By Amin Kef-Ranger
It is an established fact that Tourism is a big economic game-changer or a booster which, if harnessed properly, can catapult any developing country from the lower rungs to become a very prosperous nation. The truism cannot be swept under the carpet that indeed the sector could make it possible for the provision of much needed foreign exchange that will enhance international trade, create job opportunities both in the formal and informal sectors, project the nation’s customs, traditions and as well provide the right platform for the flow and exchange of ideas, views, spur innovation, creativity among a host of the emergence of other significant gains or benefits.
Indisputably, Sierra Leone is endowed with rich touristic potentials evident in the geographical topography of the country as seen in our beautiful beaches, mountain landscapes, the peaceful nature of the citizenry, our rich cultural heritage, historical sites which are somehow unique and worth exploring.
In the 1980s, Sierra Leone was a popular tourism destination as year in and out there were visiting tourists from different parts of the globe. Those were the days when Tokeh was booming and the sector was contributing significantly to revenue generation, providing the necessary funds needed by Government to roll out certain development programmes.
During the ‘90s, which could be described as the dark days in the history of Sierra Leone, with the destructive ravages of an 11 years rebel war, the tourism industry took a steep dive nose or was plunged into an abyss or the doldrums. Lamentably, after the war it never picked up mainly as a result of the stigmatization attached to the country said to be where blood diamonds abound and largely because of insecurity. But what was also apparent was that the political will was indeed lacking to give the sector the needed impetus or injection for it to regain its past glory.
With the ascendancy of the current SLPP Led-Government, under the leadership of President Julius Maada Bio, many amazingly saw the revival of the right political will. Indeed, having the political will was one thing but what was so much important was having someone at the helm of the Tourism Sector in this country who will pull the right strings to make the sector once more become buoyant and a complete positive game changer.
In that regard, it will never be an understatement to categorically state that President Julius Maada Bio made no mistake in appointing , the result-oriented and pragmatic, Dr Memunatu Pratt as the country’s Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. Since her appointment this country has witnessed successful accomplishments within the Tourism sector to the admiration and commendation of many in and out of the country. With the injection of cutting edge initiatives within the sector, Dr Memunatu Pratt has indeed turned around a once moribund sector into one that is alive and kicking making it so envious and endearing to an extent that it gained the support of the country’s development partners, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank.
Prior to her appointment as Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs by the Administration of H. E. Julius Maada Bio, Hon. Memunatu B. Pratt served in various capacities in the field of education, peace and security wherein she excelled and received several honours, awards and recognition for her work which prompted the President to appoint her to revive and reposition the auspicious but fledgling tourism industry in Sierra Leone.
Hon. Pratt pioneered the establishment of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, where she served as a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department for close to 24 years. She was also a Visiting Professor to Hiroshima University and Hiroshima Peace builder’s Centre in Japan for over 7 years. She also served as a Visiting Professor and resource person to several universities in Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States. She has over 15 years’ experience in Peace, Conflict Gender, Security and International Studies. She has a number of publications to her name and she is a recipient of the National Prestigious Insignia Award as Grand Officer of the Order of the Rokel (GOOR) from the Republic of Sierra Leone.
As Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Madam Memunatu Pratt has been considered, by many, as one of best performing Ministers, an award which she won at the 2018 Annual Diaspora Focus Award.
She has and continues to spearhead several initiatives which have contributed to solving the perennial challenges of the tourism sector such as the high cost of travelling to Sierra Leone and the difficulty in accessing the destination. She also pioneered the establishment of the Entertainment Foundation to unite, consolidate the gains of the industry and ultimately maximizes its benefits.
Recognizing the negative perception of Sierra Leone as a destination, she managed to secure the support of Government to embark on a robust and aggressive marketing campaign which created considerable awareness of the immense potentials, natural beauty, stability and peace that prevails in the country.
Consequently, in an effort to promote domestic tourism and opening up of the vast prime coastal areas of the country, she spearheaded, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture the organization of the first ever Bonthe District Agro-Tourism Exhibition which attracted hundreds of people from across the country including H. E. the President, Julius Maada Bio.
During her few months in office (2018), the tourism industry experienced the highest growth rate in leisure visitors since the aftermath of the war. Today, her unique leadership style and competency has rendered Sierra Leone to be quoted by the most popular online publisher, ETurbo News as the must-visit emerging tourist destination.
Madam Memunatu B. Pratt indeed had a mass public vote and that was also demonstrated by the audience nonstop random applauses, as a signal of genuine win.
Dr. Pratt , it must be reiterated,since the inception of her appointment as Minister of Tourism, has been able to provide the correct leadership and strategic Tourism Governance by applying best practices for tourism sector.
If one could be sincere to measure the tangible performances of the Minister, it is of no doubt that indeed she has made a lot of correct and positive strides to keep the sector alert and proactive; among others she has been able to: introduce nation-wide sustainable beach cleaning exercises, Adopt the Beach Theory in order to keep the beaches clean, safe, establish an entertainment foundation, enhance massive ministerial support extended to entertainers, pioneer tourism diagnosis trip to Bonthe & Sherbro Islands, introduce the Bonthe Agro- Cultural and Tourism Festival and Kabala Fest, to rebrand and position Sierra Leone in the tourist generating regions, ensure a review of the Tourism Act and other related acts, provide strong advocacy for Visa Free and Visa on landing, strong and timely advocacy on reduction on Air tickets and negotiate Tourism studies program at Universities in Sierra Leone.
With supports from development partners such as the UNDP and World Bank the Tourism Ministry, under her leadership, has provided skills training for women living in coastal areas as a way of giving them alternative sources of income in order to make the sector relevant to development.
It, therefore, came as no surprise that in the recent past Dr. Memunatu Pratt, Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs was appointed by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as Global Chairperson for Women in Tourism. As a specialized UN agency in the field of tourism, UNWTO is committed to enhancing the positive impact of tourism development on women’s lives and, in so doing, contributing to the development of the fifth sustainable development goal, “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
As recent as the 12th July, 2022, the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Lisa Chesney played host to the Minister. The two deliberated on issues pertaining to the two countries on diplomacy, bilateral relations and development initiatives.
Lisa Chesney applauded Sierra Leone’s President, Dr. Julius Maada Bio for championing issues of women on the world stage, a step she said many leaders across the world are afraid to take.
She also commended Minister Pratt for the many developmental strides in the Tourism Ministry under her leadership.
On her part, Dr. Memunatu Pratt explained the many virtues Sierra Leone is enjoying ranging from religious tolerance to women involvement in the politics and the development of the nation. She appreciated the work of the British Commission in Sierra Leone and called for support to the Tourism Ministry.
The Minister also expounded on the timely reforms and the many programmes and activities implemented by the Ministry including the just concluded Tourism Parliamentary Governance Conference that took the whole of Parliament to Bo.
She mentioned the Ministry’s eco-tourism and domestic tourism drives which she said have yielded dividend and disclosed that she has been appointed by UNWTO to chair the global forum for women in tourism which she said was aimed at sharing the Sierra Leonean experience in women empowerment on the global stage.
No matter what could be said, the Minister, with the support of the Tourist Board of Sierra Leone under its General Manager, Fatmata Kromah and other stakeholders within the sector, has done so much to revamp the Tourism sector and if time and space could have permitted all could have been brought to the fore. Her engagements with other stakeholders within the sector have been very fruitful to say the least.
It will indeed remain a historical fact that Dr Memunatu Pratt has made and continues to make very impressive gains within the Tourism Sector of this country and indeed the accruing benefits are positively impacting the country, communities and individual lives. Her name will definitely go down the annals of history as one of the most development oriented female public figure that did so much, out of passion and patriotism, for her country.