I am currently in Sierra Leone in my role as International Development minister. Here is a blog, which you can also read on the DFID site.
To enter Freetown from its airport, boating across the river is your best option. The view of Freetown as the sun sets over the water is breathtaking, but one sadly seldom enjoyed by many from outside the country. Certainly from the UK, Sierra Leone is no tourist hotspot, known best for its recent civil war that ended only 12 years ago. And this is a shame, because the depth of the UK’s relationship with this place is amazing.
Its capital, Freetown, was established by British philanthropists in the 18th century as a settlement for repatriated and rescued slaves. It’s a proud part of the Commonwealth. And more recently, the UK played a pivotal role in ending the civil war.
Importantly, we didn’t then just leave. Because despite its beauty, Sierra Leone is one of the poorest places in the world, with all the problems you might expect as a result. One in 6 children will not see their fifth birthday here. Maybe one tenth of the population have consistent access to electricity.
Yet with the UK’s help, slow but steady progress is being made. Our combined military, diplomatic and development efforts have played a large part in bringing peace and stability, including 3 democratic elections. In a country of around 6 million, DFID’s investment in health and education will (between 2010-2015) put over 200,000 children through primary school, and provide life-saving care to over 800,000 under 5’s.
And Sierra Leone is beginning to find its feet. The economy is stuttering back to life as iron ore exports have come back on line for the first time in 30 years.
After the brutal civil war, there’s a long and bumpy road to recovery ahead for Sierra Leone (a bit like the track to the jetty from the airport). But with the UK’s help, it’s started strong. I hope in time more people will get the chance to see its beautiful scenery and people.