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Travel Sierra Leone's economy is still suffering after Ebola, but Idris Elba plans to help re-brand the nation and boost tourism

11:20  24 january  2020
11:20  24 january  2020 Source:   inews.co.uk

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Revitalising the tourism sector is a key element of the nation ’ s development plan . A key part of that promotion will be played by Idris Elba . The actor and musician - whose father was born in Sierra Leone - was granted citizenship when he visited his father' s homeland in December 2019.

Elba and British cabinet minister Justine Greening at a meeting with diaspora representatives at the 'Defeating Ebola in Sierra Leone ' conference in He had the idea to develop the music from his album Idris Elba Presents mi Mandela into a show, which ultimately resulted in a play called Tree which

a group of people on a beach near a body of water © Provided by The i

It has been almost four years since Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free. Just as the West African country was getting back on its feet after more than a decade of civil war, the virus struck, killing thousands over a period of two years.

“Those days were scary,” says Kai Saquee, an actor and winner of Sierra Leone’s Big Brother. “We felt cut off from the world during Ebola. One day I started vomiting. It wasn’t Ebola but I can’t tell you how worried I was.”

Kai is guiding me on a nine-day visit of Sierra Leone, as UK tour-operators start showing interest again in its silky beaches, primate-rich rainforest and Krio (creole) culture. Revitalising the tourism sector is a key element of the nation’s development plan.

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Sierra Leone ' s Ebola outbreak is over, but the country faces a huge task in rebuilding its economy .

For actor Idris Elba , the battle is a personal one; his father is from Sierra Leone , and he felt compelled to do something. The result is Africa United, a global health campaign spanning two films, billboards and posters, radio and social media, which aims to educate people in west Africa about how to protect

The objective is to upgrade historic and cultural sites over the next three years and promote eco- and adventure tourism. A key part of that promotion will be played by Idris Elba. The actor and musician - whose father was born in Sierra Leone - was granted citizenship when he visited his father's homeland in December 2019. During the visit, he announced his intention to invest in the country's developing tourist economy and on Christmas Eve, President Julius Maada Bio made Elba a Brand Ambassador for the nation, entrusting him to tell "the world a new narrative about a Sierra Leone that is ready to grow and a nation that is ... looking forward."

Idris Elba wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone © Provided by The i

Idris Elba has become a brand ambassador for Sierra Leone (Photo: AFP/Getty)

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Sierra Leone Telegraph: 30 September 2019: The Government of Sierra Leone and Sherbro Alliance Partners - a development company owned by film actor Idris Elba “Leveraging the natural beauty, Sherbro Island City’ s economy is expected to be initially driven by tourism , with projects developed

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Spreading the wealth of diamond mining

a close up of an animal © Provided by The i

I have a taste of what's in store when I visit Kono in Eastern District, the country’s diamond mining centre where in 1972 the 969-carat Star of Sierra Leone was found, the fourth-largest diamond ever. During wartime Kono was devastated as opposing factions sought the power that diamonds could buy. Today, such dreams of wealth prevail at Bandefaye village community mine, where Kai says the diamonds are now a force for good.

The open-cast mine is half the size of a football pitch. Stepped terraces in the clay are being hand-dug by shovels and picks. The idea of a community mine, says its financial overseer, El-Hadj Marar, is the villagers’ share in any good fortune. He financially supports the workers until they make a find then pays them depending on the carats unearthed, taking a 25 per cent cut.

a view of a city with a mountain in the background © Provided by The i

“We dig with prayers,” says Mohammed, shin-deep in water. “Finding a five-carat diamond could change my family’s fortune.”

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Will Pooley in Sierra Leone with local people who have also recovered from Ebola . When the Ebola virus hit in May, it swung operations around to help contain the outbreak. As it went out of control, Johnson worked with the government to set up an Ebola command centre in the capital.

Ebola is spreading at the rate of five new cases an hour in Sierra Leone , according to figures released as UN organisations, charities, the British actor Idris Elba and William Pooley, the British nurse who recently recovered The UK is leading and co-ordinating responses but we need international help .

The negative association with wartime “blood diamonds” has prompted Sierra Leone’s tourist board to plan to adopt a new emblem of a chimpanzee to replace its diamond logo. Near Kono, chimpanzees inhabit the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary situated on a river within the Upper Guinea forest ecosystem.

Tiwai is home to a stellar cast of primates, 11 species on one tiny island. The rainforest crackles with the whoops and howls of sooty mangabey and red colobus, although we don’t see chimpanzees.

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Primate suspects

Yet poachers’ gunfire within the reserve reminds how bushmeat remains on the menu throughout Sierra Leone even despite an established link between eating primates and Ebola. This issue is highlighted outside the capital, Freetown, at Tacugama, a rescue reserve for 100 orphaned chimpanzees. “For every baby chimp taken for the pet trade or bushmeat, 10 others will be killed collaterally,” says manager Aram Kazandjian.

Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary (Photo: Rainbow Tours)

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“The economy has been deflated by 30% because of Ebola ,” Sierra Leone ’ s Agriculture Minister Joseph Sam Sesay told the BBC. Twelve out of 13 districts in Sierra Leone are now affected by Ebola , although the epicentres are in the Eastern Province near the borders with Liberia and Guinea.

DAKAR, Senegal — After a nerve-racking countdown, Sierra Leone celebrated a national milestone on Saturday that government officials hoped would help the country finally leave behind a grim chapter in its history: It was officially declared free of Ebola transmissions. The World Health Organization made

His refuge gives chimps a second-chance in semi-wild conditions; they will never be released because the hand-reared youngsters lack survival skills. I fawn over the cuteness of cuddly seven-month-old Caesar, an orphaned baby chimp restored to health by a surrogate human mum.

Close by, on Tokeh Beach, I spend a night at Sierra Leone’s only five-star resort, The Place, where the talc-fine sand arcs around a bay sheltering brightly painted fishing pirogues.

It’s an idyllic spot, but this coast harbours a dark past. I sail to Bunce Island one afternoon, where amid coconut-palms and baobabs is a ruined British castle built by slave traders, lined with corroding cannons. It was a holding facility that sent 50,000 Africans to the Americas between 1668 and 1807.

“The slavers traded men with African chiefs for guns and tobacco. Life wasn’t worth much,” says the island’s caretaker, Mohammed Sandey. We stroll to a graveyard. “Captain Joseph Dory died 1765... a man of an upright character,” reads one epitaph. “They threw the dead slaves into the ocean,” Mohammed sighs.

Freetown is the capital and largest city of Sierra Leone (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty)

Back in Freetown a gold-painted statue is dedicated to African American Thomas Peters near the Big Market where tourists can buy souvenirs. Peters not only escaped slavery and fought against his former “masters” but also persuaded the British to fund the return of 15 ships of ex-slaves from Nova Scotia to West Africa.

In 1792 Freetown was born when, led by Peters, they stepped ashore. It was a turning point for Sierra Leone. Hopefully, with civil war and Ebola now consigned to history, the nation has a bright future again.

Sierra Leone: how to get there

Brussels Airlines flies from London to Freetown via Brussels.

Rainbow Tours offers nine-day escorted tours of Sierra Leone costing £2,445pp with flights.

Where to stay

The Place (Tokeh Beach) has doubles from £130 B&B.

More information

British passport-holders require a visa to visit Sierra Leone, available on arrival for US$80 (£62) in cash.

Bradt publishes a guidebook to Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone Tourist Board

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