Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Freetown, Moyamba and Magburaka

The last couple of weeks have been a bit hectic

Last week I was invited by the Chief Administrator of Freetown to spend a couple of days in their Municipal offices. The City had heard of the program I had started in Makeni and the C.A. had a couple of his people visit Makeni the previous week to check out what was going on and to offer me cash of Le400,000 to induce me to visit Freetown. Flattered (it gets you everywhere) I arrived on a hot and humid morning and Mr. Bowenson Phillips, the C.A. picked me up in his private car to tour the different neighbourhoods. I was still quite taken aback by the sheer overcrowded squalor. Even a lot of metal homes built illegally in the river beds and that get flooded in the rainy season. The task of tracking all these properties is a vast and a huge undertaking. Nonetheless Mr. Phillips seemed to have the backing to get things done and seemed more convinced than Makeni that this was what he wanted done and “…please Mr. Fish can we do it before June” Back in the City offices I pondered the enormity of the problem. No mapping, dreadful existing records, limited transportation and awful traffic jams in any case. They certainly need a new taxation system but this needed a good 9 months from the get go. Then a political problem saved the day. The Mayor had not been introduced to me personally and since the Mayor had not been actively involved in the idea, his nose was out of joint. The visit was abruptly cancelled and I would have to return at a later date. This is Africa!!!

The trip was not in vain however since I spent very productive time with a branch of the UN in the design of the computer application that will run the new Makeni system. More than that, the UN building was air conditioned! I also had a challenge to a game of squash from one of the UN mapping people. Unbelievable in Freetown I thought. Close to the beach Bernd took me to the Freetown Golf, Tennis and Squash Club. This was the place to be seen and although the club was in dreadful condition it was obviously expat. central. A lot of white faces; the only black faces being those that served. I did not feel comfortable at all but we went ahead with the squash. The day had been very hot and humid and the warm-up was enough to get the perspiration flowing. No air conditioning. We played a good 5 games and struggled into the bar. I have never felt so wiped.

I stayed for the weekend and enjoyed more strolling along the beach. Monday I visited a town called Moyamba in the south of the country. The Council wanted some advice on revenue generation and had asked VSO to send a volunteer. I gave them a presentation and also wrote up a placement outline for any unsuspecting surveyor. They also need an accountant to advise on administrative and reporting standards. I went in the VSO landcruiser – air conditioned, mmmm. The ride was quite nice and the countryside was typically palm with poyo (palm wine) being the main product. The taste is bitter but the effect is the same. The town is small and the homes similar to Makeni. A pleasant place I thought.

This weekend a friend invited a bunch of us to Magburka a small but important town about 15 miles east of Makeni. Jess is a construction engineer, employed by an Irish NGO, “Concern” and he is housed in relative luxury. The offer of a weekend with a real kitchen, a fridge and power for 7 hours a day etc could not be turned down. Jess even had a TV with satellite which felt quite surreal. I hadn’t watched TV for 6 months. Jess is coming to the end of his contract and had resigned. I had an interesting discussion with him about my favourite subject – the effectiveness of the NGO. His organization has a very attractive operation, building schools in mainly rural towns, training teachers, buying books and encouraging children to attend. Wonderful. In reality the actual delivery of the service was poor, caught up in logistical nightmares, run by a huge bureaucracy of red tape based in Freetown. The effort and the waste, not to speak of the money spent in getting the buildings constructed is enormous and too frustrating for Jess to handle. His description of the need for roofing material was a priceless story where the impending rainy season requiring critical protection for the mud walls took a back seat to other administrative needs. We spend a lovely couple of days there and consumed a lot of food including lots of superb pineapple

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