Development Cooperation Handbook/Stories/Community Tourism
Along the North Atlantic coast of Sierra Leone, flanked by lush green hills, lie some of the most beautiful beaches of the world.
Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in Africa, is still struggling to emerge from a decade of cruel civil war that ended in 2003 and left behind more than 200,000 orphans, thousands of amputees, a generation of psychologically disturbed child soldiers and a failing healthcare infrastructure.
Before the war, many luxurious hotels existed along the beautiful beaches. They were surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards that kept the local impoverished communities away from the coastline. These beaches were part of the local heritage before local populations were dispossessed of their resources. Such an unbearable gap between enterprises and communities was among the drivers of war.
Now, after these hotels have been destroyed and peace has returned, the challenge is to use nature as a resource for the empowerment, and not for the subjugation, of local communities.
We visited a village called Number 2 River that is located on the Freetown peninsula. Here, the local village community started a successful venture on the village beach that it now manages in a spirit of solidarity.
The village itself is tucked out of sight in the woods near the northernmost part of the beach that belongs to the community but is managed as a tourist resort by the community itself. The resort maintains a rustic charm. The skyline of the beach is dotted with thatched grass huts, beach chairs and umbrellas that are given on daily rental, small cottages, a restaurant and a bar, and several long wooden boats that ferry visitors up the river to spot crocodiles or take them to see the Banana Islands, that were once a trading point for slave trade.
The Number 2 River beach resort is an entrepreneurial success story that began in 1998, in the midst of the civil war, when the U.S. Embassy gave the village a development grant of $2,500. The village leaders made good use of this small fund and started a little resort that has grown over the years.
The No.2 River beach resort practices and promotes “responsible tourism”; i.e. a tourism that has positive social, cultural and environmental impacts, and that protects human and natural assets.
For tourists, “responsibility” means relating to the environment and the communities in a non-invasive manner, thus enjoying more rewarding human relations and experiences of contact with nature.
The crowd on a winter Sunday can be as high as 80 persons. The profits of the resort serve the village needs, like paying the school fees for the village children and medical bills for community members. The association re-invests some of its profits into the resort while 10% of revenues are invested for the welfare of village in form of educational and health services. The electric generator of the resort also provides electricity to the entire village.
Now, the village elders who started the project are conducting courses for entrepreneurs who want to start similar projects in their own coastal villages. But they will have to convince their village leaders not to sell out their beaches to big foreign investors that are now attracted to this beautiful country. The mistakes of the past could well be repeated: for the sake of high short term profits, social and environmental impoverishment of this wonderful land may happen yet again.