From the Editor’s Keyboard

Welcome to the Free Town

By  | 21 July 2014 at 03:22 | 2840 views

The mountainous city of Freetown is not only the capital of the coastal West
African State of Sierra Leone but is also the seat of government.

It is a common saying among the residents that the name “Freetown” is
responsible for the lawlessness, lack of propriety, respect and civility that
characterizes the city because everybody thinks that everything is free and they
are free to do what they like. In other words it is a " free" town. The name itself
however was given as a result of the freedom gained by freed slaves from the
Americas who are today known as Krios or Creoles from the Americas in the 18
century. It became a colony of the British who ruled it from 1801 till 1896 when
they extended their rule to the hinterland which later became known as the
protectorate. In 1961, after series of agitations spanning over decades led by
elites, especially the Creoles, the country gained independence from Britain and
subsequently became a republic in 1971.

Today, life in the city is as free as the name implies. A transport crisis is
hitting those who do not own cars as drivers demand three or mor้ fares for one
destination with impunity. The police look the other way as it happens.
Sometimes bus drivers would arrange with cops managing traffic at certain
junctions to allow them to make U- turns and drop passengers. They would then
stop in the middle of the highway while the others coming behind would do the
same till there is a long snake of traffic. Passengers would grumble and howl at
the police but they would just mischievously say, “It is the traffic”.

Taxi drivers are the worst in this nightmarish practice and those commuting would spend long hours waiting without getting any taxi to take them to their destination for a single fare. There was a time when anyone would just choose to sit on the front seat of a commercial vehicle, but today it is only those who are willing to pay a double fare for a single destination that would sit there and sometimes they are compelled to pay three fares. In some parts of the city, youths have volunteered to control drivers and would report the recalcitrant ones to the police even though sometimes the police would not act appropriately. The youths’ intervention has however alleviated the plight of passengers. Among those who have taken the lead are a group called Community Service Volunteers at Lumley Street in the center of the city.

The city itself looks like a city without a mayor. The Freetown City Council is
charged with the responsibility of enforcing byelaws, collecting dues in markets, constructing certain pubic facilities and developing certain parts of the city. But if anyone were to do a survey, he would find not more than five public toilets in a city now hosting no less than two million people. In almost every part of the city people would be seen attending to nature anywhere they felt like doing it. In one instance a well dressed man in a western suit went to a corner and pumped out water. After finishing he was just swinging and shaking the rubber hose when a female child went to the same place and they were face to face. She screamed as if she had seen a demon and fled. In many instances grown up men and women would meet in the same place to empty cargoes without being ashamed as they face each other. They have no option because there are very few toilets. The only one at Cotton Tree is too far away for those at PZ in the centre. You may ask what about those at Brookfields or Government Wharf and other parts of the city?

A company called Masada is frantically trying to rid the city of filth, but guess
what is happening? After the workers have strenuously cleared the gutters of
filth, people in nearby houses would just gather the filth in their compounds and dump them again in the gutters. Sometimes some would even empty their human products in the gutters. When it rains, all sorts of rubbish and filth flow on to the street including feces.

In one instance, people viewed an object rolling in the midst of the speeding
water in the gutters as it found its way towards the center of the city. They
knew what it was. It got somewhere where the gutter could no longer carry
the water and it had to splash on to the street. Bystanders screamed and some
jumped as if they had seen a bomb. The object landed on the
street with a thud. A youth dressed in a Shaba jean style was walking friskily on the street when he stepped on the bomb-like object. A child screamed and pointed under his feet and shouted, “shiiit!”. The youth looked down and saw what he’d stepped on. He jumped into the air, holding his leg. Bystanders held their noses and shook their heads. The youth tiptoed and walked like someone with a broken leg as people watched with pity. This is Freetown today.

While all this is happening, the FCC workers are busy collecting dues from
traders and surprisingly their cops seize wares of traders . Everywhere you
see the metropolitan police wrestling with unfortunate traders in their attempt
to seize their wares because they are not supposed to sell on the streets.

Paradoxically, street trading is the order of the day in Freetown. So, there has
to be a selection in enforcing the law and those who suffer most are those whose
wares are easy to carry. A large number of the metropolitan cops have grown
bigger stomachs than the mayor himself. But looking at the filth, lack of
adequate public facilities and many more, sometimes people ask if there is a
mayor in Freetown. What are his achievements since he was elected? The traders
have waited for the new market or stalls to be constructed so that they would be
relocated from the streets to Victoria Park but there has been no sign of
finishing them. There are reports that the Pa at State House is angry over the issue, but that is the negative effect of the four- for- four election strategy in which many candidates rode on the popularity of the Pa (President Koroma). People say, “Di pa dei woke but di batoliner dem na problem." (The President works hard but the praise-singers around him are the problem). This means the President almost never gets the true picture of what is happening in the city and the rest of the country because some of the people around him almost always present a distorted picture of the reality to please him and feather their nests. Sometimes he has to go out on the streets himself to see things for himself.

The FCC is also supposed to collaborate in maintaining law and order. It should
enforce certain aspects of the Public Order Act of 1965 but it has never been
seen doing it. If you were in this free town, every where you go you are likely to hear and witness public insults and profane language known as Mammy Cuss especially among drivers and market women. So, you see how free is Freetown?. Every one does everything freely because they are in a free town called Freetown.