Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sierra Leone and Liberia: Connected at the Hip

Sierra Leone and it's neighbor, Liberia are geographically and historically joined at the hip.  As indicated in my February 3, 2010 post, Liberia was founded by freed American slaves who emigrated to the mother continent with the pipe dream of establishing a "United States of Africa."  As a parallel, Sierra Leone was settled in 1792 by Nova Scotia abolitionists led by John Clarkson who transported slaves back to Africa under the banner of "The Sierra Leone Company,"the basis for the country's name (  The first settlement was Freetown which became Sierra Leone's capital.

Both countries have struggled to achieve the dreams of their founders, having to contend with such forces as colonialism, tribalism, racism, bad management and corrupt despots such as Charles Taylor who led insurrections on both sides of the common border. Both countries are currently enjoying a period of peace which will hopefully continue despite all of the forces which could undermine it.

During Taylor's involvement in Sierra Leone the country became infamous for the child soldiers that supported the warlords  fighting over the country's high quality diamonds.  They provided the plot for the movie "Blood Diamond" starring Leonard DiCaprio.

Freetown is not an easy place to get to with the city's Lungi Airport serviced only by a very limited number of flights from other African countries and from Europe. After arriving at the airport, one must also travel by boat to Freetown across a wide estuary formed by the Sierra Leone River as it flows into the Freetown Harbor.  On Thursday of this week I had to leave my Monrovia Hotel at 1 a.m. for the long drive to that city's Roberts Field Airport to catch a 4:30 flight to Freetown.  When I arrived at Lungi Airport an hour later, I immediately bought a ticket for the boat which reached the Freetown dock after  about half an hour of sailing in the dark (I can't imagine having to do this during Sierra Leone's long torrential rainy season).  An embassy driver met me at the dock and after dropping my luggage at the hotel, took me to the embassy to work. Needless to say it was a long day, necessitated by the limited options for departing Freetown.

Unfortunately I didn't have much time for sightseeing in Freetown which I'm told has vibrant markets, fantastic beaches and great potential for ecotourism.  The city is built on several steep hills which affords excellent views of the harbor and the Atlantic.

View over Freetown from Country Lodge Hotel

While driving between the hotel and the embassy I also saw some of the very interested old colonial houses left behind by the British.  The following article contains several pictures which provide a fascinating glimpse of colonial Sierra Leone.

Here is a photo I took myself to highlight one of the incredible support structures that hold up some of these houses.

Freetown - old colonial home on support pillars
Here is also a Tourist Board video which highlights some of the country's tourist destinations with catchy local music playing in the background.

The remaining links are worth glancing through for information on Sierra Leone's history, geography and culture.

No comments: