By ROLAND BANKOLE MARKE
Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, woke up Friday morning 9th August to heartbreaking painful tragedy caused by landslide, precipitated by heavy torrential rain that continuously plague this West African nation during the rainy season. The nation’s major streets and some houses are flooded by heavy rainfall. Sadly, nothing concrete has been done to arrest this dire situation.
The force of nature and dearth of repairs on infrastructure bears the brunt of blame for the destruction of the King Jimmy Bridge, a very important monument to the slavery era that was built around1800s. It was at King Jimmy Wharf that slaves were chained in dungeons and displayed at auction blocks ready to be shipped as cargo or cartel to the west. The historically rich monument is a vital part of the nation’s history and a tourist attraction. But its preservation and protection is far from getting passing grades.
The infrastructure was in a dangerously bad shape of repairs despite the visible warning signs that tragedy like a time bomb could strike any time. It was a question of when it would occur. It took place about 10 pm on Thursday 9th August when Muslims were concluding the end of Edul Fitri marking the end of Ramadan fasting season.
A contingent of Army and Police search and recovery team were busy trying to recover the dead mostly male youth who live by the waterfront below and ghettos around the disaster zone. The death toll is about 15 and climbing. The nation’s President Ernest Bai Koroma visited the scene to assess the damage and sympathize with families of those torn apart by the disaster. Poverty is endemic in Sierra Leone but very serious in this zone despite the nation’s abundant natural resources that include gold, diamond, bauxite, and rich iron ore deposits and fish resources. This catastrophe puts a dent on Koroma’s “Agenda for Prosperity.” For these economic outcasts, his pipe dream is merely a fantasy, if not an empty propaganda. Koroma was part of a group of African leaders invited by President Obama to the White for progress made in the pursuit of democracy in their respective countries.
King Jimmy Market place is an important trading center near the river where traders from Kaffu Bullom, Lungi arrive in boats with their goods that include fufu, smoked fish and vegetables that they sell at a bargain. It’s a joint where the common man shops for most of their fresh food items available at retail or wholesale prices.
Freetown was declared a settlement for freed slaves brought from the west. Hence its name Freetown. Close by is the nation’s oldest health center Connaught Hospital built during colonial era. Big Market is located close by and was refurbished not long ago, thanks to visionaries and donors who made this happen.
Take a walk few blocks past the hospital and you will be appalled and grieved at the sight of the worst human habitation and eyesore infamously known as Kroo Bay where people live in squalor, abject poverty and deplorable substandard lives. Where pigs and kids compete to scavenge on rubbish for food or scraps that kids dig from rubbish just to survive. The ghettos here are among the worst in the world. But politicians come here to hunt for votes during elections season. But things seldom improve for the forgotten poor people who can’t afford a decent home.
Some residents here were displaced during the nation’s decade long civil war. An aggressive strategy should be put in place to improve the maintenance of infrastructure and more empathy and attention be paid to the welfare of the poor to help reduce the occurrence of more disasters and unnecessary deaths.
Roland Bankole Marke © 2013