Abayomi Tejan: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 September 2019:
The government of Sierra Leone has waived the requirement for a prospective visitor to the country to first apply for an Entry Visa before travelling. The government’s press release states that it’s a strategy aimed at encouraging more foreigners to visit Sierra Leone without much trouble.
The waiving of Entry Visa into Sierra Leone by the government is meant to facilitate easy travelling for foreign investors wishing to do business in the country.
Tourism, too, would increase – the government is hoping, which translates into more foreign exchange earnings.
On the face of it, it’s all good for business and economic growth. But what about national security?
Sierra Leone’s traditional western partners, the US, UK, EU countries, in addition to Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa made the favoured list, in addition to Japan, South Korea and Norway.
However, opening up the country to so many foreigners who could just simply hop into a plane and fly to Freetown, without prior notice to the immigration department, could pose security risks.
Countries like Iran, Thailand, Turkey, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, UAE, and Saudi Arabia are homes to elements who, in one way or another, have links with Islamic militants such as ISIS, Al Shabab and Book Haram.
Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia are well known for narcotics and drug trafficking.
Sierra Leone may be one of the most peaceful countries in West Africa, but the peace is rather fragile. The country is also vulnerable to infiltration by individuals on a mission.
The national borders by sea and land are porous, located along a stretch of water considered the most dangerous in the world. It has been used before as a transit point for cocaine traffickers.
America has accused certain Lebanese nationals in Sierra Leone of supporting Hezbollah, a Muslim sect believed to be involved in terrorism.
A few years back, Al Shabab threatened Sierra Leone for sending peace keeping troops to Somalia. Boko Haram, perhaps the most dangerous of the militants, is giving the Nigerian army a hard time.
Boko Haram is enemy of anyone with western orientation, not just Americans or Europeans. Sierra Leoneans are therefore enemies to Boko Haram.
With the west Atlantic coast teeming with pirates associated to Islamist groups, Sierra Leone had better step up on intelligence gathering to pre-empt any covertly planned breach of its national security by militants posing as investors and tourists.
No matter the technology or sophistication of the airport security system, who is going to argue with a visitor from some Asian country or the Middle East claiming to be a tourist? Much least with one who declares a wad of hard currency stashed in a briefcase, posing as a prospective investor. Either way, the visitor most likely than not would be warmly welcomed in Sierra Leone.
So, while Sierra Leone opens its doors to more foreigners and total strangers, the security agencies had better tighten their belts for any eventuality.