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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > July-September 2019 (87) > FRESH START


While established tourist destinations around the world struggle to cope with too much tourism, some countries emerging from strife are looking to tourism to help kickstart their economies. Sierra Leone is one. So, what does this nascent country have to offer visitors, and what needs to be done to build appropriate infrastructure? It’s an exciting proposition
Musicians perform at a cultural event in Kabala

Vacillating between a circus and self-harm convention, a shirtless performer swallows broken glass whilst another slashes his bloodying tongue before the febrile crowd gasps at a corpse wrapped in calico. “Don’t worry. He’s pretending and will be brought back to life,” smiles Mohammed Marar, coordinating an energetic welcome to Kabala. “What our show is saying is if you have heart you can perform miracles in life.”

If two qualities are required for Sierra Leone’s redemption, it is ‘miracles’ and ‘heart’. From the moment 380 emancipated slaves came ashore in 1787 to lay the foundations for this West African nation it has endured a fraught passage through history. Slavery lingered well beyond abolition in 1807 and thereafter British colonial shenanigans maintained a divided society. After 1961’s independence politicians gorged themselves on diamond wealth before civil war (1991- 2002) shocked the world with its savagery. In 2014, as Sierra Leone staggered to recovery, Ebola struck, claiming 4000 lives.

Now Ebola-free, Julius Maada Bio’s new government is looking towards tourism to revive a depressed economy and mend its shattered reputation. I arrived on a nine-day recce to consider what kind of tourism might evolve?

Looking to the future: “Tourism is a real opportunity to improve our _inancial state and give us a better idea of the world outside,” says the chief from the rural community of Wara-Wara
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