Monday, May 20, 2024

Idris Elba Is Bringing Africa’s Smart City Trend to Sierra Leone


In a partnership with the government of Sierra Leone, actor Idris Elba is helping to bring cutting-edge green technology and eco-tourism to the country’s Sherbro Island.

Idris Elba, the award-winning British actor known for his roles on both the big screen and television, has embarked on an ambitious new venture far from the limelight of Hollywood. The actor is spearheading a project to create a smart, eco-friendly city on Sherbro Island, a picturesque locale off the coast of Sierra Leone. This initiative, a collaboration with the Sierra Leone government and Elba’s Sherbro Alliance Partners, aims to transform the historically rich island into an eco-tourism destination for travelers who value sustainability and technological innovation.

Elba shared his vision for the island, emphasizing its historical significance and natural beauty. “First of all, it’s a beautiful little island off the coast of Sierra Leone,” he told CNN in a recent interview, highlighting the island’s size comparable to Chicago and its 40,000 inhabitants. He also pointed out the island’s historical role in the slave trade and its potential for tourism and economic development. “It was where England had their capital city of Sierra Leone [when it was a colony], in a city called Bonthe, which is still there. And the relics of the city are still there: the grid system, road system, the old houses, the churches. It’s an incredibly historically rich part of Sierra Leone. There’s 19 miles of beachfront there,” he said. The project, initially focused on boosting tourism, has evolved into the creation of a smart, green-tech city designed to foster economic growth without compromising the environment.

“So what we needed to do is understand how to package an investment opportunity around this beautiful island without destroying it, being climate conscious, and being conscious that there is a youth culture across Africa of the average age of about 20, that wants something,” he said.

Sherbro Island, Sierra Leone.
Sherbro Island, Sierra Leone | Courtesy

This venture into smart city development on Sherbro Island is part of Elba’s broader interest in leveraging technology and creative industries to promote economic and social progress in Africa. His efforts include working with the Stellar Development Foundation to enhance financial equity across the continent using blockchain technology. Last year, Elba ventured into global content marketing with the launch of Silly Face, aiming at nurture creative excellence in brand building.

Elba’s involvement in African economic and cultural development extends beyond this latest endeavor. He is deeply committed to showcasing Africa’s potential through creative industries, believing that they play a crucial role in changing global perceptions of the continent. “The opportunity for Africa is to reframe how not only Africans see themselves via telling stories, but the opportunity is to have the world see Africa in a different way,” Elba explained. He sees the creative arts as a nexus for various industries, offering vast opportunities for job creation and cultural expression.

Moreover, Elba’s connection to Sierra Leone is personal; his father, who died in 2013, was from Sierra Leone, which made Elba a citizen. This project represents a meaningful return to his roots and a chance to contribute to the nation’s development. Elba is keenly aware of the challenges faced by Sierra Leone, one of the world’s poorest countries, and aims to attract investment by packaging Sherbro Island as an appealing, sustainable option for investors. He emphasizes the importance of being climate-conscious and catering to the youth culture in Africa, which is eager for new opportunities.

Elba’s vision is part of a growing trend across Africa as innovative green and eco-friendly urban efforts are reshaping the way cities are developed and managed. In Ethiopia, Addis Ababa has made significant strides in reducing its ecological footprint with the introduction of a light rail system. Lagos State in Nigeria is also pursuing sustainable urban development through clean transport pathways and partnerships with the private sector for waste management, as part of its Cleaner Lagos Initiative. These efforts are indicative of a broader shift towards integrating sustainable practices into urban planning across the continent.

Green City Kigali view.
Green City Kigali is estimated to cost $5 billion and will span across 620 hectares of land | Courtesy

The Green City Kigali project in Rwanda is set to become Africa’s first green city. This ambitious project aims to create a sustainable, affordable, and inclusive urban environment that serves as a model for green development in Africa and beyond. The government’s holistic approach includes green building design, renewable energy, recycling, and inclusive living standards. The project underscores Rwanda’s commitment to global sustainability goals and its dedication to setting a new standard for urban development. The first phase of Green City Kigali, known as Cactus Green Park, will feature 410 houses across 13 hectares, while the second phase expands to include green commercial and office buildings over 125 hectares. These developments reflect Rwanda’s proactive stance on managing rapid urbanization and its impacts on social amenities through sustainable and innovative city management.

These initiatives highlight the continent’s proactive steps toward green growth, focusing on renewable energy, efficient transportation, waste management, and sustainable urban planning. Africa’s urban centers are not just addressing current environmental challenges but are also preparing for the future by creating resilient, sustainable communities that can thrive in the face of climate change and rapid urbanization​. Elba says the opportunity for Africa now is to “reframe how not only Africans see themselves via telling stories, but the opportunity is to have the world see Africa in a different way.”

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