FREETOWN. Hollywood actor Idris Elba has a “big dream” for Sierra Leone, the West African nation where his father was born to regenerate a beautiful island off its coast and turn it into an eco-friendly “smart city”.

“Originally we went there thinking how could we bring tourism to the most incredible 19 miles of beachfront,” the British star told the BBC about Sherbro Island.

But as the idea was explored, a more innovative plan came into play – to bring in partners and seriously develop the area in a sustainable, eco way. The project now also intends to bring wind-powered renewable electricity for the first time to Sierra Leone.

“It’s a dream, you know, but I work in the make-believe business,” says Elba, best known for his roles in Luther, the Wire and for playing Nelson Mandela. The 51-year-old actor wants to make people believe this can happen – and change perspectives.

“It’s about being self-reliant, it’s about bringing an economy that feeds itself and has growth potential. I’m very keen to reframe the way Africa is viewed… as an aid model.

“This opportunity is completely different.”

Elba was brought into the project by his childhood friend Siaka Stevens, the grandson of a former Sierra Leonean president of the same name.

The pair grew up together in east London, both have worked as DJs and their paths often cross in the entertainment world.

For the last decade, Stevens has been spending more time in Sierra Leone and had initially wanted to establish a boutique hotel there. 

However he told the BBC his background in luxury hospitality and entertainment made him quickly realise “Sierra Leone wasn’t ready for that level of tourism”.

This is what spurred thoughts of developing Sherbro Island and with encouragement from a friend who worked on the Saudi Red Sea enterprise, a tourism megaproject, he approached Elba.

Two years later Sherbro Alliance Partners (SAP) was born and in 2019 a deal was struck with the Sierra Leonean government to develop Sherbro, which falls within the home district of current President Julius Maada Bio.

“We believe that Sherbro Island City will be an economic engine for our country and neighbours,” the president said at the time.

The island had a population of around 30,000 people in 2013, when the latest available data was recorded – and is approximately 600 sq km (230 sq miles). 

That is a little bigger than the Isle of Man off the UK and about twice the size of Malta.

Stevens says development is to begin around the main town of Bonthe, but the whole island is within the scope of the project – “potentially accommodating a population of up to a million people”. – BBC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *