Sierra Leone: It seems like Freetown is gradually returning to its glory days when the Mayor of Kanifing- the largest municipality in The Gambia, Talib Ahmed Besouda flew 1,132.8 km to Freetown to seek inspiration from the Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki Sawyerr.
“Sierra Leone and The Gambia have a really close bond, but I must say, a long time ago we see a lot of Sierra Leoneans coming to Gambia to find safe haven, but now we are looking to Freetown to find inspiration, we are looking at what you are doing to have hope that we can solve our problems,” said the Lord Mayor of Kanifing who is on a week’s visit to Freetown on a learning and experience sharing exchange with the Mayor of Freetown.
The Lord Mayor of Kanifing said it is a smart choice choosing Freetown as a potential city because “we share a lot in common in terms of our social economics, our demographics and also in terms of the culture, we are similar people. Sierra Leoneans have been coming to Gambia for a very long time; they live, they work there. “There is a lot we have in common as a people and we are also sharing a lot of similarities as far as waste management is concerned, youth unemployment, and problems in education.”
He said Freetown is doing a good job in tackling these problems, asking, “Why go elsewhere when there is a solution right next door?”
Lord Mayor Besouda also explained that one of the rationales for coming is to learn from what Freetown is doing to tackle “these same issues we are facing.”
In turn, he pointed out, “Potentially we can offer one or two things on what we are doing,” which the Mayor of Freetown might have not thought about. He stressed, “The potential in these kinds of partnerships are limitless.”
The Lord Mayor explained, “I’m not sure what Freetown does in terms of waste collection, we have 25 compactor trucks which we got through a Public Private Partnership model that might be a case to learn from,” adding; “We are leveraging private sector capital to bring social solutions. We’ve also been working on expanding our market; we are building a thousand new market spaces. We are doing a lot in terms of youth unemployment.” Though “Freetown already has solutions in these areas, we can learn from each other,” he furthered.
The Lord Mayor explained that the problem with teaming with the western world, not that it is a bad thing, is that sometimes “we don’t share similar contexts and it’s difficult to adapt their solutions to your environment. Whereas when we look at Freetown it is pretty much the same people as Gambia; if there is a solution here, nine out of 1O it’s easy to implement in The Gambia.”
“From afar we’ve seen what the Freetown City Council is doing; the flood mitigation strategies is something that we would like to learn more about because Kanifing faces similar issues, we are surrounded on one side by the Atlantic Ocean and another by the River Gambia, and there is a lot of swamp land and canals that cause a lot of flooding and disasters. So we would like to learn about what is going on here.”
Adding to the list of lessons they hope to learn, “We’ve seen initiatives on bring addresses back to Freetown, this is something that we would like to replicate. We’ve also seen on social media, digital revenue collection that is something we are about to start. We would like to know how it is done here as well.”
He said the opportunities to collaborate are limitless. “We are working against election cycles so there is only so much time you have as an elected official, and you would like to see things done,” he pointed out.
The Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki Sawyerr said the visit would deepen collaboration. “We intend to sign an MOU dealing with a lot of number of key areas of mutual interest for our two cities. What lies behind this is the appreciation that our cities can learn from each other; we can share experiences, we can build, trade ties, cultural exchanges. There is so much we can do that our residents would benefit from and the starting point of cause is for us to formalise the interaction.”
Mayor Aki Sawyerr explained that The Gambia has placed a ban on plastic usage, calling it a national government policy she is “advocating for but it is not something you can do on your own as a city because you have people coming in from other cities and also there is a question about alternatives and the alternative market would grow, because there would be paper, there would be soft cotton. We are really hopeful; we know it’s something that the EPA has talked about, and if I remember correctly I know EPA has a concept note on this. We would love to see this happen, because when you look at the drains and you look at our challenges in sanitation a large percentage of that is plastic, so to get plastic banned would be ideal…We are looking forward to hearing what the EPA is going to table on this, it would surely have the full 1OO% support from the Freetown City Council.”
Mayor Aki Sawyerr explained that “we’ve been deliberate about how we interact as two cities. We have the opportunity in Transform Freetown, the second cluster human development we have as our third sector job creation with a tourism focus.”
She said The Gambia is very famous for its tourism industry which gives opportunities for learning and collaboration. From the perspective of sanitation, she said, “We’ve done a lot in developing the value chain; we’ve come up with initiatives and innovations which other people are interested in.”
Mayor Aki Sawyerr further explained that “the purpose for both of us as Mayors at city councils is to serve our residents. There is not much we would ever do which is for ourselves, so by working together we are working to improve on knowledge sharing on opportunities and to do so for the benefit of the residents of our two cities.
“I think very often the relationship between city interactions and sister cities relationships are grounded in some form of history, common experience or sometimes just in terms of personalities or friendship. And in our case, part of what has brought us together is that both cities have benefited from being members of the Tony Blair Institute Foundation, we have within his Mayor Delivery Unit, Tony Blair secondees. So do I and the relationship TBI foundation is one that acted as the introduction, but it doesn’t stop there. So I think with every sister city relationship, for example our sister city relationship with the city of Charleston which gave the award a couple of days ago, that relationship is founded on our mutual relationship with Bunce Island and the Slave Trade. With different cities, it is different nexus points, what always matters is the ability for us to see the potential; and there are so many similarities with the Gambia.”
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