Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Starkville, Mississippi
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Relocation of capital?
In an article published in September 2010, I opined that: ‘Freetown can no longer accommodate us all. It is better that some of us are relocated to rural areas, relocate urban Freetown to somewhere around ‘Lungi’, or some other parts of the country. We need a new agenda for decentralisation and infrastructural expansion—ideas for a new city programme’.
Consequently, I am now delighted about President Ernest Bai Koroma’s recent announcement to build a new city at Lungi. This is all good news; at least there is a platform for the future! Grateful that the president has paid heed to this clarion call for a new city. Congratulations to President Koroma and his government, for getting us together again, as a determined nation exploring the path to sustainable development.
I am encouraged by the President plans for a new city, as this is potentially an important initiative for our future generation.
But, I have spent some time reflecting on this proposal and wondered whether the president really meant it or be it business as usual to score political points. Is President Koroma really serious about his pledge to create a new city? Some critics would argue that president Koroma has not achieved 50% of what he promised in his election manifesto and here he goes again with another huge promise, of building a new city and also the construction of the long overdue Lungi Bridge. This is proving to be a very difficult challenge. Lots of talk - short on action.
If the president is seen to be defocused or greatly involved into many disorganised agendas, he will eventually be dismissed by donors or rebuked by voters and replaced by someone who is focussed on achieving agreed targets for the development of the country - that how it works. Investors do not have 50 year horizons, nor do they share our values as citizens- they are only interested in their own investments, ensuring minimum risk and maximum financial returns now, not later.
If President Koroma is sincere and serious about his pledge to build a new city, well, here, I am kindly appealing to the President to pack-up all his bits and pieces, mobilise members of his government to relocate to Lungi and start the process of building this new city! In fact, Lungi will provide a very good and quiet residential area for the President and members of his government. The success of this new city will be credited largely to the president, who will take a lead, for others follow.
By moving State House and Parliament to Lungi, many businesses and institutions will be interested to participate in the process of planning the new city, through extended exposure on media campaigns and promotional efforts.
Certainly, Lungi is an ideal citadel for government operations. This will direct our efforts towards building the new city, while attracting investors and citizens to, and save Freetown from the current congestion. It is also a perfect opportunity to introduce modern railways to Sierra Leone as Lungi will be a blueprint to constructs the railways linking Lungi- Freetown and other parts of the country.
The best way to keep Lungi city alive and lure investors is for the Government to offer free land to the needy population including youth and women, at least a way of empowering the next generation to own land and property in this new city. The government should be giving away free land lots. What’s the catch? You have to agree to build a house (establish a farm or business) and live in it.
The concept is certainly not new. Free land incentives dating from 1862 helped settle the far reaches of the country in the United States. Lungi today simply needs more people. Lungi has got plenty of land, so why not give it away? People would bring development and that allows schools to stay open, roads to be built, public services to be constructed. Of course, businesses should not be left out of the free-land loop; government should be giving away free land for companies that create new industrial jobs. For instance, you get five acres for 100 decent jobs; create 500 jobs and get 30 acres.
Government only needs to establish policies about who qualifies and what you must do once you get the land. This will generate a lot of interest and will see many people relocating to Lungi in a twinkle of an eye. Lungi should be branded as the city for the next generation. The challenge now is to ensure that proper city planning becomes the norm. A truly liveable city is one where it is normal to walk (and cycle), to use public transport more than private motor vehicles, to be on the streets at night, and to have safe spaces for families and children.
Lungi is undoubtedly one of the best places to live in Sierra Leone; the vicinity is not threatened by any kind of natural disaster; virtually no air pollution; easy access to both air and sea transport; large green areas; centre for tourist attraction with lovely beaches, vast and flat land for massive infrastructural and agricultural expansion; and in good climate: the temperature is very pleasant all year, beautiful landscapes (and beautiful ocean view) are very common.
I have listened to and read several comments by “experts” (politicians and academicians) making the case that President Koroma’s move to create a new city is unwise. In addition, a small minority of Sierra Leoneans at home and in the Diaspora are already challenging the Government’s agenda to build a new city, amid the current unfavourable living standards and economic decline. Critics would say the new city programme is a waste of money and time, particularly after other major government projects over the past decade, including new airport, new stadium, new bridge and Hydro Electricity, have languished or not been completed.
The prospect of being forced to move or commute to the new city will be unpopular with government workers and politicians who only see Freetown as heaven on earth, and will not want to be relocated to a strange land with little or no energy supply and amenities. Some egocentric politicians can not afford to forgo their massive mansions up the mountains at ‘hill station’ and ‘Juba’, for a remote city.
The truth is, the critics who speak and pursue the government to focus on the present needs of the country than the future plans of the country have absolutely no interest in actually promoting the development of Sierra Leone; rather, they just want to exploit the failures of this government to further their political agendas and use it to score points, and win the next election.
But wait, have these critics actually considered the fact that majority of citizens are coping everyday without energy supply. So what is the big deal if our politicians were to feel the pains of the ordinary Sierra Leoneans, as they called themselves the servants of the people? It should be noted that the people who currently live at Lungi are human beings and are citizens of Sierra Leone, just like anyone else. And so, there should not be OK for the President and members of his government to relocate to Lungi and make a huge difference!
You may recall that during the rebel invasion of Freetown in 1997, we saw the whole government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabba displaced to Lungi. The government was working from exile, where they had all the support and were able to manage the affairs of the state, remotely. While at Lungi, commuting to and from Guinea, the ousted government of President Kabba worked hard and was able to bring peace to Sierra Leone, and helped forge lasting democratic institutions.
If President Kabbah could run a government at Lungi under such difficulty situation during the war to cling onto power, so why not now with President Koroma, in the bid to build a new city? Here, I am not inferring another revolution or war, but most importantly now to endure a new revolution for the development of Sierra Leone. President Koroma should take the lead, leave the extravagance in Freetown, and stay out of the distraction of merriment in Freetown and move to Lungi to get the job done. The government and the private sector in general have the responsibility and obligation to make Lungi city successful. We expect there will be lots of inconveniences in the beginning, but things will get better as things evolve.
One of the good things about moving the government to Lungi is that, it tends to insulate the government from the pressures and influences of Freetown. Moving the State house and Parliament to Lungi will fast track the process of creating the Freetown-Lungi bridge and attracts more investments to this new city. The international community including the US, UK, China Embassies, INGOs etc, will all be on the move to the new city as that is the only way they maybe able to interact and interface with state and non-state actors.
The government will finds it very convenient to have the seat of power away from the congested city of Freetown. You don’t have any obstructions on your office or unsolicited relatives and political gangsters knocking at your door. It’s very easy to go to the airport and gain access to Freetown whenever you see fit, via speedboats or local helicopters. People will see it as the next stage in the evolution of the Lungi’s growth. The idea is to create a centre of government similar to Washington DC, while leaving Freetown as a business, financial and cultural capital equivalent to New York.
But, then, if the president fails in his plan for a new city, then, he would be condemned to the political waste bin along with failures, corrupts, cheats, and frauds. No amount of damage- control can repair the president’s reputation if he fails to deliver on this promise.
The voters will be watching keenly to see whether the president implements his promise to establish the roadmap for a new city. Already, more sophisticated discussion has emerged among Sierra Leoneans at home and in Diaspora than the usual debates over whether to pursue the challenges we face today as nation or to focus on development for the future.
However, to fail to plan for the future, suggest that our generation is a selfish one, and that we do not care about the next generation. If we are only to serve the current generation, then, what about the future generation— our children’s children who would want to live in a new and developed city and not to inherit this in infrastructural poverty? We want to see the government and opposition-parties focus not on scoring political points, but on solving problems; not on the next election but on the next generation. Once we do this, the matter will have less to do with politics, and more to do with socio-economic factors.
Once key government offices have moved to Lungi, and the regulatory basis for new city is in place, we will be able to build infrastructural mechanisms of different kinds and to attract different investors, and different business will work to different degrees. We need to make a case to different types of investors/donors, the different types of market, different players that this is the right thing to do.
We will need to win the argument on the importance of creating a new city, and the interest this will generate. We’re going to have to learn from Nigeria’s Abuja initiatives, and then we need to scale them up as quickly as we can; but most importantly, to avoid the mistakes from the Abuja challenges.
Also, Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, might be an interesting example for the Sierra Leone Government to study. It was built because the coastal location of the old seat of power, Rio de Janeiro, was deemed too far from large swathes of the country. So the new capital was unveiled in a remote part of central Brazil in 1961. In the beginning, Brasilia was inhabited mostly by people whose livelihoods depended on the government. But over the years it grew, and grew, and grew – exceeding the planners’ expectations.
The approach to a new city is not to do the biggest project first but the pilot, the test, you get the results, and you learn from them. At the end, as important as a new city is, we don’t want a badly planned city. We want a new city where we can see streets and spaces, where we can see provision of a well designed public realm (the right mix of buildings; green spaces and streetscape, and the good design of traffic and car parking); where we can see affordable ‘Low-cost Housing’, which could be a powerful revenue source for the state, where we can see multiple way lanes and overhead road networks leading to all parts and corners of the city, and where we can see some powerful eco-friendly structures that are energy efficient.
I am not currently resident in Sierra Leone. However, I know that when I finish my study of law in Britain, I will have no choice but to return back to Sierra Leone, provided that the political climate is safe. I beg to differ on this view to continue living in a congested Freetown. I truly fear for our future, our place in the world, and for the kind of lives we are planning for our children and grandchildren.
Let’s be clear though! This is not entirely the responsibility of politicians. A new city is like a new baby – demands all our time and attention. President Koroma must now focus all his time to meet the targets established in creating this new city and meet his government responsibilities to the people who are placing their trust in him. The President must focus on honouring the trust that people (and the young generation who depend on him for their well being) place in him and deliver the targets of the new city.
If the current generation of leaders and the government fail to lead this initiative, I am sure the next generation of leaders would do thus. If Nigeria could planned a new capital city Abuja in 1991, replacing Lagos the previous capital, why not Sierra Leone? The time is now for the people of Sierra Leone and the government to think globally, act locally.
Last edited by musiccity; July 15th, 2011 at 03:39 AM.