With the unprecedented upsurge in population, Freetown was consequently going to be stretched for space and services, like schools, houses, transportation, medical services, anything and everything. The war is long over, but people have found new environments and ways of living.
Unfortunately, not many have settled well into the city dream, and a lot have found themselves on the fringes of society. It is no surprise then that overcrowding, especially in the slums and ghettoes has become the watch word during flooding in the city.
The concomitant effect of this can be visible with tin shacks springing up in disaster prone areas, as we have seen recently. But it will be dishonest to lay the blame wholly on the behavior of the underclass and underprivileged.
The mountainous areas of Freetown, which include Regent and Sugar Loaf, have always been the preserve of the colonial masters and the rich. But since the end of the war, these areas became the place to be, thanks to IMAAT, the British Consulate and the American Embassy.
Prior to these institutions relocating into these areas, many would have seen these areas as either too expensive to build on or virtually impossible to do so. The new imposing structures became eye openers, and a mad dash was made to erect their palaces. On the other side of the social spectrum, slums and ghettoes mushroomed their way in every dangerous places you could think of.
It is however, very difficult to pin down the reasons for this “overcrowding” to one factor. Nevertheless, there is an undercurrent of factors that may be contributory to the problem of our “overcrowding” in the city.
Since colonial days, every public service has been concentrated and centralized in the city. We have been left to believe that if you wanted anything done, Freetown was the place to be. If you wanted a passport, license your vehicle, register a company etc., you had to come down to Freetown. As a country, we have never decentralized our services fully. It is true that we have regional offices but these are in reality aspects of tokenism.
Let us think for a while. Agriculture is predominantly carried out in the provinces. Why can’t we have the head office or ministry of Agriculture in say Bo Town or Kailahun, and the sub office in Freetown for administrative purposes?
Why can’t we have the Ministry of Mines in Kono District and the sub office in Freetown? It may sound like a layman’s idea, but will it make some difference? Does the farmer in Kailahun needs to come to Freetown to discuss his agricultural issues with someone in a marbled office in Freetown; someone who does not even know the difference between a spade and a hoe?
I have seen a few regional offices like Immigration and SLRT, Ministry of mines etc. When I was on my sojourn in Makeni a few years ago, I noticed a rise in unlicensed Okadas plying the streets of the city. These bikes had no number plates and the police were very vigilant in apprehending those who were using the roads illegally.
they were not licensed, these riders broke every traffic rule in the book, knowing full well that the chances of being caught or tracked were remote. The general consensus at the time was that most of these riders were also involved in the rising crime rate; especially at night. The ensuing heavy handedness of the police was a welcome relief to many residents. That was the state of play at face value.
I spoke to some of these so-called culprits and this is what I found out. The majority of these riders had secured loans from Microcredit companies, usually with collaterals like a piece of land, a family heirloom or a family member as guarantor to buy the motorbikes. They filled the forms which were sent to Freetown. I have heard stories about some bikers having to wait for their license to be issued for periods ranging from 2 to 3 months. In the meantime, the meter on the Microcredit is running.
These guys are literally boxed into a cul de sac. What would you do in this situation? As a result of some bureaucratic gymnastics, these riders are unintentionally forced to break the law by riding unlicensed and uninsured motorcycles, because they had to repay their loans. In some cases, those who could afford it would take their forms to Freetown in person, only to be faced with further gridlocks. It is usual to hear “de pa way for sign de paper nor dae na office”. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. Palm rubbing comes to mind.
This might be just an example of how the absence of functional decentralization can impact on our lives. It is the case in many spheres of our lives, where we have been left to think, believe and expect that if you want something done, Freetown is the only place to go or to be.
You can say what you want about the APC government, but the infrastructural development of the roads has been a visible development in the country – bar the Toll road. But we need to change the mentality of “Freetown is the place to be”.
It is the prevalence of such mentality that has contributed partly to the rise of a high number of people, and especially our youths on the streets of the city. It is not uncommon to see youths with only two pairs of slippers, two toothbrushes or three tins of sardines peddling the streets all day. And if you ask him what he /she does for a living, he/she would gladly but misguidedly described himself/herself as a “businessman or businesswoman”.
This phenomenon is nothing new to our country. This didn’t start with the APC government. It started since the colonial and protectorate days. Access to the best schools, hospitals, supermarkets, and right down to the only University were all clustered into this tiny peninsular.
It goes without saying that Freetown has outgrown its capacity. It is time we start decentralizing essential services, and I don’t mean a token gesture of buildings with faded furniture and a few computer desktops that are not on speaking terms with electricity.
We know that we can’t change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust our sails to reach our destination. Successive governments have not paid any attention to this aspect of our development. In situations where these have been considered, they have been nothing but a token gesture. Because eventually, the final say or stamp of approval has to come from Freetown.
We need to remember that “All urbanization, pushed beyond a certain point, automatically becomes suburbanization…. Every