By Abu Bakarr Sulaiman Tarawally
The Aberdeen-Lumley beach portrays the bastion of beauty in the capital, Freetown. This area defines beach tourism at most when its capacity in terms of accommodation and ease of access is considered. Tourists are full of praises for its looks and the face values business people have given to comfort life.
Sierra Eye magazine spoke to a few and their impressions were on the tidiness of the beach and the frenzied atmosphere to be envied. “A very long stretch of wonderful beach, one of the best places in Freetown that is crowded on weekends on what is otherwise a peaceful place. The whole stretch is filled with some great restaurants and cafes or bars which makes Sunday night atmosphere so chilling. People throng the beach on public holidays and make the whole street best place to chill.” Mark Heinze, a foreign tourist.
There is more to be utilized of the beach. Carl Robertson, who visited from the United Kingdom spending the Christmas vacation in Sierra Leone, told the SierraEye Magazine that the beach is perfect for a quiet or reflective stroll, especially if escaping the hustle and bustle of Freetown for a short break.
Perhaps the transformation of the Aberdeen-Lumley beach suits a plan that defines what should be described as the true face of beauty characterizing Freetown. Abdul Yasin Kargbo, the former National Tourist Board General Manager once described the area as a ‘decent ecotourism hub,’ one that is preserving the environment, uniting conservations, and establishing a sustainable travel means that would see investment in sea transportation and development or transformation of the mariner in front of the Tambacular wharf.
The plan also included the establishment of a national art gallery that would host myriad of cultural facets, artefacts, monuments and relics – reason why the National Dance Troupe was relocated to the peninsular and freeing up the land.
The beachfront was preserved for non-permanent structures and one could walk in for a grilled fish, crumpling toasted burger, and sandwiches after taking a long stroll on the beach or having gone through a run of exercises.
By this measure, the National Tourist Board’s master plan included a good parking lot for visiting vehicles and spaces preserved to accommodate wedding receptions and cultural shows and the likes for a minimal fee. This was for the National Tourist Board to derive their own source of revenue and be able to maintain the beach in giving it a safe bill of health and a standard depicting international best practice.
The beach was becoming a dangerous spot for young girls. Hannah Bockarie was one sad example. In 2014, she was slained and her remains were found lying on the beach. Her murder still remains a mystery. Several young people, including a musician, were arrested and detained in the course of investigation of Hannah’s murder. The incident prompted the police, the National Tourist Board and relevant stakeholders to heighten a robust security measure to discourage the looming threat. A few days later a decision was reached to demolish the rickety structures on the beach in which criminal suspects hibernated.
This has now changed. The presence of businesses on the beach means that proper security measures have been put in place. What has still not come to fruition is the dream of establishing an ecotourism hub.
In 2014, the former General Manager at the National Tourist Board (NTB), Abdul Yassin Kargbo, began an onslaught on illegal structures on the beach. Following the demolition exercises, the NTB and the Ministry of Lands, Housing and the Environment remapped the entire Aberdeen-Lumley beach landscape. The move was informed by the conviction that most occupants of the beach at that time were squatters. This action saw the demolition of houses built in areas along the beach without valid documentation, including building permit. It was a sigh of relief for some people.
In order to discourage immediate mad rush for the available land-spots at the beach, the National Tourist Board made it a criterion for investors to secure permit through the Ministry of Lands after applying to the National Tourist Board. This resulted in delays due to unending bureaucracies by the ministry. The beach again became a spot for criminals taking advantage of the space that existed until the business people began occupying the spots.
There was a change of guard at the National Tourist Board. The new administration saw the need to move ahead with immediate structural action points. This transformation period had to shelve the previous development master plan for the Aberdeen-Lumley beach. This way, booth owners began paying development fees, license fees and bookings for wedding receptions, show hosting, birthdays celebrations and other social gatherings.
The National Tourist Board had models in the master plan of structures to be built as approved by the European Union. What is currently at the beach is not what is contained in the master plan for the Aberdeen-Lumley beach. For instance, the booths should be see-through villas and none permanent structures. They should not appear in anyways to cover the sea view from the rear.
Even though some of these conditions are not yet met, the aspect of beautifying the beach is gradually materializing. The beach now has bars, electricity, water supply, dust beans, mobile toilets, improved road network, and proper drainages.
The National Tourist Board has been able to recruit beach security (wardens), lifeguards and beachcombers. The plan of establishing a toll system for beachgoers did not materialize hence government continues to lose vital money from beachgoers.
The age-old question of statistics disaggregating the beachgoer population to determine foreign versus local beach tourist remained unanswered. Everyone goes without having to register with the National Tourist Board or the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs or the Freetown City Council.
The government is not making enough money from this area due to its free access by people of all ages. Artists have tried breaking the ground with their products- carvings of various totems; sculptures; raffia products; beads and traditional ornaments; embroideries and weaves as portrayed on our cultural dresses have carved a niche in showcasing the Sierra Leonean side of things.