the country’s slave history. Senegal is making huge sum of money out of Gori Island which one cannot compare to Bounce Island in terms of history.
But good the news is, international standard hotels have started operations in Sierra Leone and their locations are very much strategic towards the coastal area that provides a perfect sea view just as most of the five stars hotels in Hainan Province.
Another area that needs to be addressed is to do with transportation from the city to the various tourist attractions across the country especially the provincial areas where most people like to visit not only foreign tourists but also local ones.
Now the road network around the country is much improved so the authorities in charge of tourism should make it a point of duty to visit and see where improvements need to be made.
More room should be created for the private investment particularly in sea transportation to touristic sites so as to avoid the huge traffic congestions which sometimes reduce the beauty of such trip.
It is no secret that this sector over the years has been struggling to survive due to low government subsidiaries, internal disputes, among other factors.
But with the appointment of a new Minister of Tourism, some people have started expressing hopes, stating that there will be some improvements particularly in the area of rebranding the country’s image that has been destroyed by the Ebola outbreak given the experience of the young man.
Culture is another area that can attract tourists, but how many Sierra Leoneans really know and practice their culture? In practice, it is foreign culture which dominates indigenous one including how people dress which are purely foreign.
On this one could thank President Ernest Bai Koroma for making it compulsory for workers to put on African dress on Fridays which to some extent has increased on the earnings of the tailors and seamstresses who had almost been put out of job by boutique owners and used clothes.
In contrast, the Li minority people in Hainan maintained their traditions and culture which they now survive on a daily basis as tourists go there to see and experience and even buy some of their unique products such as traditional woven clothes, hand band, hats, tea, wine and even their delicious food.
But also, Hainan has other attractions including the prestigious Sanya City where the Miss World Beauty Pageant was conducted twice. Mr. Wu Peng, its Mayor is proud that more than 1.5 million tourists have been visiting in recent years, he boasted during his conversation with the Awoko Newspaper.
It is a unique experience if one enters the Xinglong Tropical Botanical Garden at Wanning City, containing most of the fruits, flowers and plaints you can find at the Botanical Garden back of Fourah Bay College, but this is now is history though.
Sierra Leoneans lack maintenance culture, but partly this has been contributed by interruptions in the political framework. Immediately after the civil war almost everything went down the drain. That culture of patriotism needs to be reinstituted into the mind of the people, if things are to turn for the better.
Eleven years of civil war and the deadly Ebola disease have sent this country to great retrogression. Sierra Leoneans should be ready to be open up to development just as what is going on presently in China.
This country has suffered a lot from the downturns, its people need to change their ways of thinking and act by moving from analogue to digital as a way of meeting with the current trend.