Titus Boye-Thompson, London
Sierra Leone was badly served by the colonial authorities when they left this place as the late great APC’s strongman and former Vice President Hon. S I Koroma once retorted “with nothing but a few tarred roads,” and failed to put in place a sustainable system of government that would stand the test of time, given the fractious history of this country. In a way, the founding fathers of this nation helped in their own laziness and nonchalance to put pressure for a more workable system. The rush to ape the British system was overbearing and no one stopped to check whether that would be enough to secure a unified sovereignty. In the event, we are now left with a system that is being screwed and bolted on all sides, every dispensation tinkering with the engine, from the distancing of the country from British rule through to a pone party state and then we now have a governmental combo with a hybrid Parliament alongside an Executive President wielding supreme executive authority but with non-functioning checks and balances through an independent judiciary, what we experience is that the concentration of power on the Executive tends to create despots and mercurial leaders at will.
In the fight for supremacy and political hegemony, the Creoles have always been at the losing end of a bargain that never had equals to start with. It was never an equal partnership among the tribes nor regions. The balance of power has always been leveraged by a council of Chiefs who have been too timid to deal in isolation or independence from successive governments that had tended to use them as pawns to control their fiefdoms while threatening their own survival as an afterthought. True that Chiefs wield authority as divine, through the legitimacy of their ancestral claims but the power of Government is much too much for them to go against. So where they would have been the moral guarantors of our collective sovereignty, they have ceded their authority to the realms of political power, fearing the violence of the State. Long story short, Chiefs should really not have been so ingrained into the polity and their seats in Parliament has been the main reason for their own susceptibility.
To the credit and forthrightness of its founding fathers, the All Peoples Congress (APC) political party had long since cottoned on to some of these anomalies. One of the party’s first recognition was that the system which allows Chiefs in Parliament with voting rights would tend to obfuscate the will and mandate of the people. They were apprehensive that in the event of a hung Parliament, because the Chiefs decided to vote with the Party that holds the majority in Parliament, the instant confusion was whether the Chiefs’ vote would come before Parliament is convened or after an election, in the event where the disparity between the Parties would elevate the Chiefs to overload the balance in the House. However, when the composition of the House was determined, no arrangements have ever been made for the Creoles to be so represented outside of the general elections in Parliament as the Chiefs were, selected to go to Parliament from amongst themselves, ultimately forming a Council of Chiefs, albeit without official sanction. Many have said that this isolation of the Creoles and their exclusion from self-representation based on their identity dynamic was the first absolute discrimination against the Creoles . In the event, it was the APC that recognized the implications of this exclusion and to remedy that, they have ingrained within the party, an unwritten rule that the Mayor of Freetown, which would in some ways be seen as the “de facto Creole Chief,” be chosen from amongst the Creole members of that party.
This accommodation of Creole leadership at political levels within the APC ensures that the selection of candidates for Mayor of Freetown and also the Chairman of the Western Area Rural District Council favour Creoles within those jurisdictions and since it is clear that the Western Area is a stronghold of the APC, their candidates are sure of winning those seats at elections. Having said the above, it is clear that we have been getting Creole Mayors and Chair persons because of the geo-politics and not because of any tribal hegemony.
On a comparative assessment of local government administrations across the country, there is no gainsay that the Mayor of Freetown and the Chairman of the Western Area District Council have outpaced their contemporaries across the country. It is also clear that while they have had to contend with demographic growth in geometric proportions due to migration over the years, the level of resources of static infrastructure have not been modernized nor upgraded accordingly. The Guma Dam for example still remain the major source for water supply to the bulk of the Western axis while other catchment areas such as Regent and Orogu have not been sufficiently managed to support their growth nodes where incidentally, the bulk of new settlements, population and developments are concentrated. The call on the City with respect to services are also growing faster than the resources available even as rapid population growth have come with the attendant problems of congestion, overcrowding, extant poverty, crime and environmental degradation. Climate change challenges exacerbated by mismanagement of the environment such as unplanned developments, house and structures affecting waterways have led to loss of soil cover and deforestation which have in turn resulted in floods, mudslides and other disasters . Overall, even though the city remains a unbalanced with a modern cityscape allowed to exist alongside growing slum and riverine communities and a disfigured pattern of new housing developments without a well-defined city planning regime.
The Western Urban area which comprises the Central Business District of Freetown and its environs have benefitted from international recognition with the current Mayor’s larger than life presence on the global stage even though she faces a difficult and trying experience with a hostile central government. The Western Area Rural Development Council is also experiencing massive growth, in fact having absorbed a population almost twice the size of the Western Urban Area in the past 10 years. It is a shame that the much vaunted and highly discredited mid-term census failed to adequately map these growth trends but if the figures of the recently concluded electoral register is to be relied on, based on the exit polls by political parties, the Western Region has seen the fastest growth in both physical infrastructure and population density much more than any other region nationally.
No one is saying that these growth figures and all that is good about Freetown and indeed the Western Region is down only to its Creole Mayor and Chairman but if we are to let the devil have its due, then it must be accepted that the advancement of these two areas have shown that Creoles at local government structures have been good for their localities overall. What is clear is that the Creoles in the Western Area have demonstrated commendable stewardship, they have served the people well and on many occasions have provided sterling public service in the face of victimisation, prejudice and vilification. It is therefore expected that the next Mayor of Freetown, hopefully the incumbent, will strive to do much more for this great city. In any event, the office of Mayor of Freetown must not be relegated to a tribal contest but on sound principles of fairness and inclusion.