Kingsley Ighobor: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 February 2021:
In December 2020 the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the Freetown City Council (FCC) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) jointly launched the Freetown-Blue Peace project, an initiative that will leverage innovative finance to implement a sustainable water project in Sierra Leone’s capital city.
First of its kind in terms of partnership and financing, Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the first-ever elected female Mayor of Freetown, spoke to Africa Renewal’s Kingsley Ighobor about the project’s potential impact on the city’s residents, and the lessons for other cities, among other issues.
Mayor Aki-Sawyerr of Freetown says the newly launched Freetown-Blue Peace water project will significantly improve the living conditions of city dwellers and the socio-economic situation of especially market women.
(Photo: Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown)
What is the Freetown-Blue Peace project about?
Mayor: Water can be a source of conflict, but it can also foster cooperation. The Freetown-Blue Peace project considers water as an entry point for interventions that build peace and foster development, because conflict is more likely to occur where there’s no development.
Our Transform Freetown Agenda, which is a commitment to improve the lives of Freetonians, has four clusters, 11 priority sectors and 19 interventions. The Freetown-Blue Peace initiative is one of the interventions. We start with water, but we move very quickly into sanitation, which cannot happen without adequate water.
Then we will move into markets, which is a source of livelihood—over 60% of our population operates in the informal economy. You don’t often think of water when you think of markets, and that itself is a challenge: the need for water for sanitation in the markets, for cold storage, and so on. And the final element is water drainage. So, it’s beyond running taps.
Significantly, Freetown-Blue Peace is about sustainability, and that has three components: first is a real water element, which consists of the provisions of water kiosks. This targets informal settlements, and 35 per cent of our people live in informal settlements; second is sanitation, from the perspective of public toilets.
About the Freetown-Blue Peace Initiative
- It was launched on 1 December 2020
- Will see construction of 40 water kiosks and 25 public toilets
- To provide safe collection, management and disposal of 60% of solid and liquid waste.
- To contribute to SDG 6: on access to safe water for 75% of the residents,
- Will generate employment for the youth
We’ll be constructing 40 water kiosks and 25 public toilets; and lastly, there is the element of collection of solid and liquid waste. We will be procuring vacuum trucks for better collection of solid and liquid waste. Only six percent of liquid waste was being collected in Freetown when I became Mayor in 2018. We have a target to increase that to at least 60 per cent by 2022.
Most Freetown residents do not currently have access to running water. Do you envisage that everyone who lives in the city will have access to water when the project is completed?
Mayor: Not with this project alone. The GUMA Valley Water Company [managed by the central government] provides water, whereas we [FCC] are responsible for providing sanitation. The Freetown-Blue Peace project complements other projects such as the Project Freetown Wash and Aquatic Environment Revamping Project, which support water and pipe networks. Also, the FCDO [UK – Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] is helping out.
Nevertheless, the Freetown-Blue Peace project will have significant impact on people who live in informal settlements and have no access to water. We will provide lots of water points in 17 informal settlements. We’re targeting those who are most water-constrained. We’ve already identified between 60 and 70 potential water points.
(Photo: Freetown City Council Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyer (third) and Alfred Akibo-Betts (first), Investment Officer, Freetown/Blue Peace Project)
It seems the Transform Freetown Agenda is mainstreamed in the Freetown-Blue Peace Initiative.
Mayor: Everything we do as a Council is linked to the Transform Freetown Agenda. If not, we’re not doing it right.
Do you expect the Freetown-Blue Peace initiative to catalyze social, economic and environmental development, which is the core of the Transform Freetown Agenda?
Mayor: As I mentioned, every single intervention must be sustainable. The Freetown-Blue Peace initiative is going to be revenue-generating. It is not a question of coming in and giving aid, or making a grant, or building something and then walking away. This is a question of building a system with the communities for the management of these assets, and for the optimization of revenue from these assets. So, by definition, there is a socio-economic dimension to the project.
There will be a management committee from the community, people will pay, collect and invest the money. They will pay salaries to those who work in the project. The vacuum trucks will be released to private operators and managed as a business. So, there are many elements of our sanitation model, including the wastewater treatment centre, where the fecal sludge, which the vacuum trucks will collect, will be recycled into manure and potentially sold.
Also, many market women are very limited in how they run their businesses because they don’t have a cold storage. If they had it, they would be more creative and would be able to store otherwise perishable items instead of being compelled to sell everything they have on the same day.
How affordable will it be for the grassroots population?
Mayor: None of the interventions will be managed by FCC. They are for the communities. If it’s not affordable, it won’t work. It just wouldn’t even make sense. This is not a question of us coming and putting a price tag that we plucked from the air. We are working very closely with the beneficiaries, and with all the relevant stakeholders, to ensure the best possible outcomes for them.
How supportive has the central government been for your efforts?
Mayor: They have not blocked it. We have had meetings with the Minister of Finance [Jacob Jusu Saffa] about the concept of the bond, and his position was, as long as there is no liability to the government, he’s okay with it. He asked me the other day how it was coming along, and I briefed him.
Are there lessons other cities can learn from this project?
Mayor: Yes. I think at the level of the sustainability, the water toilets, for example, it’s important to get that right. Although this is not new to any of us because there are public toilets everywhere, they are often plagued by poor management. Our challenge will be how to get the right balance between community and private sector ownership.
People in the community are private operators, to an extent. We want to make sure you don’t end up in a situation where people appropriate these community assets, collect the revenue and don’t invest in the assets. And then the project breaks down.
So how effective is your partnership with the UNCDF?
Mayor: We have a very good relationship with the UNCDF. It’s been excellent; they are very creative and responsive; they’re outside-the-box thinkers and challenge overcomers. The same is true of the SDC. It’s been a fantastic partnership.
What is your message to particularly young women who aspire to be successful?
Mayor: I would say: young women, believe in your potential. It’s important for young women to know that they have the ability to achieve as much as anybody else. They should persevere in the face of the challenges they are bound to encounter.
Great stuff and nice seeing our mayor on the front pages of the newspapers. Many thanks to our great Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyer for her great work and initiatives as always. What you have started has motivated top Sierra Leonean engineers to start prototyping and designing smart waste water systems and smart garbage disposal system to help with your initiatives. I believe that the next APC regime will do all what it takes to convince these top Sierra Leonean scientists to come home and help develop their country. Finally, may the almighty God continue to guide and protect this great Mayor of ours. Amen and Amen. Father God.
I personally believe that the destructive APC party will soon refuse to give this progressive Mayor the party symbol if she continue collaborating with the new direction government in transforming Freetown. The reality is majority of the voters believe that the credit for any development should be given to the current president. She is playing the balancing act of appeasing the unlawful petty traders who ( mostly APC supporters) had constantly waged war against late mayor Alfred Akibo- Betts by transforming most of the streets in the city to markets with the help of the past destructive APC governments.
Unfortunately, most of these traders supposed to be in the provinces participating in Agriculture instead of over populating a city that was originally planned for 350,000 people and spreading propaganda messages that “ D Gron Dry” and crying about hunger. I wish her good luck with this program.
There is an old saying that all politics is local. If you are an elected official, and you want to get things done, its best to understand the people that handed you the keys to that office. Since taking office Mayor Aki Sawyer hasn’t put a foot wrong. I have always said on numerous occasions, She has proven one individual politician, dedicated to the welfare of their constituents can make the difference. Even with a tiny budget, she has managed to get more things done for the city of Freetown, than what Bio and his government that are flushed with international aid have managed to do for the rest of the country.
If we take Freetown out of the equation, it is performing better economically than the rest of the country put together. Kono, the mineral rich district has never enjoyed the fruits of the diamonds in the true sense, it has produced for our economy. Like the people of the Niger delta, communities in this area are the last to enjoy the fruits of their produce.
Kayode Adesimi, President Bio and his ministers cannot open their mouths for fear that sane and progressive Sierra Leoneans would shove something the don’t like into them. I believe they’re even jealous of Mayor Aki-Sawyer because she is more intelligent than all of them put together – that’s why she outflanks them all the time. They cannot even move while the distinguished lady runs rings around them..
Steps in the right direction; kudos to the Mayor & the FCC. The Mayor appears to be offering a diplomatic answer, though, to the question of support from the central government. She says “they have not blocked it” which is hardly a ringing endorsement, and points to conversations with the Minister of Finance. Noticeably absent from that narrative is the Ministry of Local Government & Regional Development!
Let me replay a broken record: If I had the constitutional power, I would make Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyer President of Sierra Leone faster than the speed of sound. She is a giant of sound and progressive thinking, a natural economist with a will stronger than the entire Bio government. She is an asset we cannot afford to lose at any price.
Gentlemen – there are some words that sound like the sweet song of nightingales to the listening ears, here’s one of them; “Everything we do as a council is linked to the Transform Freetown Agenda; If not, we are not doing it right.” (Prudent words from the innovative Mayor of Freetown Aki Sawyer).
Folks, that’s what any dynamic visionary leadership should aspire to look like – it creates a standard, endures challenges, pursues a specific goal and achieves it at all cost – Armchair Professors that lack common sense, keep on taking notes – this nerve-wracking humiliation shouldn’t take much too long – just sit TIGHT! Madam Sawyer is a torchbearer for genuine change and she is boldly leading the way. (lol) Giddy up pot bellies, Giddy up! She’s leaving you far behind struggling in the dust. Giddy up!(lol)
Leadership with a vision and focus, studies the problems in the community, designs a masterplan that is people centered, to bring every attention and focus to the urgency of the people’s needs and environment in which they live. This is the example of Mayor Aki Sawyer, who puts first thing first and works her brains out for the city, the face of the country, to provide its residents with safe water supply, to improve their lives and livelihoods in an advancing world of uncertainty. Bravo Mayor! Good looking out.