Nazia Parvez/AP
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, is escorted by national tourist board head
Cecil Williams, as he visits Lumley Beach in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Can Sierra Leone Maintain Its Recovery and Inspire Similar Efforts?

July 08, 2009 12:30 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Sierra Leone has successfully emerged from a period of extreme violence, and could set an example for countries in similar situations. But how can peace and prosperity be maintained?

Establishing Sierra Leone as a Tourist Destination

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently embarked on a two-day visit to Sierra Leone where he promoted the country's tourism offerings and met with ministers, including President Ernest Koroma. The high-profile trip underscored Sierra Leone's commitment to revitalization and to establishing itself as a tourist destination. 

According to the BBC, Blair became "a hero" to the people of Sierra Leone after he sent U.K. troops to the war-torn country in 2000. British soldiers were instrumental in stopping violent rebel forces from taking over Freetown, the capital city. At Koroma's request, Blair also oversees a nine-person team in Freetown that works to improve governing and draw investors to the city.
In a special column for The Daily Beast, Blair discussed his jaunt to Sierra Leone, a country that he thinks can be a model for other developing nations weathering the recession.

Sierra Leone has responded well to the current scarcity of foreign aid, eschewing charity in favor of  "developing its private sector," according to Blair. The former prime minister believes there is much more room for improvement, "[f]rom agriculture and fisheries to services and tourism," he writes. Blair pointed to Mozambique and Rwanda as examples of other "post-conflict countries" that have capitalized on tourism.

Opinion & Analysis: Overcoming unemployment and poverty

Difficult issues remain, namely high unemployment among refugees and those who were displaced during the war that ended seven years ago, according to AllAfrica. Violent rebel groups in both Sierra Leone and Liberia were largely comprised of "impoverished and disaffected youth" between the ages of 15 and 35. Without job availability, the allure of joining a rebel group becomes hard to resist.

"If they have an alternative, they do not fight," Andrea Tamagnini of the United Nations Mission in Liberia told AllAfrica.

Despite consistent development over the past few years, Sierra Leone and Liberia still have limited economic opportunities. In addition to a high percentage of unemployed people, there is a large number of underemployed people in jobs that keep them stuck below the poverty line. According to AllAfrica, "Generating jobs for all, not just ex-combatants, is crucial to continuing peace and stability."

Western nations can and should lend support, say some experts. African countries have reformed their economic policies, and now deserve bolstering from the international community to "help them transform gains into real reductions in poverty," according to comments made by United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro in an address in Dar es Salaam in March. She also warned against recession-induced protectionism on behalf of development organizations that have committed to partnering with Africa.

Background: War crime prosecution in Sierra Leone

In early April, three leaders of the violent rebel movement in Sierra Leone were handed lengthy prison sentences by a Freetown-based international war crimes court, according to The New York Times. The former leaders' crimes included vicious attacks and "atrocities committed during the country's decade-long civil war of the 1990s."

According to a Times' interview with the international court's American prosecutor Stephen Rapp, the decision marked the first time that sentences were handed out in an international court for such crimes against international peacekeepers, as well as for sexual violence and "forced marriage."

Related Topic: Sierra Leone turns a corner

Sierra Leone has made strides both big and small. Last August, the country's soccer team succeeded internationally but gladly returned home, indicating a shift in the formerly war-stricken West African nation. In the past, athletes from the impoverished country traveling abroad for events often fled their teams to avoid going back home. In return, "many Western countries now simply refuse to let them in."

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