If Akon can dream it, Idris Elba can do it: Hollywood star eyes to build smart city in Sierra Leone

Idris Elba, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, sets to build an eco-city in Sherbro Island, a monumental Island in Sierra Leone with a population of around 30 to 40,000 people.

Visit To Sierra Leone

A year after Sierra Leone had gone to the polls and elected a new President, 2019 marked the year of Idris’ first-ever visit to Sierra Leone, a country where his father was born.

His visit sparked headlines across the country. For a star so famous and popular, it was a symbol of homecoming to the country that birthed his father.

It was the visit that inspired him to embark on of the biggest projects Sierra Leone has ever seen since post colonial times.

Idris’ visit was welcomed with a presidential welcoming, and was received by President Bio. Eventually, he was given citizenship.

Dare To Dream

In 2020, Senegalese-born RnB superstar, Akon, announced “Akon City”, a real life Wakanda city inspired by the Hollywood blockbuster movie Wakanda.

Although Akon’s envisioned real life Wakanda city never progressed beyond the stage of dreams, in Sierra Leone, two childhood friends are dreaming big to build an eco-city.

Siaka Stevens, the grandson of former President Siaka Stevens, and Idris Elba are working round the clock to transforming a monumental and historic Island in Sierra Leone, Sherbro Island into an eco-city.

Idris and Siaka grew up together in east London.

Unlike Idris whose first visit to Sierra Leone came in 2019, Siaka had been visiting and spending time in Sierra Leone for the last decade

Siaka, a luxury hospitality and entertainment businessman, had initially wanted to establish a boutique hotel in Sierra Leone but he realized “Sierra Leone wasn’t ready for that level of tourism”.

This ignited the idea of transforming Sherbro Island into an eco-city, and that’s how Idris became a partner and big player in the project.

“Originally we went there thinking how could we bring tourism to the most incredible 19 miles of beachfront,” Idris told the BBC in an interview.

From A Dream To Reality

During Idris Elba’s visit to Sierra Leone in 2019, the Sherbro Alliance Partners (SAP) came to light. The Government of Sierra Leone and SAP signed deal to develop and transform Sherbro Island into an eco-city.

“We believe that Sherbro Island City will be an economic engine for our country and neighbours,” said President Bio at the signing of documents.

According to Siaka, the project is estimated to “potentially accommodating a population of up to a million people”.

Development of the project is to begin around the main town of Bonthe, but the whole island is within the scope of the project.

“Part of me wants to build that beautiful retirement home for my mum,” said Idris Elba.

“Never in my lifetime would I have thought I could build the foundation for a new smart-city… I’m not qualified for that. But I am qualified to dream big,” he continued.

Finance, Sustainability, And Energy

As huge as this project is, and being one of the biggest projects in Sierra Leone, it’s clear that financing it requires partnerships, corporations, and investments.

According to SAP, the eco-city project is to be financed through a public-private partnership, whereby the island will be designated a special economic zone with a separate legal and economic system from the rest of Sierra Leone.

Electricity is still a major challenge in Sierra Leone. More than 70% of Sierra Leoneans don’t have access to electricity. Rural areas like Sherbro Island still lack electricity.

In a bold and ambitious move, Idris and his wife Sabrina met with one of Europe’s largest investors in renewable energy, Octopus Energy Generation.

In November last year, SAP partnered with Octopus Energy Generation to build wind and solar farm, which includes five wind turbines, an array of solar panels and battery storage.

Ms North-Bond, head of Octopus Energy Generation, told the BBC the company was considering two ways to distribute power across the island — a micro-grid.

The other option was to function as an “energy island”, enabling local business to bring electric vehicles – both cars and motorcycles – to charge up from on-site battery stations and then deliver energy to domestic batteries in people’s homes.

A Boost For Sierra Leone’s Tourism Sector

Sierra Leone is a country that has been through a period of turmoil over the years. The bloody civil war that wrecked the country’s economic growth and infrastructure; the Ebola epidemic that killed thousands of people and scared off hundreds of investors; the recent pre and post elections violence — all have had a ripple effect on the tourism sector.

As one of the smallest nations in West Africa, and one of the most peaceful nations in Africa, Sierra Leone is yet to enjoy and benefit from its beautiful beaches, mind blowing landscapes, rich culture and history, and among many others.

In 2021, 40,000 tourists visited Sierra Leone, that’s way below the number of tourists that visit neighboring Guinea-Conakry.

As Siaka said, upon completion, the Island will accommodate a million people, which will have a significant boost on the tourism market in Sierra Leone.

It is a huge project, one that may seem impossible to accomplish, but if it does, it’s would boost Sierra Leone’s tourism growth, especially having a face like Idris Elba and Siaka Stevens on it.

Author: Abu Bakarr Jalloh

Abu Bakarr Jalloh is a Sierra Leonean content writer, author, Neo Pan-African and founder of The African Dream, an online platform for inspiring, positive and compelling African stories. Contact: abubakarrjalloh@theafricandreamsl.com WhatsApp: +23276211583

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