Monday, October 13, 2008

Beach Bars Demolished!

Under instructions from the minister of tourism, virtually all beach bars on the beach side of Lumley Road, perhaps the largest tourist attraction in Freetown, have been demolished in what has been called a beautification exercise.

At about 12 pm yesterday a large crew of workers wielding machetes, crowbars, sledge hammers, axes and shovels, with heavy police and military presence violently took down all structures, including the popular De Base, Check Point Koma, Paradise, Ramada and Sea View beach bars.

The move destroyed many small businesses and put some 115 people out of work and into a search for a new way to provide for their families.

Police and military officials blocked the road to all pedestrian traffic and access to the scene for journalists, calling Lumley Road a restricted area where no pictures could be taken.

This occurred despite repeated proclamations from government and police officials of their commitment to the freedom of press.

After some time and following the arrival of many journalists on the scene, police could no longer restrict access.

According to Umaru Deen Kargbo, owner of Sea View Beach Bar, the action of the government was unjust. No compensation for the loss of the business has been offered, despite having permission and permits to operate from the national tourist board.

"I don't feel good. It has hit me personally, economically. I started from a 'cool man drinks seller'. I invested 18 million leones into the business. I had hired 10 employees from the national tourism training institute," he said.

Sea View Beach Bar had been operating on the beach between Aberdeen and Lumley since 2001.
The businesses on the beach side of Lumley were notified in a letter from Cecil Williams, the general manager of the tourist board on July 18th, that their businesses would be shut down and structures destroyed because of the "unsightly nature and (the) conditions of Beach Bar operations".

Building inspector for the ministry of lands and country planning Antony Kargbo said no permits were issued on the beach side of Lumley.

"They are violating our laws. We are not just doing this because we want to."

Efforts by the owners of these establishments to negotiate an acceptable settlement with government proved futile.

"The minister and deputy have been very arrogant. They told us they wanted to clear the area for tree planting, solar energy light system and to stop erosion," said Mr. Antony Deen Kargbo.

The erosion of the local tourist economy might be a more serious concern than the loss of some land into the sea. New fears are emerging that the loss of the beach bars and subsequent loss of pedestrian traffic will result in safety issues for those who would walk on the beach.

"This will turn into a social disturbance. We don't want this (area) to turn into a ghetto for bad reasons."

Adikallie Carlar Kamar, the manager of the Ramada Beach Bar said that the business had been paying the national tourist board based on a lease agreement. The board decided not to renew the lease for 2009 with "no reason that we understand" and sent a notification of the demolition order.

"Nothing is progressive in this area. When we came here it was bushy. There is no compensation, no negotiation!"

According to Ramatu Osola, owner of the Ramada beach bar, the government's actions were incomprehensible when it is still very difficult to start a successful business in the country.

"This is personal. This has nothing to do with tourism. How are we going to survive? We don't know. No provision, no compensation at all. Eight years of hard work. It's not easy to establish a business, nationally or internationally. We did it to improve our country. This is the typical Sierra Leone style."

The Ramada began operation in 2004 and over US$30,000 had been invested in the business.

In a statement broadcast on the Cotton Tree News minister of tourism Hidolo Trye attempted to explain why the government felt it necessary to destroy these tourist attractions.

"Is this what we intended for this country? Is this the image we want? No. So many investments on one side of Lumley Road but not on the other. This is the end of our culture of begging."

With the destruction of these viable businesses and tourist attractions, the hopes and dreams of proprietors, the livelihoods of hundreds of families and the favorite relaxation spots of tourists and Sierra Leoneans alike are left like so much rubble at the feet of the government.

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