Reporters on the Job

Welcome Mat: It's rare to feel quite so welcome as does a British person visiting Sierra Leone, says correspondent Tristan McConnell (see story). "Unlike many other former colonies, here there is little bitterness," he says. "What there are are a lot of opinions.

That became very clear as Tristan squeezed himself into the back of a battered taxi with three other passengers on his first morning in Freetown.

"There was already a hubbub of, to me, incomprehensible Krio, the local language, which sounds to the untrained ear like English badly translated by a drunk person. As soon as they knew I was British, the conversation switched into English and focused on Britain and Tony Blair's role in Sierra Leone."

Tristan says that arguments ensued, but there was one clear consensus: that Tony Blair was both popular and always welcome. "The only regret of my co-passengers was that, as was the case during his visit in 2002, Mr. Blair would not set foot in Freetown, robbing many of the opportunity to cheer in person."

Still, many express their fondness for Britain in other ways. "The legacy of Britain's military intervention seven years ago is visible in the many Union Jacks painted on stores and shopfronts across Freetown, and in the DVDs sold by street hawkers," says Tristan.

"One of their biggest sellers was a bootleg copy of a documentary about a successful SAS (Special Air Service) mission to rescue hostages from the West Side Boys militia, who operated just outside Freetown."

– Amelia Newcomb
Deputy World editor

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