By Mohamed Juma Jalloh
Nightwatch cannot fathom how a village, with immense geo-strategic importance to Sierra Leone, continues to suffer from state neglect by successive governments. The strategic significance of Kent could not be over-emphasised due to the security and stability of the entire Freetown peninsular, encompassing both the Western Rural and Urban Areas.
The community juts out on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, making it the first landing point in the Western area en route from the high seas. From Kent, one can easily access the Freetown Metropolis from two opposing angles of cardinal entry.
By using the Tombo axis, one can enter Freetown through the east from Waterloo. On the other hand, by using the Tokeh axis one can easily access the west end of the capital city through Goderich.
For tourism adventurers, Kent is the gateway to a plethora of splendid looking beaches including Bureh, Mammah, Johnny Bay, York, Big Water, Black Johnson, Tokeh, No.2 River, Borbor, Sussex, Lakka, Mile13, Hamulton, Adonkia, Goderich, and Lumley/Aberdeen beaches.
The unique location of Kent demands for the village to be high marked as a naval garrison fortress. From a vantage point, in Kent, the naval wing of the military could launch operations that could prevent illegal sea encroachers from the territorial waters of Sierra Leone.
Nightwatch was perplexed after it discovered the naval base of the military on the village. The base, at the upper end of the beach, is dilapidated, with no speedboats on the shore to target nocturnal patrols. Nevertheless, a skeletal military presence is far more preferable to nothing.
At the entrance of the naval base, three naval officers relaxingly sat on the rocks, listening to World Wide hits from Capital Radio as they enjoy the soothing winds from the Atlantic Ocean. The threat posed by Islamic radicals and terrorists warrants for vigilance, and the strengthening of security in all entry points into the capital city.
Given that terrorists have wreaked havoc at western targets in La Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, countries within the sub region, complacency should not be entertained by security forces in Sierra Leone.
For residents in Kent, there are two notable livelihoods: tourism and fishing. Quite recently, another potential livelihood for indigenes is emerging, which is the sport of surfing. Kentonians can boast of a favourable beach and coastal atmosphere that could aid the growth of tourism. However, lack of tourism infrastructure could equally stifle the maximum growth of tourism in Kent. Whatever axis one uses to access Kent, all the roads leading to the village remain magnificently tarred and pothole free. Apart from the good roads, all other critical infrastructure indispensable for the maximum utilization of tourism is virtually non-existent.
Even though the village is yet to register a single COVID-19 case, the pandemic has taken a severe toll on the tourism sector, as visitors are no longer forthcoming to Kent. Due to the COVID -19 effects, all other hotels in the village have made a temporal shut down save the Sunshine guesthouse.
Marion Jones is the proprietor of the 16-room guesthouse, overlooking the splendid view of the golden sands in the beach and the gentle waves hitting across the Atlantic Ocean.
“With no government supplied electricity, I incur a lot of expenses in buying fuel to power my generator to get my guest house functioning,” the proprietor of Sunshine guesthouse explained. Mrs. Jones said she was considering the erection of solar panels to solve her electricity woes, whilst further noting that she has contracted an internet provider to solve the epileptic internet provided by mobile operators.
The Internet provided by the two giant mobile operators is only functional in residential areas. As soon as one disappears down the beach, one can hardly make and receive incoming calls, or even utilize the data provided by internet facilities.
Tap running water is non- existent; the only source of water available in the community is underground well water. Given the squeamishness of tourists, in utilizing well water, the provision of purified water for bathing and drinking could allay fears of contracting water borne diseases.
Most tourists who visit Kent end up in the alluring neighbouring islands of Banana, Mesmeo and Rickets. Therefore, in essence, Kent Beach is serving as an anchor point to accessing the magnificent Islands in the middle of the Ocean. The lack of a jetty in Kent to aid the safe disembarking of visitors from Banana Islands is a major concern for the harbormaster in the beach.
“Some tourists have returned home with broken legs when the waves hit the dugout canoes that in-turn smack them on their feet causing severe traumatic injuries to visitors,” William Barnet, the harbormaster, complained to nightwatch.
The other task of Mr. Barnet is to facilitate the travel of tourists to Banana Island. The Island is about 20 minutes ride from Kent, but according to Mr. Barnett, the cost to be ferried across the Island is Le 250,000.
“During the peak of the tourism season, I make a lot of trips to the Island from morning to sunset. In some instances, I would sleep with the tourists on the island and return the following day,” Mr. Barnett told nightwatch.
Fishmongers have a lot to endure due to the lack of electricity, as it can negatively affect their businesses. Fish can easily decompose if not kept in an optimum freezing room commonly called ‘Cool room.’
For a whole community, that depends on fishing as a means of sustenance and a source of livelihood, to be operating without a Cool Room shows the gravity of state neglect the people of Kent have been grappling with.
In the meantime, fishmongers are utilizing a dilapidated fishpond as a makeshift Cool Room, at a premise on the beach that was constructed by the former President Siaka P. Stevens. According to local tour guides, the late president built the structure as a hideout to enjoy the natural beauty and the serene atmosphere of Kent Beach. At present, fishmongers are determined to put the building to a better use far from the intending purpose of the builder.
Education is a tough sell in Kent village; the whole community can only boast of a single educational structure – the Harlison Primary school.
In fact, a slave auction structure during the transatlantic slave trade is serving the community as a Primary School. With no Secondary school in Kent, pupils who have graduated from primary school, trek more than three miles to access the nearest secondary school in Tombo village.
More importantly, most of the youths in Kent have turned to surfing to stave off boredom, and a potential prospect that could make them travel out of Sierra Leone for greener pastures. The youths have approached the Western Area Rural District Council (WARD-C) for a portion of land to erect a surfing secretariat called the Young Leaders Surfing Club.
Earnest Kamara, one of the surfers, is calling on the National Tourist Board (NTB) to assist them in providing resources for the construction of a standard surfing structure at the side of the beach.
Whenever the local or central government provides the entire accompanying infrastructure, such as electricity, water, internet, and jetties, the lives of the people of Kent would be set for a greater transformation.