By Hassan Ibrahim Conteh
At Susan’s Bay, a tall stout black man, barely in his thirties, tolled up the concrete steps carrying a bag full of steamed groundnut with sweat heavily pouring off him.
At a distance, a woman, barely in her forties (40s), was selling her afternoon cookery, shouting out customers. Whilst an old man, in his mid-seventies (70s), tightly held out a dirty piece of cigarette paper, probably guessing out Mercury Lotto winning numbers for the day.
This image paints a picture of hardship and never-ending poverty of majority of deprived people living in the slums. They are thoroughly being kept at the margin of the country’s development since post-independence.
For the youths totting heavy commodity goods, direct to Dove Cut Market for traders, is occasionally the daily routine work. In the absence of industrial and community empowerment jobs, sweated labourers work in the form of carrying goods, which are the only alternative means of youth’s survival.
With a population of about three thousand people residing in Susan’s Bay, according to 2015 Sierra Leone Housing and Population Census, there is no health care facility, purified tap water, a preparatory school and a community centre at Susan’s Bay.
Over the years, Susan’s Bay, just like other slums in Freetown, has been traditionally marginalized by successive governments. The community itself, which is famously known as ‘Big Wharf,’ is a densely populated area, which is congested and infested with dirt thrown out in the sea or dirt drifted by the sea waves backwards.
“We are tired of preaching to governments about this gutter. During the dry season those piles of dirt, thrown into the gutter, lead to a heap of rubbish. And during the early period of the raining season, the rubbish is forced out, which results to flooding,” explains Issa Kamara, a resident and ex-Chairman of Israelites Development Organization.
Issa recalled that Susan’s Bay used to be an ideal, clean area where football was played in the 1980s.
“I remember those days when I was in my youthful age; we used to swim and play football with people watching us. There used to be some sand all over the beach,” he recalled.
The sandy coastal bay experienced mass exodus of people fleeing from the provinces in the early 1990s in the wake of the country’s civil war. Since 1991, when Israelites Development Organization (IDO) was formed, its members, including Issa, Morlai Kamara and Gibrila Dumbuya, were at the heart of the community’s development.
Morlai Kamara said the existence of their organization was inspired by NPRC’s Saturday country cleaning exercise, of which they borrowed the initiative to complement government’s effort by cleaning the entire Susan’s Bay community. The National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) was a military government led by Valentine Strasser in 1992.
“We told ourselves that we should not sit back but to start banking the water and create more spaces for people to live,” Morlai lamented.
Morlai, aged 53, was not happy with his current situation of hardship. “Imagine I was born since 1967 and, up till now, I don’t have anything developmental to point at as my own. I still languish in abject poverty,” he says regrettably.
He continued: “We don’t have jobs here at all. Maybe since you have come to interview us, you will help us get some jobs,” he said, while getting up from the wooden long bench.
Susan’s Bay has, over the years, had an image of lawlessness, violence, theft and stabbing, which it negatively portrays to the public.
In a community full of corrugated iron sheets structures, or better known as ‘panbodi ose,’ fire outbreaks are very common. “Fire incidents have been minimized now. We are advising people to consider building concrete houses replacing the ‘panbodis,'” explained Issa Kamara.
Issa said victims of fire outbreaks are hardly being helped by government unless sometimes their organization intervened. “Last time when a panbodi house burnt down, it was only the Freetown Mayor, Yvonne Aki Sawyer, who came and helped rescue the situation, providing materials and financial support to victims,” he explained.
He said cases of violent activities and stabbings, among youths, have sharply declined with the intervention of the police and the Israelites’ organization. “We’ve put a stop to that, the too much of rape, theft and stabbing cases. Around 2017, there were many cases of such, especially stabbings. If it were those days, by this time, you will see one or two (boys) coming along with blood flowing out of their body as a result of stabbings,” he lamented.
In the absence of government responsiveness, toward local development, some community based organizations have scaled up their effort to filling the gap thereby creating opportunities for few youths, strengthening partnerships with other relevant sectors and providing useful assistance to their communities in need.
The Israelites’ organization is doing just that. IDO hasn’t central government and NGO’s support to undertake key community development projects.
“We have built a five room concrete toilet out of membership monthly contributions and the money collected from our sawmill water well,” Issa explained.
It helped to provide a space for the construction of a Police Post, a kid’s teaching centre and a local court (or a Barray). Out of the places created, after banking the water, the process to pile up huge junk of rubbish and solid waste to prevent the water from flowing through.
The land, Issa said, was given to the community to minimize the rate of crime and other violent occurrences perpetrated among the gang youths. “We’ve a perfect collaboration with the police and FSU (Family Support Unit) to settle disputes and to make arrest. We’ve got a number of them arrested. So Susan’s Bay isn’t like how it was,” Issa says boastfully.
Recent reports have seen huge sums of government money unaccounted for in the Bio administration. The Agriculture Ministry accounts for a waste of Le11 billion out of Le12 billion, according to National Public Procurement Authority of October 2020.
As of 2019 fiscal year, three government ministries could not justify a documentation of Le21 billion (US $2,115,870), according to the Africanist Press. The Africanist Press is an independent news and book publisher based in Philadelphia, United States of America. It seeks to expose corruption, promote democracy and advocates for economic and social equality across Africa and the world.
The loss or misappropriation of such whooping sums of money is clearly not unconnected to the intractable hardship and poverty caused to poor Sierra Leoneans, especially those living in slums like Susan’s Bay, Moa Wharf, Kroo Bay, Old Wharf and so on.
A half part of that missing money could have built hospitals and schools for these slum communities or relocate the slums to an ideal environment where it is risk-free. That money could as well be used to undertake other development projects in many deprived communities in Sierra Leone.
Issa Kamara could not rule out the possibility of activists’ call for the relocation of people from the slum communities in a bid to stop the usual occurrence of disaster flooding.
“We’ve no choice if any government decides to evacuate us from this place to another setting. But any government will have to plan well before taking such decision,” he cautioned.
IDO also helps bereaved family members who lack financial means during burial times. They are the owners of a sawmill water well, the only source of water which benefits three community areas. “This is a function supposed to have been carried out by government water agency, Guma Valley Water Company,” he said.
The seamill water well is the source of income for the Israelites’ organization, which has also employed some youths through the money collected from people.
“Those we attach at the well report to us every day. In return, they have specific time or days to collect for themselves. That’s how they survive through the Le500 and Le1,000 collected from launders,” he explained.
A youth, Abduraman, told Nightwatch that even to serve as a water cash collector at the water well is something based on favoritism and familiarity. “It’s really not easy of us the youths. No labour jobs. Even to tote, if the trader doesn’t know you he/she won’t give you load to carry,” he complained.
Anduraman, who is a butcher, cited their too much suffering to the New Direction government. “It’s like comparing sleep to death between the past government (APC) and the SLPP. We used to clean the gutter and authorities’ compounds and get paid for that. But, now, even to get Le 2,000 is a hell,” he wondered.
Susan’s Bay is made up of areas like Falcom, Port Loko Wharf, Guinea Wharf and Cold Bear. There have been reports of children falling off at the Susan’s Bay sawmill water well. But Issa said a Christian charity based organization had visited the well and promised to rehabilitate and preserve it.
“As tradition demands, we asked them to buy two sheep, one full and half bag of rice to cook as a form of sacrifice before any work begins. They have agreed to the request,” he informed.
Until the Bio led- government, or any subsequent government, takes the fight against corruption seriously and ensure equal distribution of resources to communities in need, devoid of partisan sentimentality of political strongholds, the poor slums or poor individuals will remain poorer forever.