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Observations from Sierra Leone

By Arthur Velker

To watch the sunset in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is to have a front row ticket to a big panoramic cataclysm.

The ocean forms a giant mirror across the horizon, on which the mercury rays flicker and dance until the great sun descends behind the glass-like surface.

I had the opportunity of seeing this spectacle eight times over the course of my week there. And I made sure not to squander it.

Every evening, after spending my time conducting interviews and bouncing from one public facility to the next, I rushed to the balcony of my hotel restaurant – perched on the eastern ledge of the city’s natural half-basin – in order to capture this incredible tableau.

But during my time there I also saw other things.

The city’s thriving market scene, where every shade of Sierra Leonean life can be seen on full show to a passerby; the serial amputees tottering through the streets, begging for a material cure to their ailments; and strands of cars trundling down the avenues which bear every colour of paint and pattern human mind can produce. 

These are the stills that form the magical whole of Sierra Leone.

An employee of broadcasting network African Young Generation, Ernest Henry, said to me: “A lot of people who want to create opportunities for themselves move away from here. I don’t think that is the solution.”

“I think people should gain education and skills and use them to create opportunities here. There is a lot of potential in Sierra Leone.”

Ernest is right. Sierra Leonean society is developing into an increasingly-prosperous consumer market that is currently flooded with goods of mostly Chinese produce. This is bundled with a rich natural resource portfolio that was once tragically exploited by colonial powers and then by vicious rebels to fund a catastrophic civil war.

Together, they give the country an edge over most western competition.

On a passenger speedboat travelling over the bay located between Lungi airport and central Freetown, I met a Lebanese businessman who put this into startling perspective.

 “I own a mobile phone network,” he said. “We opened in Liberia a couple of years ago and were very successful. Now we expanded here.”

Already owning residence in Liberia, he was now building another home in Freetown to cut out the 1-hour plane journey between both countries and the inconvenience of staying in a $200-a-night Radisson Blu Hotel.

The country is experiencing a clear growing demand. To add to its cultural and spiritual richness is now a growing potential that looks set to transform the country’s outlook for the future.

What it is unlikely to change is the country’s vibrant charm. ‘Sierra Leone, the land of opportunities’ will always be ‘Sierra Leone, the land of the unique’.

Arthur Velker is a recipient of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund Student Scheme 2018. Arthur travelled to Sierra Leone to report on the work being done by many NGOs in transitioning from traditional birth registration methods, the challenges posed by this, and the range of new initiatives now on offer. Arthur will discuss his project on Newstalk in the coming weeks. Read his report for the Newstalk website here.