Saturday, December 04, 2010


Freetown again

I am in Freetown to start another 6 months, this time on a slightly different tack based again in Bo but working not for local councils but for a German NGO Welthungerhilfe.

The task follows on from the Binkolo Growth Centre food processing (see a previous blog) and I am to work with entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector to improve business planning, financial management and marketing – how to make a profit and measure it. The nascent businesses are in honey production, cassava processing as well as coffee, cocoa and other products. I’ll also maintain the work with the local Councils Bo and Makeni sustaining local revenues. Quite a different task from the usual and certainly quite a contrast to property valuation work in Toronto. That’s what gets me going.

I knew I had arrived in Freetown when I took my first poda poda ride,

together with 20 other passengers all seated on metal benches fitted into the beat up Mazda van and with a slightly exposed and worn interior. Cost is still 25c for a ride anywhere along the route. Beats the Toronto Transit Commission.

I was however shocked when on an early Sunday morning walk I saw the state of the main street in the western part of Freetown. Wilkinson Road from Lumley all the way through to the bridge has been bulldozed to make way for a widened street to 4 lanes. For those that don’t know, the traffic during the day is ridiculously horrendous such that taxis wont even offer rides unless there is a big price incentive.
China is becoming a big influence on the landscape with strong intentions in the mining of iron ore and other minerals. The Chinese army are undertaking the road construction (the obvious inference is to get better access to the minerals). The Chinese efficiency is incredible. The hugely dense cram of buildings along 5.4 kms of Wilkinson Road has been flattened and in many cases only parts of buildings remain.

In Canada or UK, expropriation or compulsory purchase laws would have taken decades to sort out. Here it’s the “ask questions later” approach. The work is only 5 weeks in the making.

Even on an early Sunday morning ( I couldn’t sleep for the blaring at Paddy’s) the work on the street was going on with the Chinese
obviously directing but road work employment given to locals – and working at a furious rate, something rather unusual for Sierra Leoneans.

I need to find the secret motivation.

One of the by products of the destruction is the availability of masonry that can be collected and used. This father and his children were building the family a new home. Others were collecting water from the burst main supply along the road and that would otherwise be difficult and expensive to get.

Those that know Wilkinson Road can see that Montana’s restaurant has been sawn in half. Other buildings have been indiscriminately razed or partly razed. Trees are simply pushed aside. Businesses however continue to operate as best they can and in the stoic way only Sierra Leoneans can do.

Sunday afternoon I said goodbye to Joseph at the VSO office and I was collected by my new employer Welthugerhilfe a large German NGO. More about my placement later. My transport to Bo was a typical NGO vehicle, a white landcruiser the stuff of my previous blog articles decrying their use. I felt really awkward at this luxury but I put up with the air conditioning for just a little while.

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