The City Council threatens to destroy what must be one of our biggest tourist attractions- the longest market in the world! They want to make Freetown ‘fine’ again! Fine Freetown began to disappear over a decade ago when it was increasingly overrun by patriots from every corner of the country, most of them with nothing to do. You never saw such a long market! Name? Sani Abacha Market which stretches from the Clock Tower in the east and ends at the Wilberforce St roundabout in central Freetown. Tourists, come to Freetown and see the market that goes on for ever!. There used to be pavements and a roadway for vehicles. Now pavement and half of the road are littered with wares for sale. Pedestrians shove themselves along awkwardly 4 or 5 abreast in both directions while vehicles barely tolerated, can be stuck for hours during which one-way (not to mention 2 – way) progress is impossible.
Now we hear the oddest thing: that street traders are going to be confined to the pavements. So where should the pedestrians walk? This must be the only country where pavements or footpaths will be market stalls while pedestrians dodge in and out and round motionless vehicles. But wait a minute! According to well-known natural laws, if you squeeze something pliable all the way along, it lengthens. So the market will end up being longer and will spill into side streets, perhaps even into Wilberforce St. and join up with the Garrison St market adjacent to the Victoria Park. What fun! All this in an effort to give traders the opportunity to spread their lovely merchandise in ‘fine’ Freetown.
The traders have been promised that they can enjoy this convenient, pleasurable arrangement until a new market is constructed for them at Fisher St – a – market which has been figuratively under construction for the past 10 or more years. All one can say is that we need a site the size of the stadium to set up a new market that will accommodate our hundreds of traders. Already there is another long market following the old railway line at Ecowas St. You try to park your car and there’s nowhere – garments – all over the roadway, shouts when you go too near them, abuse from some traders. I asked one: ‘Is this a market or a thoroughfare for pedestrians and vehicles?’ if the City Council continues to support the traders in believing that they have a right to be there until their market is built, then we the poor Freetown dwellers have no hope of an improvement. The City Council means well, but how can ‘fine’ Freetown regain its ‘fineness’ if the problem of the street traders is continually ignored or shelved or circumvented? This problem has to be tackled head on, Mr. Mattia and not just by ‘fine’ talk or superficial effort. Get help from Government to lead most of these people back to their old villages or new ones, to farm and grow much needed food. We need jobs, not markets. Why does everybody have to be selling something? Create employment opportunities so that people can use their brains and hands rather than squatting idly on pavements in towns in all weathers, hoping to earn a few thousand Leones a day to survive. I often wonder where they go to the toilet. There seems always to be a gap between what the authorities say they want to do and the real needs of the situation.
Get these people off the streets- all the streets – and everyone will bless you. The traders will curse you at first but if you give them a reasonable alternative, only good can come of it. We have market enough. What we need in a capital city of the 21st Century are decent shops, department stores (as we had before) and at least one shopping centre in the middle of town. We no longer need sprawling, untidy street markets. Markets in developed countries are set up on certain days in central areas used on other days for other activities. Buildings for markets are a waste of time and money especially if people cannot be confined to them. A new market will be another structure like Bombay St or Kroo Town Rd. with people spreading their goods outside while top floors remain empty. In Lome and Abidjan where traders are fairly disciplined, they set out their stuff in markets, but the undisciplined Sierra Leonean prefers to sell in the street.
We all know that the environment of Freetown is ruined. People have systematically polluted and destroyed streets which were badly made any way, and have shaved most of the trees off our hill sides making them look patchy with ugly structures all over them. Land policies over the last few decades made this possible with galloping corruption in the Lands Ministry. Efforts are being made to correct some irregularities but time has run out. Our climate has been affected, and it is not God’s doing nor the result of global warming but that of the thoughtlessness and wickedness of selfish Sierra Leoneans and their string of nonchalant governments. We should by now in June be enjoying heavy rains so that we can live without the unwonted, oppressive heat we now have to endure.
Sierra Leone must also stop being a country where anybody can come and set up what they like, while the lazy, undiscriminating natives are always ready to receive free gifts without thinking beyond their noses. A tree is one of God’s most beautiful creations. How can it be beautified further? The whole idea is preposterous. All the Cotton Tree needs to set it off is a well maintained lawn and a few colourful flowers, a sprinkler in the dry season and a conscientious gardener. Whatever Africell is doing round our time-honoured tree cannot enhance its majestic beauty. If what we see at Congo Cross is any guide, then we can do without more rubbish. What is the purpose of yet another waterless fountain? Let the mobile companies use their mobility to create playgrounds for the children instead, or another park in the east end of town, and perhaps a central car park.
We must be more vigilant and ready to react wisely especially as we try to encourage foreign investment and tourism. There must be no repetition of what a French tourist company did in President Momoh’s time, changing the name of the peninsular village Tokeh to Tokey to suit their speech habits while the somnolent Sierra Leoneans lapped it up without so much as a murmur of criticism until it was too late.
Bravo City Council for your efforts so far but we need more discrimination and dynamism from you if Freetown and Sierra Leone’s tourist potential is to be fully realized.