Lebanese immigrants first came to West Africa in the mid 19th century after a silkworm epidemic struck their land. The first immigrants to have reached the country were Christians followed by the Shia’a Muslims from the southern part of Lebanon in 1903. They came in as petty traders within the coastal areas of the country and created little influence on the trade sector at first.

Lacking control over import and export rules, as well as finance laws, they initially brought goods such as textiles, jewelry, mirrors as well as coral beads into the interior parts of the country and traded them for palm kernels and Kola nuts. These trades, however, allowed them to gain a foothold in the interior countries and expand their businesses from stalls to big shops.

Yet, in 1919, Lebanese immigrants were heavily blamed for the scarcity of rice, which led to a nationwide riot against them. Unfortunately, the rioting contributed to tarnishing the image of Lebanese in the country. Nevertheless, Lebanese immigrants persisted.

IMG: Blood DIamonds. Sierra Leone – 1981 – 1985. Brian Harrington Spier. FLickr. Creative Commons.

There was a significant shift in business for the Lebanese in 1930 after the first diamond was discovered in Kono district. By the 1950s, the Lebanese became tycoons by smuggling diamonds through Liberia, and they stretched their business strategies even further into owning hotels, casinos, factories and travel agencies as well.

Despite their growing business interests in Sierra Leone, the Lebanese immigrants were not afforded citizenship. The 1973 Citizenship Act contains provisions that do not enable Lebanese to acquire citizenship as a result of their “non-negro” African descent.  The Lebanese traders who hung on during Sierra Leone’s turbulent era in the 1990s hoped that the APC government would eventually grant them citizenship. In 2007, under the leadership of Ernest Bai Koroma, after a robust activism process on naturalization, the first batch of 50 immigrants were accorded citizenship.

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Today the Lebanese community has stretched to roughly 78,000 in number and generations of Lebanese have married locally, adopted the Creole language and staked their destinies on their adopted homeland – in spite of their lack of influence over the politics in the country. The Lebanese community has moved in step with the Sierra Leone government and are now making significant private investments in the modernization and expansion of the tourism sector there.

Tourism in Sierra Leone is a significant and growing industry, in which beaches and other natural habitats are the most significant parts. As such, the government believes that with the return of peace and stability to the country, the development of infrastructure, tourism will again contribute significantly to Sierra Leone’s economy.

People don’t often think of traveling, and Sierra Leone comes up. However things have changed, and if one travels to Sierra Leone or makes it their holiday destination, they will be positively surprised. From ancient slave trade ruin, well preserved historic sites, resorts, restaurants, beautiful beaches, and nonstop nightlife to mountainous and forest reserves, tourist are sure to be surprised.

A man from a beach village in Freetown, Sierra Leone (SLE) repairs his fishing net next to his wooden boat “In God We Trust.”

On the top of the list of the attractions in Sierra Leone stands Banana Island with its great beauty and history.  According to Banana Island Sierra Leone Tourism: “Lush forest reaches to the edge of the ocean. From a hike to the tropic forest you can jump to a scuba dive. Such diversity provides the base for an exciting holiday with ample leisure activities. The waters around Banana Island offer the chance for sport fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, free diving, scenic boat trips, excursions to more remote islands and more. The well-preserved forest with plenty of wildlife provides the base for longer or shorter guided treks. The historical sites on Banana Island are linked to the colonial times and the slave trade and can provide a glimpse of the past of Sierra Leone.”

Sierra Leone was once the pride of West Africa when it came tourist potential and will once again be. The culture and commerce in Sierra Leone are strong and together we, both immigrants and natives, can ensure that the country does not live on mining alone.

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