Is Freetown a Slum City?

5 February 2014 at 23:17 | 4424 views

By Sallieu Sesay, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

As a Sierra Leonean, I am not happy about the present looks of Freetown,my country"s capital city. The best picture I could give to Freetown is like a ‘Slum city in the 21 century’.

Reading about the history of Sierra Leone in online publications, books written by renowned Sierra Leone historians like Professor Joe A.D Alie, Professor Magbaily Fyle and other historians you would come to the conclusion that Freetown should have become one of the most beautiful cities in Africa.

Since the British handed over power to our forefathers’ who had formed the two major political parties in Sierra Leone i.e. the Sierra Leone People’s Party established 1951 and the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) formed on 1960, the way and manner the very poor leadership of these parties into the governance system of the country have brought our city in a mess. Some other
schools of thought held the few that the poor infrastructural outlook of Freetown was inherited from our colonial masters.

In given a comparative analysis, one cannot compare Lagos or Abuja city, Accra city in Ghana, Conakry city in Guinea and even Monrovia in Liberia in any form or shape to that of Freetown the capital city of Sierra Leone. If you traced the historical background of the above countries used as example, Sierra Leone almost had the same pre and post-colonial experiences like them.

Why is Freetown City like the way it is? Everyone might have his own share of thought. On the other hand, the uniqueness of Freetown the capital City of Sierra Leone could be traced from history. The Portuguese were among the first Europeans to visit Sierra Leone which is situated on the west coast of Africa. They are followed by the Spanish ( who were then called Castilians), as described by Joe A.D Alie in his book New History of Sierra Leone first published in 1990, pg. 31. In the same tangent from another historian’s point of view Professor Magbaily Fyle, the major impact of the European especially the British relationship with Sierra Leone was made by the founding of a settlement there for freed slaves, starting in the 1787.

By the late eighteen century, a few people in England had spoken out against slavery and the slave trade. One of them, Granville Sharp, succeeded in bringing up case of a former slave, James Somerset, who was being re-enslaved. The judge in the matter, Lord Mansfield, ruled that slavery was not part of English law. This meant that Somerset and others like him in England, were free men.
Freetown should have been more than it present state.

The above case made Sierra Leone a target of western penetration and relevance especially for the British. The number of freed slaves increased after the American War of Revolution of 1775.

During this era of war in which the American colonists fought for their independence from Britain, the British encouraged slaves in America to leave their master and join the British Armies and thus obtain their way to the British colony of Nova Scotia while others went to London. The Black Poor, as they were referred to became, numerous in England and came to constitute a social problem.

Freetown today was seen by former slaves as the Province of Freedom. On 1787 some of the black slaves who had become a nuisance in England, Granville Sharp and his supporters were able to persuade the British Government to take responsibility of these people and send them back to their original continent. They eventually put them on board and sent to Sierra Leone, with their white girlfriends, who left England, numbered 411. When they arrived in Sierra Leone, a piece of land was obtained from King Tom, Sub-Chief of Sierra Leone peninsula.

Later a new treaty was signed with King Naimbana, the regent of Koya, ceding this land on the coast. Furthermore, G. Sharp worked out a constitution for the new settlers in what he felt be a Province of Freedom and a British Colony today called Freetown which is the capital city of Sierra Leone.

You would agree with me that since the 17th/18th centuries to the 21 century nothing significant have changed in Freetown.The city still has it pre- and post-colonial looks. The city do have much mega infrastructure development that have changed the face of Freetown in the eyes of our colonial master as
compared to the other countries they colonized like USA, Ghana, Nigeria etc.

Indeed, Freetown is like a slum city, because the city has apparent features to that of the Makoko Slum in Lagos,Keberri Slum in Kenya and the Sodom and Gomora slum in Accra Ghana. One would not see much difference with the Freetown Bay Slum Community to that of most places within the Central
Business District (CBD), which is at the mercy of most visitors. The central business area and some strategic locations in the city still have buildings built with zinc and wood often called “Bod Ose & Pan-Bodi” in our one of local dialects Krio. This colonial structures still dot the city. The presence of filth and poorly constructed gutters have made the proper management of sewage disposal a thorn in the flesh for the Freetown City Council which has devolved that function to a private public company called MASSADA. Despite the tremendous efforts

MASSADA is supposed to manage waste in the city yet, people sleep and wake up and see many filthy sites.

Since 1961 Sierra Leone got independence and was ruled by the SLPP and APC, the greatest legacies they have left in the minds of many Sierra Leoneans is a brutal civil war, divide the country into ethnic zones, greater majority of the people are entrapped into the web of poverty. Youth unemployment continues to become one of the major social issues in the country. The high rate of poverty has made lots of young women become prostitutes. Poor educational system is also a contributing factor for the increase of school dropout an unemployment. Many young people are into dangerous drug taken and alcoholism as a result of joblessness. If asked present state authority what led to the above they would tell you is the 11 years civil war. What led to the 11years civil war are some of the above issues highlighted couple with bad governance which gave birth to corruption, greed, lawlessness and indiscipline President Koroma is trying to address.

Another reasons why our city is a disgrace among other cities in the Africa is poor roads network in the city, poor traffic lighting system, over population, no respect for the rule of law, petty trading almost all over city, poor electricity and water supply and new gem trade of youth bike riding in major streets in the city. The youth are currently battling with police because the police are preventing them not to ride their bikes in the Central Business District (CBD), even though their bikes are licensed to operate in the country.

I may not want to throw lights about successes being made by the past and present government because for the simple reason the founders and those who are handling the two major political parties after their founders to now are the reason why our city still has a pre-colonial development model. Roads built by present and past government are still not impressive based on the way and manner they had been constructing them. I would not hesitate to say some of the old roads are far better than the new roads been constructed. The present government is making lot of publicity on radio, television, newspapers, online about their mega roads construction projects since they came in power in 2007; it all sounds good. But lots of people held the view that the new roads being constructed do not make much difference. Some of the reasons are:

- The new roads like Wilkinson Road, Spur Road among others have poor or no proper traffic lights system, the roads have poor drainage system as experienced in the past raining season etc.

Today countries like Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria have fly over roads, toll gate roads to generate revenue for their governments and fly overs to beautify their cities and reduce traffic congestion, hence, there are fly overs. In addition, today, Kenya is developing a new town call Thika Town which is described in the 2014 edition of the Africa Report Supplementary Report for December and January 2014 edition, as a fastest growing metropolis, 47 kms Northeast, only a 30 minutes from the heart on Nairobi, Kenya’s largest city and its’ capital. After the completion of the $352 million, eight-lane, Nairobi-Thika Superhighway in 2012, Thika town has become one of the fastest growing industrial and residential towns in Kenya.

In Ghana a private company called Rlg Ghana – with support from the Ghana Government had launched a $10 BILLION RLG-POWERED HOPE CITY ICT PARK. The Park according report if completed within 3-4 years will make Ghana go big on ICT to drive economic growth (Business and Finance-africareview.com).

More youth will be employed the ICT industry will be developed more. These are some of the developments a country should be proud of when it comes to development in the 21 century.

I am not oblivious about the Chinese New Airport Project at Mamamah in the Western Rural area, the Regent and Grafton Road, Hillside bye-pass road, The WARCIP-Fiber Optic Project if completed will improved the ICT sector, the Free Health Care policy, these among others are all positive direction the government of President Koroma is making. But the truth is, what should be done and what had been done are yet to outshine the emerging issues that will transform
Freetown to a City of Hope Soon.

It’s intrinsic to note that the Freetown City Council cannot do it alone, Massada cannot do it alone to transform Freetown as a clean city; we all have role to play.

I want to see in the next 4-5 years a city moving towards an ultra-modern city. Don’t tell me the time is short because we have what it takes to do that. First, government should start thinking about reviewing our Mining Laws by making sure that our minerals are not only extracted and exported but processed and ready to be used. All processes must be done in Sierra Leone. Build shopping malls and modern market places in most strategic points in the city. Promoting the carving industry and station them in main area within the city. The judiciary
and police must be able to enforce the rule of law without political interference. Weak politicians should henceforth refrain from hiding behind the cloth of tribalism to crate further divide in the country. Have more fearless civil society groups and media. The government should start investing in our country’s rich culture and tradition and promote our tourism sector. Increase the minimum wage of civil servantS. The present budget has made increases but more improvement can be done. The government should invest more in education and follow the recommendations in the UNESCO 2013/2014 EDUCATION REPORT in improving basic education.

According to the report, an education system is only as good as its teachers. Unlocking their potential is essential to enhancing the quality of learning. Evidence shows that education quality improves when teachers are supported – it deteriorates if they are not, contributing to the shocking levels of youth illiteracy. Governments must step up efforts to recruit additional teachers to achieve universal primary education by 2015. The report identifies four strategies
to provide the best teachers to reach all children with a good quality education.

First, the right teachers must be selected to reflect the diversity of the children they will be teaching. Second, teachers must be trained to support the weakest learners, starting from the early grades. A third strategy aims to overcome inequalities in learning by allocating the best teachers to the most challenging parts of a country. Lastly, governments must provide teachers with the right mix of incentives to encourage them to remain in the profession and to make sure all children are learning, regardless of their circumstances. My dream for Freetown as a modern city in the 21st century the educational sector should be tailored with the above kinds of system and water down into all the four corners of the country.

I would end by saying that if the above are not addressed, my description of Freetown as a slum city in the 21st century will still make sense.

Editor’s Note: Sallieu Sesay is publisher of mysierraleoneonline.com