BY Sheriff Mahmud Ismail
Freetown – March 4, 2022- Another fire, another slum, yet another painful reminder of governance failure; this time, under the Congo Cross Bridge. At the ungodly hour of 4am, Monday March 4, the people in that underprivileged ‘Belgium’ community, like their compatriots at Kolleh Town, Old Wharf, Susan’s Bay, Kroo Bay, were rudely woken up to the calamity of a fire accident. Just a few hundred metres from the scene of this latest disaster is the Youyi Building which houses several government ministries, including the Ministry of ‘Lands, Housing and Country Planning’. Yes, such a ministry exist yet ordinary Sierra Sierra Leoneans – from all regions of the country – continue to live in subhuman conditions in makeshift structures built in inaccessible and disaster – prone areas across our city.
And when disasters like this breakout, the people are on their own. With bare hands, stones, sticks and buckets of water; they helplessly expend their little energies in the futile endeavor to salvage whatever little household items they may have.
Painfully, as in this case, after everything would have burnt down, the hard working fire services, operating under very poor conditions of service, would show up, more as a further reminder of the dysfunctional state of our governance system. Years of toil decimated, scores of Sierra Leoneans rendered homeless in no time; and no chance of any institutional compensation; state or otherwise. If anything, what the victims get would be uncoordinated, unstructured and inadequate makeshift “relief support’.
Then, once again, they move on to business as usual, without any concrete plans or actions to address the age -old housing emergency and the mushrooming of unplanned communities. Abandoned to fate, the resilient victims of both the fire and bad governance would be on their own, helplessly picking up the pieces without the necessary support to rebuild. With the dire economic situation in the country, such a calamity would only make a bad situation worse for a community already down – pressed by social and economic hardships. But according Dr Samura Kamara, the leading presidential aspirant of the main opposition All Peoples Congress (APC), the problem of housing and informal settlements in urban areas would be given serious consideration in his development agenda.
“I have visited several communities which have suffered from fire accidents and I’ve seen first hand the dangers and the indignities our compatriots endure in such communities,” he said. Speaking in anticipation of the June 2023 presidential elections, the opposition politician further said that “Housing and effective urban planning will be a major agenda of my government when elected as President” While such policy commitment is reassuring, the victims in the ‘Belgium’ community under the Congo Cross Bridge in Freetown would wondering about what they have lost and where they will laying their heads when night falls.