The United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator in Sierra Leone, Babatunde Ahonsi has met with the Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Dr. Memunatu Pratt at the Ministry’s office situated at Kingharman Road in Freetown to discuss possibilities of the UN rendering help in promoting the development of tourism in the country.
In his statements, the UN Resident Coordinator commended Dr. Pratt for strides made in reviving the sector. He maintained that tourism globally is the third largest sector in terms of export in the global economy while noting that tourism and cultural assets of Sierra Leone are critical to how the sector would work. He appreciated the emphasis the Minister has placed on promoting domestic tourism and women empowerment given that the sector is slightly more populated by women.
Babatunde Ahonsi acknowledged that there are lots of challenges that go way beyond the mandate of the Ministry in creating the enabling environment for a buoyant and dynamic tourism sector, but said that the more the sector is able to show that tourism is important to achieving the development priorities of the country in leveraging the assets that our cultural endowments constitute, the more the President and other stakeholders would invest in creating an enabling environment for tourism and culture. He reiterated that the UN is there to support the government and people of Sierra Leone to achieve the national development priorities of the country as captured in the Medium-Term National Development Plan 2019-2023.
Making a case for the sector, Minister Pratt noted that in moving the peace, social cohesion, ethnic diversity and the political differences requires a keen focus on arts, peace and culture although lot has not been done in the area of culture because resources and support in looking at the critical issues have not been coming much as expected but lot has been done in the restoration of the tourism sector by doing new sites, island, wildlife, the image rebranding.
She pointed out that Sierra Leone has not been very active as far as UNESCO is concerned, hence we have not been able to ratify and domesticate many of the conventions which she said has huge implications, there are also lot of backlogs of contributions and subscriptions to UNESCO. She said since Sierra Leone joined UNESCO in 1962 without much dividends yielded hence she has put the focus on culture to connect art, culture and entrepreneurship for young people in the cultural sector, thus addressing unemployment, nationalism, patriotism and unity in diversity.
She mentioned that areas of arts and innovation and the encouragement of exhibition of cultural innovations and also the training of women in art. She emphasized on training for the hotels because the industry is expanding with 15,000 bedrooms in Sierra Leone, hence the need to give attention to staff of the hotels which she said has implications for women because they are in the majority in the sector.
She commended the Resident Coordinator for their support in the climate change programme which has helped a lot in the coastal communities and also the commemoration of the United Nations World Tourism Day. She added that there are challenges in supporting beach cleaning because of limited resources and requested for a link with FAO where they can have food for work programme for beach cleaning across the country.