By Mohammed Faray Kargbo
The Monuments and Relics Commission was almost moribund when they took over four years ago. Everything that should make the Commission a very vibrant entity was either nonexistent or in shambles.
The appointment of Madam Isatu Smith and team of Commissioners saw the rejuvenation of the Commission. In no time, they revolutionized the cultural heritage management sector to the admiration of many.
From the establishment of a functioning Secretariat to the proclamation of three new monuments, the Commission defy all odds to give heritage management a facelift in Sierra Leone.
The restoration of Bunce Island project, construction/restoration of a new jetty on the same Island, restoration of the De-Ruyter’s Stone, King’s Yard Gate, building of perimeter fence on Old Fourah Bay College and the eviction of squatters from its premises, restoration works on St John Maroon’s Church and St Charles’s Church, the review of the Monuments and Relics Act, formation of School Heritage Clubs, recognition of Chief Mani Sundu’s Grave, the achievements are too glaring for an entity that inherited a workload of over 60 years with little resource allocation.
During Isatu Smith’s tenure as Chair of MRC, the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation provided funds for the restoration of Bunce Island in 2017. This was done at a time when the Island was still on the tentative list of the World Monuments Watch.
In one of her numerous interviews with the media, Isatu Smith said her biggest dream was to witness the declaration of Bunce Island as a World Monument.
The new Chairman is Charlie Haffner.
Himself a member of the erstwhile Commission, he brings to the table over 35 years of experience in the field of cultural heritage and theatre arts. The Parliament of Sierra Leone endorsed him as the Chairman of the Commission on Thursday 2nd August, 2018 following his appointment by President Julius Maada Bio.
Mr Haffner said he was willing to work with other players to make the monuments and relics of Sierra Leone as enviable as possible.
Some members of Parliament described his appointment as one of the best in the history of Sierra Leone owing to his unique sense of cultural awareness and dedicated years of promoting the country’s culture and heritage under the aegis of his cultural institution, Fritong Players International.
Charlie Haffner and team have a huge task ahead to preserve the nation’s battered cultural and heritage resources.
Unless an uncompromising commitment to the restoration of cultural heritage resources is pursued, Sierra Leone’s historic assets would hardly be comprehensively restored by the next decade. They had suffered years of neglect and deterioration aggravated by massive destruction during the decade long civil conflict.
Over the years, low budgetary allocation has not helped the situation. The intangible culture like its tangible counterpart is under attack by cultural imperialism, globalisation, modern civilization and technology.
The new administration has pledged to overhaul the situation. President Bio has promised to diversify the economy through tourism, agriculture and marine resources.
The new Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Madam Memunatu Pratt is determined to rescue the sector and position Sierra Leone as an attractive tourist destination. Her strides in the last couple of months speak to the seriousness she attaches to that transformation.
But the government must provide the much needed resources coupled with an unwavering political will if any sober economic turnaround could be effected.
Until that is done, the road to heritage tourism development in Sierra Leone seem bumpy.
Mohammed Faray Kargbo
Education and Outreach Officer
Monuments and Relics Commission
23 Pultney Street