Welcome to Freetown, where freedom means anything but freedom. True to its name, Freetown is free, but for all the wrong reasons. It is nauseating! It is smelly! It is noisy! It is congested! It is filthy! All unnecessarily!
Sewers burst all over the place, from the doorstep of Commercial Bank and the police headquarters, to Wallace-Johnson and Lightfoot Boston streets. And no-one seems to care. Freetown where is your freedom?
Not for the first time, human excreta welcome people in the morning and bid them farewell in the evening. The poignant stench of what must be deposited only and not seen is visible for all to see. This has taken away the metaphorical flag pin of succour, sanctuary and heavenly bliss and breeze from the town’s lapel
When last year human faeces oozed out in front of the Sierra Leone News Agency headquarters, they walked their feet out. The city council denied responsibility. Ministry of Health said the same. The agency had to part with their hard-earned money to have it fixed by a private person.
The authorities have failed to authorise the right thing. Invariably, the inhabitants cannot be more irresponsible. Freetown is a town where street-trading is unlawful. But the traders cannot care less. After all they can make it all happen. Their numerical strength goes a long way in electing lawmakers. So they break the law because these lawmakers feel politically obliged to them; damning the vast majority. Consequently, the street traders lord it over the law and the very lawmakers. Lawmakers who do not only turn a blind eye to the traders’ outlawed behaviour but they also open their eyes widely to protect them.
Freetown is a place where the police have shouted their uvulae out assuring a control of the streets. But it is a city where the police have abysmally failed in bringing about the barest order to the streets. Remember Operation Free Flow? If anything it clogged the streets even more. All thanks to the indecisiveness of the police and the indecision of the municipal council and the central governments.
Here, every corner is a car park. Taxi and Poda Poda drivers park everywhere and anywhere to collect or drop off passengers. Private car owners are also reckless. They park even on zebra crossings and abandon their vehicles there for hours. Sometimes, and in some places too numerous to list here drivers throw the no-double-parking rule out of the window and park anyway.
Their excuse, rightly or wrongly, is that there are no car parks. And no-one seems to care. The city council does not even talk about it. The central government is not even bothered by it. How can they, when they have convoys and state-sanctioned passage without ache?
To make matters worse, garages are sprouting up on streets. This, despite warnings by the police. The authorities who cannot implement existing laws and rules are imposing more. Hear the latest laughable on by the city municipality, threatening to charge anyone who drops a litter on the streets will be charged Le 100,000.
You know what this is akin to? Introducing congestion fees in Freetown. A town that has an epileptic public transport system. Agreed that littering the streets is uncivilised and backward. But where are the street dustbins?
Have you ever felt like easing yourself in the city centre? You go pis pa u sef! This explains why the stench of urine on many street corners. You stand the risk of contracting a disease of some sort if you manage to make it to the toilet at Bus Park or Salad Grounds.
Talking about Salad Grounds, the audacious day light robbery in that area is breathlessly stunning. There they don’t pick your pocket, they root it out! With impunity!
Have you been in the east of town in the evening hours? The stream of people walking towards UpGun resembles the biblical exodus. The congestion in the city has meant that cars and human traffic has had a new meaning. And the authorities are not even talking about it let alone finding a solution to it.
In Freetown, every corner is a street shop. Street-traders say they do not have a market to trade in. But the Kissy Road market is empty. Victoria Park has had to be taken over by cookery and drug sellers, ably aided by gamblers because no-one else was willing to use it. The former government would not take them off the streets for selfish political considerations. Their presidential candidate Solomon Berewa was even reported to have sanctioned street-trading. He did not confirm it, but never denied it either. Yet they voted against him.
Now it is the turn of the APC. The government feel obliged to the traders and are turning a blind eye to the eyesore the latter have turned the city into. Now the ambivalence in dealing with it has been eclipsed by municipal council election considerations. And after that, the 2012 polls will be the reason for indecision. And on, and on, and on.
Meanwhile the candidates for July’s mayoral election are not bothered by it. To discipline street-traders is a vote-loser. They are concerned with trivialities as they bewilder themselves in a brand of bumbling buffoonery. No ideas, nothing! No issues, nothing! Basking on the glory of the political party they represent, or their independent candidacy. Interested only in the glitz and glamour that go with the office, and wallowing in imaginations that they will soon be called or continue to be being called “Your Lordship or Worship” or whatever it is.
Some Freetown inhabitants are just as reckless. Litters are littered from inside vehicles. Some others do so from their homes and dump the rubbish into the very, very few sewers there are in a city. Blocking them and consequently causing flooding. Their excuse is that council officials refuse to collect the refuse.
But the same Council collects market dues from traders who sell on streets where trading is prohibited. Thereby condoning the takeover of Guard Street, Abacha Street, et al, by traders who have an unimaginable gumption emboldened by people who behave with no compunction.
If the APC need reminding, they need look no further than 2002. President Tejan Kabbah won more percentage points in Freetown then than President Ernest Koroma did last year. Five years on, look at the outright rejection of the SLPP.
Here the assortment of ethnicities means government performance or the lack of it, determines success or failure at the polls. In the words of John Kenneth Gailbraith, “Nothing is so admirable in politics, as a short memory”. That’s for our elected politicians. And for our candidates for Mayor of Freetown, they are probably banking on Frank Dane when he said, “Get all the fools on your side and you can be elected to anything.” Please think again. However important Freetown is too shameful a place for any of the candidates to be allowed to take its residents for granted.
<[email protected]> By Umaru Fofana