From the Editor’s Keyboard

Salone: One of the Most Beautiful Places on Earth

19 November 2009 at 22:38 | 375 views

By Oswald Hanciles, Guest Writer, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The Government of Sierra Leone, along with partners from around the world, started holding a Trade and Investment Forum in Westminster, London, at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, on the 18th November 2009. Apparently, everybody who is anybody in Sierra Leone has gone for this conference (Psss!!: Does it mean that those of us who are still in Sierra Leone, even the perceived high and mighty in the public and private sector, have now been exposed as really nobodies pretending to be ‘somebodies’?. What about the biggest indigenous entrepreneur in recent times in Sierra Leone, Wilfred Sam-King?). Sierra Leone has been getting good PR from highly credible sources for this Conference. .

Shortly before the meeting, U.S. billionaire, and world-famous philanthropist, George Soros said this of our Motherland: "After meeting President Ernest Koroma and other members of the government during my first visit to Freetown in 2007, I came away convinced that Sierra Leone’s new government was serious about moving the country forward……”
According to Awoko newspaper last week, European Union Head of Delegation in Sierra Leone, Hans Allden, told journalists that ….in spite of the fact that the Leone is depreciating, people should not panic, because the financial institutions of the government and international financial institutions will stabilize the situation in the country.
The EU boss said the climate is good and encouraging for the consultative group meeting in November…..2009.

Sierra Leone has unique ‘commodities’ to market to the world. One of them is its idyllic white, clean sandy beaches which stretches over 360 kilometres, starting from the peninsular in Freetown along the Atlantic Ocean to the Lungi beaches along the Bullom peninsular, very close to the Lungi International Airport. There are sparklingly white beaches also in the Sulima area in the Southern Province. Turner’s peninsular also hosts virgin beaches that are over 100 kilometres. There is also Shenge Beach; and another 8km long beach in the sea-ward area of Bonthe Island – where tourists would swim and luxuriate in complete solitude, same way Eve did before Satan opened her eyes with an apple. These beaches are being bathed by warm water shark-free oceans, which are ideal for swimmers. The Freetown peninsular where presently most major tourism activities and facilities are based is a very beautiful 40km long coastline from Aberdeen to Kent. The densest concentration of the tourism facilities is in the Aberdeen-Lumley beach area. In post-conflict Sierra Leone, the most poignant, and the greatest investment in the tourist industry, and greatest show of confidence in our state, has come from Wilfred Sam-King, an indigenous entrepreneur.

In 2002, Sam-King built the Kimbima Hotel. It is a beautiful five-story, $5million worth hotel that perches right on the rocks, with the ocean thundering below. On its tiered terraces, as one parties in the never-ceasing weddings and birthdays during the warm dry season months, one gets the impression that one were on an ocean liner at sea, except when one looks sideways, and goggles at the tantalizing Lumley beach, with dozens of locals frolicking hedonistically. This year, Sam-King built and opened another five star hotel, Taia, on the Lumley Beach Road.

The glass façade of Taia Hotel, with dark brown stone walls, makes it at once awesomely towering and naturally blending into the yellow sand beach that fronts the hotel, separated only by a narrow two-lane road. The interior of Taia Hotel has the touch of an interior designer master. One enters the hotel by sliding glass doors after inhaling tropical flowers set amidst a small manicured lawn; and into a deliberately understated reception area opposite the hotel’s lift that can take one to the third floor. One can hardly miss the hand-woven and intricately designed circular animal leather rug almost casually thrown on the floor – as if one were in a Bel Air, California living room of a mega-rated film star with highly exclusive tastes. One cannot miss the dark brown two-seater sofa on velvet upholstery with its high back, and Roman-curved handles, a blend of the ancient and the modern. One cannot, of course, miss the light tropical wood reception desk, with traditional African scenarios etched into its centuries-old wood.

When one climbs a short flight of stairs into the second storey main hall, one gazes down from an iron banister stand into an impressively spacious lobby, but with about seven conversation booths with normal size living room furniture. Richly subdued brown leather sofas beckon. The Western chairs are juxtaposed with exquisitely designed raffia and cane African stools and benches. It would seem as if one were looking at several living rooms in a global competition for interior designers. The recessed lights in the wood-coloured ceiling could barely get you to clearly see the forms of people huddled in conversation, and the hubbub of voices are barely audible around the room; with about half-a-dozen flat bed TVs on walls tuned to satellite TV appearing almost like photographs on the wall, by their non-intrusiveness. If all this dainty décor does not entrap one, or the chilled drinks not lull one into a sense of a heavenly ambience, the seductive efficiency of the coffee-coloured waitresses would woo even a saint to want to try one of the rooms in Taia Hotel forever.

The room in Taia Hotel that most enthralled me was the one with the seventy inches TV – watching Premier League football on that screen would appear almost like being in England watching a live match!! - capturing almost the entire wall in front of fawn sofas, seated twenty paces from the American-made Orthopedic beds which are standard in the hotel. You need not ask to know that every room is fully air-conditioned. They are!!! There is something homely about the hard wood ten feet wardrobes in all the 33 rooms in the hotel. The bathrooms are modern -with huge mirrors and spotlights blazing to please a model or film star who would need to see her skin pores as she pampers her face. No wonder Nigerian super film star, Omotola, who stayed in Taia Hotel when she was in Freetown two months ago as an Amnesty International Goodwill Ambassador, got so enthralled, that she pledged she would only stay in Taia Hotel whenever in Freetown. I am sure the view at night through the tinted glasses of Taia Hotel – the distant lights on the mountains of Freetown’s affluent suburbs on one side and the breathtaking oceans crashing on the beaches on the other side – must have made the dreamy-eyed star to dream dreams never dreamt before in her life – a permanent abode in Taia Hotel. While we extol the beauty of Taia, we must underline the reality that it is the brainchild of our own son, Wilfred Sam-King.

Sam-King’s confidence in Sierra Leone is being replicated, even if on a modest scale, by burgeoning infrastructure all along the three-mile stretch of Lumley Beach. The frenzy of new construction manifests the faith of Sierra Leoneans that their hard-won democracy, their peace for which so much blood and flesh was sacrificed, would be nurtured with business drive. This is one of the ingredients which President Koroma has to market imaginatively around the world. It is hardly a wonder that Sierra Leone has been voted in 2009 Lonely Planet’s Best Places to Visit on earth.

Sierra Leone can take a leaf from Rwanda. The Rwandan Genocide was the 1994 mass killing of almost a million of Rwanda’s Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu militia. In spite of this horrid past, today in Rwanda, tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, generating US$214 million in 2008, up by 54% on the previous year.. The country’s most popular tourist activity is the tracking of mountain gorillas, which takes place in the Volcanoes National Park. We can learn from this. In addition to our splendid beaches, we have a country rich in the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade - buildings, and a slave fort; plus the largest concentration of freed slaves in Africa, our “Creoles”. We cannot take advantage of our potential wealth if we don’t get our politics and communications right in Sierra Leone.

The concept of wanting investors to come to Sierra Leone must be imaginatively communicated to the generality of the people. And we must not only prepare our minds for investors to come; we must be ready with the necessary infrastructure. Take the road where Taia Hotel is, and the one leading to the biggest hotels, Bintumani and Kimbima – these are leper roads; with potholes all over. How can we expect tourists and investors to come and pump money into our country when we don’t even have enough sense to polish one of our brightest jewels? Why do we have to advertise our poverty in our major tourist district – with squalid zinc shacks, poverty-stricken people dotting the roads to our beautiful beaches? Don’t we see this? Entrepreneurs like Sam-King have to band together to not only market their own specific products, but to ensure that the wider environment is conducive enough to attract and sustain tourists.

To attract solid investors into the country, we must try to give at least, a semblance of political and social stability. We must neutralize – going to one of my mantras – what I term as “The Civil War Mentality”. (Looking at everything through the prisms of “North versus South/East”; Temne-Mende mental prison). This should not be the work of spin doctors trying to convince us to act as one people; but conscious efforts should be made by the APC government to stimulate tribal harmony, and ensuring there is justice and equity in our society. Serious investors are not going to invest serious money in a country that could very well become ‘another Rwanda’. Let us transform one of the most beautiful countries that God has given us into a country with one of the most blessed living standards for the majority of our people.