Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 August 2019:
Freetown City Council is planning to build 5000 low-cost houses to meet the needs of displaced and low-income citizens of the city. Speaking last week, Freetown’s Mayor – Yvonne Aki-Sawyer, said: “The affordable housing is particularly aimed at easing the plight of the city’s populace, dwelling in mostly uncongenial habitations and dismally poor housing conditions.”
A feasibility study she said, will shortly be carried out in the urban slums and other possible areas where the houses could be built.
But questions are being asked about the rationale for building low cost housing in existing slum communities, when the proverbial thinking is to relocate those residents to environmentally amenable areas of the city.
Freetown is wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and steep hills leading inland, with a population of over two million people; 60% of whom are estimated to be poorly housed in overcrowded accommodation.
In 1999, as a result of the rebel war, about 6,000 homes were completely destroyed in Freetown, especially in areas of Kissy, Wellington, Calaba Town, and Allen Town.
It is estimated that by 2001 when the war was declared over, over 300,000 homes had been destroyed across the country, leaving about 1.2 million people internally displaced.
Successive governments had attempted to respond to the problem of over-crowding in the capital Freetown, especially the relocating of slum dwellers to newly built housing estates. But translating policy into practice has proven to be quite a challenge.
The current Mayor of Freetown says that she is determined to address the housing needs of low-income residents and slum dwellers. But where would she find the money?
One option mentioned, is that the Freetown City Council would be looking to sell some of its stock of public buildings to generate capital for such huge enterprise.
The Sierra Leone Telegraph is suggesting that with a coherent devolution strategy, local councils up and down the country should be empowered to raise capital on the global finance market, to invest in large-scale capital intensive projects such as housing, waste management, as well as the promotion of local economic development initiatives that could lead to job creation and prosperity.
But such shift towards devolution of power would require a major political commitment and change in mindset, from central government.
Perhaps the newly appointed Local Government Minister – Tamba Lamina, may want to take a closer look at devolution of power, so as to free up the energy and vision of local communities, in addressing the enormous social and economic challenges facing the country today.