By Lucie Gil, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.
More than ten years after the end of the civil war (1991-2002), Sierra Leone appears eager to change its image of post-conflict country, in a quest to attract visitors and investment. In a speech delivered at the ICD House of Arts and Culture, The Hon. Victoria Saidu Kamara, Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, exposed some significant figures: the number of visitors’ arrivals increased by 66% between 2002 and 2010. Among these arrivals, 30% are related to business activities and only 20% to leisure, meaning that the potential of development for Sierra Leonean tourism is huge.
The government has already engaged in important efforts and a new tourism strategic plan was adopted in October 2010, putting special emphasis on investments in the rebuilding and construction of accommodation and entertainment facilities. Two kinds of combinations must be underlined here. First, the public-private partnership has been considered as essential to reform the industry. Second, the enhancement of both local workforce and investments and foreign contributions has been emphasized. Chinese firms in the framework of an assistant project have been particularly active in this that regard. A total of $25 million investment was agreed with the Sierra Leonean government.
Incentives to increase domestic and international investments are not new. As soon as 1990, that is a year before the start of the civil bloodshed, Sierra Leone adopted the “Development of tourism act”. Among other measures, it aimed at attracting financing through tax cuts and fiscal benefits. The war however shattered this work. The image of the country was durably damaged by the conflict. Thus, the Minister insisted on the importance to get rid of the “post-conflict” label and to move forward by redefining the countries’ marketing strategy.
She points out the importance of culture as a tool for Sierra Leonean nation branding. Taking into account Sierra Leone’s unfortunate past, this seems extremely relevant. Indeed, as mentioned in the presentation, culture, alongside with economic grievances, has today replaced political ideologies as a major source of tension and a potential factor in the triggering of violence. The Minister mentioned the importance of preserving cultural diversity as well as promoting intercultural and interreligious dialogue via action of public and private sector, and at the local, national and international – especially through the UNESCO’s policies – levels.
Culture can be used in a multidimensional manner, ranging from economic purposes to social development. However, the country’s investment in cultural aspects is not only a key factor to attract tourists and investors; it is a decisive element to achieve a stable and lasting peace in Sierra Leone and the whole West African region, a peace without which sustainable development cannot be achieved. Keeping that in mind, we must pay attention to the last part of the Minister’s discourse that enlightens the need to “sensitize, mobilize and educate young leaders by identifying, disseminating and propagating ideas that promote cultural consciousness”. The new Sierra Leonean generations will then have the capacities to pursue the re-branding of the country, a work in progress that must be continued in the long-term.
Center for Cultural Diplomacy Studies Publication
Institute for Cultural Diplomacy