Sierra Leone's long civil war was especially brutal, with children serving as soldiers and rebels hacking off the limbs of civilians. When it ended, the country lay in ruin, a once thriving tourist industry among the things destroyed. Nearly six years later, long stretches of sandy beach are still mostly bare, and government officials say reviving this important source of revenue is a top concern. Kari Barber reports for VOA from Freetown.
Major hotels in what was once the tourist area of Freetown are mostly empty. The government has helped to reconstruct some, but without the tourists, the industry is at a standstill.
Tourism, along with diamond mining, were major sources of revenue before the war engulfed this African nation in the 1990s.
Jewelry seller Joseph Bangura says he waits on the beach, hoping tourists will return. "I am making nice necklaces for those people who are coming to know our culture and our land," he says. "At least they won't forget about us."
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest nations in the world. The war destroyed much of the country's infrastructure. Thousands of former combatants still struggle to survive.
Despite these problems, Director of Tourism Alfred Navo says he wants people to know that Sierra Leone is at peace now and there is no reason to be afraid.
"Sierra Leone is no longer at war. We are now fighting against poverty, [for] poverty alleviation," he explains. "We want people to come. Sierra Leone for now is like a virgin land."
Navo says Sierra Leone is relying heavily on international aid to help revitalize the tourist industry. "We are handicapped financially in the process because for now we are more dependent on donor funds. Of course they have also their own areas of priority."
Navo says funding hospitals and schools comes first for most donors, before tourism. He says a number of smaller, independently owned guest houses are opening up.
Raymond Jones has just opened a guesthouse in the center of Freetown. Jones is from Sierra Leone, but has been living in London. He returned to start this business. It is not quite finished, but he says he is confidant people will come. "It helps me; also it helps my country to have good revenue," he said.
The government hopes others will follow Jones' lead and invest in tourism. For now, Sierra Leone will continue to prepare its beaches in hopes that one day they will be again be bustling with foreigners and their dispensable incomes.