Lulu Wright used to teach at the Annie Walsh Memorial School, a school that is over 150 years old. She is the widow of Logie Wright, the renowned classical musician. How very, very, sad what the war has done to Sierra Leone.
Most wretched country
By Lulu Wright
Come and Learn To Do Without
Come to Sierra Leone and learn to do without electricity!
Come to Sierra Leone and learn to do without a telephone!
Come to Sierra Leone and learn to do without water!
Come to Sierra Leone and learn to do without public transport!
Come to Sierra Leone and learn to do without all-year-round motorable roads!
Come to Sierra Leone and learn to do without an internal postal system that works!
Future tourists please take note!Can anyone wonder why ours is the most wretched country of all? Isn't it unbelievable that in our capital city this day and age, at the start of the 21st century, many of us feel as if we are stuck in a bog? We cannot communicate freely- even mobile phones run out of juice and cannot be charged.
5 Taxis from East to WestWe spend valuable hours looking for water. We cannot travel in comfortable buses provided by our government or some responsible corporation. We cannot read or sew at night for three out of four days. Our mail is tampered with by post office workers on the look out for money. We wear our shoes and our cars down on bad roads in this most wretched land of all. I got out of a taxi a few days ago, my third from Wellington (I was to travel by five in all by the time I got home), which deposited me at Clock Tower. I have never felt so disoriented in all my life. It was as if I did not know where I was. It was 6.00 p.m. or thereabouts, and there I was in the middle of nowhere, standing in a sea of bodies surging this way and that. Was this the area in which I went to school and worked for years? Was this my home town? It took me minutes to get my bearings and to decide I needed to aim for PZ roundabout where, with luck, I could get my fourth taxi.
Overcrowded StreetsThese vehicles were conspicuous by their absence in the muddle of traffic in and around the pedestrians. When I did see one just past Gibraltar Church, it was stuck in a jam and I was far better off walking. How I got to PZ on foot was a miracle. I was jostled and jolted on all sides, bumped into a dozen times. At others, jets of spittle missed me by inches. Now I love my compatriots dearly- every single one of them, but not when they squeeze me off pavements or spit across my path, or ease themselves profusely practically everywhere. It reminded me of a similar occasion when I was caught one morning just before Xmas, in a wave of walkers from the top end of Kissy Road going towards Clock Tower. At least on that day, most of us were progressing in the same direction. This time the crowd was going eastwards as I battled my way towards the west. But is this what we are to continue to experience in our city? You could not tell where pavements began or ended. Most of them consisted of broken slabs anyway.
The black hole of West AfricaEverywhere was strewn with litter (when is Kissy Street swept?) in this most wretched city in the world. Freetown is one never-ending market with ramshackle stalls all higgledy-piggledy proliferating along streets and pavements. Incidentally what road works are being done now, and where?
The total indiscipline in the new population together with the lack of a culture of law enforcement makes it impossible for the prettiest capital in West Africa geographically speaking, not to be the black hole of West Africa. It is also one enormous urinal. And yet, I heard a comment from a visiting VIP recently, that our President was the best President in Africa or West Africa or somewhere! So the best President presides over the country with the dirtiest, most poverty-stricken capital! I wonder whether H. E. was flattered by the compliment or whether he had cause to blush because he had walked incognito one morning or evening down Kissy Street as I did. If he had, he would have made some interesting discoveries about the state of his capital and the conditions under which people function, first hand.
Forced Repatriation?The first task the government has to tackle, I would have thought, seems to be to clear the city of its recently acquired surplus population most of whom do not belong here. Sending people back to "where they came from" is nebulous and unrealistic since many of their villages do not exist any more and consequently nor do their homes. They have become a nuisance, a menace, a threat to the human rights of bona fide Freetown dwellers simply by force of numbers, albeit through no fault of their own.
One has heard of projects since the war ended, to furnish people with basic necessities and send them back to their villages and towns. Quite obviously, a year of gentle persuasion has had no effect. What we need is a three-month deadline after which firm action is taken to entice them to leave. We need to think and act fast. About twenty-five state farms could be established in different parts of the country with IMF relief funds or some other funding the government can surely access, with school, church, mosque, clinic and community centre in each- all simple structures and dwelling houses.
Idlers to work in State Farms.Then all the idlers, those men who stand in serried ranks along Lightfoot-Boston Street impeding the passage of pedestrians and traffic, the seething masses of Kissy Street and Clock Tower should be obliged to work on the newly created farms and help improve our food production. Look at the quality of rice most of us are now obliged to eat! Anyone who cannot produce convincing evidence of residence in Freetown since 1991, or regular employment i.e. of one partner in a couple, should be screened and firmly encouraged to go. Their uncontrolled presence in the city together with the manifold implications as described above, is one of the strong reasons, only I am sure, for our placing at the bottom of the world ladder of poor nations. Migration and urbanization are not new phenomena. They happen in all cities to a greater or lesser degree.
Screen and Re-locate But our case is exceptional.Because of the war, this little strip of Sierra Leone skirting a few hills is now home to more than half the population of the country. One year after the end of hostilities, there is no evidence whatsoever of the city being cleared of displaced people. We need a concerted, fearless effort on the part of government, to carry out a screening and re-locating process. A government, which does not have the guts to take decisive action on such an issue, is content to see us designated last country on the scale. We need to see proof that something is actively being done. To make pious pronouncements about people being resettled and to live in the turmoil and disorganization of present-day Freetown are two different things.
City Council UselessThe City Council can do nothing worthwhile since all their efforts are systematically neutralized by masses of people fouling up streets and drains and virtually exhausting utilities already stretched to the limit. So all the Council workers can do, I imagine, is shuffle around their offices wringing their hands in frustration. They simply cannot cope with the numbers. If the government cannot take effective action because it is afraid of losing the votes of thousands of idlers and hangers-on who are happy to perch on the fringes of Freetown life even if they only sell safety-pins on a non-street-trading street, then we shall remain at the bottom of the international ladder- the most wretched state of all!
Poorest country, most wretched country!How long can it go on using the war was an excuse? Five years last of all nations! A friend of mine said lately 'This must be some kind of a record!' And are we the Sierra Leoneans content to sit dumbly by while we are placed last for a sixth year? For goodness sake, let us shake ourselves and challenge the government to do something immediately or resign.
Hopeless SystemGovernments have fallen elsewhere on lesser issues. A capital city that dreams of attracting tourists cannot boast of a regular organised public transport system. Who would have imagined that the Freetown of colonial days with its regular services from town center to suburbs and villages, infrequent but reliable, and the Double-Decker era with its regular twenty-minutes service from Cline Town to Congo Cross, would degenerate to a state of no public transportation at all except for private taxis and miserable mini buses from which seats have been removed and replaced by metal benches? Of course - we're last! Most wretched country of all!
No regular public transport, no regular electricity supply, no water supply at all for months- even years as in my case, inside the city, no decent roads, no proper telephone system. Responsibility of the Government Surely at least one of these services could have been brought up to scratch by now if proper targets had been set and the right moves made. One good move would have been to sack the whole lot of inefficient workers and replace them by small teams of foreigners from China, USA, Japan, Sweden etc. for a period to train new staff and set the systems right. Otherwise, foreign experts could have been invited to head these services for a period.
Look at the Police and the Arm
What was possible there could have happened with the telephones, water etc. We must lift ourselves out of the rut; and this is not a case of people doing nothing but talk and expecting Government to do everything. The responsibility lies squarely with the Government.
Jeannette E Wright (MS)
RE: A HEART WRENCHING PIECE ON SIERRA LEONE
"Most wretched country" (by Lulu Wright)
I am conscious of the unnecessary hardship our people have had to endure, to survive over many years of crisis and that life remains tough and depressing for the majority of Sierra Leoneans in the country today.
I have (with others) been praying for our beloved homeland, Sierra Leone, sharing in the anguish of the war and its effects. I appreciate the good article "Most wretched country", which critically informs us about life in the capital city, Freetown. It outlines the real situation that exists there. I hope to make a helpful and practical suggestion as a well-meaning contribution to the discussions, to address the problems by focussing on the issue of urbanisation.
Urbanisation, like many social problems, is very complex. Clearly there is no question that government has a significant if not crucial responsibility in these circumstances.
The lack of basic facilities throughout the country (not just in Freetown) is quite rightly alluded to in Mrs Wright's article. However, I am not too enthusiastic about some of the suggested proposals for alleviating the problem of overcrowding in Freetown. For example, as the article rightly imply, "Forced Repatriation" is not a useful suggestion. We must recognise that "Sending people back to 'where they came from' is nebulous and unrealistic since many of their villages do not exist any more and consequently nor do their homes."
There is said to have been "projects since the war ended, to furnish people with basic necessities and send them back to their villages and towns." Knee jerk reactions may work in the short term but invariably do not last.
I believe that real progress and development can only be achieved by some structural changes coupled with a change of attitude and discipline. This is paramount for the whole population "together with a culture of law enforcement".
I am more inclined to suggest the creation of New Towns with modern facilities. I hear Makeni is one of the now deserted 'old' towns that may be a suitable area to begin development fit for relocation / resettlement of people. It is desperately necessary to build New Towns with the vast wealth of natural resources of our country, to build a better, happy and prosperous Sierra Leone, thereby improving lives by creating sustainable jobs, raising the standard of living; effectively and efficiently administered, should have a chain effect to create employment and economic development. Teamwork and real partnership between citizens, local and national government is essential for success.
It makes perfect sense to aim for modern facilities because our people deserve better than "to furnish people with basic necessities". Electrified homes all connected to water mains; with effective water supply and reliable electricity supply; appropriate public transport; a reliable postal system that works; health facilities; modern school buildings; community facilities (including dedicated market areas) and of course clean motorable roads are needed.
I see nothing wrong with the "twenty-five state farms" idea to be "established in different parts of the country".
May God continue to bless Sierra Leone.
With much love, optimism and a hope for a brighter future for my beloved country, Sierra Leone.
Ronald Andrew Lisk-Carew
Thursday, 20 March 2003