By Allieu S. Tunkara
Sierra Leone is blessed with one of the world’s best harbours; she also takes pride in fine, sandy beaches, forest park, mountains and hills that constitute one of the greatest tourist attractions.
Banana and Turtle Islands, and the great Bintumani Mountain are tourist sites.
International Labour Organisation says approximately 8,000 Sierra Leoneans are employed in the tourism industry with a number of jobs expected to be created in the future.
No doubt, Sierra Leone is a tourist destination fit for investment especially in eco-tourism.
At a trade conference in the UK in 2007, former President Ernest Bai Koroma made it clear that Sierra Leone is an investment destination and tourism is one of the sectors for investment.
Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair also bolstered President Koroma’s call when he called on world business executives to invest in Sierra Leone.
The Blair’s call was heeded as global business organisations focused their investment opportunities to Sierra Leone.
But, trends indicate that investment in the country’s tourism sector dwindles every now and then.
The cause to a weak investment in the tourism industry has been directly linked to one cardinal factor-security.
Security and tourism are two sides of the coin as one cannot go without the other.
Tourism security is an invaluable resource for security officials especially police units that serve tourist destinations.
Security in the tourism sector also is of great importance to tourism professionals who work in hotels, casinos and other tourist centres.
The scholarly work on: Safety and Security in the Age of Global Tourism ties in tourist travels to security.
Political undercurrents have lately portrayed Sierra Leone as a less stable nation that has captured the attention of the international community.
Hate speeches and inflammatory statements on social media platforms also have a fair share of the political tension confronting Sierra Leone.
The insecurity that seems to have threatened the peace of Sierra Leone can be traced back to 2018 when the ‘New Direction’ Government took over reins of state command.
A lot of security problems took place, but the recent incident in the North-eastern headquarters of Makeni puts Sierra Leone in bad light.
The incident triggered waves of incidents and protests in the world showcasing Sierra Leone as a trouble spot.
Grim Images in social media platforms show a great number of Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora in black cloaks to protest the killings and unrest in the country.
The protests for social justice started few days back in England, and cascaded to Sierra Leone where some sections of Sierra Leoneans have called for a ‘Black Monday.’
Indeed, the ‘Black Monday’ protest was heeded as youths clad themselves in black attires and roamed the streets.
Some converged at specific locations in their black attires, and called out loudly for the international security to save the country’s democracy.
Although the protest was low-key in Sierra Leone, it was potent in some parts of the world as the International Community’s attention was drawn to it.
In Sierra Leone, the ‘Black Monday’ protest lasts from dawn to dusk.
The protest would have been a violent one had it not been Sierra Leone Police (SLP)’s effort of frowning at it.
SLP is a body charged with the maintenance of law and order throughout the country.
Head of Police Media Unit, Superintendent Brima Kamara said SLP would not allow any form of protest since no it received no notification or application from anybody.
In what appears a visible strategy to suppress the protest, personnel of the Operations Support Division, the military wing of the police were deployed at strategic locations in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital.
The historic ‘Cotton Tree’ in the heartland of Freetown saw the heaviest deployment.
The well-armed and armoured police watched and kept guard of the city to forestall an all-out conflict.
The fear instilled in the protesters buried the protest in the world, but signs of subsequent protests are clear.
This is not the first time the SLP has stopped a protest of that nature.
In the early years of the ‘New Direction’ Government, head of a local civil society organisation, Edmond Abu was arrested and detained briefly by police to suppress a riot he was about to organise.
Police said the intended protest by the local CSO activist was devoid of police approval.
The CSO, over the years, has shown keen interest in the advocacy for economy and prices of basic food stuff.
Edmond was arrested while mobilising a protest against government’s move to increase the price of petroleum, one of the most basic commodities in Sierra Leone.
Another Civil society activist, Thomas Moore Conteh who heads the Citizens Advocacy Network (CAN) was also arrested when he called for a protest.
The protest was called in respect of government’s withdrawal of scholarships lawfully earned by students of the Malasian Limkokwing University.
Apart from such security threats, killings of civilians by the security operatives are rampant. A minor protest for civil rights by civilians warrants the barrel by trigger-happy police officers.
The Killings at the country’s main Correctional Centre in Freetown in April this year, killings in Makeni, killings in other opposition strongholds are great testimonies.
Currently, grudges and grievances have been buried deep down in people’s hearts and minds and no one knows when it could be vented out.
The totality of such security threats affects the portrayal of Sierra Leone as a tourist destination.
Thus, Sierra Leone must not bury her head in the sand, and pretend that all is well in terms of security when all is not well.