‘It’s certain that more landslides will happen in Freetown’

James Gray and Alejandra Garcia in conversation with Kathryn Goodenough and David Boon

Photo courtesy: British Geological Survey. Cover graphic: Sunil Krishnan

Kathryn Goodenough and David Boon of the British Geological Survey (BGS) are perhaps more intimately familiar with the lay of the land in Freetown than most Freetownians.

Boon, an engineering geologist, had just completed a review of landslide hazard and risk in the Freetown Peninsula for the World Bank-ARUP when the catastrophic mudslides of 14 August 2017 occurred. Goodenough, a principal geologist, flew in a few days later on a planned trip for a UK Aid-funded capacity-building project. The presence in the country of these experienced geologists (Goodenough and Boon have clocked 20 and 15 years at the BGS, respectively) at this critical time was fortuitous, and their skills were quickly put to use. 

“We were asked by the UN team to review satellite imagery to actually map out where landslides had occurred across the Freetown peninsula, and then, feed that information back to the people on the ground because they may not have discovered all the landslides that had occurred in the more remote areas,” Boon said. Following this, the scientists were also part of on-the-ground efforts led by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to gauge the stability of the slope and to give recommendations to pre-empt future disasters in the area.

On the fourth anniversary of the mudslide, Goodenough and Boon spoke to Tie u Orja’s James Gray and Alejandra Garcia on how landslides develop, the risks of geological disasters in Freetown, and the complexities of finding solutions.  Edited excepts:

On the causes of mudslides

David: The main causes are generally a combination of a steep slope, weak geology, and water. We often think of rocks as kind of hard. But in reality, a lot of the rocks we have under our feet are actually quite soft and weak.

Water plays a very important part for causing landslides. As it falls on the slope, some of it will run over the slope, some will drain into the slope. That water makes the soil heavier. When they’re water saturated, your trousers get heavy. The same is true of a slope. So that increases the stress and the pressure and makes that slope want to break apart and fail.

You also have a trigger, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sometimes it can be quite a minor thing like water level in the ground rises, or often it’s a rainstorm like it was in Sierra Leone. It can be earthquakes. Sometimes the cause can be humans, even someone digging a hole in the wrong place on the slope, or cutting into the slope to build a road or railway. A river eroding away at the bottom of the slope can also destabilise the soil.

On why the death toll of 2017 mudslide was high

David: The main reason was that people were living directly in the firing line and it was early in the morning, when people were still at home. The landslide was not enormous, but it was several hundreds of metres wide, and the source area––the area that initially moved––was several hundreds of metres long. Then what happened, we think, was that the soil that got initially moved broke up on the slope. It got mixed with the water that was pounding down the valley, which was bowl-shaped. It created a very mobile flow of soil during a rainstorm. The landslide then went into a channelised river or a gully system and ran out seven kilometres to the sea. And anyone living within that area was impacted. The other thing was the vulnerability of the buildings… soil moving in a landslide is incredibly destructive and abrasive, and was full of very large boulders. Some of them were the size of a bus.

Kathryn :  The nature of the peninsula, the topography, the geology means that there will always be landslides. The difference with this one was that there were a lot more people in the path of the landslide.

On deforestation, urban planning, and landslides

Kathryn: On that day, there were several landslides across the Freetown peninsula and some of them were in forested areas, including up at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Landslides have occurred around Freetown peninsula in the past too, when it was all covered in forest. So, you have to be careful about saying that deforestation is the cause. It perhaps means that there is less natural protection, but it’s not necessarily a cause…

On poor urban planning, I think it is important to remember Freetown topographically is very steep. It has quite particular geologies that we know have specific plains of weakness in them, but there’s no immaculate geological map to tell you exactly where the problem areas are.  I think you can’t necessarily say that it’s poor urban planning, and that’s that—because it’s not necessarily the case that the information is all there to inform the urban planners. So, there is undoubtedly a need for more sound data. Is that fair Dave?

David: Yeah, we do see evidence that landslides were occurring in areas that had virgin rainforest on them. But I would say that they’re more likely to occur on deforested slopes… Having forest there reduces the amount of water that gets through. It’s a buffer, so it slows down the transport of water to the ground, and if you can slow that down, it would reduce the triggering effect.

The problem is that people more and more are building up onto those slopes and living within those catchments. The actual danger of the landslides themselves, what we call the hazard, is probably about the same as it was 50 years ago. But the exposure is higher because people are living in the way now.

Kathryn: It’s a complex system of understanding where the hazards are––which isn’t fully mapped in Freetown. It’s being able to do the planning better, and then it’s ensuring that people can actually [afford to] live in the areas considered to be a lower risk.

On the risks faced by Freetown communities

David: I think it’s certain that more landslides will happen again. The slope that failed is still potentially unstable. A landslide may not happen in exactly the same place, but the worry is that it might happen just to the side of that, where the landslides created a new cliff face, [which] will be unstable because it’s a free face. There’s actually no way of knowing when and where the next landslide will occur. People constructing buildings on slopes need to be educated not to do anything that might destabilise the slopes, such as cutting deeply into the side without some geotechnical advice, or changing drainage provision.

Whatever the hazard is today, it’s probably worse tomorrow, because we have these compounded effects of increased population and climate change bringing more intense rainstorms.

On risk-reduction

David: Learning from the slides that already occurred in 2017 and 1945 you could develop a forecasting and early-warning system, where we say, so much rain has fallen, so today there is a green, amber, red alert for landslides. But that should be underpinned by as good as possible meteorological, geological, and topographical data bound together in computer models. Even then, the risk will never be zero––the best approach is to work with nature, and avoid living and building critical assets in the potential path(s) of destructive landslides.

Kathryn: We’re not talking about things that can be easily done in a short time with relatively small amounts of money. We are talking about long-term research that would need capacity that doesn’t exist in Sierra Leone at the moment.

David: There needs to be an integrated land-use policy and management, and education schemes right across the society. And the funding needed to ultimately make it happen.

On the need for long-term planning and global partnerships

Kathryn: I think the key message is that in Freetown there will always be landslides. The more data you can acquire, whether that is geological, topographical, related to weather, forest cover, where people are living, how their buildings are built—all that kind of information is really important. In Freetown, a lot of that data is not available. So, it’s really important to appreciate that there is long-term problem here. It can’t be fixed quickly, and it can’t be fixed easily.

David: It needs political will over a long period. It needs institutional structures and funding and systems and expertise, and the capacity to run and maintain [all these systems].

Kathryn: It needs political will. Not only in Sierra Leone, but we need global partnerships to really be able to make a difference in this sort of situation. This is not something that Sierra Leone can do on its own.

NOTE: This article was first published on 14 August 2021 on www.tieuorja.org, which works to strengthen disaster communication in Sierra Leone.

Unmaking a mess

Solving Freetown’s garbage crisis is key to managing disasters and disease

By Adebayo Lawrence Thomas and Suphian Bangura

At 6am on a Thursday, Sallieu Bangura, dressed in bright orange regulation clothing, clocked in at the premises of a private waste management company contracted by the Sierra Leone government to collect solid and liquid refuse in Freetown. Bangura and four colleagues work one designated location a day over the course of an eight-hour shift, collecting garbage from some 150 households. Like they do most mornings, they loaded a truck with bins, shovels, and rakes, equipped themselves with protective gear, and drove out of the premises. Today, they are headed to Regent Village, some 10 kilometres away. Bangura earns Le 800,000 (approximately $78) a month. He took up the job some six years for the steady income it offered, because he “didn’t want to sit idle or become a criminal” .

FCC mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr

“People look down on us as if we are not human beings,” says Bangura a little later, pulling two garbage bins behind him down Dadley Street in Regent. “They treat us like we are filthy and stinking.”

But Bangura believes in the value of his work. “There used to be piles of waste in some areas around the city, but now we are trying to control it,” he says. “We are helping people practice proper waste management and it has made a huge difference in our city.”

Though critical, the efforts of people such as Bangura are just not enough to overcome the waste disposal problem that is troubling parts of Freetown and contributing to its disaster vulnerability. A report published by Concern Worldwide, an Ireland-based charity that also operates in Freetown, says only 21 per cent of the waste in Freetown is appropriately disposed of, with the remainder, amounting to about 550 tonnes a day, either burned or discarded on the roads, gutters, and waterways. The problem is not just one of hygiene and aesthetics. The garbage choking the already inadequate drainage system is a key ingredient of the rainy season disasters that Freetown has seen in recent years. The combination of trash-clogged drains, intense rainfall, overburdened urban infrastructure, and the proliferation of slums and informal communities — many of which are built with flimsy materials and located in vulnerable areas — has resulted in floods and mudslides displacing and killing thousands of Sierra Leoneans in recent years.

Mustapha Kemokai, Environment and Sanitation Officer at the Freetown City Council (FCC), which oversees waste management in the city, acknowledges that the garbage situation is “extremely tough”, particularly in the wet season. According to him, “a lot of money” is being spent on waste collection, but “people dump their trash in the drains, creating flooding”.

While this may be true, it presents an incomplete picture of Freetown’s garbage challenge. Many people cannot afford to make use of a private waste disposal service, which requires registering for a fee of Le 125,000 ($12), and then paying the same amount each month for the weekly garbage pick-up. In a country where the monthly minimum wage is only Le 600,000 ($48), these costs can be prohibitive for many. In addition, the coverage of the service is limited and does not extend to some of the informal settlements that need it most.

While more affordable alternatives for garbage collection do exist, these too have their limitations. One such initiative is Klin (Clean) Sierra Leone, which is overseen by the FCC. This programme aims to “empower” unemployed youths by recruiting them to collect garbage door to door, using pushcarts rather than trucks, and offering a more flexible pay-as-you-go arrangement.

Abdullai Kamara, who has registered his cart with the FCC, works according to this model. “I push my cart from one community to another, shouting ‘Klin Salone’, and those who want a pick-up call for me. The money depends on the amount of garbage,” he says. Like Bangura, he believes he is helping keep his country clean and “with cleanliness comes development”. Kamara says he wouldn’t mind carrying on in this line of work for the rest of his life. However, even though he handles potentially hazardous waste, he does not have any protective gear to wear during his 7am — 7pm shifts, six days a week. When garbage tumbles free from his unsteady, overburdened cart, he pushes it back with his bare hands.

While the employees of a private company and independent sanitation workers like Kamara may work under radically different conditions, it is worth noting that in a country where there are barely any organised provisions for recycling or composting, most of the garbage they collect ends up at the same location: Kingtom landfill, a vast (and growing) expanse of festering garbage. It is still a better destination than another sprawling site nearby that serves as an informal landfill, and which also happens to be one of the largest and most impoverished shanty settlements in the city.

A few decades ago, Kroo Bay was a fishing village with a relatively clean beach. Today, according to a report by the development organisation Volunteer Services Overseas, it houses around 10,000 people, some of whom live in rickety huts built “upon a layer of garbage… around three to five feet deep, beneath which lies sand”. These congested structures — assembled haphazardly from discarded metal, sticks, rubbish, and mud — lie near an estuary, making them extremely vulnerable to flooding, a problem that is exacerbated by the trash and sewage that is indiscriminately consigned to the river. Every year, for more than a decade, the settlement has faced floods in the rainy season as well as a host of incumbent health risks, such as malaria and cholera, fostered by reeking pools of stagnating water. Sierra Leone’s average life expectancy is just 54 years, and Kroo Bay’s is believed to fall well below that average.

“When it floods here during the rainy season, it’s not just water but trash and all kinds of filth,” says John Bangura, a Kroo Bay resident. This problem extends to many other neighbourhoods in Freetown, which is one of the wettest cities on the West African coast (receiving average annual rainfall of more than 3,500mm) and where a majority of the population resides in slums or unplanned settlements.

Currently, Freetown’s ability to deal with the garbage it generates falls gravely short of the requirements of the people living in slums and in difficult-to-reach parts of the city — as is clearly evidenced in the overflowing garbage cans, mounds of exposed trash on virtually every street block, and makeshift landfill sites on the outskirts of the city. This unregulated trash disposal has ecological, human health, and economic repercussions in most communities.

“Solid waste management in Freetown poses vexing problems such as low service coverage, insufficient budgets, highly inadequate equipment, substantial inefficiencies such as high costs, low quality service, low labour productivity, poor public attitudes, and widespread illegal dumping,” Breda Gahan, a Senior Health and HIV/AIDS Advisor for Concern Worldwide, says. According to her, the waste management system in Freetown has suffered due to changing hands between multiple public and private organisations. “The shifting authorities — the political football — have made handling municipal solid waste in Sierra Leone one of the most expensive urban services, accounting for up to 3 per cent of the country’s GDP and 45 per cent of municipal income,” Gahan says.

Melissa Medegbe, an Environment Officer with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes that the burgeoning garbage problem is rooted in the lengthy civil conflict that wracked Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002. The existing infrastructure was severely damaged during this period, and was later unable to cope with the growth in the city’s population to more than a million currently — a number that is expected to double by 2028.

Given how congested and prone to disaster Freetown already is, the crisis could get a lot worse unless immediate steps are taken to fund and execute waste management initiatives. According to Medegbe, the most important step for now is to bring more regularity in waste management, which in turn will help attract more funding.

“We require more funding and vehicles to manage waste in Freetown. We have a lot of trash, but not enough vehicles to transport it to the landfill… people often just throw their trash into the drains, causing it to flow on to the roadways and creating blockages,” Medegbe says, adding that the road network also needs to be repaired in order to allow free flow of traffic and lessen congestion. “There is a need for additional designated waste transition sites. We have very few now, just about two — and this creates opportunities for illegal dumpsites.”

Cover illustration: Felix Rhodes. Additional reportage: Abdulrahman Koroma

A significant issue in Freetown’s waste management is a lack of awareness among the public, which compounds the problem of inefficient infrastructure. Recognising this, the EPA and FCC have intensified their mass sensitisation efforts, especially in the ongoing rainy season, in the hope that it will create an attitudinal shift in the people and motivate them to dispose of waste properly.

Medegbe believes that Sierra Leone should work with international organisations to holistically address the issue of waste management. Some advances have already been made in this direction. For instance, in 2019, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) gave trash collection equipment — including bikes, shovels, and safety gear — to the FCC for the setting up of 20 sustainable micro-enterprises that would conduct door-to-door rubbish collection in Freetown. Additional initiatives of this nature could help promote better outcomes for waste management.

Re-evaluating waste as a resource could also lead to several gains. According to a UN assessment, 80 per cent of Freetown’s trash could be recycled or composted, but this potential is still untapped. “Currently, there are few organisations into this venture, like Shae recycling, the first indigenous waste recycle company. The advantages of recycling will compel individuals to consider it,” Medegbe says. The energy-generation uses of waste should also be explored, adds Gahan, pointing to a 2014 study that estimated the city’s energy potential at 398.2kWh per tonne of waste — enough to meet the electricity needs of 50 households in one day.

According to Medegbe, the Sierra Leone government should create a supportive framework to encourage public-private partnerships (PPP) geared towards transforming waste into wealth via recycling, electricity- and gas-generation, and creating employment opportunities. “The international community could also ameliorate the situation by collaborating with Sierra Leone,” Medegbe says. Until then, however, the rainy season will continue to be a harbinger of dread in Freetown.

NOTE: This article was first published on 23 July 2021 on www.tieuorja.org, which works to strengthen disaster communication in Sierra Leone.

Climate change hitting Sierra Leone

Flash flooding has again hit the capital of Sierra Leone after torrential rains on Friday.

The capital Freetown and environs was flooded with torrential rain on Friday causing enormous damages to properties and fatalities.According to USAID, Sierra Leone faces multiple risks from climate change that threaten key economic sectors and increase the potential for wider environmental degradation.At least six people were reported dead though some residents say it will take time for the right casualty to be known.

“The latest casualty report is based on the people reported missing during the flooding. We are yet to know the report of those who might have loss their lives through injuries caused by the flooding ” said Joseph Mansaray, a resident of Kroobay Wharf.Sierra Leone is the third most at risk countries in the world to climate change after Bangladesh and Guinea Bissau.

According to the science of climate change, the impacts are likely to continue to affect Sierra Leone in the future, despite the country being least responsible for the problem since Sierra Leone’s contribution to global emissions of greenhouse gases is negligible.

On 14 August 2017, a mudslide killed more than 1,000 people in the mountain town of Regent on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown.

The WARRIOR CELL! Overcoming the odds to become Miss Sierra Leone 2019

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

Born some 25 years ago in Cassell Farm, Kissy, Freetown and raised by a single parent (her mother), it was not until at age nine that she was diagnosed with sickle cell.

Sickle cell is a disease that causes severe pain, acute chest syndrome and even stroke. It is estimated to affect around 2% of Sierra Leoneans and considered a major public health concern with about 80% of children with sickle cell anaemia not reaching their 5th birthday (credit: Medical Assistance Sierra Leone-MASL).

But Margaret Cassel is a fighter; a warrior with an indomitable spirit. And there’s no stopping her; not even this dreaded disease. On the several occasions she had been admitted, she had come out stronger and ever determined to live her life. The most severe was at age 21 when she almost lost her life, but Margaret would never give up. She missed many exams at the N’jala University while battling with the disease, but she persevered and eventually graduated with a BSc in Home Economics and Community Development together with her batch of Class of 2017.

“Margaret Cassell has always proven in class, as well as in community outreach programmes, to have the ability and capability to proceed with her educational pursuit amidst the huge challenges that confronted her health. Having known her for over four years now, she is certainly studious, courageous, out-going and very diligent in her academic and personal aspirations,” says her former Supervisor, Raymond Rashid Momoh, Lecturer, Department of Agricultural Extension & Rural Sociology School of Agriculture, Njala University, Njala Campus, Sierra Leone.

Margaret’s mother, Florence Sesay, says it’s difficult to explain how she feels as a mother every time her daughter is knocked by the disease.

“All I can say is that Magaret is a different breed of sickle cell patients. She’s a very strong lady with a special will power and she has demonstrated that since she was diagnosed with the disease. Every time she’s knocked down by the disease she will get up stronger and determined to defy all the odds,” explains Florence.

Now, Margaret will be representing the Western Area Urban in this year’s Miss Sierra Leone Beauty Pageant (2019). She says she’s in the competition to represent the voices of the less-cared for, the unforgotten and the underprivileged. Over the past few months, as a volunteer at the Ola During Children Hospital, she has seen children battling with the sickle cell disease, and like herself, they have shown the fighting spirit to defeat the disease.

“It is because of those kids, people with disabilities, women and babies that have been sexually abused, the underprivileged and all of you that have suffered from one cause or another that I am in this competition.

“I want to stand at the international stage and be your voice; the voice of the voiceless. Because I know your pain,” says Margaret.

On World Sickle Cell Day 2019, Margaret found time to screen kids and adults for the disease at the Ola During Children Hospital. She also featured on local television talking about the disease and her life as a Sickler. Her message urged people to know their genotype and to marry someone compatible, which is the only way to prevent the disease.

Margaret has been passionately pursuing her dreams of becoming a model, a role model and a super model. She was 2nd runner-up at Miss West Africa Sierra Leone, held at the Radisson Blu Garden, on 26th December, 2018. She also participated in the FACE of AFRICA 2019 Modelling competition held in the Gambia on the 3rd of May 2019. Out of 28 models, she was in the top 5 selected for commercial category and the model with the highest votes. Magaret grew up in the Gambia between 1999 and 2012.

“I want to use my voice to advocate for those who are not being able to go through what I have been through. I want to tell them that, yes it might be difficult, it might be challenging, you can be raised by a single parent, you can go through different types of terminal illness but you can triumph over all. There’s so much I want to tell the world about my story and that I am a warrior,” says Margaret.

And for Margaret, winning the Miss Sierra Leone 2019 Crown will give her the right platform for her advocacy and will represent the beginning of a new chapter of her awesome story of survival.

Sierra Leone: Blaming rape victims betrays women

By Alpha Bedoh Kamara

The public statement by Sierra Leone minister of Basic and Secondary Education, Alpha Timbo, that women sometimes are responsible when raped is a deliberate act by the minister to cast aspersion on women’s stories of rape in the country.

Timbo says some women are to blame

“Sometimes the women are to blame. They provoke the men to rape them,” Alpha Timbo said at a UNFPA event in Freetown.

Unfortunately, the statement by Timbo is being downplayed by some sectors in society as a mistake and something not to be taken seriously despite the the high rate of rape cases and sexual abuse in the country. In February this year President Julius Maada Bio declared rape and sexual violence a national emergency and called for an end to the culture of “indifference” and impunity surrounding it.

The president’s announcement follows a national outcry over the prevalence of sexual violence in the West African nation, where recorded cases of sexual and gender-based violence doubled last year, reaching 8,505 in a population of 7.8 million, according to police statistics.

Timbo’s statement does not only creates a sense of fear but also bringing to mind memories of sexual abuse perpetrated against women and girls during the 11 years of war in which rape was used as a weapon.

Must women and girls always be on their guard to fight off rapists or its the responsibility of the government to ensure the protection of every girl child and woman in the country? Sierra Leoneans want answers.

The widespread and systematic use of rape and other sexual violence during the ten-year civil war in Sierra Leone is documented in a new Human Rights Watch report released on January 16, 2003.

The 75-page report, Sierra Leone: Sexual Violence Widespread in War, states, “‘We’ll Kill You If You Cry:’ Sexual Violence in the Sierra Leone Conflict,” presents evidence of horrific abuses against women and girls in every region of the country by the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), as well as other rebel, government and international peacekeeping forces.

“In this report, we have documented unimaginable atrocities against women in Sierra Leone,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “The people responsible for these crimes must be held accountable.” Takirambudde also said the victims of sexual violence urgently need help to regain their health and reintegrate into their communities.

According to the AfricaRenewal, The Sierra Leone civil war was known internationally for its horrific atrocities — especially the widespread amputations of villagers’ limbs. But until recently, little attention was devoted to abuses directed specifically against women. “Violence against women was not just incidental to the conflict,” Ms. Nowrojee told Africa Renewal, “but was routinely used as a tool of war. Sexual violence was used in a widespread and systematic way as a weapon, and women were raped in extraordinarily brutal ways.”

The statement by the minister of education speaks volume about the level of acceptance in government circles the suffering and abuse women are going through in the country. Sexual abuse and violations are committed with impunity and victims left to leak their wounds and suffering in silence, with tears and shame their only solace.

Unfortunately for women in the country the Government of Sierra Leone is yet to make a statement regarding the minister’s senseless pronouncement and we are still unable to understand why the statement was made in the first place, only if one may assume, is the minister emboldening perpetrators of sexual crimes in the country?

WAEC exams and the shaming of the nation of Sierra Leone

By Isaac Massaquoi

If we miss this opportunity to clean up the conduct of our public exams and the process by which the WAEC office in Sierra Leone conducts them, we should simply put up our hands and surrender to the dark forces of corruption and unbridled criminality who for long have been attacking our national integrity system at its very foundation.

Isaac Massaquoi

The last institution to allow itself to be taken over by the criminal underworld is WAEC given the importance of the certificates they offer to millions of Sierra Leoneans who end up in leadership positions in this country and abroad.

A suffocating blend of sophisticated criminal elements ably supported by some rogue WAEC staff, school authorities including teachers, and desperate parents and pupils is wreaking havoc on our education system. These groups have conspired to cheat at all public exams, particularly the Senior Secondary School exams, which open the way to universities. This is big money business in which the abuse of modern technology and barefaced criminal tactics are the main ingredients.

I am satisfied with the utter outrage expressed by many Sierra Leoneans on social media about the disgraceful turn of events where from what we are now hearing from the police and other sources, some pupils decided to abandon their exams and stage an utterly senseless demonstration, attacking some public facilities and innocent people because the police broke up their criminal enterprise organized from a particular property in the general area of Oniel Street near Sierra Leone Muslim Brotherhood.

We also heard from video recordings some of the pupils saying the mathematics paper was too difficult. Some even threw it into the political by accusing President Bio of being behind the “difficult exams”. Nothing can be more ludicrous! So the man who brought Free Quality Education and is spending a huge amount from the annual budget to fix education, is the same man who told WAEC examiners to make the exams so difficult that pupils would fail en masse so pupils would have to repeat the same class three or four times? This is insanity!   

We were driving down the hill from Fourah Bay College in a rickety old Mazda car on that day and saw about dozens of pupils running in all directions, while a handful of others were pelting stones at a small number of police officers from the Operational Support Division who had apparently fired tear gas into the crowd of pupils that dispersed all over the place as we approached the gates of Muslim Brotherhood Secondary School.
I saw a girl of about 17 years, being carried out of the school compound by two men who laid here in front of a small carpentry shop just across the road. Another girl of the same age was being taken away by a soldier almost as if she was under arrest. Just as some onlookers became interested in this sweating soldier taking away a distraught and crying girl and started asking questions while advancing menacingly, the girl shouted out to alert the crowd that the soldier was in fact her father. They immediately backed off. The soldier did not say a word.

When we finally made our way to Model junction by the Hillside By-pass road, the scale of what had happened became very clear. The pupils thrashed the whole place and roadside hawkers and ordinary people going about their normal business were obviously very badly affected.
This is the time we must confront some uncomfortable truths about what is happening in our schools. And colleges I should add. I am in a position to know how far the University of Sierra Leone for example has come in dealing with attempts to cheat at exams. A lot of work has gone into that effort – like sacking some rogue lecturers who lost their sense of mission and fell prey to student bribery, using CCTV technology to support other measures in place now. All of that came out of a ruthless review of systems and procedures, the kind of which we understand WAEC is blocking even when offered by a credible and professional body like the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Maybe we should erect huge billboards all over Sierra Leone telling our younger ones that there is only one sure way of passing any exam – they must study hard. Yes study hard as opposed to spending hours looking for money and sitting in dark corners plotting on how to use smart phones to cheat. We are living in times when movies, social media chats and mindless ‘chilling’ – hanging around entertainment spots doing nothing are the normal. Close supervision of young people by parents in particular is non-existent these days as the struggle for basic survival has become a 24-hour thing.

Parents appear to be under so much pressure to see their children in university that they are sometimes ready to spend a whole month’s house maintenance money on sending their children to very dangerous examination study camps organized by schools all over the city. What is really being taught in those camps that cannot be taught in normal schools is something people don’t understand.
I am inclined to side with those who say all the brazen acts of cheating going on these days are planned in those camps and executed by rogue teachers and exams officials. I don’t know if civil liberty questions would come up but a government policy banning those camps will be in place as a warning shot announcing the government’s seriousness about destroying the criminal network around WAEC exams.

As a further sign that the nation would no longer accept cheating in public exams, those now arrested and detained should be swiftly prosecuted and jailed if found guilty. Any negotiated release of possible criminals to satisfy some interests will be resisted. In other words if this goes the way of the Aberdeen case, then the whole business of killing corruption in WAEC exams would descend into a farce of ignominious proportions.
We must also have a parliamentary debate on the issue because it is so serious now that cheating pupils have become so brave that they can come to the streets to challenge the forces of law and order. In that debate MPs must avoid the intemperate language of partisan politics to confront this evil as one nation. That debate should be carried live on all radio and TV stations throughout the country and the resolutions should implemented in a quick and unambiguous manner with the necessary resources provided.

We have to be honest with this organization: It is not in anybody’s interest to see WAEC fail. But today, their credibility is sinking and if they don’t act really fast they may hit the sea bed. And bringing them back to the surface might be so expensive and time-consuming that we may simply allow those who presided over this titanic mess to remain on the sea bed while we put together a new and credible leadership for this exams body. What’s the point of having an examinations body that nobody trusts and whose certificates universities even in the sub-region would reject?

WAEC should stop paying their examiners those ridiculous service fees and weed out the rogues from their ranks – both staff at headquarters and contractors. And this practice of pupils taking exams in their normal school classrooms must end immediately. We must return to what happened many years back when only schools with the requisite facilities were used as centers and pupils made to take their exams out of their schools.
I know the numbers are big now but we are facing a dangerous enemy within that is difficult to dislodge, but dislodge it we must. Many people are happy about Free Quality Education. Yes Free at the point of access, but in the course of achieving the Quality this government should never allow political expediency to compel them to compromise in their fight against the criminals in the system who, it appears, now have nowhere to run or hide.

As I was writing this piece the information was coming through about horror show what the pupils acted out in a community around Waterloo. A day of shame indeed. 

Between the FCC Mayor, national cohesion and political party interest

By Alusine Sesay

Mayor of the Freetown City Council, Madam Yvonne Aki-Sawyer

Over the week, the Mayor of the Freetown City Council, Madam Yvonne Aki-Sawyer, has come under severe criticism from her main opposition All People’s Party (APC) comrades. Her crime for facing such criticism is that she travelled with President Julius Maada Bio to Canada. President Bio traveled to Canada to grace the TED 2019 conference and subsequently delivered a speech on leadership and several other issues. As a visionary leader and one who believes in national cohesion and nation building, the mayor had no option but to make use of such an opportunity that would serve not only her personal self, but the entire Freetonians. This writer would however not cast blame on those APC die-hards for raining attacks on their comrade for the simple fact that such is not a novelty in Sierra Leone, where people value political party interest more than the statehood.

Dr.Kandeh Yumkella of the National Grand Coalition (NGC) was hundred percent correct to have described the APC and SLPP as Alusine and Alhassan-identical twins with the same characteristics. They would always cry foul while in opposition but would behave otherwise immediately they get political power.  While in opposition, the SLPP opposed everything under the sun, including the goodwill extended by former President Ernest Bai Koroma to members of their party, who might have been personal friends to him before he became president. Therefore, it would not be a surprise for the APC to cry down their comrade who might be of the notion that the country should be first in all her agenda. It has always been like that and it would continue until thy kingdom come when thy will be done.

When Dr.Bubuake Jabbie took the Sierra Leone Peoples Party to court on constitutional matter, supporters of the party branded him that he had been bribed by the APC to disrupt the SLPP and deter its chances of winning elections. Also, Dr.Bernadette Lahai was called all sorts of names and was even petitioned by 26 SLPP Members of Parliament because she was accused of undermining the party in parliament, where she served as minority leader. The said decision was endorsed by the National Executive Council (NEC) of the SLPP for her possible replacement as minority leader in parliament. She was only saved by a court injunction which restrained the party from conducting any election that would have led to her possible replacement.

While addressing party members in Kenema, Dr.Lahai’s possible replacement, Hon.Emma Kowa had this to say: “We have agreed as MPs that Dr. Lahai will no longer represent us in parliament and therefore my appointment should not be a surprise to her. You have other SLPP MPs who are as well qualified to take up such responsibility but as God could have it, I am now the Minority Leader because Bernadette failed us and she is a traitor.”  The only crime committed by Dr.Bernadette Lahai was that she was romancing with the ruling APC party leadership to move the country’s agenda forward. Late Tom Nyuma was forced to join the APC simply because he was branded, vilified and no longer embraced by his SLPP family.

When President Bio was elected in 2018, he promised to ensure national cohesion for nation building. And the relationship between him and the FCC Mayor has been very much cordial, although he has a lot to do because the divide along political, regional and tribal lines has been deepened. His cozy relationship with the FCC mayor is not sufficient to bring the nation together. During his swearing-in ceremony at the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel in Freetown, he promised to be president for all Sierra Leoneans, but much has not been done in that direction. In almost all his public addresses, he keeps on citing the failings of the past APC regime of Ernest Bai Koroma, instead of focusing on his successes and the way forward in pushing the development of the country further. Perhaps he is oblivious of the fact that such has become a cliché and the people would not continue to feed on that. In fact, emphasizing the failure of the past regime signals some deficiency in his ability to get things done. It is like the son blaming his own inability on the failure of his father. That sounds funny eh!

 In Achebe’s ‘Thing Fall Apart, Okonkwo constantly lives in the state of fear and ends up committing a crime that takes him to the evil forest. He always wants society to see him distinct from his father, Unoka, who Achebe described as Efulefu-lazy man without title. Therefore, President Bio should not be the Okonkwo type. He should not bank on the failure of the past regime to justify his inability to bring the nation together.

While the APC has taken offence of the demeanor of their comrade –Mayor Aki-Sawyerr for liaising with the president to move the agenda of the city forward, one thing that should be clear to them is that the mayor cannot afford to work in isolation with the central government. Politics apart, she would only succeed if she has and enjoys the blessings of the central government, of which President Bio is the head. When Bode Gibson was not in the good books of former President Ernest Bai Koroma, he never enjoyed his work as mayor because he was constantly undermined by the central government. This writer believes that Aki-Sawyerr would be conscious of the fact that only the APC could afford her the opportunity to serve as mayor in Freetown and that she must remain grateful for that. I am of the firm conviction that working with the central government does not in any way constitute to betrayal of the status quo. She must work with the central government in order to achieve her desire of transforming the city. Take what you have to get what you want!

Evidently, some parts of the country could not move forward in terms of development because certain elected personalities, especially from the then opposition SLPP refused to work with the Ernest Bai Koroma government in the name of party politics. The Kenema District Council was a typical example. They refused to work with the previous government and rendered their district one of the most dilapidated. When one is elected to a position of trust, ones focus should be the interest of the country and not the political party he or she hails from. Although it is vital to maintain the interest of the political party, but that should not be above the nationhood.

Finally, we should not allow party politics to derail the growth and development of the country. Rather, we should maintain our political party interest by delivering on promise. The APC should allow Aki-Sawyerr to Play the Game and achieve her desire of transforming the city that we all should be proud of.