Idris Elba to build smart eco-city in Sierra Leone

Idris Elba has embarked on a new passion project – turning a remote island off the coast of Sierra Leone into a futuristic eco-friendly city.

Born in Canning Town, east London, Elba made his name through Hollywood as a hard-bitten detective, roughing up bad guys in grimy spots around the capital.

But his father’s native Sierra Leone was never far from his heart. And now, having established himself as one of the UK’s biggest acting talents, he’s chasing another “big dream” – bringing wind-powered renewable electricity to the country for the first time.

“It’s a dream, you know, but I work in the make-believe business,” Elba told the BBC. The plan is to develop Sherbro, a little island shaped like a bird’s head off the coast of Sierra Leone, into a sustainable eco-friendly city – or smart city.

Artist impressions of the city depict a glittering array of glassy looking buildings surrounding lakes and well-tended lawns, with a futuristic bridge straddling the highway. The island would also get electric vehicles – both cars and motorcycles – that can be charged from on-site battery stations.

“It’s about being self-reliant, it’s about bringing an economy that feeds itself and has growth potential. I’m very keen to reframe the way Africa is viewed… as an aid model,” he said.

The idea was floated by his childhood friend Siaka Stevens who, looking at a map of power generation for Sierra Leone, questioned why Sherbro was not highlighted like the rest of the country. Mr. Stevens began to do some digging and went to Sherbro to better understand why this little patch had been left – quite literally – off the map.

There he saw an island forgotten. Disconnected from the mainland, it had no schooling, medical care, infrastructure or enterprise.

Stevens and Elba have secured permission from the Sierra Leone government to development the island, which at present has 30,000 inhabitants
Stevens and Elba have secured permission from the Sierra Leone government to development the island, which at present has 40,000 inhabitants.
Elba's plan is to develop Sherbro into a sustainable eco-friendly city
Elba’s plan is to develop Sherbro into a sustainable eco-friendly city
Elba's plan is to develop Sherbro into a sustainable eco-friendly city

Stevens, who was born in Sierra Leone but has lived in the UK since he was five years old, felt compelled to do something and got in touch with his old friend Elba, whose father Winston was a proud Sierra Leonean.

He took Elba to Sherbro where the star saw the island for himself. “Originally we went there thinking: how could we bring tourism to the most incredible 19 miles of beachfront,” Elba said.

The idea soon morphed beyond tourism to a plan that could make the island more self-sufficient. Sherbro Alliance Partners was set up a couple of years later and in 2019 they partnered with the government of Sierra Leone to develop Sherbro.

Tax breaks

The project will be partly funded by the private sector and partly by the public and be designated a special economic zone with a legal and economic system separate from the rest of Sierra Leone – a kind of Disney World, says Stevens, referring to the Florida resort which enjoys tax breaks and regulatory planning exemptions.

The island is 230 square miles and has a population of 40,000. According to the development’s website, it remains one of Sierra Leone’s most isolated regions.

“There is limited development and infrastructure beyond Bonthe Township which includes a small airstrip.The mobility of the people who live there is limited not only in terms of access to the mainland, but also by their ability to move around the island itself.”

A map of the project has an eco-tourism belt sweeping over the top half of the island and the southern coast reserved for beach tourism. The right side of the island would be developed for cultural tourism.

Five wind turbines would make up a wind and solar farm and be built by Octopus Energy Generation, one of Europe’s largest investors in renewable energy.

It would mark the entry of wind-powered renewable energy to Sierra Leone which currently relies on imports of petroleum and natural gas.

“This is a momentous day for Octopus as we kick off our first renewables project in Africa,” said Zoisa North-Bond, CEO of Octopus Energy Generation.

Once complete, the plan could potentially accommodate up to a million people, said Stevens. Elba cautioned, however, that “the character of the island hopefully will remain intact. It’s a beautiful, green part of the world and we don’t want to disturb that.”

Source: Telegraph

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